I am infatuated. I can't help it. It's been almost two decades but I can't get enough of "Prime Minister's Questions (PMQ)." While you might think "infatuation" is a bit much, I don't know how else to put it. Guilty pleasure perhaps? Mental mescaline, maybe?
On the intellectual-stimulation front, PMQ is simply the most "democratic" exhibition of checks and balances that I am aware of. For those of you who have never basked in its glory, you are seriously missing out. Every Wednesday while the lower-house of the United Kingdom's bicameral parliament is in session, the prime minister, whoever it may be, gets up and answers questions from members of parliament for half an hour. The leader of the opposition asks six questions and the remaining time is left to other members of parliament.
To be clear, my admiration is admittedly, less academic and more recreational. PMQ is like a modern day gladiator fight with verbal sparring. The major distinction between the death pits of Rome and the debating pits of the Palace of Westminster is that gladiators rarely called their opponents the "Right Honourable Gentleman."
This type of no-holds barred questioning, with cheering and jeering deputies on both sides of the aisle more closely resembles a rap-battle then the boring-by-comparison C-SPAN broadcast of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that I'm more accustomed to. The Turkish Parliament and its members, while having higher energy than their Washingtonian counterparts, are no match for the Brits.
The Turkish Parliament differs mainly by the scripted nature of its questioning and lack of direct questioning of the prime minister on a weekly basis. While many questions asked of the U.K. prime minister are also scripted, follow-ups allow for true debate. This would actually be a great addition to Turkish politics and would speed up national debates that Turkey finds itself frequently embroiled in.
PMQ is at its best when some major news has just broken and the prime minister hasn't been questioned on the topic yet. As the House of Commons was off last week, this Wednesday will be the first time that U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will be questioned regarding the Panama Papers. Last week I wrote about the treasure trove of documents that have been released detailing the offshore bank accounts of many world leaders.
Referred to by some as the "revenge for Wikileaks," the documents shed light on the activities of non-U.S. allies generally, with the U.K. and Iceland being the two major exceptions as of now. Immediately after my column last week, in the aftermath of the "Panama papers," Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson resigned. Gunnlaugsson and his wife had set up shell companies in Panama to shield some of their assets from scrutiny.
Cameron also had some funds in offshore accounts via his (now deceased) father, Ian Cameron. While the total amount of the accounts that benefited Cameron, some 30,000 pounds is not a relatively significant amount, the need to hide it in offshore accounts has raised some red flags. The amount, 30,000 pounds, is actually much less than necessary to make the effort of employing a law firm to shield that kind of money worthwhile.
Last Monday Cameron said his family's offshore funds were a "private matter," however, he has since made several disclosures including releasing the last six years' worth of tax returns. While currently there is no evidence of wrongdoing, the opposition Labour Party isn't about to let Cameron off the hook so easily. Calls for his resignation have been voiced by members of the opposition and whether or not the matter proceeds any further will most likely depend on Cameron's performance at Wednesday's PMQs.
As the millions of documents are poured over, surely new evidence of secret offshore funds of other world leaders might be uncovered. Perhaps the best case scenario in the wake of the Panama Papers will be a debate regarding the need for tax havens more broadly and secret offshore bank accounts in particular. If so many people are engaging in "tax avoidance," including perhaps the prime minister of the U.K., policy-makers globally may need to come up with solutions that both protect legal assets while offering mechanisms to better police illegal assets.