The UK government appears to be scrambling around for new policies to shut down the debate on financial transparency, rather than using the momentum created by the Panama Papers to drive through real change, Christian Aid said today.
This follows the news that the EU’s five largest economies will share information about the true ownership of shell companies and overseas trusts used by the rich to hide their wealth.
Toby Quantrill, Christian Aid’s Principal Adviser on Economic Justice, said: “Despite George Osborne’s claim that this will deal a ‘hammer blow’ to those who evade tax, this is a series of half-measures designed to convince the public that ‘something is being done’. It will not help developing countries, who stand to lose the most from financial secrecy, and is not the response that the Panama Papers demands.
“Politicians are desperate respond to the public outrage with some action, but rather than seizing a moment of public support to drive through real change, they are spinning baby steps as great strides.”
“The latest announcement, that the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy will work together to exchange information on the real owners of companies, has some useful elements. However, like so many other recent declarations these are mere baby steps in the right direction.”
Mr Quantrill continued: “Expanding the information that will be exchanged between authorities is a good move. We also welcome the commitment to allow this information to be used to tackle other forms of corruption, not just tax-related matters, and we hope this principle will be applied to all financial information sharing.
“It is also good that information on the ownership of trusts has been included, although since it contradicts the UK’s previous positions, we need a clear statement that this is now government policy. That said, with the UK already committed to making a register of beneficial ownership fully public, this can hardly be seen as a major step forward.”
Christian Aid continues to urge all countries to follow the UK’s lead and put information about beneficial ownership into the public domain – particularly in relation to the UK’s Overseas Territories.
“It is deeply embarrassing for David Cameron that the most popular location for secret companies named in the Panama Papers is controlled from London, yet it remains resistant to meeting the UK’s own standards on transparency,” said Mr Quantrill.
“Half-transparency is, in effect, none at all. While some at the top may find it difficult to accept, the answer is not very complicated: our leaders must commit to genuine transparency – and get on with it.”
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