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Port of Spain, January 31, 2019: The European Union announced that it has provided funding to the Trinidad and Tobago Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (TTEITI) and the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) to implement a 12-month national public awareness and sensitization campaign on Beneficial Ownership Disclosure (BOD). The campaign is to assist Trinidad and Tobago to better comply with its international obligations related to secret company ownership disclosure and the disclosure by public officials of their holdings in the oil, gas and mining sectors. The campaign also aims to deter tax evasion, white-collar crime and terrorist financing. EUR 75,000 (more than TT$500,000) has been provided from the EU's Civil Society Organizations and Local Authorities (CSO/LA) thematic budget line.
The project, entitled, 'Lifting the Veil on Secret Company Ownership: A Public Sensitization Campaign on Beneficial Ownership Disclosure' is the first of its kind in Trinidad and Tobago. The campaign will use a mix of activities to sensitize various sectors of the population – government leaders, legislators, law enforcement, the business sectors, civil society and the public in general – about the need for the establishment of proper laws related to disclosure and about the benefit of such laws in the fight against corruption in the extractive sectors (oil, gas and mining).
EU Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, H.E. Aad Biesebroek stated: "Our support to this campaign is in keeping with the EU's overall goal to promote sustainable development, democracy and the rule of law through good governance, accountability and fairness in all business practices. This campaign that is initiated and implemented by the TTEITI and TTTI will increase the awareness and the active involvement of all stakeholders in promoting transparency about the use of resources and financial transactions."
Identifying the real owners, also known as the beneficial owners – those who benefit from economic activities derived from the extraction of hydrocarbons and minerals – is often a difficult task because the true owners of these extractive companies may sometimes hide their identities through a chain of opaque and unaccountable corporate entities. Such anonymity can encourage corruption and tax evasion, which in turn can deter investment. The citizens – the true owners of a country's natural resources – may be cheated out of revenues derived from these industries to which they are entitled and this in turn hampers economic development. It is therefore up to the public (government, law enforcement and CSOs) to ensure that all corporations live up to their financial obligations to the state by monitoring the activities of companies and/or holding them to account when violations occur.
Trinidad and Tobago became a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2011. The EITI Standard 2016 requires member countries to ensure that all companies operating in the extractive sectors disclose their beneficial owners starting January 2020. This campaign therefore is important to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago is able to meet its obligation by this deadline to report on beneficial ownership via a public register, if possible, or at the least to submit this information in the country's annual EITI Reports.
Victor Hart, Chair of the TTEITI Steering Committee stated, “The TTEITI Steering Committee published the country’s first beneficial ownership register for oil and gas companies in 2016 and our efforts to promote this level of disclosure is complimentary to Government’s pledge to disclose the real owners of all companies. There is synergy between those objectives and this project will bring awareness to a wider audience on how damaging secret ownership can be to a country’s image and potential for investments.”
In 2015, Transparency International (TI), TTTI's parent organization, joined other organizations to promote the G20 Beneficial Ownership Principles adopted at the G20 Countries 2014 Summit as a strategy for exposing money laundering, terrorist financing, tax evasion and other forms of corporate corruption. The TTTI, as this country's foremost NGO engaged exclusively in advocating and championing good governance through the promotion of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption initiatives in the public and private sectors, intends to continue the work of TI through this campaign in partnership with the TTEITI.
Dion Abdool, Chair of TTTI stated: “TTTI is pleased to be involved with TTEITI and the EU in this project. Removal of the secrecy behind the ultimate owner who controls and benefits from a corporate entity is of paramount importance if we are to deter illicit activities, trace ill gotten gains and hold persons accountable. The project presents an important opportunity to add to the national discussion on the benefits to be derived from Beneficial Ownership Disclosure and to promote the need for legislation.”
The BOD campaign will begin in February and run until December 2019.