Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Saudi Arabia

Careless People Part One

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on May 25, 2021.

David Cameron is under fire for his dealings with Lex Greensill

David Cameron was not the perfect guest when he visited Sri Lanka in November 2013. He tried to get the Commonwealth summit meeting to focus on human rights abuses and war crimes allegedly perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government in the closing stages of the successful campaign against the LTTE. He visited Jaffna and stirred up disaffected Tamils. I got the impression that his concern for the allegedly oppressed was not totally sincere.

Sincerity and a respect for truth are not notable elements of the Cameron character. Maverick Labour MP Dennis Skinner was expelled from the House of Commons for referring to him as Dodgy Dave. Recent events have proved the Beast of Bolsover to be accurate in his characterization.

Dodgy Dave Dodges Dodgy Questions

Cameron dodged questions throughout the hearings of two separate parliamentary committees (Treasury select committee and Public Accounts Committee) lasting a total of four hours on May 11, and May 13, 2021.The former prime minister was being grilled about his activities as a lobbyist for Greensill Capital, which involved him bombarding ministers and civil servants with needy pleas for favours for the dodgy company. Labour’s Angela Eagle said Cameron’s behaviour was “more like stalking than lobbying”. The opposition leader, Keir Starmer has had little to chuckle about recently, but he permitted himself a little joke at Cameron’s expense, describing him as “a former prime minister and now I suspect a former lobbyist”. Indeed, Cameron was not very good as a prime minister and pretty useless as a lobbyist, although he might have made money for himself. Dodgy Dave dodged questions about how much Greensill paid him for his efforts. He admitted it was more than his £150,000 salary as PM. He claimed that reports he stood to gain £60m were “absurd”. Labour’s Rushanara Ali told him, “It gives me no pleasure to say this, but your reputation is in tatters.”.

A Word in your Ear

In February 2010, Cameron promised to end the kind of corruption of which he is now accused. “We all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism.” Eleven years on, how does that sound?

Honest Dave told the committee, “I have spent most of my adult life in public service. I believe in it deeply.” One can translate that to mean that he had never done a proper job in his life before he became the UK’s youngest prime minister since Lord Liverpool in 1812. Cameron became prime minister in at the age of 43 in 2010. He had been leader of the Conservative Party since 2005 when he was 39.

He enjoyed a gilded life. Born in London to an upper-middle-class family, he went to Eton and in 1988, got a first at Brasenose, Oxford (a source of bitterness to his former schoolmate Boris Johnson who only got 2.1 at Balliol).

He went straight from Oxford to the Conservative Research Department where he worked until 1993, at the later stages working for the Conservative prime minister, John Major. In 1994, before he became an MP, he went to work for Carlton Communications because believed a stint in the private sector would benefit his political career. He got the job through personal contacts such as Samantha Cameron’s mother who was married to William Waldorf Astor III, 4th Viscount Astor. Executives at Carlton Towers could eat gourmet meals in a private dining room, served by a butler summoned by pressing a button under the dining table. One senior business journalist who dealt with Cameron extensively describes him as “thoroughly unpleasant” and not a very efficient press officer. “Cameron’s affable demeanour is only skin-deep; he cultivated only those who could prove useful. “Cameron did this PR job until 2001 and this was the only work experience he had outside the cosy world of Westminster.

Human Rights

Although he made a show of distaste for the Sri Lankan government’s human rights record his own record is distasteful.

In 1989, while Nelson Mandela was still in prison under the apartheid regime, Cameron accepted a trip to South Africa paid for by an anti-sanctions lobby firm. A spokesperson for Cameron responded by saying that the Conservative Party was at that time opposed to sanctions against South Africa and that his trip was a fact-finding mission. However, the Independent reported that Cameron’s then superior at Conservative Research Department called the trip “jolly”, saying that “it was all terribly relaxed, just a little treat, a perk of the job. The Botha regime was attempting to make itself look less horrible, but I don’t regard it as having been of the faintest political consequence.” Cameron distanced himself from his party’s history of opposing sanctions against the regime.

It always seemed very odd that Saudi Arabia, a nation noted for a judicial system which included public beheadings and amputations and stoning of adulteresses, should be a member of the UNHRC which was condemning Sri Lanka for human rights abuses. According to WikiLeaks, Cameron initiated a secret deal with Saudi Arabia ensuring both countries were elected to the UNHRC. In 2015, Cameron’s government announced “firm political support” for the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen against the Shi’a Houthis, re-supplying the Saudi military with weapons and providing them with training.


