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BAE wilts under Select Committee onslaught

Ann Feltham, CAAT’s Parliamentary Co-ordinator, attended the International Development Committee hearing on 19 July which saw  BAE under attack by MPs for its shameful inaction in paying £29.5 million to the Government of Tanzania.

Media eyes may have been focused on the Murdochs’ Select Committee appearance, but the real pleasure for CAAT supporters was the International Development Committee hearing which took place on the same day. The focus was “Financial Crime and Development” and, in particular, BAE’s military radar deal with Tanzania which had been the subject of a plea bargain between the company and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in February 2010.

BAE’s sacrificial goats up before the MPs were Legal Counsel Philip Bramwell and the company’s Head of Government Relations Bob Keen. Why, the MPs demanded to know, had BAE not paid over the £29.5million for the benefit of the Tanzanian people which was part of the plea bargain and confirmed by Judge Bean in the Crown Court in December. No sooner had the BAE pair said something (unconvincing) in response to one skeptical MP then another MP went on the attack. The MPs, as the Financial Times (20.7.11) reported “took scalps with relish”.

BAE brought along Lord Cairns, appointed by the company very recently to head an advisory committee to distribute the monies. Did he have any idea of what he was letting himself in for when he agreed to his appointment? How scathing of the whole idea of the committee the MPs might be – “a complete sham” – and that they might not want to hear anything from him or about his ideas? That they thought the money should be paid in full, now, and in accordance with a plan drawn up between the Department for International Development and the Tanzanian government to pay for basic equipment for schools?

Richard Alderman, Director of the SFO, continued to add to CAAT’s delight and BAE’s discomfort. He found the delay in paying the money “unsatisfactory and frustrating” – he hadn’t put a timeline into the settlement because he’d simply assumed BAE would pay the money promptly.

This was reinforced by Justice Minister Lord McNally. With his PR background, he couldn’t understand why BAE hadn’t paid up quickly and put the matter behind it. Sitting alongside him, International Development Minister Alan Duncan also put the boot in, saying he was “baffled” by BAE’s stance. It was a great day to hear so many establishment voices united against the actions, or, rather, in this case, the inaction of CAAT’s favourite company.

So why is BAE prevaricating? Its Chair Dick Olver is, after all, forever saying that corruption investigation saga is “historic” and that the company’s entered a new chapter. It is, therefore, strange that the money wasn’t paid over as quickly as possible rather than delaying and attracting new criticism. The suggestion is that the company wants the payment to be seen as a charitable gift from its shareholders, rather than a payment ordered by a court and that Lord Cairns’ advisory committee was supposed to be a means to this end.

Before leaving Philip Bramwell said that the Committee’s views were clear and would have to be taken into account. Let’s hope they are – that would be truly good news for Tanzania’s schoolchildren who will benefit from the 4.4 million textbooks and 2 million desks to be bought with the funds.

Read CAAT’s Press Release: BAE grilled by MPs on £29.5 million Tanzania payment

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