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IT IS not unusual for the governments of our Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to be publicly silent, for long periods, amid developments that require some form of practical attention in the interest of the public’s right to know.
Therefore, let’s hope that soon, rather than too late, either from Secretary General Erwin LaRocque, or more likely current chairman of the 15-member Community, Prime Minister Dean Barrow of Belize, we may yet learn of the thinking and contemplated action by our economic integration movement on two quite important developments.
First, it is now more than five weeks since a group of admirable enterprising international journalists bravely released a huge file of documents revealing the names, nationalities, companies and business dealings of Caribbean nationals involved in what is euphemistically referenced in the media as The Panama Papers.
For far too long we have had to grapple with speculations – some quite disturbing – about the spreading corruption of money laundering via varying channels and systems involving big, not so big, but quite influential names of individuals in both the public and private sectors.
Politicians, business people, professionals engaged with institutions and organisations – national, regional and international – are identified in the Panama Papers.
The governments and representative organisations and institutions of CARICOM cannot plead “innocence” about the implications for good governance and accountability issues in relation to the disclosures in the Panama Papers mysteriously leaked via the Panama-based law firm of Mossack Fonseca and Company.
The law firm is listed among the world’s most prestigious wholesalers of offshore secrecy. But its reputation was seriously shaken and changed on April 3, in what has been described as perhaps “the biggest journalistic leak in history”.
The leak was made public, thanks to the indefatigable resourcefulness of a team involving 376 investigative journalists from 76 countries and involving secret information about thousands of companies, trusts, foundations, bankers, corporate incorporators and other middlemen.
From a Caribbean perspective, and given the recurring eruption of scandals related to money laundering schemes, CARICOM governments have the obligation to respond to the startling disclosures.
For starters, our governments and leading organisations cannot claim ignorance about this sensational development.
CARICOM governments, business and non-government organisations cannot be unaware of the plea for active involvement in checking the culture of tax evasion, illicit financial flows and tax havens that has recently been made by the high-level Africa Union/United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (AU/UNECA) which is chaired by the highly respected former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.
In its report, the AU/UNECA High Level Panel stressed that the release of the Panama Papers should not be “misconstrued as a time for celebration or an end in itself . . .
“To the contrary,” the panel warned, “it is rather a time for deep reflection and regret that we have allowed the practice to persist which is made possible, among others, by the existence of tax havens/financial secrecy jurisdictions.”
Well then, it’s more than time that we hear officially from CARICOM.
- Rickey Singh is a noted Caribbean journalist.