International development

Spent half the day in a seminar about International Development. One of the key challenges is to improve cross-departmental working in government on development issues. The recent debate in Parliament about the export of a (very expensive) air traffic control system to Tanzania clearly indicated the pitfalls of one part of Government working in total contradiction to another part.

So whilst one part was busy with the supply of an over-sophisticated, over-priced military air traffic radar system to one of the very poorest countries in the world at a cost to it of £28 million for an air force of about 10 planes (although estimates varied up to 19), another part was busy saying, “this is a poor country that needs our financial help”. Left hand says: “here’s some money” and right hand says “here’s a big bill”. What we need is rather more coherence in policy making.

There’s a good summary of the current state of play in this scandal on the Guardian’s website.

Tanzania: another case of BAe corruption allegations

Corruption is major news today. No – not (just) the second arrest of Lord Levy, but the opposition debate on the stinking deal involving BAe (the alleged ‘briber’); the Government (who issued an export license for a military air traffic radar control system for Tanzania) and Barclays Bank who loaned Tanzania the money.

Basic story – BAe sell Tanzania this radar system which is far too expensive and sophisticated for Tanzania’s real needs, and yet only covers one third of the country. Price tag: a hefty £28 million.

Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and a country to whom we are pouring in aid. So is this a sensible deal?

Barclays Bank appears to give them a loan on concessionary rates – as a commercial one would have too high interest and break the criteria imposed by the Government on granting export licenses for arms and military radar etc.

This all broke wide-open when two middle-men owed up to having been bribed $12 million in a Swiss Bank to see this deal through. Clearly this all stinks and that was my first debate leading on International Development for the Liberal Democrats. My colleague Norman Lamb had done a lot of work on this in 2002, so good steps to follow in! You can read my speech in Hansard.

This was a Tory Opposition Day motion, very narrowly defined so as not to stray into even more murky territory of the Al Yamamah arms deal with Saudi Arabia on which the Labour Government intervened to stop the Serious Fraud Office investigating corruption. The Tories did not want this mentioned as they were hopelessly compromised as the deal was struck when they were in power – and there is also the matter of the financial relationship between one of the middlemen on the deal and the Conservative party.

Of course Labour said it was right to have granted the license to export the traffic control system – but it is quite clear that this was not a kosher deal. So – we wait for the Serious Fraud Office to pursue its investigation all the way.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Holocaust Memorial Day and Sheila Peacock, one of the local Labour councillors in Haringey has organised the ceremonies this year at Bruce Castle. I may not see eye to eye with Sheila on virtually everything else, but on this she does an excellent job – and full credit to her.

It is such an important occasion – and the symbolism of the Holocaust as a focal point for all the evils that man perpetrates on man pulls us all together as one. You cannot but fail to be moved by listening to a survivor of the Holocaust tell of what is what like actually living through it. It doesn’t matter how many books I have read, films I have seen, newsreels witnessed: listening to someone who lived through the hell of the camps brings it home in a way that no other medium can deliver. And I have never been to a Holocaust ceremony where, in addition to remembering the Holocaust, there was not also a remembrance for all the genocides across the world. Today was no different and we also heard from survivors from Rwanda. Shame on the Muslim Council for refusing to attend these ceremonies.

Evening was off to the Westminster Hour. It’s been a radio fest this weekend. We romp through the troubled Home Office and gay adoption issues – as both of these will come back next week. I raised the issue of the debate on the sale of a radar system to Tanzania – an opposition day debate by the Tories. Nevertheless – hopefully this time the Serious Fraud Office will uncover the truth and be left to do so without Government intervention. The Tories have been oddly silent on the Saudi Arabian arms deal corruption investigation (though the original deal was done by them) – so perhaps their interest in Tanzania is designed to help distracted from the otherwise silent acquiescence at Labour blocking international corruption investigations.