Thursday, February 01, 2007

High-noon for British Empire

Those who said the sun never set on the British Empire are right!

In 2001, Tanzania signed a single-sourced $40m contract with a British arms supplier BAE Systems (British Aerospace Limited). In this deal, BAE was to supply Tanzania with an Air Traffic Control (ATC) system to serve the country’s eight -yes only 8- military aircraft!

The ATC system in question was described by the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as being a dated technology. The agency said that upgrading the system to meet civil aviation demands would cost Tanzanians millions of dollars. The agency further argued that Tanzania’s needs would have been met with a $5m to $7m civil aviation system.

What is interesting is that the deal was pushed by none other than UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Blair’s argument was that the deal was good for the UK because it would protect 250 British jobs on the Isle of Wight that were at stake! (Who gives a damn about Tanzania Wanjiku who has to go to bed on an empty stomach to make such a purchase!)

Even more interesting is the revelation by a Tanzanian middleman Sailesh Vithlani that BAE paid him $12m (30% of the contractual amount) through a Swiss bank. The payment was done through Red Diamond Trading –one of BAE’s covert offshore companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. Red Diamond is the same outfit alleged to have given a Sterling pound 1M to the late Chilean dictator Pinochet.
Vithlani’s business buddy Tanil Somaiya (no relation to Ketan Somaia) collaborated the bribery allegation saying that they (Somaiya and Vithlani) were paid 1% of the contractual amount to make sure the deal was signed and awarded to Vithlani’s Merlin International.

Tanil Somaiya Left Donating bikes to Tanzanian Police

The World Bank and IMF refused to extend a loan to Tanzania for this purchase claiming that it was waste of resources. This however did not stop the deal. The UK’s Barclays Bank stepped in and finance it at interest rates that were much higher than those charged by the Bretton Woods institutions. In the end Tanzanians were left with a huge bill stemming from the UK’s quest to create less than 300 jobs for Britons.

Politicians will always be politicians. In this case, there was more to the storyline than securing 250 jobs. Did the kickback extend to individuals in the UK? Vithlani has no comment because the most likely answer is yes. The zeal by which Blair pushed for the deal suggests that money may have changed hands. This will not be the first time that an East African has dished out money to UK politicians.

Proprietor of Shivacom Tanil Somaiya (Center) presenting an award to Miss Tanzania

During the Goldenberg proceedings, we learnt of the cozy relationship Ketan Somaia has with UK politicians. We were treated to juicy stories about Pattni’s trip to the UK where he attended a Tory fundraiser. Pattni and Somaia were privileged to share a table with former Conservative Party chief and Cabinet minister Lord Cecil Parkinson at the Tory Winter Ball. Pattni didn’t fail to brag about mingling with the likes of Mark Thatcher –the arms dealing son of Margaret Thatcher.

To cap it all, we learnt that upon retirement, Lord Parkinson became the chairman of Somaia’s offshore company, Dolphin Group the mother company of the collapsed Delphis Bank. Lord Parkinson also served as Kamani’s envoy to South Africa as to promote Kamani’s controversial 25-year monopoly in the development of Mpumalanga Game Park of South Africa.

The two Tanzanians in this mess have been linked to many other corruption scandals in Tanzania’s defense contracts. These crooks continue to travel in and out of the UK as they will. The UK’s seems to have a traditional stand of protecting companies and individuals who are plundering Africa. The Pattnis, the Kamanis, the Somaias and now the Vithlanis have a safe heaven in the UK. This reminds me of the colonial era companies like the British East Africa Co. that owned East Africa and plundered it with full support of the UK.

The UK doesn’t seem to mind about corruption as long as the proceeds benefit her and her politicians. For this reason economic hitmen are treated like loyalty while relatively smalltime thieves like neo-colonial Paramount Chief Murungaru are prohibited from stepping on the English soil. After all the UK has to hoodwink us to see them as protectors and not perpetuators of corruption. What the heck! Fry one Murungaru and Africans will sing God Save the Queen.

In this setting, our leaders come out as colonial paramount chiefs who sold their people and land for a blanket and a mirror. And we say we are independent countries!

No comments: