Yesterday it was unwise of Labour AM Onkar Sahota to comment on the transparency of someone elseâ€™s affairs when his own are so opaque. He tweeted this headline from the Guardian:
Fund run by David Cameronâ€™s father avoided paying tax in Britain. https://t.co/lkhayMNJ07
— Onkar Sahota (@DrOnkarSahota) April 4, 2016
The clear intent of the Localism Act 2011 was to make it a legal requirement for local politicians to be transparent about their affairs. The act creates criminal offences in Section 34 for those breaching its obligations to disclose pecuniary interests on taking office. For those found guilty of these offences the act provides for a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale. This used to mean a fine of up to Â£5,000 per offence. Now the fine is unlimited giving courts the power to impose fines they deem appropriate.
Onkar Sahota was elected to the Greater London Assembly in May 2012 and made his own declaration dated 3rd September 2014. His declaration is notably sparse for someone with such a large business and extensive property holdings. Under 8 out of 10 headings Sahota has written â€œNoneâ€.
Under the regulations that go with the act the first thing they ask for is â€œAny employment, office, trade, profession or vocation carried on for profit or gain.â€
Now all Sahota has told us is that he is a â€œGP (Medical General Practitioner)â€. This might be his profession or vocation but if the regulations require details of his employment then you might expect him to divulge his employer. GPs are not typically employed by the NHS â€“ and in any case if the NHS was his employer he is still required to divulge this. I suspect his formal employer is Healthcare 360 Limited, the company that he wholly owns, which is the vehicle he uses to undertake his large scale doctoring business. He calls himself â€œthe Directorâ€ at work and he is indeed the only director and sole owner of this company. It would be surprising if he was not an employee of the company. If he isnâ€™t that would be a scandal in itself â€“ he could not survive at once being an advocate for the NHS and at the same time evading paying the National Insurance levy that has often been linked to it. So Dr Sahota, who employs you? The law says you must say.
The only other disclosure that Sahota has made is that he owns â€œProperties in Ealing and Hounslowâ€. Now the act says that something can be a â€œsensitve interestâ€ if â€œdisclosure of the details of the interest could lead to the member or co-opted member, or a person connected with the member or co-opted member, being subject to violence or intimidationâ€. On this basis many councillors, etc elect not to publish their their full home addresses. Most of the GLA members just allow the first part of the their postcode or the name of the town they reside in to be published although currently 5 members are allowing their full postal addresses to be published â€“ I always allowed mine to be published when I was a councillor.
Even without publishing full addresses you can convey to the public a pretty frank view of your property holdings. For instance Labourâ€™s Len Duvallâ€™s entry is:
Property in Market St, SE18. 2 further properties in Woolwich, Royal Borough of Greenwich. Partner has an interest in 2 residential properties in Erith, Bexley, Kent.
So Duvall and his partner have five properties. All out in the open and above board. By comparison Sahotaâ€™s declaration is evasive. There can be no way to argue that the publication of the full address of the empty site at 42 Lower Boston Road imperils anyone, in any way. Given the importance of this site to many of Sahotaâ€™s constituents there is a public interest in this fact being known, declared and published. Sahota may not have created an offence in this case but he has clearly subverted the intent of the law.
Under the â€œSecuritiesâ€ heading, section 6, Sahota has clearly created two offences. He has again written â€œNoneâ€ in spite of being the sole, 100% owner of Healthcare 360 Limited which operates in the GLA area and being the sole, 100% owner of Investments 360 Limited which owns the two buildings the former business operates out of, again in the GLA area. I really donâ€™t see why these are not declared.
Sahota has committed at least two offences under the act and maybe two more. The man lied to the parents of St Markâ€™s Primary School and has been less than forthcoming, even actively evasive, to all of his constituents in clear defiance of the Localism Act 2011.