“And let no-one be in any doubt whatsoever: a zero-tolerance approach to corruption” said international development secretary Andrew Mitchell at the Conservative conference early this year. If he meant it, he should fire himself immediately.
British cocoa company Armajaro Holdings was recently banned from activity in Ghana after allegations that cocoa was being smuggled out of the country by one of its agents. Fortunately, Armajaro owner Anthony Ward had given a £40,000 donation to Andrew Mitchell’s office when he was shadow secretary, and a further £50,000 to the Conservative Party. Ward phoned Mitchell, and Mitchell leaned on Ghana to get his company re-instated, even sending MP Henry Bellingham to lobby the Ghanian vice-president.
Bellingham, you may remember, is the man recently seen making friends with Omar Al-Bashir in Sudan. And Armajaro Holdings is the pernicious trading company that drove cocoa prices up 150% this year by buying up vast quantities of cocoa futures in a speculative gamble – prompting an outcry from companies that actually wanted to buy cocoa.
Is this international development? What are these politicians doing intervening on behalf of British companies anyway – isn’t that the job of the business secretary? What signal does this send in Africa when it comes to corruption? And what does it do for the rule of law in Ghana, if you can be caught smuggling and be forgiven by foreign diplomats? Andrew Mitchell was referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner over his intervention on behalf of Armajaro Holdings. The commissioner hasdecided not to investigate. Is this the standard we hold our politicians to?
Like turning a blind eye to the genocide in Sudan in order to create new opportunities, the new regime at DfiD seems far more concerned with British business interests than in alleviating poverty.