APRIL 1st 2007
The question of the week is: Who is the girl in the Bradford & Bingley TV advertisement?
We have an answer at 1:15 am
Apparently it is "Sophia Di Martino"
Hmm.. she doesn't sound Italian...
Sophia di Martino
Sophia graduated in 2005 from the University of Salford’s Media and Performance course and has now started to develop her own practice in live art and contemporary performance, which has to date earned her a place at the 2007 National Review of Live Art.The main elements of her work are story-telling, myth and automythography.


MAY 2007
There were no questions of the month for which the answer was not there for the choosing

JUNE 2007
What is the definition, in finance and politics, of the word "Corruption"?

 There seems to be some confusion here. There are many societies in which everyday functions, services and transactions are not adequately covered by formal legislation and bureaucratic administrative protocol. The most common example is that of a civil service running years or decades behind the day-to-day realities that have been imposed on their society by international and global activities beyond their control. There are European countries where to get e,g, a driving license in less than month or three needs a payment to the appropriate functionaries, simply because the administrative staff are underpaid, under equipped and under numbered and therefore have to be financed by 'private enterprise' or, if you like bribery, as the budget process and tax collection system is continually defeated by the ingenuity of those who, contrary to all evidence, hold that their money is their own and the state has no right to it. It is possible to say in this case that the administration is 'corrupted', and the first thing to do is to recognise this. However, to repair the corruption and keep the function operational may not be possible except over time. The amounts paid are very small but involve a great many people and may even have become embedded in a rigidly traditional bureaucracy as an unorthodox form of efficiency payment on which it has become dependent. I might be better to recognise the reality. In many countries this is done as far as the client is concerned - we can get a passport delivered quicker if we pay more.  There is no direct connection of a benefit to the individual functionary of course. That is why it is not considered a bribe. So we can see that what people object to is not bribery but that the bribe is not shared. Then there are the lawyers - they don't care how corrupt or unfair anything is as long as it is legal. Paying for sex is frowned on unless legalised by marriage, for example. Others are concerned about visibility. Anything kept private is for them secret, and anything secret must be corrupt.

 You can no doubt see where I am going now. Let us put all these concepts together and jump to the obvious case raised at this time, at the other end of the scale, the commission paid to a Saudi Ambassador in connection with the al Yamamah contract for aircraft and associated services. It seems obvious that Saudi Arabia in 1985, and even today, has a government based much more on tribal and family structures than is the case in EU countries. That means that the financial structure will follow these lines as well. It is hardly likely that this can be changed overnight with any improvement for the population and any attempt to interfere robustly with the structure is inadvisable. The commission paid by BAe systems transfers, we are told. money paid by the Saudi government to BAe into another account, controlled by their US Ambassador. As such, it would appear that the only aim is to make what could have been an overt payment a secret one. It is therefore assumed that because it is secret it is illegal and corrupt and, to use a simple word: wrong. It could, on the other hand, be purely pragmatic. If on the one hand there is no established, orthodox, democratic system within Saudi Arabia for controlling the very considerable amount of money involved in the administration and employment of a large number of people and services in connection with the al Yamamah project over many years, yet on the other hand the Saudis were not happy to leave the entire control over such things in the hands of BAe or the MOD, the supplier of the hardware, it would seem quite likely to me that arrangements would be made to have funding to cover all sorts of contingencies and preplanned expenses into a bank account under the control of a single, senior Saudi diplomat, to be used as required in connection with the project over the years. I have absolutely no idea if this is the case, but at the time the al Yamamah contract was established there was nothing illegal about paying commissions. If in this case the payment was not kept secret from either the Saudi or the UK governments - it seems to have been arranged with their approval - it is hardly surprising that the Director of the Serious Fraud Office and the Attorney General and the Prime Minister have each come to the conclusion that hauling BAe into court on the grounds of corruption is unlikely to succeed. So I expect when the latest Panorama documentary is aired all we will discover is this:

  • Following the global realisation that oil had become the new gold, Saudi Arabia had become very rich and very vulnerable.
  • The UK being a country with very long established relations with Saudi Arabia, a buyer of oil and a possible supplier of defence systems, was a favoured supplier with whom a big defence contract would be beneficial to both countries.
  • A very large contingency fund to take care of huge unknowns (Donald Rumsfeld's 'unknown unknowns') was built into the contract and paid progressively by BAe into an external account under the control of the Saudi US ambassador.
  • Nothing 'corrupt' will be proven, not will it be shown that bribery took place to distort the proper process of a contract to satisfy the requirments of either party or the interests of their countries.
  • Pursuing this affair is likely to risk upsetting the latest contract with Saudi Arabia and achieve nothing else.