by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 3, Rajab, 1437)
The world is held hostage by oligarchs whose sole purpose in life is to further enrich themselves, as the Panama papers once again reveal. The big question is what can the rest of us do.
The Panama papers have once again focused attention on the manner in which the rich enrich themselves while accusing the poor — the overwhelming majority of people in the world — of not pulling their weight. The poor are accused of being lazy, not willing to work, and always looking for handouts from the hardworking rich. These obscene allegations have once again been exposed to be completely false. Instead, the rich do not pay their fair share of taxes and in connivance with those in power stash away trillions of dollars in offshore accounts.
Almost all politicians are beholden to the rich. The Democratic Party frontrunner in the US, Hillary Clinton, has received tens of millions of dollars from Wall Street barons for her election campaign. Would she dare do anything to curtail their thieving ways? Perish the thought. Not only American politicians — barring Bernie Sanders who has gone for small donations from a large number of people — those in other countries are also involved in fraud and theft. The Panama papers, running into some 11 million entries, have fingered tens of serving or former politicians.
This is even worse in third world countries where extreme poverty is widespread. Pakistani papers are full of stories about the offshore accounts of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s children. Instead of resigning, Sharif is offering pathetic excuses. His children stubbornly maintain that they have done nothing wrong; offshore accounts are legal and tax evasion is the norm. One must bear in mind that there are at least 60 million people in Pakistan — one-third of its population — that live below the poverty line.
The British charity Oxfam revealed in a report last January that the 62 richest families in the world own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population: 3.5 billion people. In another report entitled “Broken at the Top” released on April 14, Oxfam revealed that the top 50 biggest companies in the US have hidden trillions of dollars in offshore funds amounting to more than the GDP of Spain, Mexico, and Australia.
It found that the companies profited by almost $4 trillion globally between 2008 and 2014 and received a staggering $11 trillion in US government support over the same period. “Yet again we have evidence of a massive systematic abuse of the global tax system. We can’t go on with a situation where the rich and powerful are not paying their fair share of tax, leaving the rest of us to foot the bill,” said Robbie Silverman, a senior tax adviser at Oxfam. The charity further revealed that an estimated 90% of global firms are involved in tax avoidance.
Who is to blame for this and what is the solution? The obvious answer is the rich and the politicians who are in their pockets. The poor, however, also cannot escape responsibility. If they continue to accept their pathetic state in a docile manner instead of rising up to smash the criminal system in their societies, then they have themselves to blame. The choice is theirs. As the late Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid struggler put it before he was murdered, “the mind of the oppressed is the biggest weapon in the hands of the oppressor.”