The debate continues!
David Cameron has advised the G8 summit that the UK will draw up a register of beneficial owners of companies. The measure would aim to expose the real owners of businesses and strip away the secrecy created by faceless, offshore shell companies. Cameron has said he would make the UK register public as long as there is international support. At present this proposal awaits a formal decision by the G8.
The issue has now attracted the support of aid agencies who are lobbying for more transparency. An open letter has been released by these agencies which has been endorsed by 1,500 business groups and companies. The letter says:
“The current system enables the most unscrupulous corporations and wealthy individuals to deprive our governments of billions of dollars of revenue that should be invested in quality education, research, infrastructure and health care. We call for unanimous G8 support for key measures including automatic information sharing among all countries, a public registry showing beneficial ownership for all companies, trusts and foundations, and getting multinationals to publish a country by country breakdown of their accounts".
There does seem to be a gradual move to bring beneficial ownership into the public domain. The UK tax authorities would dearly like the information and the tax revenue that currently escapes via off-shore arrangements. UK businesses that declare and pay tax in the UK based on their UK trading activities are also keen to level the playing field. And lastly, there now seems to be a political will to accommodate the necessary registers.
Ultimately, it may be difficult for David Cameron to achieve consensus, Canada and Russia are known to be against the measure and the USA are ambivalent.