Integrity in one’s private life is as important as integrity in one’s public life. The two cannot be separated. If there is no integrity in one’s private life, then regardless of how much one tries, there will be no integrity in one’s public life.
That lack of integrity in the private domain will ultimately catch up with one’s public life, no matter how much one tries to show integrity in the public space. If we are not what we preach, then we are actors, impostors and, worse yet, hypocrites.
Those in the public spotlight, those seeking public office and politicians must even be more aware of this than any other individual.
In the last few weeks, two new political parties were formed, each seeking to bring about an alternative to the politics in Barbados. One party –– Solutions Barbados –– offers up itself as follows: “We are a group of men and women who love Barbados, treasure our reputations, and plan to offer ourselves as candidates in the next general election in order to give Barbadians a competent alternative. While we have some potential candidates, we need more –– hence, the following.
“Wanted. Accomplished men and women of demonstrated integrity and leadership, who love Barbados, treasure their reputations, and are willing to present themselves as candidates in the next general election in order to give Barbadians a competent alternative.”
I note and emphasize the word integrity. Such is the typical buzzword of political parties. Most politicians seek to bring “integrity” into their actions. That is easy to say in the public sphere, but much harder to practise in private life.
But as I proffered at the beginning of my column, if integrity is already present and practised in the private life, it should be automatic in one’s public life.
The other side to this discussion is: how does one define integrity and how does one view having integrity? In a time such as ours when the moral compass seems to constantly shift, it is safe to say that the “integrity compass” may also be moving, depending on how one sees life.
There is an argument that morality is relative. What may be moral for one person may very well be immoral for another, and vice versa. Is the same relevant for integrity?
Generally, persons in the public domain are swayed by popular opinion. What do the public know about a public figure? What do they like, what do they dislike? And what is it in a public figure’s private actions that they will either like or dislike if such actions come to light?
Politicians and other public figures in the United States are usually held up to intense scrutiny both in their public and private lives. Many are broken by revelations of what occurs in their private lives.
Caribbean politicians generally suffer less scrutiny in their private lives by the mainstream media. However, with the advent of social media, that scrutiny seems to take place on those platforms that offer less chance of legal repercussions once brought out in the open. It seems, however, that despite such revelations oft-times Caribbean people do not take such “revelations” seriously, and only when it affects the public life then would it matter.
The Panama Papers, as they are called, have created quite a stir around the globe. The Panama Papers are a set of 11.5 million leaked confidential documents covering nearly 40 years that provide detailed information about more than 214,000 offshore companies across the world, including in the Caribbean, listed by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has published stories on the leaked documents, showing how some wealthy individuals, including public officials, have hidden their money to avoid paying taxes. These papers unveil the offshore holdings of 140 politicians and officials, including 12 current and former monarchs, presidents and prime ministers.
As Sir Ronald Sanders pointed out in Barbados TODAY of April 8, “. . . there has been no evidence of direct connection by companies and bank accounts by these people. Neither has there been any evidence of illegal behaviour or wrongdoing specifically by them. Some media are feeding a frenzy because mentioning well-known names helps to create and sustain a story that suggests impropriety”.
Sir Ronald further states: “From all that has emerged so far, it seems many of the persons who have been identified in the Panama Papers were not evading tax or laundering money. The majority appeared to have been planning their taxes, including by use of legitimate vehicles for the avoiding the payment of tax. Tax avoidance is not illegal. Tax evasion is. But, increasingly, there is a tendency to blur the two by those who advocate against low-tax or no-tax jurisdictions, claiming there are ‘tax havens’.”
And, it is this “blur” through the Panama Papers scandal that has serious implications for the Caribbean in its thrust to become attractive to offshore companies.
The 15-nation Caribbean Community is fighting the perception of the region as a tax haven, following this leak. In a statement, CARICOM said the financial industry regulations in the region fully complied with international standards.
“As more disclosures unfold, with respect to the leak of these financial records, CARICOM urges caution by those making the leap towards moral indignation and the unjust labelling of the financial services centres in the Community . . . .”
So clearly, the Caribbean will not be immune from the excitement being generated by the leaking of the Panama Papers.
On the positive side, Minister of International Business Donville Inniss has seen an opportunity for Barbados to raise its profile as a tax jurisdiction, amidst the scandal.
In the court of public opinion, which many politicians will ultimately have to face, scandals like this certainly do not help, even if the targeted be in the right, as legally argued by Sir Ronald. So far, one prime minister has been forced to resign since the Panama Papers scandal broke.
And Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has come out saying he should have handled the offshore fund revelations better as thousands of protesters call for his resignation. The British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbin accuses Prime Minister Cameron of misleading the public about his personal involvement in offshore tax avoidance schemes.
Corbin said: “It took five weasel-worded statements in five days for the prime minister to admit that he has personally profited
from an undeclared Caribbean tax haven investment deal.”
Corbin continued: “After years of calling for tax transparency and attacking complex offshore tax arrangements as ‘morally wrong’, the prime minister has been shown to have personally benefited from exactly such a secretive offshore investment.”
This discussion doesn’t look like it will abate that easily, but it has certainly opened many different issues regarding wealth, its creation, its use and who benefits the most and who loses even more. The revelations in the leaked Panama Papers have again raised the question of who is paying their fair share of taxes and who is not. The latest scandal is also exposing how massive global corruption is taking place.
There are those who think tax havens are a reason for income inequality in many countries, and question their impact on global trade and global wealth, and how those with wealth are creating companies and trusts in offshore jurisdictions. It is also argued that in the wealthiest country –– the United States –– the super-rich are getting away when it comes to paying taxes.
The American economic system offers no shortage of loopholes, allowing the rich to shortchange the country. Money made from money –– that is interest –– is preferred to money made from actual work.
That is a discussion that certainly needs to take place and one in which Caribbean governments will have to pay closer attention to and tackle.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association.