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Economic vision, post public register of beneficial ownership

Dickson Igwe. Photo: Provided
Dickson Igwe

OK, a very savvy mind, who over the decades has been a major player in the Virgin Islands offshore finance industry, told this writer that he was not overly concerned about the UK government’s decision to impose a public register of beneficial ownership on offshore companies of overseas territories of Great Britain. He stated over lunch, that the industry had already factored in the decision into its working culture.

He asserted that the BVI financial services industry is composed of very savvy and bright minds and is organic by nature. Offshore financial services are adaptable. The industry will adopt a practical and pragmatic approach in engineering a new culture to meet the new realities post the public register of beneficial interests matter

However, despite the man’s soothing words, the UK Mainland intervention in the [British] Virgin Islands Financial services industry, imposing a huge change in the financial services culture, by making a register of beneficial ownership of offshore companies, public, was a shock to the country.

And that beneficial ownership issue has made a vision for the future, driven by the country’s pristine geography and maritime environment, a critical matter.

The possession of an economic vision, with a maritime and eco-friendly narrative, will enable the Virgin Islands to develop sustainably and steadily. The country must move away from a hugely profitable, but geopolitically vulnerable, offshore financial services industry to an economic culture that is more diverse, and unique to the country’s geography. The vision of the future must be eco centric, achievable, and sustainable.

Then the politics of the matter makes it impossible to reverse the decision. Attacking offshore jurisdictions is very popular with the vast majority of the British Public.

There have been assertions that the decision smacks of colonialism, hypocrisy, and even envy.

This Briton, and Virgin Islands citizen, does not see that assertion as valid. Yes, Margaret H. Thatcher introduced three decades of an austerity, and supply side economic model that made the idea of tax havens and tax loopholes, part and parcel of the Conservative Party’s Ruling Culture.

However, The Briton has always possessed a “soft spot” for the Welfare State, even with the Welfare State requirement of progressive taxation.

The Welfare State, of which the average Briton is proud, allows UK citizens a wide array of attractive social services such as subsidised public transportation, housing and unemployment benefits, and practically free healthcare, from the cradle to the grave. Consequently there is great hostility on the British High Street to millionaires and billionaires, who are able to shelter their gold in offshore havens.

The preceding is at the heart of the matter. The Tory’s- Conservatives- are the party of the offshore banking system. But even the Conservatives were unable to push back against public rumblings against the offshore financial services industry. Offshore financial jurisdictions are very unpopular in working and middle class UK neighborhoods. Working and middle class votes count on the UK mainland, just as votes matter to politicians here in the [British] Virgin Islands.

Consequently, absent of a push for independence that is not going to happen- as the voters simply cannot stomach independence post September 2017 and its tragic narrative- the country will have to live with the new reality.

To “pick victory from the jaws of the public register of ownership defeat,” the central mission of Virgin Islands governance from hence must be to set aside scarce resources, and aggressively pursue a new economic vision. This wannabe visionary believes that vision must be centered on a maritime learning culture that places innovation, creativity, and technology, as the driving force, that builds a new ocean sciences and ecotourism product.

This will be a culture of the ocean that employs citizens at all levels in the seafaring industry. The seafaring, maritime, and shipping industry must become the driving force for the post Irma economy, from financial services to ecotourism and agriculture, and from renewable energy to the local market economy.

Science, technology, engineering and math- STEM- will drive a learning environment that in essence returns the territory to its maritime and agricultural roots, within the context of a 21st century digital learning ecosystem.

Every area of the economy: farming, fishing, financial services, ecotourism, and the local market economy, must be effectively molded into each other, and together built into that maritime and seafaring vision and mission. The vision must ensure a sustainable, cohesive, and pristine ecosystem, which is critical to good quality of life, and national prosperity.  

To be continued…

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