So the largest release of data hit the digital shelves on the 3rd April. The leaked files go back decades and reference 12 current or former world leaders, as well as 128 other politicians and public officials. Where does that leave us, the people, with those who call the shots? In an age of mistrust and mass disillusionment with global institutions, corporations and the ruling elite, will this information overload of greed and deceit spark the beginning of the end for a system designed to conceal corruption at the highest level? While a global uprising seems too premature to predict, there will no doubt be those calling for the heads of the global establishment. For the majority, is it a case of “Well, I didn’t see that coming”. The truth of the matter is, isn’t this just everything we’ve come to expect?
Havens and hell
And on the first day man created Tax havens. With secrecy as their main selling point, tax havens have, since their inception, escaped the clutches of authorities and more importantly, the prying eyes of the public. What does this tell us? Well, for as long as there’s been taxation there’s been evasion. For some, money is the root of all evil, but what’s prima facie is that one of the fundamental pillars of the global monetary system is greed. A “Founding Father” in the accumulation of capital? When a system is designed to stem the flow of wealth to a concentrated few, the next step is to preserve it.
There’s something cruel about the chosen locations of these offshore accounts. Take The Seychelles for example, the archipelago in the Indian Ocean, where the law firm at the centre of the offshore revelations, Mossack Fonseca, has incorporated tens of thousands of companies in its portfolio. It’s a setting described by Lonely Planet as ‘dream like’ and ‘brochure material’. A popular choice for newlyweds, this talcum-powder beach paradise is far removed from the realities of the travelling masses: where hardship replaces luxury hotels and coastal walks are swapped for poverty safari trips. The juxtaposition of these offshore utopias, with the real world we all live in, is symbolic of the divide between the 1% ruling elite and the 99% of us left to fight for a share of the economic pie. If the Panama Papers reveal one thing, it’s that the scope of global power players involved have made borders and nationalities irrelevant. As much as this may be everything we’ve come to expect from the mighty 1%, we can at least be united in the resulting sentiment. I’m 99% sure of that.
Counting the accountable
Catching the criminals? Well, there’s been a start. Perhaps most notably so far, Iceland’s Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson has been the first high profile casualty of the leak. After failing to declare stakes in an offshore company, thousands of Icelanders voiced their anger in mass protests across Reykjavik. One down, more to follow? Other high profile leaders include: Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko and Argentinean President, Mauricio Macri. Will these countries act in the same vein and remove those who have been caught red handed? For the moment, their fate is in the hands of the people. In states where freedom of speech is silenced, the room for unrest will be quickly subdued. Despite his inner circle being implicated repeatedly in this scandal, it seems certain Putin will weather the storm. On the other hand, some states have already taken drastic action. Take China’s response, after Premier Xi Jinping was indirectly implied. With one click, the issue has already fallen victim to the ‘Great Wall’ of censorship that engulfs the Chinese masses.
While there are still many good guys out there,some countries have already launched official investigations. Sound bites from Obama and co calling for international tax reform sound promising but leave a bitter taste of hollowness. In any case, from a US perspective, how much could these events shape the outcome of the coming election? A thoroughbred business tycoon in Trump vs a Clinton campaign that is part funded by a lobbying firm with connections to the Panama Papers? All of these revelations add weight to the question that at the highest levels, is there really a ‘corruption-free’ choice? A quote by Albert Camus has never seemed so accurate: “Democracy is not the law of the majority, but the protection of the minority”. For the decades that they have escaped the clutches of the global electorate, now is surely the time that we must start holding everyone to account.
Only the beginning
What will it take for a collective paradigm shift in our acceptance of global governance? As of yet, the question remains unanswered. What’s for certain, is that we, the voting public, surely deserve better. By releasing these documents, the ICIJ has made inroads into establishing a model for the global elite to reverse its untouchability. A triumph for ‘leaktivism’, this latest development is finally laying the foundations for a global ‘Networked Fourth Estate’. The wealth hidden by these law firms is money that should be spent on our public services, schools, hospitals and used to support hardworking people enduring austerity and the brunt of the crumbling global financial system. Our representatives have instead, tacitly or actively, chosen to facilitate and help preserve this corrupt system of loopholes. An estimated 8% of the world’s wealth is stuffed away in offshore accounts, and alarmingly, most of it done legally.
In the age of Globalization, we have become accustomed to many things: faster services, revolutions in communication, the sharing of ideas, experiences and lifestyles between people and cultures. Every day the world is becoming smaller, more integrated and more interdependent. But underneath all of this, Globalization has allowed the interests of the few to unify the ruling elite. A form of collective corruption sold as an affordable luxury to the privileged. The Panama Papers may have confirmed what we’ve come to expect, but we should expect a whole lot more. The ‘biggest’ leak in history? For the time being, at least.
“Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.” – Martin Luther King