March 01 , 2017
7,000 politicians in 20 countries asked to disclose taxes
LONDON: In a great honour for Pakistan, Geo and Jang Group’s investigative journalist Umar Cheema’s campaign on the taxes of Pakistani politicians has gone international after a London-based organisation on Tuesday launched it as a global initiative by writing letters to 7,000 politicians in 20 countries asking them to disclose their taxes in the best public interest.
The Tax Disclosure Project is being coordinated by London-based Finance Uncovered, training and reporting organisation focused on illicit finances. The Finance Uncovered, a growing global network with 207 members in 69 countries, brought together distinguished journalists in London from the countries chosen for launching the first phase of this project. The United Kingdom, Russia, India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt are included in the list of 20 countries.
The journalists used a web platform of the project for emailing tax disclosure requests to thousands of politicians in their home countries. More countries will be made part of this campaign in the second phase.
The public will be able to see which politicians have been emailed and which have replied. This is the first stage of the project that will eventually see more countries join the drive. The work of Umar Cheema, investigative reporter with The News, has been duly acknowledged on the website:
“The inspiration for the Tax Disclosure Project was esteemed Pakistani journalist, Umar Cheema, a board member of Finance Uncovered and a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,” A press handout issued after the launch said Umar is helping lead this project.
In 2012, Umar, contacted all 446 federal legislators in Pakistan asking them to disclose their tax returns. Only two responded. He then used different formal and informal channels for obtaining access to the tax record of lawmakers. Umar established that around 70% of Pakistan’s lawmakers including the country’s president and 34 ministers did not file tax returns.
The impact of his follow-up report in 2013 was phenomenal. Today every politician in Pakistan makes public his or her tax data. In fact, every Pakistani citizen’s tax details are published annually in a public directory. “It means in this respect, Pakistan is more transparent than the likes of Britain and the US,” reads a press note issued on the eve of inauguration of tax disclosure project.
Today, there are only a handful of countries such as Finland, Norway, Pakistan and Sweden, where elected representatives publicly disclose their taxes. Umar Cheema who is in London for the inauguration of this project told this reporter: “It is the duty of journalists to hold politicians accountable. Nothing is more important than their financial integrity. Without it, they will remain defenders of the interests of the rich. This campaign for the tax disclosures of politicians will bring back what they’ve lost: the public trust. My reports on the taxes of Pakistani MPs resonated with the public. Now all Pakistani politicians and in fact every citizen in my country has their tax information public. As we take this request global the result will be the same.”
Countries taking part in the Tax Disclosure Project are Argentina, Armenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Egypt, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Venezuela, Uganda, United Kingdom and Ukraine.
Journalists taking part in the project include award-winning South African journalist, Susan Comrie from amaBhungane, Vlad Lavrov of the Organised Crime & Corruption Reporting Project, Indian journalist and author, Aman Sethi and Sierra Leone journalist and campaigner, Tanu Jalloh.
Nick Mathiason, Co-Director of Finance Uncovered which is behind the Tax Disclosure Project, said: “There is, in our view, a clear and substantial public interest in elected representatives fully disclosing their sources of income and their tax payments. Elected representatives are paid by taxpayers to make decisions on taxation and on how our money is spent on behalf of all of us.”
Nick Mathiason said Umar Cheem’s investigative work has provided inspiration to journalists all over the world who are interested in promoting accountability of public representative and transparency in society and politics.