For the past few days - the independent media has made its complaints about the closing off of the companies registry well known.

Well, tonight the government is offering a compromise - but not agreeing to make the companies registry public as it once was.

That - as the Prime Minister explained today - would remain under IBC rules - closed and cloaked in secrecy. But he is offering as a compromise a proposal for any company entering into a contract with government must disclose their shareholders. He began his interview by clinging to the orthodoxy that all efforts must be made to save the offshore banking industry:

John Briceno, Prime Minister
"I don't know what is the issue because I believe the media's concern is especially when it comes to government funding. I want to start off again, to point out, that there was no sinister plan to try to hide, we don't want to hide things from anybody, as some members in the media and the public have been suggesting. It was simply that we were forced to do what we are doing now. The OECD or the European Union, the countries from the European Union are trying to tighten up on the IBC's, international business companies, and so they are telling us that if we don't want to be blacklisted then we have to find a way how we can combine both registries, that you cannot have one that pays a certain tax rate and another that pays a different tax rate. So we figured then the best way is to amalgamate both registries as one. Now what we are proposing, we are proposing right now to present to Cabinet policy and law. Immediately, we want to start with the policy until we change the law, is to ensure that anybody that wants to do business with government, any company that wants to do business with government, cannot own a company with a registered agent. We have to know who are the members of the board, who are the shareholders, and who are the ultimate beneficiaries, that is what should be your concern. If a private citizen wants to own a private company, that is their business, as long as they are not dealing with any government contract."

"When it comes to government finances, we are making sure there is going to be openness and transparency and we're going to start with policy, tomorrow we're going to present it to Cabinet, I've already spoke to a number of ministers, and all of them agree with it, and secondly to change the law so that cannot happen. Now as to the issue of whether, if internationally there is a company that have a registered agent, I would have to take a look at it, I wouldn't want to just venture to answer but I believe that there can be a court process of how to be able to get it, but I don't think that it should be allowed just to any and every body to go in and take a look. I mean, yes you are the media, and it is your right, you want to be journalists, but I don't think you have the right to any and everything, I believe that people also have the right to some sort of privacy that they want as long as they're not breaking the law."

This position of an individual's right to privacy is one of the government's core positions. But, the press is insisting on a carve out for its purposes of ensuring transparency. The Prime Minister proposed a meeting - and here's that back and forth:

John Briceno, Prime Minister
"I'm sure we can, I'm prepared to get the people at the companies registry to meet with you, with all of you and to address whatever concerns you may have and if there are ways we can improve, of course we are willing to do that."

"What I'll do, I'll ask the people at the companies registry to be able to sit down with you to be able to address whatever concerns you may have and if there are ways that we can strengthen the whole entire reporting process then they will be prepared to do that."

Reporter:
"You're making our job increasingly harder compared to what we had before so you've taken away all our rights under this system, why do we have to go to the FOIA, why do we have to go to the court to get information that was free in the past, we could've walked into the registry and looked at change in managers, change in directors, the amount of shareholding that a shareholder has, all of that information, we had access to, and it's what we are asking for, now under this regime change."

John Briceno, Prime Minister
"Did you have access to who are the beneficial owners of 60% of Brads Gaming Company?"

Reporter:
"Because that one is an IBC but I'm talking about local companies."

John Briceno, Prime Minister
"That's the point I'm trying to make, we're trying to protect the offshore industry, the offshore practitioners in this country, we're trying to try to see how we can salvage that industry, it has been a dying industry because the pressures that we've had from international communities, we're trying to find a way we could compromise, that we could keep this available and alive."

Courtney Menzies:
"Sir but we're jumping through hoops for the IBC's..."

John Briceno, Prime Minister
"But you've never had access to the IBC's, that's my point, and we are trying to protect that industry."

Courtney Menzies:
"That's 0.1% of the Belizean public..."

Reporter:
"And it's also what put at risk our corresponding banking."

John Briceno, Prime Minister
"And that is why we are taking this extra step to make sure we're protecting our corresponding banking, our corresponding banking had nothing to do with the IBC's let's make that clear. Our corresponding banking had to do is that the banks in the US felt that the business they do in Belize is so insignificant that it's not worth it."

Channel 7