The Panama Papers are, in the words of the EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager, ‘just the tip of the iceberg’. This is hardly surprising to those of us concerned about social justice. But this story is hugely significant. It is drawing into focus the unfairness of the global system. This could grow into something truly epoch shifting. Iceland’s Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson has been forced to step down. He will probably not be the last. Globally many politicians, celebrities and other wealthy individuals have been revealed to be implicated. They will fight to maintain their privilege. This struggle for justice will be global, long and hard fought.
In China at least seven current and former senior politicians, including President Xi, are implicated. Mossack Fonseca’s Hong Kong office was its busiest branch, shifting about $1 trillion into tax dodging offshore shell companies last year alone, and thus destabilizing the entire Chinese economy. President Xi had made tackling corruption a theme of his presidency, yet now appears implicated himself. This could have huge ramifications. Unsurprisingly in Russia the Mossack Fonseca leak shows Putin and his inner circle enriching themselves at the expense of the Russian people.
Meanwhile in the USA Hilary Clinton is seen as closely associated with the global financial elite while Bernie Sanders is the antithesis. In terms of the Democratic nomination Sanders has a lot of catching up to do, but over recent weeks his momentum has been building with wins in Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Washington State and Wisconsin. This issue could be pivotal in bringing him success in the big upcoming primaries in New York, Pennsylvania and California. It could also knock Donald Trump out of the picture. A Sanders victory could be the best thing to happen in American politics since Roosevelt’s New Deal.
In the UK David Cameron claims ‘no prime minister or UK government has done more to tackle tax avoidance and evasion’, yet his own father is implicated in the Panama Papers. His claim looks pretty risible. Corbyn is making the right noises, but as the Blair-Brown era was a time of rapid increase in these dodgy financial practices the Labour Party have a lot to prove to show they are really up to the job. What is needed is an independent public inquiry, ideally chaired by someone such as Richard Murphy of Tax Research UK.
Corruption is a dominant theme in the politics of many countries. For change to happen we need the continued efforts of organisations such as The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the expertise of individuals such as Richard Murphy, the emergence of politicians like Bernie Sanders in USA, Uruguay’s Jose Mujica and Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal who do give a real alternative to the status quo. Most of all we need the global populace to get active in pressing for change, and supportive of those capable of bringing it about!