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An accountant at the G20 summit

3rd Apr 2009
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Richard Murphy correspondent Richard Murphy became the first blogger ever to ask a question at a major international summit this week, questioning the Prime Minister on the issue of tax havens at the G20 summit in London. In an exclusive report, he details his experiences among leaders from the world's 20 largest economies.

It was an interesting experience to be one of the 50 bloggers from around the world selected to blog from the G20 summit in London yesterday. We were en eclectic bunch from those (like me) for whom the event is pretty integral to what we do, to some for whom this was a matter of social observation.

The event was organised by aid agencies in the main, so of course there was a bias among those present towards those working on development issues and I fitted into that. My own work calling for tax haven reform has that ultimate objective in mind, because tax havens cause massive poverty in the developing world.

It was precisely because of that concern that I managed to get in a question to the Prime Minister at his press conference on development issues related to tax havens. This was the first time that a question has ever been asked by a blogger at such an event. That, of course was the highlight of my day, but being present gave me an opportunity that would just not have otherwise been available: the chance to see Obama in action and yes, he is as cool as you’d imagine. I also got the opportunity to see the PM and others in action, which is different from watching the television.

More importantly for me, I got the opportunity to lobby and discuss issues with those in the negotiations as the day went on. There’s a massively important note in the declaration that supported the communiqué that says: “We are committed to developing proposals, by end 2009, to make it easier for developing countries to secure the benefits of a new cooperative tax environment.”

This was the outcome of a massive amount of work by Christian Aid, Action Aid, Oxfam, War on Want and others that I worked with before this event to make sure that the benefits of tax haven reform reach the countries that really need it. Now we have six months to work on the detail. That task began even before I’d left ExCel in the first quick meetings with officials.

The event was also an opportunity for me to watch the media in action and be interviewed - I would not have made Newsnight had I not been there!

Most of all this has been an opportunity to appreciate that these things work pretty much like any deal that accountants who has ever done a reasonably heavy M & A deal will understand: As the pressure rises, the compromise become easier, the risk of failure gets higher and the desire to close increases massively. That heat was felt yesterday. It was very apparent, even from the media room. You could sense the relief when Brown delivered, and his body language said a great deal. He thinks (rightly or wrongly, I’m not on that issue here) that he has delivered.

Most amazing of all? The sheer enormous effort of it all, and the massive human time involved: One crazy statistic. I stayed 600 yards from the ExCel centre. It took two coaches, five security checks and 75 minutes to make the journey. It’s some measure of the surreal nature of these things.

My hope is just this: That the tax haven era really does draw to a close, although there are many obstacles on the way as yet, a point I note in the Guardian and that some of this benefit gets to developing countries who have lost out so badly (to the tune of $400 billion a year) from tax haven activity.

For a full list of the G20Voice bloggers," target="_blank">click here

Richard Murphy’s blog:


Replies (9)

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By yeboyye
15th Apr 2009 16:30

The Detail

Many thanks. There is a lot of reading to be done. I have not had the time to read it yet but over a period perhaps I will.
I still think the summit itself was a big waste of funds. I'm sure you have also seen the furore over the wasteful expenses the MPs that we all employ are involved in. Any ideas on this?

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Richard Murphy
By Richard Murphy
12th Apr 2009 22:28

Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are tax havens
Have no doubt about it.

That's why Gordon Brown wrote the Maunday Thursday letters

Then read this

And this is a summary oif these places real business - facilitating tax evasion. £4 billion does not happen by chance:

Get real: these places are not about freedoms - they are about abuse - and they're going to have no choice but reform now

The writing is on the wall for all who use them


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Richard Murphy
By Richard Murphy
12th Apr 2009 22:20

Tax havens and poverty

Start here, then come back for more


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Scalloway Castle
By scalloway
07th Apr 2009 23:19

Shetland Islands a tax haven?
I note in this article French president Nicolas Sarkozy includes the Shetland Islands as one of the tax havens he wants to crack down on. Having lived here most of my life I am puzzled about where he got his information from.

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By jamesashburton
06th Apr 2009 20:13

What a lot of tosh
So, now the OECD, the Germans and the French all say that the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and many others are not tax havens will Mr Brown, Mr Darling and Mr Murphy admit this is the case? Time will tell.

The real issue over so called tax havens is banking secrecy and tax evasion. Which countries are most to blame? Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium - and the UK isn't far behind. The lack of transparancy and poor regulation in those countries is quite startling.

People like Murphy won't be happy until everyone is paying the same tax all over the world. But worse, people like him believe that taxpayers should pay whatever tax their political masters impose even when - as is clearly the case in the UK - huge amounts of money are wasted by these governments. Democratic accountability? Certainly not in the EU.

It is one thing to stamp out tax evasion and criminal activity. It is another to attack any country, large or small, that manages its economy in such as way as to levy only reasonable taxation. It is not acceptable to stop people legally structuring their businesses in such a way as to pay as little tax as possible. Indeed, that is a right first established in the UK several centuries ago.

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By yeboyye
04th Apr 2009 00:00

Tax havens
I haven't got a clue about tax havens. Your comment that "tax havens cause massive poverty in the developing world" caught my eye. How come? Have you a few brief explanation points?
All that security and all those very important people. It wasn't cheap to run this show. Maybe they should all have stayed in their own offices and discussed via video link? A type of blogging? Then the travel, security, food and drinks money could have been sent to the developing world.

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By Exector
03rd Apr 2009 16:54

access to bloggers
No I think they prefer this medium because, with honourable exceptions, it is diffuse and immediate- instant reactions rather than considered and worked out pieces, and posts that are pretty time limited in reality, despite the illusion of continuous accessability. Plus its trendy of course.

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Richard Murphy
By Richard Murphy
03rd Apr 2009 13:14

The Daily Mail have a point
Odd for me to admit the Daily Mail have a point - but there's little doubt that the bloggers got a good deal at the G20

We got the ministerial visits, the access to the senior team members, in my case at least (and I'm sure I was not alone) to #10, to Bob Geldof (f that counts as a benefit).

Why? because they know alternative media delivers results. That's why, I suggest.


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John Stokdyk, AccountingWEB head of insight
By John Stokdyk
03rd Apr 2009 11:56

Interesting contrast to the Daily Mail's view
Congratulations on your press conference success Richard. The tone of your report differs interestingly from this morning's Radio 4 interview with columnist Quentin Letts who moaned about the lack of accessprint journalists got at the summit. "This is an abuse of the democratic process... lack of transparency over negotiations that involve spending billions of pounds of our money," he fulminated.

There's a parallel here to how some of the big software companies (I'm thinking SAP) have courted the blogging community and cold-shouldered traditional media outlets - many of whom give them a hard time. Granting privileged access is the new PR way to manage the message, and favoured bloggers are happy to play along. My own experience of the G20 coverage includes a bit of disappointment - I found a lot of it to be unfocused and incoherent, and there doesn't appear to be anyone sitting back and bringing the different threads into a wider context.

As a grizzled old hack myself, I'd be a little more impressed if the angle of a lot of the coverage (ie that which you talk about in the first few lines) wasn't ,"Oh wow, a blogger got to ask the prime minister a question" rather than focusing on the substance of what came out of the event.

The most pertinent thing I heard about the G20 summit was from an unnamed official who commented that what most politicians and civil servants think of as international co-operation boils down to writing comminiques.

Yesterday was indeed a great day for tax justice, but who's going to boil down the proposals, draft them into legislation and regulatory rules and then enforce them?

Good luck with your campaign and for all our sakes, I look forward to seeing someone put the G20 plans into practice.

John Stokdyk
Technology editor

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