Escaping the OECD 'blacklist' Analysis by Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
March 13, 2002

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`...if there is no more than the proverbial mortar in the pestle in the Caribbean's escape from the "name and shame" game, then we must wait on the list ...the "seal" of approval from that agent of the rich and powerful...'

THE good news for Caribbean states with off-shore financial sectors and long pressurised to end alleged 'harmful' tax practices, is that when the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) finally publishes its "blacklist" of uncooperative jurisdictions later this month, most, if not all member states and territories of the Caribbean Community are not expected to be among 20-odd other countries threatened with sanctions.

Caribbean countries with off-shore banking services allegedly facilitating money laundering and other illegal financial practices, were to have been listed at the end of February by the OECD among 35 "uncooperative jurisdictions" as part of its so-called "name and shame" campaign.

The OECD, which has been complaining against the kind of secrecy that facilitates illegal practices, will now be releasing its list this month. Caribbean states that have been anxiously working, within recent months, some say manoeuvring, to evade the "blacklist", are now getting ready to exhale, to sound their sigh of relief.

However, the worrying aspect of the long, agonising journey from the original arbitrary definitions of criteria and implementation strategies by the OECD and its ally, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), is that along the routes of bilateral negotiations and regional encounters over at least four years, suspicions, even muted disputes, have arisen among those Caribbean member states and territories for whom the off-shore financial services sector remains valuable to their economies.

The European and North American powers have long mastered the carrot-and-stick art in their dealings with poor Third World nations - the weaker and more vulnerable they are the better. They have also proven quite adept at sowing seeds of division among partner states of the small, poor and developing world, with the Caribbean region being no exception.

In the circumstances, it came as no surprise to find that Barbados, whose Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, was very much in the forefront of the battle against the pressure tactics of the OECD, along with other Eastern Caribbean governments like St. Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda in the early stages, found itself having to officially deny last week that it had broken ranks with its partners in order to get off the OECD "blacklist".

A consensus among Caribbean countries had developed out of an encounter last year in Barbados on how to more effectively address allegations of harmful tax practices coming from the OECD. But within months, as the OECD kept up the pressure to list Caribbean jurisdictions among some 35 countries, mixed signals were coming, some directly manipulated from outside of the region, about "deals" being struck by Caribbean states anxious to escape the "blacklist"

The picture turned out to be somewhat different, from the Caribbean's perspective. Having failed to get the Caribbean to, for instance, shift from no-tax/low tax regimes, separate agreements were reached with the OECD on two hitherto unresolved issues -- transparency and information exchange ahead of 2005 when an overall global position comes into force.

It so happened that while some other Caribbean states were still in the negotiating process, Barbados chose to happily announce its "clearance" -- first in the region -- from the OECD as a jurisdiction that should not have been identified for the so-called "blacklist" in the first place.

Subsequently, the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Kenny Anthony, in responding to media questions about Barbados being off the OECD list of "uncooperative jurisdictions", commented on why it was important for a Caribbean consensus to have been achieved in the context of OECD demands.

The implication of his statement that Barbados may have unwittingly broken ranks did not sit well at all with the Barbadian Prime Minister.

When, therefore, the influential "Financial Times" newspaper of London later published a report that Barbados had evidently jumped the gun in brokering a deal on its own with the OECD, and attributed comments to an unidentified official of the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Arthur quickly summoned a press conference last Tuesday to voice his irritation at what he considered unjustified and unfriendly reports out of Castries and Kingstown.

He said he did not want to get into any war of words with his CARICOM partners but to make clear that no "deal" was struck by his government with the OECD, with which Barbados had been engaged in a battle for the past four years, to avoid being unjustly placed on a "name and shame" list of uncooperative jurisdictions.

Even before Arthur's press conference to defend his government against implicit criticisms of a "deal" with the OECD, Antigua and Barbuda was proudly announcing its own successful agreement with the OECD and how it had long ago met the 25 criteria on the list of the FATF.

Significantly, Arthur's press conference followed a day after Anthony's announcement in St. Lucia that his country was off the OECD "name and shame" list of uncooperative jurisdictions considered as tax havens.

Then came from Paris, where the OECD is headquartered, reports signalling that this could also be the case for other previously identified jurisdictions in the Caribbean, among them St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis and Grenada. There was still some uncertainty, at the time of writing, about others, like The Bahamas, Belize, Montserrat and Anguilla.

Since Caribbean countries are now being praised for commitment to transparency and information-sharing in the continued operations of their no-tax or low-tax regimes that the OECD had claimed were used for tax evasion, then something seems missing in the puzzle over "agreements" reached, considering that they had repeatedly been stating that commitment publicly.

Therefore, if there is no more than the proverbial mortar in the pestle in the Caribbean's escape from the "name and shame" game, then we must wait on the list to be published later this month that will officially signal the "seal" of approval from that agent of the rich and powerful -- the OECD -- for hitherto blacklisted Caribbean countries.

In which case, those foreign "banking" interests that remain uncomfortable with the adjustments made and agreements reached or being worked out, can start walking. The question is, to where, if no longer in this region.