Posts Tagged ‘Banks’

After Nick Robinson, Beeb Considers Abandoning Impartiality

October 14, 2014

Nick Robinson’s Distorted Reporting of Salmond on Scots Independence

Mike over at Vox Political and countless other bloggers, myself once again included, have posted pieces condemning Nick Robinson’s blatant political bias. The most blatant example of this was his flagrant distortion and censorship of Alex Salmond’s answer to his question on the effect Scottish independence would have on the Scots financial sector. The Scots First Minister committed the cardinal sin of giving a reasoned answer, with supporting evidence, showing that Scotland would not lose corporate tax revenue if the banks and insurance companies now based north of the Border went and moved south to London. This was something that Robinson clearly didn’t want to hear, and definitely didn’t want the British voting public to hear either. So the Beeb’s footage of the conference was manipulated to make it seem that Salmond was criticising the treasury, when in fact Salmond was making a few barbed comments about the Corporation’s own objectivity. It was then further edited and excised from a later report, in which Robinson lied and said that Salmond had not answered the question. This was the Beeb acting as Newspeak in Cameron’s ‘1984’ Big Brother Britain.

I did wonder what that great Scots writer, John Buchan, would have made of it all. Buchan was the author of The 39 Steps, Greenmantle, and other tales of British pluck and derring-do against the threat of the Kaiser’s Germany. He was a staunch Unionist, but I wondered if he wouldn’t have seen Robinson’s blatant falsification of the news as something deeply Un-British, a blatant flouting of the British tradition of a free press. A piece of state propaganda that only those benighted countries under an absolute monarchy or dictatorship, without the benefits of the British constitution, would suffer.

The Radio Times Looks Forward to Biased News

Unfortunately, the problem of BBC bias doesn’t end there. Bloggers like Mike, Johnny Void, the Angry Yorkshireman, Jayne Linney and their commenters and followers have long observed the Beeb’s pro-Tory bias. This is bad enough, even with the denials. There was an article in last week’s Radio Times, however, which threatened to make such bias official. Written by one of the news staff, the article suggested that the impartiality customarily expected of the Beeb would soon be a thing of the past. It had gone from American broadcasting, which had suffered no loss of audience as a result. American news broadcasting, the article claimed, had been enlivened and invigorated by presenters and news anchors with a distinct, unconcealed bias. How would the British public react, it asked, if a reporter or newsanchor over here made various critical remarks about the state of the three main parties. It then gave examples of the type of comments that could be made. The article left you in no doubt that the period of official impartiality on the Beeb was limited, and that with a few years it would be gone.

The Malign Influence of Rupert Murdoch

Now I find it shocking that the Beeb is even considering such a policy. The article makes it clear that it was considering the example of the Fox Network in America, which had taken over as the country’s most popular broadcaster from the older, established networks like NBC and ABC. What the article didn’t say was that this has come at a cost. The Dirty Digger is very touchy about his network’s reputation for impartiality. So touchy that he actually copyrighted Fox News’ slogan of ‘Fair and Impartial’, and then tried to sue a liberal writer, who dared used it as the title of a book questioning the integrity of his news service. Despite this, Fox News has a reputation for being anything but ‘fair and impartial’. It ain’t called ‘faux news’ in certain quarters for nuttin’.

The article was also somewhat misleading in that it seemed to suggest that equal time would be given to broadcasters of different political bias. For example, reporters critical of the Tories would have equal airtime with those commenting from a Tory or Liberal Democrat perspective. That won’t, however, be the case. What will happen will be what has already occurred in America: the airwaves will be dominated by the Right, and sometimes the extreme Right, like the various stars found ranting on Murdoch’s network. At the moment the Beeb has a right-wing political bias, but it’s concealed and at least the Corporation aims at objectivity.

