Island risking moral bankruptcy
David Burt has announced two separate strategic defences to the leaked Paradise Papers, with the more recent being the “Bermuda Standard”, which I assume is touted to be equivalent or better than the gold standard.
The first strategy failed largely because the Premier rushed to defend Bermuda before he had a thorough, workable grasp on both the depth and intricacies of the details contained in the six million stolen files, what the media had already accessed from these files, and what questions therefore would be forthcoming from the media.
Second, stolen or hacked, it is now a moot point because parliaments — at the very least the 28 combined parliamentary representatives of the European Union — across the world are hailing the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, not condemning them.
Third, “tax haven” is now our reputation or street cred, as the average person on the street can readily identify Bermuda as an “avoidance tax haven” rather than the illegal “evasive tax haven”.
Fourth, as the contents of Appleby’s files are revealed and will continue to be revealed, Bermuda will know concretely that our “Bermuda Standard” strategy is doomed to fail internationally.
A word of caution: don’t even attempt to sell the “Bermuda Standard” in Brussels to the European Union, as the EU Parliament, in its debate on the Paradise Papers, has reeked contempt upon — and please note — Appleby and its multi-jurisdictional operations. Not Bermuda.
Appleby’s systemic failures were kept secret by written agreement demanded by the regulatory body, Bermuda Monetary Authority, in Bermuda.
Should Appleby bear responsibility for our reputational damage? Yes, but also both the regulatory body and the odious PR attempts of “reputational damage” by the One Bermuda Alliance, which could mean just about anything here, should bear responsibility. So that more than $600,000 — or was that pounds sterling? — paid to place that propaganda slogan in the public domain could have been better spent on social programmes in Bermuda.
I do not advocate that we let Appleby crash and burn or fall on its own sword, for realistically it could, possibly, emerge as a stronger yet significantly leaner law firm.
But the Government of Bermuda cannot be seen to be, or in fact be, cuddling or colluding with Appleby because that will further damage the island’s reputation.
And if Bermuda has not taken action to stand at arm’s length from Appleby, then Burt should take note; Bermuda cannot be seen to be, or in fact be, colluding with multinationals and the super-rich through intermediaries, facilitators, law firms and/or tax advisers to continue to exploit these very complex tax avoidance schemes. It is now sheer greed and folly, not sound business and/or professional ethics moving forward. In fact, it demonstrates moral bankruptcy on our part, at the expense of the social programmes of countries that lose millions in tax revenues, to tax havens, so that Appleby and all in its jurisdictions can thrive.
Moreover, many of these countries that give immediate and urgent aid to the poorest and most destitute countries in the world do not do so when tax revenue bases fall short; they simply cut overseas aid accordingly. And that doubles down on the worst affected.
What I would advise Bermuda: understand and apply the butterfly effect.
A butterfly flaps its wings in Vietnam, and that slight wind gathers momentum until it becomes a tornado of devastating force and destruction across the world.
Tax avoidance helps to create vast human suffering and casualties such as the Rohingya ethnic cleansing of Burma.
Because when countries in the G20 have severely cut their aid budgets, as millions seep away into tax havens, Bermuda plays an instrumental role in facilitating, exacerbating and ultimately contributing to the demise of human beings for profit and greed.
Thus, Bermuda stands in a class of its own making — and we should be more than just ashamed; we should act in the utmost politically and professionally principled manner moving forward.
Bermuda needs to make a gigantic paradigm shift from being totally indifferent to the suffering of human beings other than ourselves.
VALIRIE MARCIA AKINSTALL, London, England
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