Some Caribbean Community attorneys general on Tuesday called for greater unity among CARICOM states – possibly spearheaded by a special office – to fight the issue of the blacklisting of their tax jurisdictions by the European Union (EU).
Bahamas’ AG Carl Bethel suggested that the establishment of a committed unit within CARICOM to deal specifically with blacklisting as the legal affairs ministers appeared in a virtual roundtable discussion during the inaugural Caribbean Conference on Corruption, Compliance and Cybercrime. The two-day conference which ended today was organized by the World Bank Group in association with the Caribbean Development Bank.
The session focused on compliance and issues surrounding anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT).
As of October. the EU’s blacklist for non-cooperative jurisdictions contained 12 countries, including Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.
Declaring that the region’s burden was to survive and be respected, Bethel said it was about time the Caribbean “demand a seat at the table on the basis of mutual respect”.
He said: “We need to work together. We have tried to work through the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific States) but that institution has its own limitations.
“So it may well be that the Caribbean, through CARICOM, will need to forge a negotiating unit, some special unit designed with all our support to provide and access the best technical assistance to assist the region as a whole in its inter-relationships with other economic blocs or regions, other countries and other international institutions.
“That might be a way forward by which we collaboratively give mutual support to each other.”
He complained that no matter how much regional jurisdictions cooperate with multilateral institutions on financial and other regimes “the goal posts continue to move and the finger pointing still continues”.
Bethel continued: “There really is a need for balance in this, which is not apparent. There is a totally different standard of treatment accorded to ‘offshore financial centres’ that is not similarly meted out to the ‘onshore financial centres, principalities or dukedoms’, and there are several major European countries that themselves are heavily involved in financial services. But the treatment that is accorded to them is not the same accorded to us.”
At the same time, he said regional economies should continue to “work hard” to ensure they were not putting themselves in the position of being labelled as tax havens.
“We have to continue to challenge the opprobrious naming of us as tax havens, the Bahamian attorney general said. “We have to continue the fight against the inaccurate and unfair narrative of Caribbean’s international financial centres, but we have to do more as well to fully ensure that in fact we don’t drop the ball or cause ourselves to provide legitimation to such stigmatisation as occurred against Caribbean jurisdictions.”
Bethel also recommended that the region continue to seek out and “embrace” new markets.
Attorney General of Jamaica Marlene Malahoo Forte said notwithstanding the challenges being faced, the region could still “continue to play an active role in ensuring that our jurisdictions implement effective measures to combat laundering and financing of terrorism”.
“At the same time, it is appropriate to engage in constructive dialogue with a view to ensuring that we are involved in an assessment process and due consideration is given to our feedback in these processes,” she said.
Stating that regional institutions have repeatedly expressed disappointment in the EU’s lack of consultation prior to putting countries on its blacklist, Malahoo Forte said a new approach was needed.
She said: “We can’t continue to move the goal post, we can’t continue to change what is required of us in the process of implementing, we can’t continue to have this unilateral standard. It is not right at all.
“I would encourage national teams to try as much as possible to be on the same page before, during and after engaging the international community on matters.”
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs of Guyana Mohaibr Anil Nandlall said while he understood the need for countries to be compliant internationally, often times the policies being introduced had “no relationship” with the society that was required to adhere to them.
“You don’t pass a law here for snow when we are a tropical climate. That is the point I am making,” he said.
At the same time, however, he said the region must also accept that there have been cases “where our structures are not working, too”.
Making a reference to a ponzi scheme that was discovered in the region several years ago, he said it should not have been allowed to reach the level it did “without the system reacting”.
“So we also have to be careful that [the systems] which we put in, we are able to properly police and ensure it functions competently and efficiently,” he cautioned.