Thursday, April 12, 2007

McDowell, Ethics Bill, Planning Tribunal and Continuing Corruption

Last October, within a month of becoming leader of the Progressive Democrats and Tánaiste, Michael McDowell promised an Ethics Bill in the aftermath of the revelations that the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had received cash payments from various individuals to alleviate the requirements of a post-marital break-up settlement, six years after a formal separation.

Bertie Ahern agreed with McDowell's proposals to ban private gifts for politicians, as a face-saver for the latter who had a choice of supporting Ahern's ethics standards of the early 1990's or sit on the Opposition benches.

On Wednesday this week, legislation requiring politicians to seek advance approval for substantial gifts from friends, also included a provision that provides for tripling the amount of money they can receive without having to declare the contribution.

Under the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill, Irish politicians must not accept more than €2,000 from friends for personal reasons unless they get approval from the Standards in Public Office Commission. But gifts or donations under €2,000 would not have to be declared, more than three times the current threshold of €650.

Political analysts say that the Bill has little chance of becoming law before the Dáil is dissolved for the general election.

In a radio interview, McDowell said that when for example he received hospitality from the organisers of the Ryder Cup last September, he shouldn't have had to declare such benefits.

The Ryder Cup example is a very pertinent one as the brown envelopes that former Government Press Secretary Frank Dunlop and more recently, bagman for builders, seeking to buy off local politicians, told the Planning Corruption Tribunal that has been sitting for almost 10 years, the typical rezoning vote purchase cost about IR£2,000.

Not only has ZERO been done about the corrupt land rezoning system that spawned the planning corruption, Michael McDowell's PD colleague Tom Parlon views any change in the system that makes multi-millionaires of farmers near Irish towns, "to the left of Stalin." Farmers like Parlon getting most of their income from European taxpayers, are not socialists either!

So NOTHING has been done to change the corrupt rezoning system and anyone who believes that corruption has ended, is a fool.

The contemporary Frank Dunlop in the guise of bagman, has dispensed with the brown envelope and has a much wider range of bribes/inducements under the umbrella of "corporate entertainment."

The Irish Independent reported in September 2006, that Menolly Homes, which paid former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor £40,000 to get a better postal address for its homes, had offered a clutch of South Dublin councillors expensive gifts of Ryder Cup tickets and corporate hospitality.

The Financial Times reported earlier in 2006, before the 2006 World Cup that City investment banks in London, flushed with record earnings were snapping up most of the corporate hospitality packages available to British companies.

The London banks had already secured about 20,000 tickets, more than 70 per cent of the corporate packages being sold in the UK.

The FT said that Champagne and fine-dining packages ranged from €900 (£618) for a single match to as much as €300,000 for a luxury corporate box holding 10 people.

In Germany, 80 per cent of the total of 350,000 corporate tickets were available for local companies and the biggest bank Deutsche Bank headed the buyers' list. Seven-game packages priced at €15,000, which would allow a punter to follow England all the way to the final, have already been sold out.

So McDowell brings in an Ethics Bill that is unlikely to be passed while he and is colleagues have sat idly by for a decade and our rezoning system remains a golden tabernacle of vested interests and another Irish solution for an Irish problem.

In his radio interview on Thursday, McDowell suggested that when a minister gets a crate of wine from a chamber of commerce, he or she should not be required to refuse it.

The biggest loophole is in self-valuing the gift.

Some recipients like Michael McDowell, may know the value of a crate of Château Petrus - others would genuinely not!

Surely McDowell knows that more often than not, a "gift" is a legally-wrapped bribe?

It's also indeed indicative of how much the Progressive Democrats' leadership has surrendered to maintain the spoils of office, that the man who opposed single party Government, has made a proposal that even a Fianna Fáil minister with the thickest brass neck, would unlikely do.

Global corruption rampant; Corporate entertainment the new bribery in Developed World