Company ownership registers: ‘Don’t dismiss the racial bias claims in Bermuda’
07 Aug 2020

Deputy Kirsten Morel, who chairs the Economic Affairs Scrutiny Panel, recently addressed comments made in Bermuda newspaper The Royal Gazette in an article discussing the territory’s move to introduce legislation for full transparency on company ownership by January 2023.

In 2018, the UK parliament passed laws requiring the Overseas Territories to publish fully transparent registers of ‘beneficial ownership’ of companies in their jurisdiction, meaning that the ultimate ownership of assets would be revealed. Legislation relating to the Crown Dependencies was withdrawn at the last moment.

In the article, Bermuda’s former finance minister Bob Richards reportedly felt that Britain had been ‘racially biased against its OTs [British Overseas Territories], in that the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man were treated more favourably with regard to ownership transparency’.

Referring to the article in a tweet, Deputy Morel said: ‘This is a strongly held view in Bermuda and it’s one that we in the CDs [Crown Dependencies] should consider and not dismiss out of hand.’

Speaking to the JEP, he added: ‘It was raised with me by a member of the Bermuda House of Assembly when I was speaking at a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association event last year. When challenged at the event, it made me stop and think about the differing relationships between the Overseas Territories, the Crown Dependencies and the UK.

‘On the spot, I was unable to either agree or disagree that there was a current of racism underpinning those relationships. I also realised and admitted that it was something I, and to be honest, I imagine most people in the Crown Dependencies, hadn’t really considered and so it shouldn’t be dismissed and should become a basis for discussion.’

Like the Crown Dependencies, the British Overseas Territories, which include jurisdictions such as Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Barbados, are allegiant to the British Crown but have a different constitutional relationship.

‘From my perspective and probably the perspective of most people in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, and in Westminster, we wouldn’t have thought there is any racism in the relationships,’ said Deputy Morel. ‘But we cannot possibly be sure of that without speaking with those who allege that there is, and so I think it is really important that we listen to the concerns of parliamentarians in Bermuda and the other Overseas Territories.’

Although there has not been any legislation passed to enforce ownership transparency in the Crown Dependencies, all three islands have also now committed to producing transparent registers by 2023 in line with EU member states.

Mr Richards said Bermuda could have ‘resisted successfully’ the British legislation that would see an Order in Council being issued at the end of this year, requiring Overseas Territories to keep public ownership registers.

By James Jeune, Jersey Evening Post, 6 August 2020

Read more at Jersey Evening Post

Photo (cropped and edited): Scott Knowles [CC BY-NC 2.0] via Flickr

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