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Purely Dominica

Purely Dominica

My wife, daughter and I (our entire family) voted for Barak Obama for President of the United States.

We’re still glad we did, but not because of any accomplishments – there have been no major ones – but because the alternative was really scary. It is important to understand that Obama never had a constituency: American always turn to the Democratic Party in hard economic times, people were sick of the war in Iraq, and yes, he captured bloc ethnic votes. Before you argue that point take a look at the returns from, say, North Carolina or Virginia.

But his presidency is doomed. He will serve one term, that’s all. Here are the reasons why:

  • Americans have no patience. They’re accustomed to solutions in half-hour or hour intervals, as on TV.
  • Americans have no historical perspective: Remember, the Great Depression began 90 years ago. I’m 68 and only heard about it from my parents. Even WWII was over before I turned 5.
  • A President’s powers are limited and most American’s would fail a civics test about them. And, Barak Obama does not walk on water.
  • As Commander-in-Chief he could accelerate withdrawal from Iraq. And the war in Afghanistan is futile and destructive both to the economy and his presidency.

It takes an “opposite” to make momentous changes in America. People forget that FDR was an avowed fiscal conservative when elected. That it took a war-hero general to win election by promising to end the Korean War – any Democrat trying that would have been labeled soft on communism. That the Republican who claimed that Truman and Democrats “lost China” and who won election in 1968 decrying Robert Kennedy’s promise to support admitting “Red” China into the UN – Richard Nixon – also won by claiming to have “a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam”. Nixon was able to open a dialog with the People’s Republic of China. Democrats wanted to do that but could never have survived the political fallout.

Has anyone noticed that it was a Republican governor who got a universal health care plan passed in Massachusetts? It will be a Republican President who gets US universal health care passed: For the wrong reasons, of course. It will pass because hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies are feeling the pain, not because the people need it.

I still support Obama, except for Afghanistan and his political gifts to homosexuals. I’d like him to win a 2nd term and to get a health care plan, a good one, though, and turn this wretched economy around. But I believe I’ll be disappointed.

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Close your eyes – Think imaginatively about USA President Obama lifting restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba from relatives living in the USA.

Think of the long, long term and a most extraordinary scene may unfold in your mind’s eye — rafts of refugees floating TO Cuba!

It has been clear to many people that for a long time the USA’s economic restrictions against Cuba have been largely symbolic. It is true that they serve to remind the world that the USA rejects the Castro regime and the communist ideology behind it.

But it is equally true that these restrictions have only hurt the ordinary Cuban people without bringing any meaningful change in the island’s leadership or system of government.

Surely, the quality of life for people in ‘embargo-free’ Cuba would get progressively better as Castro’s communist dream unfolds. When the good life in Cuba becomes a powerful magnet, guess what some of the poor and disillusioned people suffering under the terrible capitalist system would do? Build their barges, check the tides, set hopeful eyes on Cuba and start to float. It’s enough to make you blink.

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Editors’s note:Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean diplomat.

INTERESTING READ:It is a classic case of “passing the buck”, but Caribbean jurisdictions that offer offshore financial services will be the victims of lax regulation by the OECD countries – the UK and US in particular. 

Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the US Senate and Congress have both now shown their intention to close down offshore financial services which they call “tax havens”.

Speaking on March 4th to the US Congress Brown asked: “’But how much safer would everybody’s savings be if the whole world finally came together to outlaw shadow banking systems and outlaw offshore tax havens?”   Implicit in what he said is that so-called “tax havens” are a threat to people’s savings even though it is poor banking and investment practices and inefficient regulation in the US and UK in particular that led to the present global financial crisis.

So, Mr Brown has passed the buck and has fingered jurisdictions that offer offshore financial services as the culprits. 

Equally, as I predicted some weeks ago, the “Stop the Tax Havens Abuse Act” introduced in the US Senate two years ago by then Senator Barack Obama and Senator Carl Levin, was reintroduced in the US Congress the day before Brown made his statement. I had hoped that the re-introduced Act would have removed the names of countries that were listed as “tax havens”.   No such luck.  Not only did the Act retain all the countries, it added three new very onerous sections for liability.  The intention is clear – if banks and other financial institutions in these jurisdictions are going to continue to operate, they will do so only at great expense.  Few will be able to afford the additional costs of compliance.

