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Very Brit, innit?

(Article published in the Sep 26,2012 issue of Manila Standard Today)    

In less than two weeks, the Senate Blue Committee, headed by Sen. TG Guingona, is scheduled to look into what Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, called in his privilege speech at the Senate floor last 17 September as the "grandmother of all scams," referring to what is known as the President's Bridge Program.

The seed of the program was sown apparently with all good intentions during the time of then President Fidel V. Ramos. However, it had been, over time, eventually overrun by the weed of greed, notably during the tenure of then very healthy President but now officially ailing Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

A major point of inquiry in the Blue Ribbon investigation is to find out what needs mending in the intricate mesh of laws that, despite their being all being designed to minimize, if not eliminate, irregularities and corruption, nevertheless permitted a foreign company to suspiciously corner the supply of bridges that were purchased at atrociously high costs and installed in the least appropriate sites.

Complicating the matter is that that foreign company is the United Kingdom's Mabey and Johnson. Mabey and Johnson holds the dubious record of, according to the 25 September 2009 issue of theguardian, being the first major British company to be convicted of foreign bribery. It had admitted, in its plea bargain agreement with the UK Serious Fraud Office before the Sothwark crown court, to having bribed officials in Ghana, Madagascar, Jamaica, Angola, Mozambique, and Bangladesh. Two years later, David Mabey, together with two others in the company, were, according to the 10 February 2011 issue of theguardian, convicted of inflating costs to "generate kickbacks to Iraq regime" of Saddam Hussein. This deal with Saddam Hussein was in defiance of the UN sanctions.

     

The convictions of foreign bribery were the result of prosecutions by the UK's Serious Fraud Office apparently responding to the revelations made by the theguardian was early as 2004 publishing, among others, The Corner House's suspicions of Mabey and Johnson. The Corner House is a UK anti-corruption campaigner.

Apparently, UK's Ambassador to the Philippines, Paul Dimond, was not reading theguardian. In the same year that those anomalies were cropping up in London, Her Magesty's Ambassador wrote, on 16 April 2004, to "Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Republic of the Philippines". He invited the attention of GMA to the "attached proposal from Mabey and Johnson Ltd for a Priority Bridge Program..."

He praised Mabey and Johnson to high heavens: "Mabey and Johnson Ltd. Is the sole United Kingdom manufacturer and supplier of prefabricated panel style steel bridges which as ideally suited to the fast tracking of bridge replacements on busy national highways." Sweetening the deal, Dimond continued, "The British Government, using Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), is prepared to consider supporting a long-term financial package for the Priority Bridge Programme."

This Dimond letter is almost a replica of a letter that was sent two days earlier, on 14 April 2004, to the sitting Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways. David Mabey (yes, the same David Mabey now serving sentence for the briberies mentioned above) wrote:

"To build on the success of the President's Bridge Program we hereby enclose a proposal for Mabey Delta national highway bridges and Mabey Flyovers for provincial cities. The British Government have allocated Pounds Sterling 140 million concessional assistance to the Government of the Philippines specifically for this project."

David Mabey was obviously more affirmative of his view of Her Majesty's government. He assets that 140 million pounds sterling concessional assistance has been allocated. Dimond was more cautious; for him Her Majesty's government was just "prepared to consider supporting a long-term financial package..."

It turns out that David, the convict, was the less correct. Peter Backingham, her Magesty's Ambassador, after Dimond, wrote to the Secretary of Agrarian Reform the following year: "Mabey and Johnson is the sole United Kingdom manufacturer and supplier of pre-fabricated modular steel bridges which are ideally suited to rapid deployment in remote areas such as those in the Philippines. They have been a major and successful participant in the President's Bridge Program."

Beckingham, as cautious as Dimond, continues, "I am pleased to say that the British Government would be prepared to consider supporting a long term financial package in the order of £100M for the DAR project...."

Whether Her Majesty's government, as David Mabey asserts "has allocated" assistance, or is simply "prepared to consider" financial assistance, what is obvious (and envious) is how the ambassadors of Her Majesty seriously took their duty under the Article 3 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 to promote economic relations between their country and the Philippines.

And the only question that may be asked of them is whether what they have written to our government is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. After all, they are Her Majesty's servants and servants must be truthful, innit.  

     

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