Take the lead in probe of Pandora Papers


IT is disappointing that the Malaysian government has chosen to adopt a passive approach to the Pandora Papers.

Leaving it to the police to investigate may suggest that the government is not prepared to assume leadership in setting the moral tone for society, especially since some of the underlying ethical concerns in the Pandora Papers may have serious implications for the public as a whole.

The Pandora Papers refer to the millions of leaked documents that reveal allegedly offshore accounts of present and past leaders, including presidents, prime ministers, billionaires and prominent business people. The papers were compiled by an international consortium of investigative journalists and made public on Oct 2, 2021.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair and the current president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, are on the list. Several prominent Malaysian individuals, including businessmen have been named too.

The inclusion of their names in the Pandora Papers, why they as public figures chose offshore accounts for their assets, and how this impacted upon the local economy are matters that should be investigated. At the very least, it would help to clear their names.

It is in this spirit that a number of governments, including the Pakistani government, have chosen to investigate allegations in the Papers against their people.

In investigating the allegations, the authorities and the public will have to examine seriously both the legal and ethical dimensions.

Beyond the rules pertaining to offshore accounts and the like, there is the more powerful issue of how offshore accounts of important and wealthy personalities drain the economies of many countries.

A 2016 report by Oxfam, a global movement of people who are fighting inequality to end poverty and injustice, estimated that a third of the wealth of rich Africans – about US$500bil – was kept in offshore accounts. This resulted in a huge loss in tax revenue, about US$1.4bil a year, which is enough to pay for the healthcare of millions of poor people.

A global network of tax havens enable the very rich to hide US$7.6 trillion. This is why it is imperative for the government to send a firm message to the nation that it will not tolerate offshore accounts. It must be part of the overall endeavour to eradicate corruption. Private gain should never take precedence over the public good.

Parliament should immediately establish a small committee of, say, three persons to investigate thoroughly the Malaysians named in the Pandora Papers with focus on holders of public office. The committee should be independent, credible and committed, and its report should be submitted directly to the Dewan Rakyat for scrutiny within two months of its appointment.

DR CHANDRA MUZAFFAR

Kuala Lumpur

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