Firms including BAE Systems, which have benefited from UK’s export credit agency, fail to attend to inquiry into its work
The bosses of some of Britain’s biggest arms and oil companies have refused to attend a parliamentary inquiry into the use of hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to help dictators build arsenals and facilitate environmental and human rights abuses.
The businessmen, including Ian King, chief executive of BAE Systems, had been invited to an all-party investigation into the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD)’s underwriting of loans, including £35m to Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe to buy five Hawk fighter jets.
The all-party parliamentary group on international corporate responsibility is examining more than 40 years of ECGD operations overseas which have led to it being dubbed the “department for dodgy deals” by the Jubilee Debt Campaign.
Arms and oil companies are the biggest users of ECGD underwriting because traditional lenders are often reluctant to support projects that have the potential to lead to environmental or human rights abuses.
The companies were asked to attend the hearing to offer their views on how best to reform the role of the ECGD, which is part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and has changed its operating name to UK Export Finance (UKEF).
Other companies that decided not to send representatives include Thales, a French-owned arms group, and Carillion, a FTSE 250 construction company and the largest provider of outsourced management of defence facilities. Graham Farley, Carillion’s director of export finance, pulled out the night before he was due to give evidence, according to Lisa Nandy, the Labour MP for Wigan and chair of the inquiry.
At the time of publication, Carillion had has not responded to Guardian inquiries as to the reason for Farley’s withdrawal. Thales said in statement it did not believe “there was any specific aspect that was particularly pertinent” to the company and so declined to participate.
BAE Systems, the ECGD’s biggest customer, said last week that it would not send King or any other representative to the inquiry. In a one-page letter to Nandy, the company said: “As you will know, there are already strict controls on defence exports in place, with which BAE Systems fully complies. Any item exported from the UK, which is subject to export control, needs a licence. The Export Control Organisation hold this responsibility and BAE Systems works closely with them to ensure compliance.
“We await the results of your inquiry with interest. However, BAE Systems does not intend to contribute further written or oral evidence.”
BAE used ECGD funding to support the notorious al-Yamamah “oil for arms” deal with Saudi Arabia, involving Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft. BAE was investigated by the Serious Fraud Office amid allegations of bribery and corruption. The inquiry was dropped following the intervention of the then prime minister, Tony Blair.
The ECGD also loaned £35m to Zimbabwe to buy five Hawk fighter jets from BAE between 1989 and 1992. Zimbabwe, which was already heavily indebted at the time of the loans, spent £49m repaying the cost of the Hawks, according to a response to a freedom of information request from the Jubilee Debt Campaign. Mugabe’s government deployed the jets in the 1998-2002 war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s most deadly conflict in modern history, which led to 5.4m deaths.
BP has used ECGD support for a 1,760km joint venture oil pipeline through the Caucasus, the construction which has allegedly led to a catalogue of human rights abuses, but it also declined to send a representative to the inquiry. The company said it has submitted written evidence, but Nandy said she was disappointed that recipients of funding had declined to send representatives.
“This is the first of its kind, looking not just through the lens of economic growth or sustainability, but how the two can be successfully combined. In the wake of the financial crisis there is a widely recognised responsibility on business to help develop sustainable growth and uphold high ethical standards. This inquiry is an opportunity to do so,” she said.
It was revealed at the inquiry that the ECGD’s independent advisory body, the Export Guarantees Advisory Council, has never advised the business secretary Vince Cable, who is ultimately responsible for the loans, to withdraw support from a project. The chair of the EGAC, Andrew Wiseman, a partner at the law firm Stephenson Harwood, also disclosed that the oversight body meets Cable only once a year.
Nick Dearden, the director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: “There’s a huge amount of evidence which shows that neither UKEF nor its advisory council are able to hold the companies they support to human rights or environmental obligations.
“What standards do exist are applied to less than half of UKEF’s current portfolio, are discretionary in any case and give no formal mechanism for complaint or evaluation. Most worrying of all, those affected by UKEF-supported projects have no right to redress.
“In recent years companies with allegations of corruption against them have been given support, while campaigners have had to use separate channels to hold companies to account for failing their human rights obligations. The case for binding, mandatory rules has clearly been made. Parliament needs to act.”
Seumas Milne is right to condemn the undemocratic nature of the European project (In or out of the eurozone, we must ditch this failed model, 23 May). Yet when it comes to questions of complex economics, the left have a tendency to place too great an emphasis on referendums and elections.
The vast majority of people haven’t the time or energy to keep up with the daily shifts of the financial crisis, so referendums can offer little guidance on what is best for the electorate in terms of economic governance. Governments’ approach to the eurozone crisis should not be a question of direct democracy but of representative democracy. The people’s representatives must be expected, and pressured, to consider more carefully the wishes of the electorate in relation to economic minutiae that we the people cannot be expected to comprehend in full.
Electorates must, instead, be able to trust their representatives to respect their wishes. In Greece the electorate reject their government, reject austerity, but want to keep the euro. The people do not trust their representatives; this is the root of Europe’s democratic deficit.
Harriet Smith Hughes
• Gaby Hinsliff points out the perils of the Labour party fanning anti-EU sentiments (Beware, Ed, you stoke this anti-Europe fire at your peril, 22 May) by adding its voice to calls for an “in or out” referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union. But it may well be the only means of ensuring at long last an informed nationwide debate on Britain’s place in the changed Europe that will eventually emerge from the ashes of the eurozone crisis. If Britain is to stop sleepwalking towards isolation and loss of influence, a start needs to be made now and a lead given – by Labour, and also by the Lib Dems, if they could only unshackle themselves – to promote responsive and accountable institutions and progressive and socially responsible policies for the EU. That would be the best way of safeguarding Britain’s interests in Europe.
