Citizen TV's Coverage of Pandora Papers Elicits Debate

  • A File Image of Citizen TV Studios
    A File Image of Citizen TV Studios
    Citizen Digital
  • The Pandora Papers investigation lifted the lid on secret deals and hidden assets of celebrities, politicians and public servants across the globe. 

    The over 11.9 million leaked documents were published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) - a nonprofit newsroom and network of journalists centred in the US. 

    In Kenya, veteran Journalist John Allan Namu’s Africa Uncensored, an independent media house set up by one of Kenya's finest investigative journalists, led in unmasking the confidential information on how offshore accounts were set up in Panama and the British Virgin Islands. 

    Panama, a transcontinental country in Central America and South America

    Other media houses followed suit with analysis and explainers to break down the complex data.

    Lawyers, politicians and pundits were hosted to explain how the offshore accounts operate and the effects they have on the economy. Especially with the Head of State, President Uhuru Kenyatta, roped into the matter after his family was accused of holding over 3 billion in assets in the tax heavens. 

    However, a debate ensued on how Citizen TV covered the Pandora Papers, with a section of the audience divided on their explainer and the Day Break show guests. 

    On Monday, October 4, Citizen TV explained that offshore accounts are bank accounts held in a country where one does not reside. This allows them to make and receive payments, save and invest. 

    This makes it easier and cheaper for one to make international payments and transfers. Anchor Trevor Ombija added that the accounts are not illegal lest one intends to use them for tax evasion. 

    It further shared the advantages of having an offshore account. These included; higher returns on international investments, protection from economic and political stability, generate higher interest rates, enjoy foreign bank security and hold multiple currencies. 

    These formed a basis of contention from a section of the audience who felt that the media house is reportedly propagating the benefits of offshore accounts and tax evasion. 

    “They are now telling us how beneficial offshore accounts are leaving the dark side of it,” Absaa Halake tweeted. 

    “Stop trying to cover up for offshore accounts. Doesn’t the Uhuru family own banks in Kenya? Offshore accounts especially in Panama and Cayman islands are illegal... Why not operate accounts in the US. Why Panama?” one Theartista added. 

    This debate went on October 5, during the Day Break show where the debate ensued on the Pandora Papers. This was after Uhuru responded to being linked to offshore accounts in Panama. The Head of State announced that Pandora Papers and any other audits will set the record straight and unveil secrets for those who cannot explain sources of their wealth.

    Speaking on the show, Uasin Gishu Woman Representative, Gladys Boss Shollei argued that “It may be legal (to have offshore accounts) but it is immoral… you cannot be leading a country that is suffering economically when you yourself are taking your wealth out of the country especially when a lot of the wealth was made within this country.” 

    She further questioned whether Citizen TV anchor Sam Gituku was out to defend the President over stashing billions abroad. Gituku, however, stood his ground and based his facts on the ICIJ report.

    He also asked Shollei to present factual evidence after she argued that the Kenyatta family had stashed Ksh3 trillion and not Ksh3 billion abroad as documented in the ICIJ report.

    Shollei folded and concurred with the anchor who had also clarified that he did not downplay the amount of money involved but it was prudent to base arguments on facts. 

    On October 6, Speaking on Citizen TV, Reginald Kadzutu, CEO - Amana Capital, explained that investment opportunities need to be created legally as governments were hell-bent on creating fictitious projects to embezzle funds. 

    “People who open offshore accounts most of them do not do it in their names, they do it in shell company names; one for tax purposes and also to mask ownership. A tax haven only benefits you if you are a business or you are a corporate,” he explained. 

    President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses journalists after commissioning hospitals on Tuesday night, July 6.
    President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses journalists after commissioning hospitals on Tuesday night, July 6.

    Lawyer Danstan Omari added that he was of the thought that the loans borrowed abroad might be Kenyans’ money hidden in loans.

    He added that Africa has taken its money outside of the continent, which is returned as loans rather than being invested prior.

    “We need to have enhanced transparency so that you mitigate against accounts which are doing money laundering, crime and drug,” Philip Muema, Managing Partner - Andersen Tax added.

    The question that ensued later after was - Was there any bias by the Kenyan media in covering the Pandora Papers, especially with laws explaining that it was only considered illegal if the money was used for the purposes of tax evasion and money laundering? No. 

    While addressing reports that offshore accounts are illegal, Omari noted that “there is no law that expressly makes it a criminal or civil offence to open an offshore account, there is no criminality in that… what I’m more worried about is the doublespeak.”

    ICIJ, Africa Uncensored, Citizen TV, and international media houses including CNN, Washington Post and New York Times all noted that the Pandora Papers show no evidence that state assets have been stolen or hidden in offshore entities controlled by those mentioned (including the Kenyattas) 

    “It is not unlawful to use offshore entities,” This was the significant phrase. 

    “While owning an offshore company is legal, the secrecy it provides can give cover to illicit money flows, enabling bribery, money laundering, tax evasion, terrorism financing and human trafficking and other human rights abuses, experts say,” ICIJ further noted. 

    The British Virgin Islands in the UK
    drug criminal abuse terrorism stolen illegal tax evasion