Editorial: Can’t ignore the Panama Papers
Over the past few days, a gaggle of British politicians have published summaries of their income tax filings. Yesterday, it was the turn of George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, as well as Boris Johnson, the Tory mayor of London.
On Saturday, Prime Minister David Cameron released his, but was beaten in the effort by leaders of Labour and the Conservatives in Scotland, Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson, respectively. Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), has done the same, as has the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.
There are two objectives to these moves. On the one hand, they are an effort by Mr Cameron's opponents to advance claims to their own integrity while maintaining pressure on the prime minister in the face of the furore over the revelations in the Panama Papers that he benefited from an offshore investment fund owned by his later father. At the same time, Mr Cameron is keen he did nothing illegal and, in fact, paid all his taxes.
In the meantime, the UK government is establishing a special task force of tax, regulatory and criminal investigation agencies to determine, from information so far published, whether British firms and/or individuals evaded taxes and broke the law. Mr Cameron is also promising laws and regulations to fight tax evasion.
Some of these developments in Britain are likely to have some resonance in Jamaica and command, especially, the attention of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who has had his own difficulties over the use of an overseas tax shelter and has promised to release his tax and liabilities statement by the end of March.
No one has, up to now, suggested that Prime Minister Cameron's father, Ian Cameron, did anything illegal when he registered his fund management firm Blairmore Inc in Panama, or that the PM broke any law when, heading to Downing Street, he sold, at a profit, his investments in the company.
What is fuelling the antagonism is the sense of double standard: that political leaders and their families, like the rich and powerful clients of Mossack Fonseca, whose database was leaked, can use special-purpose vehicles to avoid taxes, while the rest of the population abides by the laws and regulations formulated by these leaders.
In that sense, it is perceived as a game of Medes and Persians.
Mr Holness has explained that the international business company he established in St Lucia was to hold a single asset, the Beverly Hills home being built by him and his wife, and of which his two sons would be the ultimate beneficiaries. He was advised that it was sensible estate planning.
Mr Holness clearly got the better of the argument when the question of the value of the mansion, and the manner it is being held, was raised during the election campaign. The prevailing sentiment was that the focus was intrusive, unfair and begrudging.
Given the global development over the Panama Papers and what has happened in Britain, it would perhaps be useful to hear Mr Holness' views on the whole affair and what his Government believes, in the context of the proposed overhaul of integrity legislation, should be the financial transparency rules for public officials. And he should remember the expired promise about the declaration of his finances.