On Panama Papers

Reader questions the Panama Papers and accountability of elected officials.

Dear Editor,

Revelations about Panama bank accounts holders have implicated people at the highest levels of political power in China, Russia, Iceland and even in Britain. Hiding income in offshore accounts is apparently not illegal, though it is a way of deceiving law enforcement authorities or domestic revenue agencies of the sources and the amount of one’s real income. Bernie Sanders one of the Democratic presidential contenders in the US primaries, has railed against the incestual connections at the very highest political, business and financial levels, even accusing the other Democratic Party candidate, Hilary Clinton, of strong Wall Street connections. We know powerful and well heeled people have access to other powerful and well heeled people beyond what common folk can ever have. The super rich and powerful move in social and organizational circles most people don’t have access to. There is, after all, a class divide based on income. If you can’t afford a particular lifestyle you’re not included.

In a democracy, though, where every vote counts, no matter who you are, one would hope accountability occurs not only at election time. When we elect political representatives and when important decisions have to be made, often in a time limited environment, consultation can become highly selective and highly focused. The only challenge to political power then often is an alert and informed opposition and a curious and thorough investigative news media. Heavy media censorship in China and Russia recognize the potential of a strong press to challenge authoritarian and corrupt governments. In addition, in both those countries, a strong political opposition does not exist.

Preventing the powerful and the well heeled from disproportionate political and social influence will be an ongoing challenge in a democracy. That is why transparency and conflict of interest protocols are vital as is investigative powers to deal with complaints. Influence pedaling via lobbyists can indeed challenge and damage a democracy, where selective decision makers get kick-backs or rewards from specific interests for promoting their cause.

As regular citizens, we need to protect our democracy from selective and often powerful interests who have huge resources to influence our political leaders and the public on behalf of their narrow self interests and not necessarily for the public good.

George Jason