Integrity and politicians

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A long standing and senior Jersey politician who I have advised on many occasions made a very odd complaint to me recently. He rather angrily suggested that it was impossible for me to reconcile my position on tax justice with:

1. Having trained with KPMG (as Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co now is);
2. Having worked as a chartered accountant;
3. Having run commercial companies, and having sold them;
4. Owning houses (as homes) since 1983 from which I have, undoubtedly, made gains;
5. Having saved for a pension.

It seemed to be his opinion that one can only believe in tax justice if one is an ascetic. It's an extraordinary viewpoint, especially since he's been so dependent upon TJN and my own opinion and support on tax for some time.

The reality is, of course, that tax justice is about each and every person (legal or natural) seeking to pay the right amount of tax (and no more) in the right place at the right time. That's what we call tax compliance.

As I explained here recently, accountants are needed to ensure that happens. And given that tax legislation needs to be complex to reflect the realities of the world, which is more complex still, advice is needed to choose the options that meet this criterion of tax planning. No one need be ashamed of doing that. I'm not.

Of course one way of ensuring this objective is fulfilled would be to reduce the incomes of all people below taxable levels. This seems to be what the politician in question thinks we should espouse. I'm afraid in doing so he just shows the poverty of thinking amongst many of those who hold power in Jersey. Such an idea is so far from our aim it is incredible to suppose someone might associate it with us.

TJN is a wide church - as are many coalitions - but I certainly have no problem with business at all. I still believe it the best way to meet the majority (but by no means all) of people's needs. I believe in financial services if honestly run. People and business need them. I do not have problems with wealth - but I do have problems with its abuse. Not paying tax on wealth is one of those abuses. I also happen to think the tax rate on wealth should be higher than that on those with lower incomes. That opinion is wholly economically rational. And I really can see no problem with people either seeking a home or to provide for their old age. Again, so long as all legal requirements are met as the spirit and not just the letter of the law requires.

So what on earth was the politician in question really complaining about? Well, let me put it simply. I'd asked him to be honest. You see, he's recently entered into a bizarre public dialogue written in farcical style (which I would add he sought my advice upon before publication, and which I told him he'd regret using) in which he has sought to suggest that all around him in the Jersey establishment fall short of his required ethical standards. But he then added in the last few days, for no apparent reason, that he categorically denies having anything to do with the Tax Justice Network. To be precise, he said:

I never have been a member or supporter of organisation such as the Tax Justice Network & ATTAC and so on. I don't agree with them.

Which, candidly, is true as far as membership goes and wholly untrue thereafter. I have about 100 mails from him in my relatively recent inbox. I have not checked the archive. Not one suggests disagreement in any way until his latest complaint began. In addition, when he sought publicity for his bizarre letter who did he ask to distribute it? ATTAC, to be precise. You don't ask those you disagree with to work for you.

In consequence all that I, and others, have said is that he can't have it both ways. We think it's hypocritical to preach about others lack of ethics and misrepresent your own affiliations in the process. He didn't like that, at all. That's why he complained. And then he threatened to report the sins (as he sees them) of my career, as noted above, far and wide. Not that they will be news to anyone. My CV has been on line for longer than I can remember, and is oft downloaded.

Such was his reaction that we decided in the interests of supporting our friends in Jersey, who are somewhat upset by his actions, that we'd have to tell this simple truth instead. But then, perhaps it's time we did, because his position is getting rather hard to support. It is, frankly, becoming difficult to see how he can claim to be opposed to everything Jersey stands for and then serve in the government that is dominated by those who created sham trust laws (which he did not oppose) and that clearly permit tax evasion or that introduces the 0/10 tax laws with no idea how they will be funded without his accepting some responsibility for the consequences.

But integrity and politics don't always go hand in hand, even when you're Senator Stuart Syvret.