This month’s cover is a humble tribute to the hundred or so journalists who for over a year dug into the leaked files of Panamanian law firm Fonseca, as well as to their source(s) who leaked the documents, shedding light on the opaque world of international tax dodging.
Print journalism has been in the doldrums for some time; newspapers are barely surviving and the same goes for many journalists who often struggle to make ends meet. Not to mention the diminishing trust from the public who often see journalists as bloody headline-hungry ruthless individuals. But the Panama Papers show there are still professional and honest journalists doing a decent job – and that journalism is still in the public interest.
Of course not everyone agrees, and on the theme of the Panama Papers, some, like Robert Maas, argue there’s no public interest there.
Interestingly this magazine has covered tax from the ethics point of view for some time now, and in the past has always found it easy to get comments from professionals – comments which were, most of the time, as empty as the shell companies in offshore jurisdictions. The lingo was in place, and for years PRs and communication professionals have had the chance to perfect the best spin, making accountants sound like prisoners of both the public interest agenda and their duty to their clients.
But, in recent times, leaked documents from an accounting firm, like the LuxLeaks, or from a law firm, like the Panama Papers, shed light on the role played by professional services firms in tax avoidance – and barriers are falling. And in preparing this issue, more than ever before, International Accounting Bulletin heard the words "no comment" – sometimes silence is worth a thousand words!
The scale of the Panama Papers seems to have taken the spin professionals by surprise, and they are operating what the military would call a delaying tactic: "a form of retrograde in which a force under pressure trades space for time by slowing down the enemy’s momentum and inflicting maximum damage on the enemy without, in principle, becoming decisively engaged."
In other words, they are now holding positions as long as they can, before finding a way to regroup and put on a veil of beautiful and empty words.
They’ll probably find their way out of it, at least in words. Now the question is whether the regulators and political powers will take the necessary measures so that there’s no way out in practice at least.
Because whether firms, regulators and other stakeholders want it or not, increasingly the public, in its widest definition, is going to ask the question which for the profession might sound all too familiar: "Where was the tax advisor?"
IAB 561, May 2016, highlights:
EU Directive: a goldmine for the accounting firms?
2016 Cyprus survey: Early bailout offers hope for recovering island
2016 Saudi Arabia survey: rankings