Mauritius’ residence and citizenship schemes flagged on OECD blacklist


By signing the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters Mauritius was committed to implementing tax transparency and effective exchange of information, in particular under the OECD/G20 Common Reporting Standard (CRS).

The CRS requires financial institutions to automatically exchange information regarding their clients to their clients’ local tax authorities. The Convention is seen to be the “gold standard” measure for implementing the CRS, promoting tax cooperation, and key to the fight against global tax evasion and avoidance. 111 countries have now signed up to the convention

The OECD has continued to put pressure on a number of offshore and developing nations to ensure compliance with the CRS, especially countries offering residence and citizenship by investment (CBI/RBI) schemes. It recently examined the structure of over 100 schemes offered by countries worldwide and concluded that “identity Cards, residence permits and other documentation obtained through CBI/RBI schemes can potentially be abused to misrepresent an individual’s jurisdiction(s) of tax residence and to endanger the proper operation of the CRS due diligence procedures.”

Mauritius’ CBI/RBI schemes were identified as posing a high-risk to the integrity of the CRS, even though the country is considered a CRS-committed jurisdiction. According to the OECD report, potentially high-risk CBI/RBI schemes are those that give access to a low personal tax rate on income from foreign financial assets and do not require an individual to spend a significant amount of time in the jurisdiction offering the scheme. Such schemes are currently operated by Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Colombia, Cyprus, Dominica, Grenada, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, Montserrat, Panama, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Seychelles, Turks and Caicos Islands, United Arab Emirates and Vanuatu.

As a result of this tightening of the CRS by the OECD to make it more effective, the consequences for the global business industry in Mauritius will be quite adverse. Some of our bilateral treaties that we chose to implement on a country by country basis rather than the all-encompassing multilateral version will equally receive short shrift from the OECD. Indeed, there are some quite daunting challenges ahead for the financial sector which will be needing more efforts from government than the two-day conferences and other piece-meal approaches. This OECD report should be taken as a wake-up call. We should stop playing our small games and be ready to play by the rules and accelerate reforms so as to succeed in gradually innovating and transforming Mauritius’ international financial centre by 2030.

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Saudi Arabia & Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder was recently canvassing support to stand up to the Saudis for human rights. Canada had protested against their jailing of women activists and Saudis reacted by slamming them with sanctions. This typical bullying response was to make an “example” of anyone who dares stand up to them. Seeing that the world’s democracies were accepting their mindless brutality and the brazen impunity of this type of rogue behaviour, they felt emboldened.

But this time they have gone too far with the premeditated and “savage” murder of the 59-year old columnist and critic, Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2nd October. Some 15 men who were apparently from the state’s security apparatus and from the crown prince’s security detail, including the head of forensics in the kingdom’s General Intelligence were involved. Some recordings are showing that Khashoggi was killed during seven horrific minutes in which he was first tortured, then mutilated, injected with a sedative, and finally dismembered and his body parts carried away in bags.

Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is organising the “Future Investment Initiative” (FII) a three-day event from 23 to 25 October. The conference is a forum for business figures, politicians and civic society groups to discuss topics related to economic development, including technology, global governance and the environment. More than 40 participants including some big names may have pulled out. But as usual some hundreds are still attending – in some cases representing the very companies whose bosses decided it was no longer expedient for them to attend. Some are arguing about pragmatism as there is a big future at stake in Saudi Arabia and this obnoxious obstacle — however shocking and overwhelming – will eventually, they believe, be overcome.

Here also, there are many who are arguing that we should stay out of it. These are big power politics. We have little choice because of our proximity to the Saudi regime which has just lent us some Rs 3.5 billion from the Saudi Fund for Development on concessionary terms. Others however disagree. Similarly as we have been concerned about the killings of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State of Myanmar, of the shooting of Palestinian kids and the extermination of the Yazidis (a religious minority from the mountains of north-western Iraq), and we went to La Hague, against the advice of the big powers, to support our Chagossian brothers to end up one of the last remnants of decolonisation, now it is our turn to stand up and join the call to expel Saudi Arabia from the Human Rights Council! Did you hear anything on this issue from the usually vocal opposition parties – with few exceptions? As for the Uber v/s taxi lobbies case, ena perdi vote la dan!!!!

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 IMF: No problem with our public debt?

The Minister of Financial Services says that the IMF has no problem with regard to the financial borrowings of the Mauritian state that do not appear in the public debt. But what we are not being told is that the Ministry of Finance (MOF), on the defensive, has tried recently to clarify the debt issue by adhering to the strict minimum required by the IMF and publishing the debt details of public enterprises, including a list of all public enterprises included in the computation of public sector debt. The SBM subsidiary channelling the signed Exim Bank line of credit of USD150 million is included, but with a zero amount, to indicate that no disbursement has yet been made. This strict definition considers only what is disbursed as debt. This suits Government as it records a lower level of public sector debt.

As we had argued before, the non-inclusion of state-owned Special Purpose Vehicles, such as Metro Express, in the list of public enterprises for the computation of public sector debt is justified only if their debt liabilities arise from the SBM subsidiary. However, should these SPVs incur debt from other sources, these debt obligations would need to be added to public sector debt. It is also questionable whether Government future debt obligations towards Mauritius Telecom on the safe city project, on an operating lease of assets financed by a Government-guaranteed line of credit from the Export-Import Bank of China, should not form part of the overall public sector debt exposure.

Still, we believe the Ministry of Finance does not go far enough in its reporting of the debt exposure. It is also to be noted that even on the basis of our minimal definition of public debt, the last IMF’s Debt Sustainability Analysis reveals that our public gross financing needs are susceptible to a suite of macroeconomics shocks, notably to growth, interest rates, the primary balance, and a combined macro shock scenario. A more updated DSA may be quite revealing.

* Published in print edition on 26 October 2018

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