The foreign affairs select committee, which had a majority of Conservative members, published a damning report in September 2016 on Britain’s disastrous intervention in Libya in 2011. Cameron refused to give evidence to the select committee. In one of his few reflections on the debacle, which turned Libya into a failed state exporting thousands of refugees, he blamed the Libyan people for failing to take their chance of democracy.


The result of Cameron’s decisions “was political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa”.

The committee concluded that the intervention was carried out with no proper intelligence analysis, drifted into an unannounced goal of regime change and shirked its moral responsibility to help reconstruct the country. Sir Alan Duncan, a Foreign Office minister, is quoted as describing the plans for postwar planning as fanciful rot and an unrealistic desktop exercise. The report concurs with Barack Obama’s assessment that Britain’s intervention was “a shitshow”, adding that Cameron stopped paying attention and became “distracted by a range of other things”..

Jonathan Freedland wrote in the Guardian, “It all adds yet more colour to the sketch history is likely to draw of Cameron. That he was hopelessly short-termist, too often acting for the moment, doing what he needed to get out of an immediate hole but failing to think things through. Sometimes, in the day-to-day tumble of domestic politics, that approach did little harm and served him well. It made him agile. But when blood and lives were at stake, it was a fatal flaw.”

The committee’s main charge was that Cameron allowed the original mission to creep into an undeclared pursuit of regime change in Libya. We in Sri Lanka are lucky that he did not get very with changing our regime.

More next week

The Dark Side of the DUP

A shorter version of this article appeared in Ceylon Today on Friday November 30 2018


The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) has started to withdraw its support from Theresa May’s beleaguered government and plans to vote against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. They abstained on the first two votes on the Finance Bill, and eight DUP MPs voted against the government in a third vote, on an amendment to the bill proposed by the Labour party.

Dubious Friends

When Theresa May called a snap general election in 2017 (despite there being a fixed-term parliament as claimed for Sri Lanka) it turned out to be serious error of judgement. The Conservatives won the most seats but failed to get an overall majority, worse than the majority of 17 she had before the election. The incumbent Conservative prime minister, announced her intention on 9 June 2017 to form a minority government with support from the DUP, whom she described as “friends and allies”. Those friends and allies were even stranger bedfellows than MS and RW. The DUP is the party founded by the Reverend Iain Paisley. It has fundamentalist views on homosexuality and abortion as well as climate change. More worryingly it has had ties with terrorist organisations. Peter Robinson, who was DUP leader and Northern Ireland’s first minister was an active member of Ulster Resistance. One of the things that group did was collaborate with terrorist organisations such as the Ulster Volunteer Force and the Ulster Defence Association to smuggle arms into the UK. Chris Patten described the deal as toxic.

The DUP are a rum bunch of individuals. Arlene Foster, the current leader, wasted £500 million of public money by her poor oversight of renewable energy incentive scheme; Jonathan Bell conveyed a public image of Christian rectitude but got horribly drunk in New York while promoting Northern Ireland; Ian Paisley Jr was suspended from parliament for taking bribes from the Rajapaksas; David Simpson opposed same-sex marriage and lobbied to have creationism included in the science curriculum in Northern Ireland schools; Gregory Campbell has called for the reintroduction of the death penalty and described homosexuality as an “evil, wicked, abhorrent practice”; Jim Shannon was voted the least sexy MP in 2011; Sammy Wilson has been accused of condoning calls that Catholics should be “expelled, nullified, or interned”; Nigel Dodds attended the wake of paramilitary leader John Bingham; Emma Little-Pengelly is the daughter of Noel Little, leader of the Ulster Resistance movement in the 1980s, who was convicted for being involved in a gun-running plot.

With friends like this…!

Money Tree

Protracted and difficult talks between these “friends” led to an agreement which secured DUP confidence-and-supply support for a Conservative minority government led by Theresa May. A confidence and supply agreement is one whereby a party will support the government in motions of confidence and appropriation or budget (supply) votes, by either voting in favour or abstaining. The DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, told the BBC it did not consider the recent votes a breach of their confidence and supply agreement.