Now I freely admit that I do take my news from biased sources. I don’t, however, want the Beeb to follow suit and become a biased broadcaster itself. I want it at least to try being genuinely objective, even if that goal is unobtainable. I want there to be a news service I can trust. This will go if the BBC adopts a policy of permitting and encouraging blatant political bias. Instead of objective truth, we’ll get official Tory propaganda and all the disinformation and spin the Director General and the head of BBC news thinks we’ll take.

It’s not the Beeb I want, and the movement to embrace blatant party political bias should be stopped now, long before it gets started.

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Socialist Criticism of the Financial Sector from 1986

February 28, 2014

The present savage cuts to the welfare state by the Tories and their Coalition partners are legitimated by an appeal to the massive debt created by the financial crisis of four years ago. The root cause of this was ultimately the wholesale deregulation of the financial sector by Thatcher’s government, a policy that was carried on by Major’s, Blair’s and Brown’s administrations, and which the Coalition today promotes even further. The conspiracy/ parapolitics magazine, Lobster, has also carried a number of articles showing how the Tories’ preference for the financial sector has severely damaged British manufacturing industry. This was clear from as long ago as 1986, when the book Socialist Enterprise: Reclaiming the Economy, by Diana Gilhespy, Ken Jones, Ton Manwaring, Henry Neuberger, and Adam Sharples, was published. Looking through it recently, I found this passage criticising the rise of the financial sector and the harmful effect it was having on society and the economy:

The continued growth of the finance sector is also highly significant in terms of the distribution of economic power. Industrial companies in this country have behaved as independent and usually competitive organisations, even though they have sometimes acted in alliance. But the finance sector is far more centralised, and serves as an organising focus of class power. The growth of the finance sector reflects the decreasing ability of manufacturing companies to finance investment from their own retained profits. In the era of manufacturing dominance, manufacturing companies used to finance their relatively limited investments from their own substantial profits. Since then, the underlying trend in profitability has been downwards, while the costs of new investment have increased (especially because of higher inflation). As a result, manufacturing and commercial companies have increasingly come to rely on banks for new finance, both for working capital and for fixed investment needs. This often takes the form of short-term finance through overdrafts or leasing arrangements whereby companies hire equipment owned by banks. The effect of the latter is to concentrate the control of a large amount of equipment, at least in principle, in the hands of the banks.

These development have left the banks with considerable power over industry and commerce. But the banks have not developed the same sense of responsibility shown by their German and Japanese counterparts, who have been the source of finance for their industries for much longer. The form in which British banks provide their finance does not encourage them to take a long-term view of the companies and industries in which they are involved. Recently banks have been forced by the economic recession to become more directly involved, but even when acting collectively, as in the case of the Stone Platt engineering company, they have overwhelmingly taken a short-term view.

There have also been changes in the ultimate source of finance, as witnessed by the rise of the pension funds. Thirty years ago rich individuals were the main source of outside finance for industry. But now pension funds have taken over. Some people argue that this has somehow d9ispersed the ownership of property, in a way, which has also increased democratic control. In practice, however, the members of a pension fund have no control over the way in which it is operated, and have no legal rights to challenge its investment policies. The rise of pension funds has simply concentrated even more economic power in the hands of the City institutions which operate and ‘advise’ the pension funds. It has also had the effect of providing them with greater political power: when it comes to defending the rights of property there are 13 million members of pension funds, many of them trade unionists, who can be made to feel they have a stake in the free enterprise economy. (pp. 32-3).

This pessimistic analysis has been born out to a very large extent by history, and particularly by the recklessness of the banks’ policies, which created the crash. It was this, not the Labour government’s welfare spending, that has resulted in the massive budget deficit.

