Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An Open Letter to Bob Key, the Dean of Jersey

Chesham, Bucks
3rd December 2008,

To the Very Reverend Bob Key
Dean of Jersey



A few months ago, at the end of September, I took an anguished call from some friends of Jersey who, in their own words, found it "unbelievable that a man in your position (that's you) does not understand or rather does not want to understand the true nature of (the island's) finance industry". They were referring to an interview you had given to the Jersey Evening Post in which - and I quote directly from the article - you said that you hoped "Jersey's christian values would influence the way the finance industry acts during the current turbulent times" and that you "approved of the way local companies did business". Seeking to differentiate the finance industry in Jersey from the excesses of Wall Street, you are quoted saying "That kind of selfish greed doesn't help anybody. It feeds off the misery of others. I applaud the way in which most of Jersey does business."

I have a copy of the original article "US 'greed' not a feature of Island finance industry" (published in the business section of the JEP on 29th September 2008) in front of me as I write and I can see why my friends were so concerned. I think you are totally wrong to suggest that the financial sector in Jersey is in any way detatched from the current financial crisis (see here, for example - and note that the entity Granite referred to is located in Jersey) and in a broader perspective it is not possible to de-couple Jersey (and other tax havens) from the crisis of endemic poverty, inequality and global insecurity.

I recognise that you were talking directly about the current financial crisis, but your comments have a wider bearing on the way that banks, law firms and accounting businesses conduct their affairs in Jersey and the nature of the affairs they conduct. And this is where we have a problem with what you say about the sector's Christian values, since, not to mince our words, the activities conducted by these businesses out of their Saint Helier offices are anything but Christian. Don't take my word for it: if you follow this link you can read what Christian Aid has to say about the impact of tax havens on poor people and poor countries. Whilst you are on the Christian Aid site, take the opportunity to listen to what the Right Reverend John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, has to say on the subject.

The reason I have delayed replying to your comments in the JEP is twofold: firstly, I wanted to allow time for you to refute the way in which your comments were reported. You haven't. Second, I knew that the Holy See was preparing to issue a statement in the run-up to the International Conference in Doha to review progress towards acheiving the Monterrey Consensus and, having participated in discussions in Rome in advance of the Doha meeting I anticipated that a strong statement would be issued on the current crisis and the wider role of tax havens. And indeed this is exactly what has happened: fresh back from Doha I have blogged the Holy See's Reflection Paper and, as you can read for yourself, there are very strong comments on how offshore financial centres impact on poor countries. I can't speak for others, but I find it very hard to square the Holy See's reflections with your comments about the Christian values of Jersey's offshore financial activities.

I can't imagine that you are acting as a shill for Jersey's financial sector, but equally it seems unlikely that you are completely naive on the subject of what tax havens actually do in the world of globalised financial markets. So I find it very difficult to understand how you arrived at the opinions you are reported as expressing in the Jersey Evening Post, and why you saw fit to express these views in the way that you have. Did you discuss these matters with any of the prominent critics of Jersey's tax haven role? Did you even consider any of the criticisms in advance of the interview? Have you ever so much as visited the Tax Justice Network website? Over the past decade I have spoken at 12 public meetings in Jersey. I have never met you, or your predecessors, and my contacts in Jersey tell me that you have made no effort to speak with them. I find this surprising in anyone who claims to speak out about community values. Which interests in the community do you speak out on behalf of?

I have bided my time in issuing this blog because I wanted to juxtapose your comments against those from the Vatican. And now I want to offer you an opportunity to reply to the concerns I have raised on behalf of my friends in Jersey. There is plenty of literature out there on the web describing the harm caused by tax havens. See Oxfam's report here for example, or ActionAid's new briefing paper here. Take a look at what the Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has recently said on the subject. I would like you to frame your reply in the context of these concerns. Please don't bother to take the "Jersey is not a tax haven" line, which no-one beyond spitting distance of the Royal Square believes for one second. (They all say it: see here, for example.) I will be happy to give your reply equal prominence on this blogsite alongside this letter, and look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes

John Christensen
Director, Tax Justice Network International Secretariat

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