Iceland is a tiny country with a population of 330,000 and a reputation for some very robust democracy, the more so since the financial crash of 2008-09, which saw banks fail and the economy in tatters. The revelations to be found within the Panama Papers are now travelling around the world and in Iceland appear to have claimed their first victim, the Prime Minister Sigmundur Davio Gunnlaugsson. He has ‘stepped aside’ from his office amidst a storm of public outrage being expressed at the fact that his family had ‘sheltered’ money in an offshore tax haven. Icelanders like to see transparency in their politicians, and give short shrift to those who fail to meet some exacting standards.
The Panama Papers are a story that is going to run and run as it is still being mined to the embarrassment of politicians, judges, financiers, show-business personalities and leaders of nations past and present. There can be little doubt that other heads are going to roll in future and the entire exercise is an example of practical public accountability. The scale of the leak — 11.5 million documents — and the indisputable veracity of its contents means that it cannot be simply ignored, brushed aside as an irrelevance. Around 200 names of persons of Pakistan origin are mentioned, with several members of the current ruling family among them. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has responded by announcing the formation of a judicial panel to investigate the Sharif family’s ownership of offshore shell companies and assets. He did this in a rare televised address to the nation, an indication perhaps of the sensitivity of the Panama Papers as well as the pointlessness of denying their realities. We welcome this move but also see it as the ultimate wake-up call for politicians of all parties and stripes. Secrecy is no longer guaranteed. Whistles will continue to get blown by people whose vested interest is in honest transparency and even the most cunningly devised hiding places are unlocked by digital keys. This leak may — eventually — trigger the end of offshore tax evasion, and all the more welcome for that.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 7th, 2016.
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