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Tirando Piedras con Techo de Vidrio

By Alvaro E. Tomas

La Prensa

July 28, 2013

TRANSPARENCY REQUEST

A few days ago I attended a forum of the Panamanian Association of Business Executives (APEDE) called “Panama’s Financial Centre: threats and challenges”. The moderator, Alberto Padilla from CNN, made the mistake of starting the forum asking the panelists for opinions on whether they thought Panama was or not a money-laundering center. Furthermore, he repeated several times that Panama was regarded as a tax haven by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). As I bit my tongue during the event, I feel the need to write this article.

In recent years, the club of 34 countries, called OECD, focused its intentions in requiring changes in the laws of the nations considered “tax havens”. Panama has not escaped this scrutiny and whether we agree or not with these requirements, the pressure led us to the signing of a tax exchange agreement that -due to our territoriality principle- does not seem to benefit us at all, and soon will force us to change laws that could reduce our competitiveness in the financial and legal service sector. This international organization, as if it was a religion, wants to impose on the world the example of their members that according to them stick to “transparency”.

Few know that this organization annually issues a report on bribery, on behalf of businessmen of its member countries, to officials of non-member countries, in order to get favorable treatment in international public tenders (OECD Working Group on Bribery Annual Report 2013). This report becomes relevant in light of its transparency policy and the fact that its members represent about 90% of direct Global foreign investment.

The 2013 annual report states that, after more than a decade, 311 companies or individuals have been sanctioned in 14 member countries for bribing foreign officials, while only 83 individuals have gone to prison. That is, 40% of its members have entrepreneurs who have actively participated in bribery, fostering corruption in developing nations. Let’s recall that the cynical, to say the least, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi justified this crime by declaring that bribery is necessary when dealing with third world countries and regimes…”(Financial Times, February 2013).

The report notes that in 20 nations belonging to that organization no evidence has been found that their entrepreneurs had been favored with governmental investment abroad. We might expect that in some Nordic countries, in the U.S. or in Singapore these corruption acts would not occur due to the execution of

justice or the mere possibility that the entrepreneurs would be investigated. What calls our attention is that Brazil, Mexico and Spain (members) have not prosecuted any entrepreneurs on the charges of corruption of officials.

To run its heroic mission of promoting policies and improving the welfare of planet earth, the OECD should force its partners to investigate and more aggressively prosecute entrepreneurs who go around bribing at a global scale. Otherwise, the serious and dignified receiving nations of that direct foreign investment, should blacklist the countries criticized by that organization, for their inaction at the time of fighting the corruption of its officials, preventing them from participating or bidding in governmental works and services.

Before continuing to mandate regulations to non-members, such as Panama, the OECD must understand that it is unacceptable to us that the organization does not put greater efforts to prosecute its criminals in the name of the transparency they so emphatically profess.

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