In March 2021, Monique Tessa Malan was elated to hear that she was one of five candidates from around the world − and to date, the only student from Africa − to be admitted to the Doctoral Program in International Business Taxation (DIBT) at Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien (Vienna University of Economics and Business, WU). Before moving to Vienna to embark on the three-year full-time programme that commenced in September 2021, she held the position of lecturer in Taxation at Stellenbosch University’s School of Accountancy
Monique Malan was born and bred amongst the wine farms in Stellenbosch and matriculated from Rhenish Girls’ High School. After completing her articles at Deloitte in Cape Town, Monique seized a secondment opportunity to work for Deloitte in the USA. Upon her return to South Africa, and with an interest in financial planning, she took up an employment offer at an international multi-family office firm where she managed the global financial affairs of several ultra-high net worth families.
‘It was in working with families whose affairs spanned across multiple jurisdictions that I was exposed to the complexities of cross-border taxation which sparked my interest in international taxation. I sought to learn more about this specialised area of taxation and applied for the LLM programme in Advanced Studies in International Tax Law at Leiden University in the Netherlands (which boasts as an alumnus Hugo Grotius, the ‘Father of International Law’). Upon admission to the programme, I decided to take the leap and resign from my job in order to take up this full-time opportunity to further my knowledge in international taxation. Thankfully I received a partial scholarship enabling me to do so,’ says Monique.
Her studies in Leiden opened up a new world to her and her interest in international taxation developed into a passion for the field.
‘During my LLM studies I not only learnt the “rules of the international tax game” but also gained an appreciation for the significant influence that developed countries have in leading the international tax narrative due to their advanced knowledge of international tax, the sophistication of their tax authorities as well as their global influence,’ says Monique.
Tell us more about your passion for tax and dreams for the future?
In studying towards my PhD I hope to expand and deepen my knowledge in international tax matters. Through the interdisciplinary training offered by the DIBT programme, I hope to be able to contribute to finding solutions to the currently prevailing international tax challenges in a way that is ultimately fair and supports the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Being well read in international tax will enable me to be able to participate in the international tax discourse at the highest level and strengthen the voice of developing countries in shaping the future of tax.
Taxation is levied primarily in order to raise revenue to fund public expenditure, but taxation is also used as a tool to influence behaviour. In both these respects, taxation is integral to achieving the UN’s SDGs.
Tax is a field that will never cease to fascinate me and an area that I do not believe I will ever tire of. It is complex, controversial and impacts every member of society. It is the area in which I believe that I personally will be able to make the greatest contribution to society.
Tell us about life in Vienna?
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic still largely affects daily life in Vienna. Much of my first semester was online and included a 20-day national lockdown. Despite my work and research being in English, life outside of work is all in German – a language barrier that I am still trying to overcome.
I am fortunate to have my academic home at the Institute for Austrian and International Tax Law, the largest university-based institution in tax law in the world. The institute is a hub for the international tax community and my colleagues are diverse individuals from various different countries who all share a passion for tax law.
What do you plan to do when you’re done with your PhD?
I would like to continue my research in international tax law at an academic institution, international organisation (such as the UN or the OECD) or other research institution. As contributing to the tax policy discussion in South Africa is something that I would love to do, I would also explore ways in which I am able to contribute to the work done at National Treasury and SARS.
You speak highly of Rhenish Girls’ High School. Tell us more?
It was the ethos of Rhenish Girls’ High School that has had a lasting influence on me. Critical thinking was encouraged, and we were given the opportunity to develop our voices and the confidence to use them. Social consciousness and activism were values that were fostered. Whether it was collecting tinned food, knitting blankets or selling bulbs door to door as a fundraising initiative, there were always social projects taking place. It was instilled in us that it was each of our responsibilities to 3ensure that we are making a positive contribution to society in whatever way we could.
How did attending Stellenbosch University contribute to your development?
The education that I received at Stellenbosch University provided me with a solid foundation that stood me in good stead in furthering studies abroad. The success that I achieved in being one of only a few of my classmates in a class of 65 students from approximately 30 different countries who obtained our LLM degree from Leiden University cum laude is in large part testament to the quality of education that I received at Stellenbosch University.
You are passionate about on-going learning and self-development?
Given the number of diverse roles and careers that CAs(SA) find themselves in, their university education should be seen merely as the foundation or springboard from which they further upskill themselves in order to competently be able to fulfil the respective roles in their chosen careers.
After every degree, qualifying or regulatory exam that I completed subsequent to qualifying as a CA(SA) I was always asked if I was now finished studying. I did not realise it at the time, but now I know that I will never be ‘finished’ studying. Today, more than ever, one needs to constantly be learning and prioritising self-development in order to remain competent in meeting the demands of an ever-changing world.
Why do you think it is important that CAs(SA) should be involved in society or the community?
I think every individual should be involved in society. Each one of us should be an active citizen as each of us bears some responsibility for the society in which we live. The more privileged, educated, skilled and influential we are, the greater that responsibility is. CAs(SA) enjoy a prestigious status in society and often occupy positions of influence and therefore have a greater ability − and consequently greater responsibility − to use their ability and influence to advance the society in which they live.