May’s government, which had long been practising austerity and bleating about the lack of a “money tree”, agreed to put an extra £1bn into Northern Ireland for infrastructure, education, health, to maintain the guarantee to increase state pensions by at least 2.5% a year, to maintain defence spending, and agriculture spending in Northern Ireland at the same level for the rest of the current parliament (which theoretically takes us to June 2022). There was concern that the money could only be spent when Stormont was restored. In March, the government announced that £410m of the £1bn deal would be included in a new Stormont budget with money dished out to various areas. Downing Street has said that so far £430m has been released. In 2017/18, £20m was given to health and education while the £410m allocated for the Stormont budget is currently going through parliamentary approval procedures.

Are the DUP grateful? Are they ‘eck as like!

DUP Buys Ads where its Voters Won’t See

Two days before the Brexit referendum in June 2016, the Metro freesheet carried a four-page glossy propaganda supplement urging readers to vote Leave. It cost £282,000 and was paid for by the DUP, even though Metro does not circulate in Northern Ireland. The law is different in Northern Ireland and political parties do not have to declare the source of their funding. The DUP initially refused to give any information and then grudgingly said that the money came from “an organisation in England that wants to see the Union kept”. Later they disclosed that the money came from a much larger donation of £425,622 from “pro-Union business people” via the CRC (Constitutional Research Council).

The BBC Spotlight programme revealed that the Metro ad had been placed by one Richard Cook. Spotlight’s investigation of Cook revealed a long trail of illegal activities. Retired FBI Special Agent Gregory Coleman told the programme: “I think there is a good chance that law enforcement in New York City would be interested in taking a further look at this and possibly opening something up”.

Five Star

In April 2013, Prince Nawwaf bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, with Richard Cook, jointly founded a company called Five Star Investments. Prince Nawwaf is listed on the company’s initial registration as the holder of 75% of the shares. He was 80, had suffered a stroke and used a wheelchair. He was a very powerful and influential man in Saudi Arabia and well-known internationally. Why was he teaming up with a dodgy non-entity like Richard Cook? The nature of the company’s business is obscure. Five Star never filed accounts. In August 2014, the Companies Office in Edinburgh threatened to strike it off and in December it was indeed dissolved.

As well as being vice chairman of the Scottish Conservatives, Cook’s illustrious CV includes being accused of presenting fake documents to the authorities in 2009 to illegally ship used tires to India and he left a shipping company with a bill of more than £1m. He was a founding director and shareholder of a company called DDR Recycling in Glasgow which went out of business owing £150,000 in unpaid tax. In Ukraine, Cook’s company signed an $80m contract in 2013 supposedly for the purchase of used railway tracks. The person behind the company in Ukraine was a convicted criminal from Germany who had been sentenced to eight years in jail for his role in a large-scale food fraud.

Saudi Connection

Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz died in September 2015. He was the twenty-second son of Ibn Saud, born in 1932. He became a senior member of the House of Saud and was a close ally of King Abdullah. He was thoroughly familiar with international policy and law, and was also an expert on Middle East affairs. In September 2001, he was appointed director general of the Saudi intelligence agency, Al Mukhabarat Al A’amah. His eldest son has been Saudi ambassador to the UK and Ireland since 2005. The son ran up debts of more than £3m in an orgy of acquisition of luxury goods. Bell-Pottinger, who made shedloads of money doing a grand job with Sri Lanka’s image, handled PR for the profligate prince.

Constitutional Research Council

Richard Cook is the frontman for a shadowy organisation called the CRC, which helped to fund the DUP’s Leave campaign in Northern Ireland during the Brexit referendum in 2016. The CRC has also funded the European Research Group (which includes Jacob Rees-Mogg) and its chairman, the current (i.e. for this week) Brexit Secretary of State, Steve Baker. The CRC has no formal or legal status and refuses to name its members. There is no evidence that it generates income. It seems to exist merely to funnel money from dodgy sources into political campaigns. The un-Presbyterian life-style of the ambassador shows there is a lot of money slopping around the Saudi royal family.

Where Does the Money Come from?

Open Democracy is an independent global media platform partly funded by George Soros. OD did a lot of thorough research to eliminate wealthy donors from the list of possible benefactors of CRC. OD were fairly confident in saying who did not give the money to the DUP but are still appealing to readers for information who did give it.

