Minister of International Business and Commerce Donville Inniss has rubbished a report this week which lists Barbados among 19 “secrecy jurisdictions” where some of the world’s biggest businesses, heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II, and global figures in politics, entertainment and sport are said to be sheltering their wealth from the taxman at home.
The details on these secret dealings come from a leak of 13.4 million files referred to as the Paradise Papers, that expose the global environments that allow the wealthiest corporations and individuals to legally protect their wealth.
The material, which has come from two offshore service providers and the company registries of the 19 so-called tax havens, was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Barbados was among 12 Caribbean jurisdictions mentioned in the leaked documents related to offshore law firm Appleby. The others are Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Rushing to the defence of the country’s international business reputation, Inniss said that while he had no doubt that some territories functioned as tax havens, to place Barbados in this category was baseless and an “insult to common sense”.
“Nothing really surprises me because there is a group of individuals and entities around the world that seem to exist solely to spread a lot of rumours and to cause a lot of confusion. I don’t deny that there are jurisdictions that may facilitate tax evasion and some illicit activities, but Barbados, I must stress over and over again, is not that kind of domicile,” the minister told Barbados TODAY at the Radisson Aquatica Resort on Bay Street, St Michael, where he addressed the opening of a regional training workshop on ISO/IEC, a joint technical committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) whose aim is to develop, maintain and promote standards in the fields of information technology and information and communications technology.
As a matter of fact, the minister said, contrary to suggestions in the report, businesses were more likely to complain that Government and banking regulations were too strict.
He told Barbados TODAY, banks were “well regulated and adhere to the highest possible standards” that sometimes make it difficult to deal with them.
“I have had potential investors complain about the difficulty in dealing with some of our systems and I have always contended that if you can legitimately do business in Barbados you can legitimately be doing business anywhere in the world. The minute you want shortcuts take your business elsewhere,” Inniss stressed.
“We have never been a country that could justifiably earn the reputation of being a tax haven . . . . It does not mean that we would not find a few who would do things in our domicile that are not welcomed but to suggest that Barbados is a tax haven makes no sense,” said Inniss, adding that the authors of the report did not take the time to educate themselves on the way business is done here.
Inniss was more measured this morning than when he angrily dismissed as “wicked”, “mischievous” and “grossly misleading”, the categorization last December of Barbados by the UK-based aid and development charity Oxfam as one of the world’s 15 worst tax havens.
In a no-holds-barred reaction to the listing, Inniss had told Barbados TODAY the charity, which focuses on the alleviation of global poverty, did not have the credibility or authority to determine whether or not Barbados was a tax haven.
In recent years the minister has been forced to defend the country’s international business reputation as various organisations, and even local governments in the United States, blacklist the country as a tax haven.
In April of this year the US State of Illinois infuriated the minister when it blacklisted this country following the introduction of a new bill by the state’s house of representatives forbidding business groups or those operating in jurisdictions considered “foreign tax havens” from submitting a bid or entering into a contract with the state of Illinois and restricting “expatriate corporations” in the countries named from doing business with the state.
“Once again such legislative action reflects the genuine abundance of ignorance on international tax policy matters that permeates the corridors of political power in some states and countries,” Inniss complained at the time.
In 2013 Inniss visited Canada where he sought to counteract negative comments that branded Barbados as a tax haven by reassuring Canadian investors that Barbados’ actions were above board.
In a message to approximately 100 Canadian company advisors and potential investors, Inniss reiterated that the island was still a domicile of choice for international business.
He noted at the time that the Government mission had visited Ottawa against the backdrop of increased public outcry and condemnation of jurisdictions around the world that offered low-cost solutions to those doing international business.
Last year, Inniss also said there was an opportunity for Barbados to raise its profile as a tax jurisdiction, amidst the then Panama Papers scandal.
Thirty-four companies from Barbados were listed in the Panama Papers, described at the time as history’s biggest data leak with an unprecedented 11.5 million files from the database of the world’s biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca.
Inniss said then that Barbados was not a tax haven but a compliant jurisdiction with legitimate tax structures, a feature he said the country should promote to its advantage.