Amid one of the world’s biggest ever financial scandals revolving round the Panama papers, Briton’s Prime Minister David Cameron yesterday presided at the anit-corruption summit attended by several world leaders including Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena who was specially invited because of the new government’s commitment to the battle against highlevel corruption.
Some hours before the summit began at Lancaster House in London, the Guardian’s economic expert David Sachs said the fight against corruption entailed no small amount of absurdity, since so much of the corruption these days occurred in broad daylight. “The corruption is so blatant, so indefensible, that attempts at justification are necessarily surreal. Recently, 300 economists, including me, made the point thanks to Oxfam’s mobilization,” he said.
According to him, Prime Minister Cameron’s job at yesterday’s Summit is not to whisper about the corruption of Nigeria or Afghanistan but to end the deep and historic role of the United States and Briton in this sordid mess. One of the pervasive elements of corruption is the use of shell companies, which are legal entities designed purely to protect real owners from disclosure, liability and accountability. When the Panama Papers were leaked, the law firm at the centre, Mossack Fonseca, had this astounding justification:
The very idea that the law firm has done “due diligence” on 300,000 companies, even over 40 years, is beyond ludicrous. Even over 40 years and 200 working days per year, incorporating 300,000 companies would entail an average of 37.5 companies per day. Of course there is no due diligence as the corrupt cases plainly demonstrate. There is blatant abuse of incorporation, David Sach said.
In a shocking disclosure he says, “Britain is at the centre of this network of impunity, a legacy of the British Empire and a measure of the continuing role of the City of London in transferring tax-free funds around the world. The British Virgin Islands, a British oversees territory, has a population of 28,000 and more than one million registered companies, roughly 35 companies per resident population. It is by far the most popular tax haven of the Panama Papers’ companies.
As the summit began, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that foreign firms which owned property in Britain would have to declare their assets publicly in a bid to stamp out money-laundering, the British Government said.
Companies would have to be on a new register if they held property or wished to compete for government contracts. The BBC said Mr Cameron would also say that some of Britain’s overseas territories and crown dependencies would join 33 other countries in agreeing to share automatically their own registers of company ownership, information that would be accessible to the police.
In Sri Lanka, one of the main promises of the new national government was to track down, expose and prosecute former political leaders, top officials and diplomats allegedly involved in the plunder of billions of dollars in public funds.
At a Cabinet news briefing on Wednesday, soon after the President left for the Anti-Corruption Summit, the new co-spokesman Champika Ranawaka said the government would not tolerate corruption but would investigate as to how the former Rajapaksa regime had sent a staggering 20 billion US dollar (hold your breath Rs.2914,600,000,000) out of the country from 2006 to 2014. He said not only the Rajapaksa regime but also top officials, media groups and others were connected to this biggest ever robbery of people’s money.
He said that because of the present legal system in our country and the shrewd cover up tactics used by the culprits, it was difficult to bring them before a court of law quickly. The minister said that in 2012, the former President made a drastic change in the financial policy of Sri Lanka. Until 2012, there were 130,000 Value Added Tax (VAT) files and in the count down, this number had come down to 30,000, while the private tax files had been reduced from 700,000 to 400,000.
The Cabinet decided that new laws would be introduced to crack down on corruption and the minister said even the former President would be brought before a court of law when adequate evidence was found. We hope the National government would act fast and effectively to fulfil this pledge and get back at least a substantial amount of the money.