The British Virgin Islands, a green covered cluster of volcanic islands in the Caribbean Sea, took part in their own Westminster-style election on June the 8th of 2015. The results returned to power the governing National Democratic Party and its leader Dr. Orlando Smith, with one extra seat out of 15 and a prevailing wave of popular support. The political campaign itself was hotly contested, and marred by allegations of corruption, xenophobia and bias towards an ever-growing expatriate community. A report by the Election Observer Mission (EOM) found that most voters described the campaign as ‘the most negative they have ever witnessed’, with charges of patronage and personal attacks on character prevailing over ideological or political discussions. Amongst this chaos was the backdrop of global pressure over financial transparency, an international political issue with a uniquely local perspective.
A fair number of popular themes were raised during the campaign, the most prominent and perhaps influential of which were the roles of tourism and the financial services sector within the local economy. The BVI is a leading offshore international finance jurisdiction, with an ever-expanding list of foreign registered companies reflecting an accommodating and stable tax regime.
With the current global push for tax transparency putting somewhat undue and ill-informed pressure on offshore centres, the perception of the BVI on the international stage as a ‘tax haven’ has been a recurrent theme in political discourse. Most candidates seeking election promised to fight this image, recognizing the vital part that the sector plays in sustaining the economy and the increasing attraction of the BVI to foreign companies. The national government has routinely invested time and money into the financial infrastructure of the BVI to keep up with demands for transparency and efficiency. As these demands rise on a global scale, this investment needs to be increased and the resulting clarity emphasized in order to counter the damaging ‘tax haven’ narrative and retain the BVI’s prime offshore position.