Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Bun out bad-mind over tax havens

Published:Sunday | April 10, 2016 | 4:00 AM

As everyone knows, I take the conclusions of the local media and commentariat as gospel. And these mandarins, pundits, wise men and soothsayers recently concluded that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a country's leaders establishing offshore companies for tax avoidance, even while determining tax policy by which the serfs and proletariat must abide. In truth, the matter is settled.

The key distinction, if I'm remembering the law-school class correctly, is between tax avoidance, which is legal and permissible, and tax evasion, which is not. A subsidiary question is, even though it's legal, how much do you want your leaders to be adept at the art of tax avoidance? In our little banana republic, we have ginned up our answer: very skilled.

Also, the motivations of anyone who sees a problem with leaders using tax shelters have also been determined precisely, and the matter is impatient of debate. We now know that those who think there's something shady and sketchy about politicians owning offshore companies in tax havens are 'bad-mind' and 'grudgeful'.

How did we come to know these things? Simple. Jamaica's current prime minister established a company in an offshore tax haven for "estate planning purposes" while he was a minister of government deciding tax policy for the rest of the country. That offshore vehicle is how he holds at least one major asset, a palace, the cost and funding of which have remained largely a mystery. There was a fair deal of public discussion about all this prior to the February 25 election, and there are even lawsuits.

 

Frivolous non-issues

 

Now we all know that the public must not be detained with frivolous non-issues, which is why a very non-curious, non-judgemental, and non-investigative media helped the people accept that there will be one law for the Medes and another for the Persians. And as I've said over and over, I'm prepared to learn these new things as I go along. So I've also adopted the approach and the issue is closed.

Mind you, before my conversion, I was looking forward to the exchange of what's called 'discovery' in the lawsuits that had started to fly. Discovery in the world of lawsuits is where claimants and respondents exchange information related to the lawsuit, and I felt that details about this offshore company would have to be forthcoming.

Not that I was holding my breath or anything. Even then, I knew that those lawsuits would have to wend their way, with the speed of molasses atop a glacier, through the court system, and that after five or so years, it might get Chucked out.

On the other hand, there was also a promise that in March, Mr Holness would give full financial disclosure. As I write, it is April 6, 2016, and the disclosure has not been forthcoming. But who cares? And who is watching? Curiosity won't kill this cat.

It's a little less urgent now that we're all cool with copious estate planning and tax avoidance, but I still should pause and fulfil a promise to Trevor Munroe, which was to join his call that all Jamaica's political aspirants subject themselves to full disclosure of all their holdings. And, of course, the law should demand it.

Anyway, not being as advanced as we here in the Ganja Republic, the idiots in Iceland have deposed a perfectly good prime minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, amid mounting public anger over evidence that he and his wife owned an offshore company called Wintris.

Wintris, it emerged, was a creditor to an Icelandic bank. Curiously, Gunnlaugsson had come to power on an anti-austerity platform, promising to resist Iceland's creditors, so people saw this as a conflict.

It seems to me that there would be a bigger conflict if he had come to power promising to pay off the creditors. Silly Icelanders! It's almost as if the mere fact of the secretive company was too much for them. Bad-mind!

Meanwhile, the boneheads in Britain are giving their prime minister, David Cameron, grief about his father, Ian Cameron's, directorship of an offshore company. Cameron senior has shuffled off this mortal coil, but Blairmore Holdings Inc persists as an investment bank that has avoided ever paying taxes in Britain.

 

Nothing illegal

 

There's nothing illegal about what Ian Cameron was doing. It's just that some unsophisticates feel that it's wrong for those who set the rules to benefit from loopholes in them. So again, bad-mind is active and causing this uproar.

The information about Gunnlaugsson and Cameron came out of the largest data leak in history - more than 11 million documents, now known as the 'Panama Papers'. The Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which orchestrated the creation of offshore companies for the rich and famous, has had its extensive database of information leaked.

Mossack Fonseca's information was obtained by German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and distributed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to worldwide media. I hope they know better than to stop in the Ganja Republic, because wi naw deal wid nuh bad-mind ting around here.

Internationally, though, intense political fallout is expected. Nuff name a call! For instance, Czar Vladimir Putin of Russia and Chinese Emperor Xi Jinping, among a slew of other world leaders, have family or close associates who have been mentioned. Many a trouser is being wet, and many an underwear is being soiled, right across the globe.

But while the rest of the immature world can go right along and tear itself to pieces about all of this, we can chill and watch from an elevated perch on the sidelines because we've worked through this already. We are fine with leaders passing laws to take our tax money, but avoiding tax for themselves. Our ting done set and wi a bun out bad-mind.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.