In the article – Shell game – you infer that the introduction of a publicly accessible central registry of company beneficial ownership will turn attention towards offshore financial centres with British links. We in Jersey are an example of an offshore centre that are active supporters of government to government information exchange and indeed for many years have had a central register for all companies that is deemed a best practice ‘model’ by the World Bank. What is more our regulation of all corporate service providers, and capture of all beneficial ownership information, including on trusts, is streets ahead of the UK and all major G20 and OECD nations. This information is accessible on request from legitimate authorities and is routinely exchanged as part of our commitment to the OECD tax information exchange programme.
Protecting business interests, trade secrets, safeguarding personnel from fringe, sometimes violent campaigning groups, from corrupt political elites and from criminals are all real and weighty concerns. It is telling that the NGO community are happy to subject those who create employment and prosperity for millions, who have worked hard, risked their own capital, and done the right thing, to a much greater degree of scrutiny than almost any other constituency in society.
There is little difference from opening up the private company arrangements of business owners to the public glare of NGOs, journalists, cyber criminals and the assorted flotsam and jetsam of the worldwide web, than for ordinary bank accounts. If the logic holds good do we not need to know the balance publicly of all personal bank accounts so that all can be sure we came by our cash by legitimate means?
However while Mr Cameron is correct to highlight the need for greater transparency, his reliance on evidence from and parallel government by the NGO community could lead to unintended consequences. The government appears to underestimate the balance between the needs of business to protect their own interests, as well as their own inherent right to privacy against the scrutiny and hyper-judgement of NGOs.
The risk is many countries will not follow suit and while Mr Cameron may win friends among the aid community, the unintended consequences may well leave Britain uncompetitive, with less foreign investment and fewer jobs.