Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The OpenOwnership Project

A year ago the Panama Papers were released, giving us the ugly truth about how lawyers and accountants play corporate shell games to hide money for criminals, terrorists, tax evaders, and corrupt officials. In the wake of it, there's been a push for open-access beneficial ownership registers, so that we can see who really owns a particular company. Open-access is vital because the public has more eyeballs than the government, and it enables NGOs to monitor things that the government might not want to (e.g. who really owns the companies getting government contracts).

Today, a group of NGOs has launched the OpenOwnership Project, an attempt to make a global beneficial ownership register. Currently it has information on nearly 2 million companies, sourced from national registers, development bodies, and sector-specific transparency projects such as the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative. And they expect it to grow. There's a push to use the Open Government Partnership to open up beneficial ownership information and to enable it to be shared. There's a similar push to open up government procurement information as well. Link the two, and the scope for government corrption narrows dramatically.

The New Zealand government is considering setting up a beneficial ownership register. I hope they will, and that they'll link it with OpenOwnership so that it can be examined globally. While I expect there's few New Zealand officials using corporate shells for corruption, we're a well-known link in the global dirty money laundromat, and that's not a business we should want to be in as a country. A public beneficial ownership register would help us put these crooks out of business and restore our reputation as a good global citizen. And surely that's something we want?