Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Department for Dodgy Deals

Got this email today from the Jubilee Debt Campaign - I think it speaks for itself:

Dear supporter,

The Export Credits Guarantee Department is a little-known part of the UK Government that uses public money to back exports to the developing world. We call it the Department for Dodgy Deals.

Why? Because all too often, it underwrites dodgy deals like arms sales, coal power plants and oil pipelines. Last month, the Guardian reported on the ECGD's support for a deep-sea drilling platform off the coast of Brazil that is even riskier than BP’s Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico.

What’s more, when these exports fail, they create toxic Third World debts. Over 90% of developing country debt to the UK government is now Export Credit debt. And there’s no sign of these debts being cancelled.

The new Coalition Government is urgently considering the future of this department. It's one of the few areas where the two parties haven't worked out what they're going to do. So we have a real opportunity to open this department up to scrutiny.

Since the financial crisis, rather than tightening up the rules to promote responsible exports, the UK has relaxed them even further – exempting some projects from any environmental or social assessment at all and making an existing ban on child and forced labour ‘optional’ in some cases. It’s as outrageous as that.

Our new campaign aims to confront the reality of our unjust global economy: dodgy trade creates toxic debts, and it’s the world’s poorest people who suffer. Here are three examples:

  • The Turkwel Gorge hydro-electric power station in Kenya was built on a known earthquake fault and cost four times what it should have, with ECGD support. The Kenyan press described it as ‘the whitest of white elephants’ and ‘a stinking scandal’.
  • Indonesia is still repaying hundreds of millions of pounds to the UK for Hawk aircraft, Scorpion tanks and other military equipment sold to the dictator General Suharto, with ECGD insurance. Evidence shows they were used against the civilian population, including during the vicious attacks on East Timor.
  • The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline received ECGD backing despite warnings that it would fuel conflict in the Caucasus. The construction of the pipeline led to human rights abuses, environmental devastation and, campaigners claim, was a factor in the escalation to war between Russia and Georgia.

Our campaign is calling for an audit of past UK debts – to uncover the injustices that are keeping people locked into poverty. But it’s also about the future: about ensuring much stronger standards are adopted and enforced to control British ‘lending’ in the decades to come.

Please write to Vince Cable now, and ask him to use his new powers to end Britain’s Dodgy Deals >> 

Best wishes,
Nick Dearden
Jubilee Debt Campaign

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