Today I had the privilege of being in the audience at the Open Government Partnership summit when the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that the UK will make information about who owns and controls companies available to the public.
I couldn’t believe it. In the fight against phantom firms it’s a huge win.
There’s more work to be done, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the huge importance of this announcement. This is the result of your action, and the great work that many organisations are doing to fight phantom firms.
David Cameron said:
“We need to know who really owns and controls our companies. Not just who owns them legally, but who really benefits financially from their existence. For too long a small minority have hidden their business dealings behind a complicated web of shell companies, and this cloak of secrecy has fuelled all manners of questionable practice – and downright illegality. Illegality that is bad for the developing world – as corrupt regimes stash their money abroad under different identities.
“So that’s why we need to shine a spotlight on who owns what and where money is really flowing. This summer at the G8 we committed to do just that – to establish a central register of company beneficial ownership. And today I’m delighted to announce that not only is that register going to go ahead – but that it’s also going to be open to the public.”
“Some people will question whether it’s right to make this register public. … It’s better for businesses here – who will be better able to identify who really owns the companies they’re trading with. It’s better for developing countries who will have easy access to all this data, without having to submit endless requests for each line of enquiry. And it’s better for us all to have an open system which everyone has access to because the more eyes that look at this information, the more accurate it will be. This is, I believe, world first on transparency and I’m proud that Britain is leading the way. And today I call on the rest of the world to join us in this journey. … Together we can close the door on these shadowy, corrupt, illegal practices once and for all.”
Our Brussels Director, Eloise Todd, never one to miss an opportunity, was the first to ask the Prime Minister a question and quickly raised the issue of trusts and how we win the fight in Europe.
“Prime Minister, in the spirit of the G8 effort you led, and the strong language in that communique on companies and trusts, can you take this fight to Europe; can you ensure there will be no loopholes; and can you therefore ensure that trusts are also covered?”
David Cameron replied,
“Well thank you very much. First of all, thank you to The ONE Campaign for campaigning so vigorously on this. I do think it’s important as we try and raise levels of prosperity, particularly in the poorest countries in our world that we make arguments about aid and development but we ally those with arguments about transparency and institutions and the rule of law. And that is what The ONE Campaign does so effectively.
“On the first bit of your question – taking Europe – yes, absolutely. Britain now, I think, is taking a leadership step in terms of this register of beneficial ownership and openness. What we agreed at the G8 is that everyone should have an Action Plan to move in this direction and we’ll be encouraging other European countries to do the same thing.
“The issue of trusts came up a lot in the consultation. Trusts are different to companies: companies are more public institutions; trusts, more private. So we’re happy to, you know, listen to the arguments as we go ahead. But what we’re starting with today is companies and company ownership. But we will certainly make the arguments around the rest of the world about everyone moving on to this agenda.”
The announcement received strong support from many of our partners and friends. Paul Collier, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Oxford, said,
“The British Government announcement that the true ownership of companies will be registered and publicly accessible is a major step forward in open government. It is particularly helpful for African governments struggling to combat corruption since bribes will now be harder to hide away in havens of secrecy. The pressure is now on other governments to adopt the same standard.”
I have always thought that this is a great campaign, but now I’m more inspired than ever to keep on fighting phantom firms. I hope you are too.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out our outrageous company Stash the Cash which we created to expose how easy it is to set up a phantom firm.