Sunday, April 03, 2005

Tony Baldry MP, Chair of Parliamentary report "Darfur, Sudan" in African contract inquiry

A copy of the 93-page "Darfur, Sudan" Parliamentary report featured in an earlier post here is freely available online at International Development Committee - Houses of Parliament.
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Blair all talk on 'moral responsibility' to end Darfur genocide says Conservative Press Release

Conservative MP Michael Ancram QC recently issued a press statement saying Sudan must be "compelled" to halt its genocide and allow the people it has chased into camps to return to their homes.

Mr Ancram does not explain how this can be achieved. In a Press Release he suggests the UN should establish an oil embargo on Sudan to give it an incentive to comply, but he fails to mention countries with interests in the Sudan, like China and Russia, that sit on the UN Security Council and make it known they will block sanctions and an oil embargo.

In the press release Mr Ancram says, "After 7 security council resolutions, 10 reports to the security council, two million displaced Darfuris, and 300,000 deaths why is the international community still taking baby steps towards a solution for the people of Darfur? But instead of answering the question to educate readers, Mr Ancram takes a cheap shot at Tony Blair by saying, "Mr Blair's self proclaimed 'moral responsibility' to act to end this genocide is all talk."

Either he and his colleague, Shadow International Development Secretary Alan Duncan MP do not know what they are talking about [which I find hard to believe] - or they do, but have ulterior motives. Commenting on the publication of the International Development Committee's report "Darfur, Sudan" Mr Duncan said:

"This report makes shocking reading. It details the collective failure of the international community to stop the genocide in Darfur. Mr Blair should have pressed for a UN resolution requiring Sudan to accept a larger African Union force with a mandate to protect civilians, establishing a no-fly zone over Darfur, and imposing an oil embargo on Sudan. His failure to do so makes a mockery of his rhetoric on helping Africa," he said.

Mr Duncan goes on to accuse Mr Blair of being 'all talk', and says "Instead of ending genocide in Darfur, Mr Blair's only determination is to walk on by on the other side. His only urgency to utter another promise he will not keep."

As far as I am aware [and I have followed the news on Darfur very closely over the past year and have a good idea of just how much the British Government has done for Darfur and Africa as a whole] Messrs Ancram and Duncan have not said much before in the press about Darfur over the last year. Both of them call for an oil embargo knowing that China, Russia and Algeria would block it. Note also, Ancram praises the no-fly zone and Duncan criticises the lack of no-fly zone.

Note too, how loudly they speak out about Darfur in the press now that there is a General Election in the offing - along with Conservative MP Tony Baldry, chair of a House of Commons select committee responsible for releasing the report "Darfur, Sudan" in an attempt, it would appear, to score political points before an election. Clare Short MP, a former international development secretary, serves on the same committee. Ms Short resigned from the Cabinet because she was against the war in Iraq. Her outspoken remarks, and attempts to bring down Tony Blair, became an embarrassment to the Government and this country.

Since these MPs have not before made a concerted effort to speak up strongly about Darfur over the past year, the unleashing of their March 30, 2005 report "Darfur, Sudan" and media campaign gives the impression they are using Darfur against Tony Blair for their own political gain. Shame on them.
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Sunday Times Insight: Top Tory in African contract inquiry

It was disappointing to see Conservative MP Tony Baldry, who chairs the international development committee responsible for the above report "Darfur, Sudan", featured in an article in today's Sunday Times. Here is a copy:

A SENIOR MP used his parliamentary position to lobby an African government over the award of a lucrative aviation contract to a company in which he is a big shareholder.

Tony Baldry, the Conservative MP for Banbury, Oxfordshire, could now face censure for exploiting his position in the Commons to further his business interests.

The Sunday Times has seen a series of letters sent on Commons notepaper by Baldry to Vice-President Solomon Berewa in Sierra Leone discussing the privatisation of the country's failed national airline.

He attempts to arrange meetings with Angel Gate Aviation, a British-registered company that is keen to schedule flights from London to Freetown, the capital of the west African state.

Companies House records show that Baldry owns 439,000 shares in Angel Gate, although he makes no mention of this in any of the letters. The firm has paid him £30,000 in the past year as its chairman.

Val Collier, Sierra Leone’s anti-corruption commissioner, criticised Baldry's intervention. He said last week that Baldry was "immoral" in using his position as an MP to promote his own business.

"(The airline approach) has nothing to do with House of Commons matters," he said. "You cannot use high office to influence business negotiations. It's morally wrong and a bad example to countries like ours."

The revelations will increase the pressure on Baldry, a former minister in the Foreign Office. Last week, Insight revealed that he has been paid by Milestone Trading, a mining company, to lobby the Sierra Leone government for valuable diamond concessions.

He stands to make a substantial amount of money out of the deal. This is despite the fact that his business with Sierra Leone - a war-torn country heavily dependent on British aid - presents a potential conflict of interest for someone in his position.

As chairman of the Commons international development committee, Baldry is responsible for scrutinising the millions in government aid spent in countries such as Sierra Leone. Fellow committee members point out that their job is to help alleviate Third World poverty rather than try to profit from it.

Baldry also used Commons notepaper to write to Hilary Benn, the international development secretary, on behalf of Milestone.

The matter has been referred to Sir Philip Mawer, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, by George Foulkes, the Labour MP and former international development minister.

After seeing the latest letters lobbying for the aviation firm, Foulkes said: "This appears to show that his (Baldry’s) business activities and his position as chairman of the select committee have become inextricably mixed in a way which appears to be a conflict of interest and breach of parliamentary rules.

"As a result, he should consider whether it is possible for him to continue as chairman of the committee."

In the letters to Berewa, Baldry says he has been negotiating with Abdul Turay, the country's privatisation commissioner, for Angel Gate Aviation to take over from the country's national airline.

"We have agreed the way forward for the airline project and I hope it may be possible for Mr Turay to meet (Angel Gate director Ramy Lakah) to finalise details of the proposed agreement, which can then be passed to the respective lawyers to draw up the necessary contracts," wrote Baldry.

"We fully understand that 'speed is of the essence' on this matter and that the government of Sierra Leone is anxious to see a viable airline operating between London and Freetown as soon as possible."

Although he declares his directorships and shareholdings in the register of members' interests, Baldry's letters give the impression his involvement is neutral. His shareholding in the firm is not even alluded to.

As it turned out, his lobbying for the company failed as the contract was awarded to another operator. He did, however, have more success when acting on behalf of Milestone.

Last year the company was blacklisted in Sierra Leone pending an investigation into links between one of its directors and two mafia figures wanted in Europe and South Africa. A report by Collier confirmed that Gershon Ben-Tovim, a partner in Milestone, had business links to Vito Palazzolo, a known mafia figure wanted in Italy. Milestone and Ben-Tovim reject the significance of those links.

Baldry wrote to Berewa on October 4 last year dismissing the links as "tangential".

The intervention undermined the objections made by Collier and cleared the way for Milestone to receive new mining licences. In return the MP's company, Red Eagle Resources, received a $75,000 payment, and the promise of a potential £1.5m shareholding in Milestone.

Baldry is now being asked to explain himself in front of his Commons committee. John Barrett, a Liberal Democrat member of the select committee, said: "If the allegations of a conflict of interest between business dealings and the work on the select committee are proved, then he should resign. I would certainly advise him to make a statement to the select committee on Tuesday."

Baldry is also to be interviewed by the commissioner for standards. Last week he declined to comment further until the investigation has been completed.

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