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British Overseas Territories must stop tax secrecy

2 December 2014 | by Luke Harman

Political parties are not doing enough to tackle tax dodging. This is what an overwhelming majority of British adults believe, according to a poll conducted last month by the research agency ComRes.

It found that just one in five people believe political parties have kept to their promises to tackle tax avoidance by large companies.

The public are also worried about tax avoidance in the world’s poorer countries. Four out of five British adults (78%) say it’s important to them that large companies pay their fair share of tax in developing countries.

What is the government doing?

It’s been more than a year since the UK Government announced it would give tax dodgers nowhere to hide, and they are now in the process of creating a public register of company owners in the UK.

This will help lift the secrecy that enables anonymous companies to dodge tax, safe in the knowledge that even the police will find it very difficult to trace them.

But, what about tax havens?

Today, our campaigners braved the cold and rain to protest outside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, as Chief Ministers from the UK’s Overseas Territories (OTs) - places like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands – met for their annual get together.

We called on them to unmask who owns companies registered in their countries. And this must happen now.

Overseas Territories Tax Stunt

See more photos from today's stunt our Facebook gallery here.


Why?

Last November, following the UK’s lead, the OTs promised that they too would hold consultations on creating public registers of company owners.

One year on, questions must be asked about the sincerity of these promises: Bermuda, for example has not even had a consultation, and last week its finance minister announced that it would not be adopting a public register.

While the other OTs have had consultations, none of them have announced either their policy, or published any information, even though some of them finished consulting 10 months ago!

Maybe they thought they could keep their heads down and hope this issue would go away?

Today we showed them they can’t. We won’t let them fob us off or ignore us. We’ll continue to push forward the campaign to make sure tax dodgers have absolutely nowhere to hide.

Elsewhere

Thankfully, other nations aren’t ignoring the issue – more countries across Europe are supporting public registers - Denmark being the most recent to declare its backing. 

And the UK is pushing forward with commendable speed: the legislation is today being debated in the House of Lords.

If only the same could be said about the OTs’ commitments. 

They may claim they are small places and others should take the lead, but we should remember that three overseas territories feature in the top 12 most used jurisdictions for corruption (British Virgin Islands at number 1, Cayman Islands at number 9 and Bermuda number 11).

These are not small players, they are up there at the top of financial secrecy, which is why they need to be among the first to change.

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 About the author

Luke Harman

Luke Harman is Christian Aid's campaigns officer.


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