The Caribbean jurisdictions named in the US Act are: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & The Grenadines and Turks and Caicos. When Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana begin their international financial services for which they have all legislated, they can expect to join the list.

It seems irrelevant to the US Congress that some of these countries have Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEAs) with the United States under which the US can request – and are obliged to receive information – concerning tax inquiries.  To my certain knowledge Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados and the British Virgin Islands have such agreements.  Others may also have.

But, if the US Act is passed in its present form, it seems that TIEA is not enough and the US Treasury Secretary will be given extreme powers to act against jurisdictions that he deems to have “ineffective information exchange practices”.     

The G20 countries – none of which are jurisdictions considered as “tax havens” – will meet in London on April 2nd and on their agenda is the matter of “tax havens”.  The discussion and its conclusions will take place without the benefit of any of the affected jurisdictions at the table.  Among the missing “tax havens” will be all those I have named earlier from the Caribbean plus Switzerland, Luxembourg, Singapore, Malta, Cyprus, Panama, Hong Kong and a few others in Europe and the Pacific.  

It is a curious kind of international democracy that allows rules and punishment to be created by a few – and imposed on the many – simply because the few have the power to do so.

It is even worse that the few are yet to admit that it is lax supervision and regulation in their own jurisdictions that has caused the present global financial crisis.  They are also yet to demonstrate that they are taking effective action within their own systems to correct and improve their deficiencies. 

In his speech to the US Congress, Brown said, “Let us agree in our G20 summit in London in April rules and standards for proper accountability, transparency, and reward that will mean an end to the excesses and will apply to every bank, everywhere, all the time”.

No one would quarrel with that position.  Indeed, in light of two events in the Caribbean – surrounding CLICO in Trinidad and Tobago and holdings of R Allen Stanford  in Antigua – there would be few who would not agree wholeheartedly with the need to tighten up rules for banks.  But, Mr Brown did not mention regulation which is sorely in need of improvement in Britain and the US.  Instead, he focused on “outlawing” tax havens.

During the week all this was taking place, along with three other persons, I was asked by a publication in Washington, Inter-American Dialogue, whether the civil complaint by the US Securities and Exchange Commission against Stanford “shows a need for stricter regulation of financial services companies in the Caribbean?  The following was my published reply: 

“The matter of the SEC prosecuting a civil suit for alleged fraud against R Allen Stanford points to the absolute need for stricter regulation not only in Antigua and Barbuda but also in the United States.  Court documents about this matter claim that the alleged fraud relates to the sale of products by the Stanford International Bank (SIB) in Antigua and by the Stanford Financial Group in Houston.  The regulators in both jurisdictions are, therefore, culpable.

While the smallness of its resources does not absolve the Antigua regulators of responsibility, the vastness of the resources available to the US regulators condemns their failure to recognise the danger signals in the operations at a much earlier stage. The Stanford allegation should not be used to stain Caribbean regulators while ignoring the fact that deficiencies also existed in the US system.

No Caribbean jurisdiction should wish to remain in the business of hosting companies that offer financial services without strong, relevant and appropriate legislation and supervision that protects the interests of customers.  In this regard, independent statutory bodies that are free of political interference and are overseen by bipartisan committees drawn from the legislature should be established to raise their credibility and give confidence to domestic and international clients”.

My point was that the alleged Stanford fraud occurred as much in the US as it did in Antigua and Barbuda.  So, while there is a need for stricter and fearless regulation of financial services in the Caribbean, there is also such a need in the US.

Unfortunately, while the G20 meets in April to make their pronouncement, the so-called “tax haven” countries have made no attempt to meet to devise an appropriate response.  The countries of the Caribbean Community and Common market (CARICOM) have no excuse for not doing so, and if there any among them who feel that they are capable of stopping this juggernaut alone, they should think again.  Caribbean countries should act on this now and together or see their offshore financial services wither.

What are your views? Are Caribbean countries with off-shore financial services and CARICOM responding effectively? Share your comments and Let’s start the debate.

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