As Fintan O’Toole put it: “The UK electoral commission is clear: ‘a donation of more than £500 cannot be accepted… if the donation is from a source that cannot be identified’. The legal onus is on the DUP to establish that the real donor was entitled to put money into a UK political campaign. If it can’t do that, it has to repay the £425,622. Since it has not done so, we have to assume it knows the true source is not, for example, a foreign government – which would be illegal.”

The DUP seems to be keeping company out of keeping with its Spartan and dour Presbyterian ethos. It gets worse. They recently embarrassed themselves by inviting Boris Johnson as their keynote speaker.

The Dream of Oil- the Nightmare of Oil

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on Tuesday March 10 2015

Colman's Column3

The minister for power and energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka, has announced that Sri Lanka will stop importing fuel by 2020. I wonder if by that date I will have stopped enduring six-hour electricity cut-offs at weekends.


One can see why the Sri Lankan Government would like to have its own oil. Each year, Sri Lanka imports nearly 30 million barrels  of oil at a cost of  US$ 2.2 billion, Oil is used to generate electricity as well as for transport. One can add to this the cost of subsidies, and the knock-on effect of transport and electricity costs on the price of everything.


Many countries have taken measures to assure themselves of continuing supplies of this diminishing resource without having to pay too much for it. The USA has taken the drastic step of freeing itself from dependence on Saudi Arabia by building impregnable enclaves on Iraqi oil while the country disintegrates around it. Fracking is a subject all on its own.

Even little Ireland tried to secure its own oil by making  a claim to Rockall when there is Rockall there apart from the sea around it and the oil it might contain. The summit of an eroded volcano core hundreds of miles off Ireland’s north- west coast and measuring just 19m (62ft) high, it was claimed by the British in 1955. But the Irish never accepted this, stating Rockall is closer to Ireland.

Way back in August 2007, the then Petroleum Resources Development Minister of Sri Lanka AHM Fowzie met a slew of representatives of oil companies on a junket to Baku. According to Mr Fowzie, Sri Lanka was going to produce oil by 2010. Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Sri Lanka announced at that time that his country could help Sri Lanka develop its oil production.

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, overseas companies had explored areas off Sri Lanka’s coast, but failed to find significant reserves. There have been a number of reports in the press over the past ten years about promising geological indicators that strongly suggest there may be exploitable oil reserves within Sri Lankan territorial waters, off the Gulf of Mannar and in the Cauvery basin. The general tenor of these reports has been that this is a good thing for the nation and its economy and its people. “Around 200 countries have expressed interest in taking part in the oil exploration activities along Sri Lanka`s sea belt. We hope that a considerable number of foreign investors will bid for these three blocks”, Mr Fowzie  said. It is indeed astounding that 200 nations should express an interest when there are only 193 nations in the UN.

The Sri Lankan Government demarcated eight exploration blocks in the Mannar Basin, two of which were  earmarked for India and China. The year 2010 has come and gone and Sari Lanka still does not have its own oil but we are being promised it for 2020 – ten years on from when Mr Fowzie said we would have it.


Mr Fowzie’s friends in Baku demonstrate what happens when a country is oil-rich. President Heydar Aliyev (and his son Ilham) promised to cut poverty and create 200,000 jobs, but about half of Azerbaijan’s population still lives below the poverty line. A ruling dynasty has been established and oil-rich families from the clan networks of Nakhichevan retain their power base by resorting to arrests, torture and media suppression.


It would also be instructive to examine what a success the Nigerian state has become thanks to the blessings of oil. Oil generates US$ 17 billion each year for Nigeria – which, if shared, would provide 15 years of wages for every man, woman and child. Instead, the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty rose to 66 per cent by 1996. Around 70 per cent worked in agriculture, but oil has stifled diversity and agricultural production has not kept pace with the increase in population. In 1962, agriculture contributed 78 per cent of the nation’s revenue; in 1977, it contributed just above one per cent. The contribution of crude oil rose from 13.3 per cent to 98.9 per cent over the same period.


Nigeria has graphically demonstrated that oil can bring poverty, corruption, environmental damage, conflict, foreign exploitation, and an erosion of human rights and media freedom.


When Mr Fowzie was junketing in Azerbaijan, the Director General of Petroleum Resources in Sri Lanka, Dr Neil R de Silva, said oil companies would be expected to take steps to ensure employment for Sri Lankans. He also said that the Sri Lankan maritime services are not prepared and there were no Sri Lankans qualified to work in the industry. I wonder where the local Sri Lankan expertise has been discovered in the intervening period.


