EY Global Tax Innovation Leader Jeff Saviano’s Speech at the Conference “Remaking Ukraine – Toward an Age of Global Enlightenment”

Jun 5, 2022AIWS City and Rebuilding Ukraine, Global Alliance for Digital Governance, News

Thank you very much. Thank you, professor Patterson and Tuan, professor Zaneta. What an honor to be included today. I know that we are running a bit late on times. I will be brief. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today for such an important event. My family spent five weeks in Ukraine 13 years ago at the beginning of the war. That’s actually that same week we entered the country on an adoption mission as a family of four, and we left a family of five, so this is very very personal for me. My daughter Natasha is from Maryinka just outside of Donetsk, and we have had such a tremendous conflict for a long period of time. So when Tuan asked me to come today and to talk about the role of innovative technology, and we’ve had some discussions today, seeing department from MIT discussed the role that technology can play. I’m a tax lawyer by training, so I’m going to speak in a few comments about tax policy at the end but there are three points that I want to raise about innovative technology, and how the role that technology can play in the rebuilding of Ukraine.

First, we’ve talked a bit today about refugees and the importance of supporting refugees in Ukraine, and we’ve found that there are tremendous technology platforms that have been available for example in Syria to support the Syrian refugees, blockchain and other distributed ledger technology to track refugees so families can stay together, to provide digital identity systems that are so necessary in order to return to life in their home country, and also providing one place to look for work permits and many other devices to receive subsidies from the government, so these technology systems are developed. It’s not as though that I stand here today looking for money to develop more technology. We have these open-source systems in the world, but how do we advance and how do we use this technology to help refugees? so that is the first, how technology will support refugees. The second, and it’s so exciting to see the premise behind AI world society and artificial intelligence, and in our work the most important and I think the huge opportunities in the world for shifting to data-driven decisions that is performed through artificial intelligence. It’s happening in developed countries like the US, the UK, and Germany, and many of the countries represented here today. The council from Israel is a leader of advancement of technologies like artificial intelligence. And we think that as we look forward in recovery in Ukraine, there will be plenty of decisions that need to be made, and the combinatorial creativity of new data that’s available can help make better decisions, and we think as a premise of ai world society how can we encourage that shift from gut making decisions to actual data-driven decision-making. And the last point that I’ll make about technology is the role of new digital public infrastructure. We’ve seen this with the onset of the pandemic and throughout the last two years governments are shifting to new digital platforms that are decentralized, and they’re resilient in the face of resistance. And we think that, as professor [Alex “Sandy”] Pentland pointed out, what can we learn from the government of Estonia, there is an opportunity to shift to a distributed digital public infrastructure in Ukraine as they return and in the rebuilding of the country. It’s important to look at what technologies like blockchain could do. We have examples with countries like Estonia.

The last point I want to make, and I promise just a few points, and we’ve not had much talk today about taxation, but tax will be incredibly important. Now is the time, I believe, to be thinking of a redesigned taxing system for Ukraine. There are examples of countries that, as they are in the conflicts, they need to find ways to raise taxes. We heard today there’s a 70-billion-dollar deficit. How can they tax? For example, natural resources is one place that other similar fragile states have decided to impose taxes on extraction rates. There are opportunities to raise some revenue today, but the importance in the recovery is to go the other way, to keep taxes low. How do we encourage foreign domestic investment within Ukraine by keeping a low stable tax base? We want to make sure we at least had some discussion of taxation because I believe now is the time to form teams to actually redesign what that taxing system could be ideally coming out of this crisis.

So I want to thank you again for the opportunity to provide some remarks. Technology, innovative technology, will be incredibly important, and Ukraine will need a new tax system as well. Thank you.