Questionable Values? Policy Report
Why we believe that it is time to stop defending the indefensible across all the world’s tax havens.
Following the hurricanes Irma and Maria that devastated a number of Caribbean islands in September this year, the focus has rightly been on supporting the hardest hit and those in greatest need. But as the rebuilding effort develops, many are starting to think more deeply about the long-term sustainability of these islands’ economies, and their ability to protect and provide for their populations in an economically and climatically uncertain future. What type of jobs, and what type of economy, should places such as the British Virgin Islands (BVI) be looking to build?
This is a question that extends beyond the storm-hit Caribbean. Defensive measures against tax evasion and avoidance are on the rise in the US, the EU and emerging economies, driven in part by the exposure of these activities in successive leaks of information (most recently, the Paradise Papers). Such developments call into question the sustainability of any economic model that relies on providing various combinations of secrecy and low taxation.
So far, many small offshore centres, and their supporters, have largely reacted defensively to the threat of change, arguing that media coverage has unfairly maligned ‘tax havens’; that the problem is not as large as portrayed; and that they are already instituting tax and transparency standards better than many large ‘onshore’ economies. However, careful scrutiny of one of the most comprehensive efforts to explain the role of international finance centres and to illustrate the impact that such a territory has on the global economy – the prominent report that the government-backed financial lobby group, BVI Finance, commissioned this year from consultancy firm Capital Economics – demonstrates major weaknesses in the arguments and conclusions presented, and suggests to us that such defences are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than a genuine concern for the wider global economy.
Our analysis of the Capital Economics report is an example of why we believe that it is time to stop defending the indefensible across all the world’s tax havens. With public demand building for new regulation, and the ever-present threat of further mass leaks, the UK Government needs to initiate a serious discussion about alternative economic pathways for the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Alternative futures for offshore tax havens are not only vital for the poorest countries of the world that lose tax revenues each year to the offshore system, but also for the ordinary women and men in places like the BVI, for whom a secure future is dependent on the creation of robust, equitable and sustainable economies.