In his treatise Petroleo y Dependencia, Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, principle architect of OPEC, wrote: “Oil will bring us ruin. It’s the devil’s excrement. We are drowning in the devil’s excrement.” The whims of geology are such that oil deposits have always been scarcer in democracies than in countries that trample rights and freedoms under foot. In virtually all countries where they operate oil companies themselves have a dubious moral record. Mobil Oil was accused by Business-Week of complicity in massacres close to its installations in Indonesia and the company admitted supplying food, fuel and equipment to soldiers. In Burma, the French company Total and its American partner Unocal joined with Myanmar Oil and build a pipeline. The junta used slave labour and summary executions to get the work done. BP provides the Colombian army and police with arms and training. Oil causes resentment among local people and disruption of their way of life, livelihood and environment.


Costa Rica has been allowed to go its own way because of its lack of tempting mineral resources. Unusually for Latin America, it has been a stable democracy for many years and has no standing army. It faltered in the 1990s and suffered increasing unemployment and poverty. President Rodriguez divided the country for oil exploration brokered ten of the 22 blocks to US and Canadian companies. Harken Energy, a Texas-based company closely linked with GW Bush, selected sites for exploration in the middle of several protected wilderness areas. Farmers, fishermen, restaurateurs, businessmen, religious groups and marine biologists came together in the Anti-Petroleum Action Struggle (ADELA). Their campaign received strong enough support to persuade Rodriguez to restrain his enthusiasm. ADELA won even more support when oil executives acted rudely towards respected local residents.

Abel Pacheco de la Espriella was outspoken in his opposition to oil exploration and his stance won him the presidency. He introduced new constitutional protection for the environment and declared, ‘the true fuel and the true gold of the future will be water and oxygen, our aquifers and our forests’. Harken tried  to claim from Costa Rica $57 billion in lost profits. ADELA claims that the State Department and the US Embassy put pressure on Pacheco.

Last year incumbent President Luis Guillermo Solís extended the country’s ban on petroleum exploration and extraction until 2021 as well as adding guidelines for energy efficiency in government agencies. The extension continues a moratorium signed by former President Laura Chinchilla in 2011, which tasked the Environment Ministry (MINAE) with enforcing the ban. The original law cited Costa Ricans’ constitutional right to a healthy environment as its authority. The moratorium called for an updated cost-benefit analysis of petroleum extraction, citing risks like the 2010 BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Chinchilla’s moratorium was set to expire in August.

There has long been a link of anxiety in Sri Lanka between petroleum, terrorism and the environment. There was opposition to building a massive refinery near wildlife-rich areas such as Bundala and feeding grounds of flamingos and other waterfowl, as well as beaches frequented by egg-laying marine turtles. There was talk at one time of drilling in the seas off Hambantota. As far as Sri Lanka goes, the ‘easy oil’ has already been discovered – so, new explorations are costly and involve environmentally-sensitive areas. Seismic vibrations damage buildings and noise displaces wildlife, and chemicals and river warming deplete aquatic life. Soil and water are contaminated when a well blows out and emissions of flammable hydrocarbon cause fires, making land infertile and retarding photosynthesis. Ruptured pipelines, instrument failures and sabotage cause pollution.


A nation heavily dependent on oil sees its currency soar, making it harder for local manufacturers to export. Skilled workers leave manufacturing and agriculture to service the rich. Using oil as collateral, governments incur foreign debts and squander national funds to buy support.


Profits go to the elites and existing power imbalances are further compounded. The elites see no advantage in sharing the benefits of oil with the poor. Oil enables clannish elites to become even richer and establish dynastic kleptocracies that cling to power. It increases the risk of conflict -particularly where there are separatist tendencies and ethnic tensions- and gives terrorists targets for sabotage. The need to protect installations against terrorists brings repression and the desire of the elites to protect their ill-gotten gains threatens freedom of speech and human rights in general.


As we question Sri Lanka’s financial links with China. As we boggle over the waste on Mattala Airport, Mihin Air and those innumerable white elephant stadiums and conference centres, do we want to invest in oil extraction?  Does Sri Lanka want to be a nation where foreigners call the shots – a nation plagued by poverty, inequality and ethnic conflict; where corruption, dynastic elites and nepotism compromise good governance and erode human rights?


Does Sri Lanka want to be Costa Rica or Nigeria?

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