The Tories as the Party of Gordon Gekko: Part 94 – The Boris Johnson Years

November 30, 2013

I’ve commented several times before that the Conservative Party has all the morals of Gordon Gekko. Remember him? He was the monstrous incarnation of ruthless corporate greed played by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s 1980s film, Wall Street. This had the now notorious scene in which Gekko makes a speech in front of his fellow financiers praising greed. ‘Greed is right’, he intones, ‘Greed is good. Greed … works’. The film ends with Gecko himself ruthlessly betrayed and discarded by a younger protégé, a man Gekko has been raising up through the corporate ladder according to his own set of amoral principles. Here’s the speech:

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out like this in real life. The global banking system nearly collapsed due to the colossal greed of leading bankers and financiers through a system of toxic debt and a web of complex fraud. This brought down Lehmann Brothers and a whole host of other firms in Britain and America. The system itself has been saved by a massive bail-out by Gordon Brown, amongst others, with the result that Cameron’s coalition has seized on this excuse to curt welfare services even further under the pretext of ending the massive national debt this incurred.

And the bankers and Tory politicians have learned absolutely nothing. Indeed, they have become every more like Gekko. On Have I Got News For You last night they reported a speech made by London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, this week, in which he expressed pretty much the same appreciation for greed as Stone’s fictional anti-hero. Greed, according to Johnson, was a good thing, as it could, in certain circumstances, lead to economic growth. Now greed as the motor of economic growth and material benefits, with private vices becoming public virtues, was first proposed in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century by Bernard Mandeville in his Fable of the Bees. This was so shocking to the Christian culture of the time that he was bitterly attacked for his immorality, and denounced as ‘Man-Devil’. The idea was gradually taken up by other economists, including Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations. Nearly three hundred years later, the idea is now so widely accepted that Johnson thought he could make it without adverse comment to his audience in the City. This is despite the banking collapse, and the recession and rioting, which then followed. One is reminded of the comment about the restored Bourbon monarchy in France after the Revolution: They have forgotten nothing. They have learned nothing.
And they are determined to act more and more like Gordon Gekko with no trace of self-consciousness or irony.

As an aside from this, one of the very few good things to be inspired by Yuppie greed in the 1980s is, in my view, Queen’s I Want It All. The song’s title and chorus seems to me to have been taken from the Yuppie culture of avarice. Unlike Yuppie culture, the song is genuinely bright, optimistic and fun. So to cheer everyone up after this post, and remind us just how great Freddy Mercury was, here it is:

Was Wissen Sie von England, Die Nur England Kennen?

November 21, 2013

This is my schoolboy German for ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’

One of the major problems facing this country is the British refusal and apparently inability to learn other people’s languages. Having a second language can be immensely personally enriching, as it gives you a greater access to nations and cultures beyond your own. British visitors to the Continent, for example, can be pleasantly surprised and delighted by the way their stumbling attempts to speak the language of the country they’re visiting is appreciated by its people. Even if what you’re trying to say is halting and stumbling, the people you’re saying it to generally appreciate you’re making the effort, rather than arrogantly assuming that everyone speaks English. There have also been concerns for a long time that British industry is being held back by our collective reluctance to learn other tongues. Industrialists have long pointed out that if we want to sell our products to other nations, we have to persuade them to buy British in their own languages. And unfortunately, too few of us are studying another tongue.

This problem was being earnestly debated on breakfast television Tuesday or Wednesday morning. The Beeb were talking about the personal and professional advantages of speaking foreign tongues. One of their guests in this matter was a gentleman, one of those veritable ‘Briareus of tongues’, who could speak very many of them. In this case, the man could speak about eleven fluently. This is rather less than the eighteenth century Italian cardinal, who had mastered fifty, and who was therefore given the above nickname. Unfortunately, despite such multi-lingual experts as the Beeb’s guest a day or so ago, few people are following their example.

And it does shows, especially in some of the ideologues of the Right, who argue we should be following the employment practices of other nations, like the authors of Britannia Unchained. This bunch denounced British workers as lazy, and urged that the nation’s workforce copy those of the powerhouses of the developing world like China and India in working 19th century hours for miserable pay in the kind of conditions described and denounced by Charles Dickens and the other 19th century reformers. They are also doing the workers of the Developing World no service with their book either. Just as Britain and the rest of the Developed World has increased hours, so the working hours in India, China and the other developing nations have been massively extended. It’s a vicious circle, which seems to profit no-one except the multinational business elite now exploiting workers across the globe.

