Ongoing research has uncovered that the benefits of the enormous profits made from the trans-Atlantic slave trade permeated British society. In the Virgin Islands, the International Business Companies Act 1984 transformed the territory’s poor subsistence economy into one of the most affluent in the region, but the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists exposed in the Panama Papers that a large number of companies registered by Panamanian firm Mossack Fonseca were used to conceal illicit operations.
Before Mossack was fined and left the VI, its operations had brought great financial benefits from taxes and employment to the territory. Nevertheless, corruption in any remaining companies must be exposed, best done perhaps by agents pursuing more vigorous “know your customer” checks when renewing registrations.
News that a Russian billionaire reportedly used multiple VI companies for fraud and money laundering while exploiting his connections with Prince Charles’s charitable work is the latest example of the way in which the VI’s name has attracted the sobriquet of “dirty tax haven.” Our new government should be prepared to take some controversial decisions in response to the demands being placed on it by the European Union and United Kingdom, in order to distance ourselves from it.
Joining the quiet lines of elderly voters during the first live use of the election tabulators was heartening, but the election observers’ concerns about the lack of regulation of campaign funding came as no surprise. I have urged the government to adopt at least the most significant recommendations of the 2015 election report in a series of commentaries, starting with one published Nov. 4 titled “Calls made for electoral reform.”
Pending the outcome of the investigation into the reported leaking of district results of advance polling, the elections apparently were not overtly targeted by hackers, but the major threat from them is that they could undermine trust in the democratic process as a whole (as I wrote in the Feb. 21 commentary “Cyberattacks feared in the VI”). Our public life needs greater regulation to beat them, including the establishment of an integrity commission and media watchdog, for example.
The new Cabinet should give prompt consideration to any legislation recommended in the election observers’ upcoming final report, but start now on reviewing the belated, inadequate and toothless regulations hastily consolidated into the recent Elections Amendment Act. Control of campaign finances could be more effective under fixed-term elections, since otherwise it would be difficult to control a repetition of the extensive advertising that stormed the media this year before the election date was declared, especially by the Virgin Islands Party.
Flow’s indiscrete outbursts of support for National Democratic Party rallies at two local superstores at the start of the campaign appeared to expose connections undeclared in the House of Assembly members’ register of interests, perhaps revealing forces undermining the good governance of the territory from within and without. I wondered which Cabinet members had consistently delayed and weakened desirable legislation such as the Consumer Protection Act.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet’s unpublicised decision to join the Association of Caribbean States should strengthen bonds with our neighbours and further expand the markets for both tourism and financial services, but we are also now members of the same club as Venezuela with its Russian bases. I wonder who introduced that proposal into Cabinet.
Russia’s Internet Research Agency runs a “troll factory” in St. Petersburg reputed to have an annual operational budget of $12 million, with more than a thousand workers pushing out propaganda to disrupt politics globally, and an arm of hackers.
Russia had been accused of interfering in the elections of almost all 28 member states for over 11 years before it hacked the Democratic National Committee email server in 2016, alerting the United States to the threat Russia posed to its electoral processes. Reports of the manipulation of US voter opinion in the last presidential election are still being investigated.
‘The enemy within’
Half a billion EU citizens are due to elect members of the European Parliament on May 23-26. A recent report warned of the imminent danger of a range of parties across Europe trying to destabilise the EU, doing the Kremlin’s job for it.
The EU has no overall plan to stop cyberattacks because each country is a sovereign, independent state responsible for its own preparations, and it doesn’t want to be accused of meddling in their affairs. However, its retiring president called for “new rules to better protect democratic processes from manipulation by third countries or private interests.”
I am convinced that the VI should remain under the UK’s protection rather than be an independent pawn subject to personal power-seeking and aggrandisement of Russian oligarchs and their political master.