MAC: Mines and Communities

London Calling on Santa Sleaze

Published by MAC on 2006-12-20

London Calling on Santa Sleaze

December 20 2006

In terms of "Rule by Sleaze", the UK Labour government surpasses that of any previous UK administration - and the nadir was reached last week. On the same day that prime minister Bliar was questioned by police over alleged provision of honours in exchange for donations to the Labour Party, his Attorney General suddenly announced a cessation of enquiries into criminal conduct by BAe, Britain's chief arms merchant. Bliar argued that this was to safeguard his "war on terror" in the prosecution of which the assistance of Saudi Arabia is considered crucial. Few British citizens were fooled: BAe is itself Europe's largest dealer of weapons of mass destruction with an order book exceeding fifty billion pounds and annual sales approaching £15 billion. Recusing to Saudi strong-arming, the prime minister was going to save his beloved country six billion quid on sales of 72 Typhoon aircraft to the royal despots in Riyadh

Thankfully, two NGOs have now mounted their own judicial review of that decision, citing the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

True, the Saudi Arabian bribery allegations - previously under investigation by Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) - do not directly relate to mining and minerals. However, several previous actions taken by Bliar and his cronies to "fix" contracts, or abandon scrutiny of dubious deals, certainly do.

As reported by London Calling in February this year: "In 2002, the UK ambassador to Romania intervened directly with the Bucharest government, to push Mittal Steel's bid for the state smelting company, Sidex. No competitive tenders were offered, and Lakshmi Mittal got the plant for a knockdown £300 million. This came shortly after the company's eponymous founder handed a cool quarter of a million pounds to the Labour Party.

Although Bliar claimed he knew nothing about this particular deal, four years later he himself intervened to back Oxus Gold when the new, popularly-elected president of Kyrgyzstan cancelled the AIM-listed company's contract. The UK prime minister berated president Kurmanbek Bakiyev for not 'living up to obligations under his [Bliar's] global anti-corruption initiative'.

Just two months ago, RAID (Oxford-based Rights for Accountability in Development) berated the government for failure to properly investigate human right violations alleged (under the OECD procedure) against Barclays Bank and mining companies, De Beers and Oryx. The House of Commons International Development Committee also expressed concern about "how vigorously the UK seeks to ensure that OECD guidelines are adhered to ..." (See article below "Government inquiry into firms 'fuelling Congo war' attacked).

These particular accusations were first made in 2002 by a special UN panel, when the UK minister for trade and industry was Patricia Hewitt. In November that year she presented Rio Tinto's chairman, Robert Wilson, with the "First" magazine "Award for Responsible Capitalism". It came only a few months after Blair himself launched the "Extractive Industries International Transparency Initiative" at the UN World Summit for Sustainable Development. A year later, Ms Hewitt told a Social Enterprise Conference in London that:

"We in Government don't run social enterprises. There is only so much a Government can do through top down measures. Real power and real change comes from bottom up pressure. And the evolution of the voluntary sector since the 70s is a wonderful example of bottom up pressure"

But don't be fooled into concluding that this implied support for NGOs (such as RAID and Global Witness) in their hounding of companies for various malfeasances. On the contrary, the minister went on to provide one of the clearest indications to date that the Bliar regime has handed over responsibility for corporate regulation to the scions of industry themselves, thus washing its hands of the duty of direct intervention. Said Ms Hewitt:

"Social Enterprises up and down the country are performing better with more entrepreneurialism and innovation than ever before...we have the potential to unleash the voluntary sector onto the third dimension (sic). Bringing together voluntary sector expertise and private sector entrepreneurialism. Nurturing a whole new generation of social reformers and philanthropists... The not for profit, charitable and limited company form never really fitted social enterprises. Our consultation showed how not for profit companies and charitable forms were too expensive, yet philanthropists wouldn't invest in normal companies because they wanted a lock on assets and profits. And they wouldn't invest in not for profit structures because they were puzzled by their complexity!"

It wasn't long afterwards that Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, shocked those who still naively believed the British government would crack down hard on bribery and corruption by domestic firms abroad. "Whilst small extorted payments…are strictly illegal" said Straw," we do not envisage circumstances in which there would be a prosecution"

Just a few days before caving into the Saudis, the UK secretary for international development, Hilary Benn promised a conference in Jordan, of countries signed on to the UN Convention Against Corruption in Jordan that:

"We will not tolerate those who extort, corrupt and deceive. Together we can make progress and by strengthening the institutions of government, promoting better transparency and accountability and giving a voice to those who are hit hardest by corruption - the world's poorest - we can make a difference."

If you expect Mr Benn to resign now that his overlord has exhibited such rank submission to extortion, corruption and deception, then you don't know how low the British cabinet has sunk - to the point of moral impotence, in fact.

As Eva Jolly - special advisor to the Norwegian government on corruption and money laundering - wrote in last Wednesday's "Independent":

"This illegal decision is a betrayal of the British people and every principle that Britain is committed to uphold."

But it was perhaps the military historian, Correlli Barnett, who put his finger most firmly on the nail when, on December 17, he described Blair as "clinically deranged" and compared him with Adolf Hitler:

"What his Chief of the Army General Staff…said of Hitler would surely be true of Tony Blair today: 'He had a special picture of the world, and every fact had to be fitted into that fancied picture. As he believed, so the world must be but, in fact, it was a picture of another world'…[I]t is surely more than time that [Blair] resorted to the British constitutional equivalent of Hitler's Luger bullet in the heart - a resignation visit to Buck House."

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