Of course, the author’s of Britannia Unchained seem unaware of this. If they are aware, they certainly don’t want you to be. And they also appear to be stunningly ignorant of business cultures much nearer home, like Germany.

In recent years the Germans have been doing their level best to challenge their image around the world. There has been a flow of steady articles and pieces in the German and foreign press challenging their image as the staunch incarnation of the Prussian virtues of hard-work and efficiency that created the Wirtschaftwunder. Rather than the dour, humourless drones slaving away all hours in the name of ruthless efficiency, the Germans are keen to point out that they do, in fact, enjoy a good joke. A few years ago there were adverts for Berlin, which boasted that it was the place where the art of living was practiced 24 hours a day, complete with a photo of a German rock star strumming out a mighty power chord on his electric guitar. The new Germany, the adverts said, stands for fun.

The punishing labour regimes of the Nazi and Communist dictatorships are similarly an image from the past that the Germans are increasingly challenging. Rather than spending their entire time grafting away at the workplace, German writers and commenters have pointed out that Germany has one of the shortest working weeks, and gives its workers longer holidays than many other countries. I can remember reading a piece by one German journalist in one of the British newspapers, which said that nothing contradicted the image of the hard-working German that the typical modern office in the Bundesrepublik. There, the staff quietly worked in comfort, with the coffee machine bubbling away to itself in a corner. And in such a relaxed, comfortable employment environment, it’s almost inevitable that someone would be going on about how lazy they all were. A few years ago, one of the German magazines ran a feature entitled ‘The German National Hobby: Krankfeiern‘, which I assume means ‘throwing a sickie’. The piece was accompanied by a photo showing an office worker crouched on a desk, surrounded by water, presumably to indicate the way German industry was being drowned by a flood of lazy workers, all skiving off work.

To Anglo-Saxon audiences, the idea that the Germans are all fun-loving with a relaxed attitude to work is almost comically bizarre. It runs directly counter to everything we know, or think we know, about the German character. After all, northern European nations are expected to be sober and hard-working, while it’s the Mediterranean south that’s all about fun and relaxation. It’s like the comment Badvoc made about the difference the Romans and ancient British in the 1980s Channel 4 comedy, Chelmsford 123: ‘We’re not like these hardworking Romans with their roads and efficiency. We have a more relaxed attitude to life. We say ‘manana!’ Yet, believe it or not, this was the German national image before the Prussian kings – one of whom had such a foul temper he was called ‘Die Bose Wetter von Hohenzollern’ took over the country. I was taught at school that in the 17th century the Germans were considered to be the most easy-going people in Europe. That was shattered by the rise of Prussia, the Napoleonic, Franco-Prussian Wars, and World Wars I and II. This has passed, on the Germans are going back to their national image in the 17th century, despite the horrors of the Gradgrinds of German industry.

So how does this new generation of relaxed funsters regard us across the North Sea? Well, as far as the work ethic is concerned, the attitude is now very much reversed, or so it seems. A few years ago a group of German financial workers and banking whizzkids from ‘Manhattan am Main’ were sent off to work in the company’s London branch. They were reported as making jokes about how, in England nothing worked properly. This seems to be pretty much a constant since Britain’s disastrous industrial performance in the 1970s. Unlike the 1970s, when we were the strike-ridden ‘sick man of Europe’, other jokes were about how hard we worked. We had, at least in the opinion of these employees, swapped places with their country as the nation, whose workers slave away driving themselves into the ground at work. Only without the efficiency and product quality.

All this appears to have been excluded from Britannia Unchained. After all, it would undermine their case if they compared us to the Germans, who now know how to combine a strong economy with a reputation for quality products and have a good time. After all, you can’t tell a country of miserable wage-slaves that they’re all skivers and malingers compared to their fun-loving EU counterparts across the Nordsee, regularly clocking with ruthless efficiency at a reasonable hour every day.