• Promising a referendum on British membership of the EU would show how low Ed Miliband will stoop for a supposed tactical advantage. In 2005 there was a legitimate and compelling reason to put the proposed European constitution to a popular vote. Now there is only a scheme to outflank the Conservatives on their own right wing. It may seem very clever in Westminster circles, but the political stature of anyone who aspires to lead a whole nation cannot be built on bluff and manoeuvre.
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
• Christopher Denne of the European Movement says the UK is now marginalised in Europe and that the pro-Europeans “saw it coming” (Letters, 22 May). However, if the European Movement’s views had been heeded, the UK would be part of the euro, and we would be in a far worse position than we are.
An ideological enthusiasm for European unity blinded too many people, including the European Movement, to the simple fact that one currency (and therefore one interest rate and no possibility of devaluation) for several economies does not work in the long term.
As a consequence, millions of people in Greece, and to a lesser extent in Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy, are suffering devastatingly high rates of unemployment and wage cuts. The pain will continue until participating countries dismantle this foolish project.
• There is an almost instant revisionism going on with the reassertion of German economic competitiveness. The story is being told that the sacrifices that were made over the past 15 years were a conscious effort to increase competitiveness in the international economy. This is a byproduct. Those sacrifices were made to facilitate German reunification. The resistance of the current German government to any generosity on behalf of the “euro periphery” makes it look as if they only care about the Volk.
ConocoPhillips spinoff Phillips 66 (PSX) will replace Supervalu (SVU) in the S&P
Trade minister Yukio Edano on Friday voiced his personal hope that Japan will end its dependence on nuclear power plants in light of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.
“I would like to break away from the reliance on nuclear plants and reduce dependence to zero as promptly as possible,” Edano told a House of Representative panel, describing the remark as his personal opinion.
See the original post here: Japan should ditch atomic power, Edano says before restart decision
“The big picture is that jobs growth…is representative of an economy running at potential,” writes SA author Steven Hansen of Friday’s nonfarm payroll data. “In other words, the jobs growth matches a moderately growing economy. In the coming months, we will see if the previous better than expected employment growth was an illusion.” Post your comment!
Visit link: "The big picture is that jobs growth…is representative of an economy running at potential," writes SA author Steven Hansen of Friday’s nonfarm payroll data. "In other words, the jobs growth matches a moderately growing economy. In…
Tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich; budget cuts for Medicare and Medicaid – how cynical can the congressman be?
If you want to see House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan sanctimoniously excuse himself and his friends for missing the most predictable economic crisis in the history of the world, you now have the opportunity. In a YouTube video produced by his staff, Ryan tells viewers that the crisis called by the collapse of the housing bubble caught “us” by surprise.
Well, it didn’t actually catch us by surprise. Some of us had been warning about the potential damage caused by the collapse of the bubble since 2002. We repeatedly tried to warn of the dangers of the housing bubble in whatever forum we had.
It was easy to see that the housing market was hugely over-valued and that, at some point, it would collapse – just as the stock bubble had collapsed in 2000-2002. It was also easy to see that its collapse would have a devastating impact on the economy.
The bubble was driving the economy both directly, by propelling a construction boom, and indirectly, through the impact of housing bubble wealth on consumption. When the bubble burst, there would be nothing to replace this bubble-driven demand. It would be necessary to run the sort of large government budget deficits that we have seen the last four years in order to sustain the economy and keep the unemployment rate out of double digits.
All of this was 100% predictable and predicted. However, Representative Ryan wants to give himself the blanket “who could have known?” amnesty because he and his Wall Street friends chose to ignore the people who were giving the warnings. Ryan should apply a variation on the sanctimonious lines in his video to himself:
“Imagine being warned about an economic crisis that would throw more than 10 million people out of work and cause millions to lose their home and doing nothing. Imagine that our politicians in Congress and the White House chose to do nothing while there was still time, because it would have been bad politics to upset the Wall Street banks who were making so much money. They, instead, chose to ignore the warnings. That is immoral.”
While some of us were putting in overtime and missing sleep trying to warn about the dangers of the housing bubble, Representative Ryan and his cronies were whining about a budget deficit that was almost non-existent. The budget deficits that the government was running in the years just before the collapse of the housing bubble were less than 2% of GDP (pdf). The debt-to-GDP ratio was actually falling. We could have run deficits of this magnitude forever.
After contributing, through his negligence, to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, Representative Ryan has the gall to imply that the people who don’t like his plan now are immoral. While the specifics of his new plan this year have only just been announced, we know what he put on the table last year.
According to projections from the Congressional Budget Office, that plan would have raised the cost to the country of buying Medicare-equivalent insurance policies by $34tn over Medicare’s 75-year planning period. It would also have led to huge cuts in Medicaid, denying healthcare to children, as well as other budget cuts that would have worsened the situation of low- and moderate-income children. And to offset these spending cuts, Representative Ryan promised big tax breaks to corporations and the richest people in the country. His budget proposed lowering the tax rate on both to just 25%.
If we can skip the sanctimony, let’s just say what every budget wonk knows to be true. We don’t have a budget problem; we have a healthcare cost problem. If per person healthcare costs in the United States were in line with those in any other wealthy country, we would be looking at huge budget surpluses, not deficits.
The answer lies not in cutting back, and/or eliminating Medicaid and Medicare, but in fixing the healthcare system. That’s the simple truth – and to try to contend otherwise is immoral, Representative Ryan.