The leaders of some of the world’s most secretive tax havens were treated to a mini monsoon in London today. David Cameron had asked them over to get them to commit to openness on who owns companies.
He knows EU countries at next week’s G8 meeting in Northern Ireland - the US, Russia, Canada too – won’t hesitate to point to the UK’s offshore backyard if they’re being asked to commit to “transparency” in company registration.
David Cameron had some of the territories’ political leaders along to watch Trooping the Colour before giving them a sandwich lunch in Number 10. Then in Lancaster House he proclaimed his progress:
“Each and every one of our overseas territories and crown dependencies has agreed to sign up to the multi-lateral convention on information exchange to exchange information automatically with the UK and to produce action plans on beneficial ownership. I commend their leadership and I look to other international partners to work with their own territories to reach similar agreements.”
But have the offshore islands really committed to radical change? I spoke to the Deputy Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Akierra Missick, in Lancaster House. You get a sense from the exchanges below how this particular overseas territory doesn’t believe it is embarking on a revolution in how it does business today:
Q. Can we say with certainty that Turks and Caicos and other overseas territories will have registries of companies telling us who the beneficial owners are and when will we have those?
A. That’s David Cameron’s goal … we cannot say today we will get that because there will be a lot of push-back from companies that have beneficial owernship.
Later on in the interview, I asked Akierra Missick if she could see today’s statement of intent as the start of a journey:
A. …if there’s a new layer of requirement then we hope this is the last set of the requirements because continuously we feel the goalpost is moving …
Q. He’d better not think it’s going to go any further than this?
A. We’ve asked him not to … and if needs be we need to have a further in depth conversation maybe outside the whole G8 surrounding it.
Q. But all you’ve signed up to is an action plan.
A. Yes to prepare
Q. For possible implementation of possible principles ?
Q and you don’t want to go any further than that?
A. We don’t want to go any further than that?
Q. Well it doesn’t sound like much is necessarily going to happen then.
A. No, I believe some will happen because not all terrritories are as perfect as the Turks and Caicos Islands - like our beaches.
One senior NGO figure said this project could take 10 to 15 years to come to anything like fruition… and that would be with a fair wind. That said, a lot of the NGOs I spoke to aren’t down-hearted. They’ve been on long, arduous journeys before and never got anywhere giving up early.