Way back in the 1980s Channel 4 briefly held won the rights to broadcast the cricket from the BBC, before they, in turn, were trumped by Murdoch and Sky. Their trailer for the test match season against the West Indies was, in its own small way, a work of art. It opened with pictures of sun-drenched beaches and tropic rainforests, while a female Caribbean face lilted the Kiplingesque lines ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Hence the title of my piece. One of their innovations, I believe, was a female commentator, who had a West Indian accent. They take cricket extremely seriously over that side of the Atlantic. The University of the West Indies in Kingston has a department of Cricket Studies. One of the course’s professors appeared on TV over here a little while ago talking about how the West Indies team’s sporting excellence had boosted the region’s self-image and pride. And the quote used by the advert is still a very, very good question. Kipling himself held some extremely Right-wing views. In the 1920s he formed a group to fight the General Strike. This collapsed when their treasurer ran off with their funds. He wrote the poem with the lines ‘What should they know of England, who only England know?’ in response to riots in the north of England against working conditions there. Nevertheless, the question is a good one, and can be asked of the Right as well as the Left. ‘What do they know of England, who only England know?’ Going by the authors of Britannia Unchained, very little.

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.

Private Eye Questions on the Competence and Integrity of Information Minister over FOI Inquiry About BCCI

July 20, 2013

As I’ve covered before, a number of bloggers, including my brother, over at Vox Political, have had their Freedom of Information Act request for details of the numbers of deaths from Atos assessments turned down. The spurious reasons for their refusal was that such requests constituted ‘harassment’. Private Eye have also raised questions about the suitability of Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, for his refusal to disclose 20-year old details about the BCCI scandal at the behest of the Treasury.

The Bank of Credit and Commerce International, or as it was known after the scandal, the Banks of Crooks and Cocaine International, collapsed in the 1980s, leaving a very nasty mess. The Treasury compiled a report on the scandal, Sandstorm, which was the subject of a FOI request. The Treasury turned the request down, and the case went to the Graham as the Information Commissioner, who supported the Treasury. Private Eye published an article on this story in their 30th September-13 October issue. Entitled ‘Freedom of Information: FOI-led Again’. The story ran

‘A recent decision by the Information Tribunal, which forced the Treasure to hand over previously concealed details of a 20-year-old report into the BCCI banking scandal, code-named Sandstorm, raises serious questions over whether the current Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, is the man for the job.

Two years ago he had to rule on the Treasury’s non-disclosure of material including the names of people running the fraudulent bank and organisations propping it up. Its stance was based largely on the unlikely grounds that divulging the names would harm international relations or that the names constituted personal data (which can still be disclosed in the public interest).

Among the names concealed as “personal data” were BCCI founder Agha Asan Abedi, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Royal Bank of Scotland and an entire country in the government of Cameroon. Amazingly Graham agreed completely with the Sir Humphreys (who also happen to hold his purse strings). But when lefty accountant Professor Prem Sikka from Essex university challenged his decision and took it to the Information Tribunal, it was dismissed out of hand.

“We were surprised to see that the Treasury sought to extend the protection of the data protection principles”, said the tribunal judges, “to information about some individuals who exercised ultimate control over the whole of BCCI’s operations and were the architects of a group-wide programme of fraud and concealment.”

When it cam to countries and companies, the Treasury had made the most basic error of treating their names as “personal”. The judges must have been even more surprised to find that an Information Commissioner who is supposed to understand the subject endorsed this. On the concealment of Abedi’s name, they concluded with some understatement: ” the legitimate interest of the public … justifies disclosure of the identity of the man in overall charge…”

It thus would appear the Information Commissioner and his office have bee all too eager to protect the rich, unscrupulous and corrupt against reasonable requests for information. This, and the latest refusals to answer questions about the death toll from Atos’ cessation of benefit payments, suggests that Graham is definitely not suitable for the job and cannot be trusted to protect the public interest against abuse.