If I were a US citizen seeking to be reassured of my government's probity and diligence, I would now head for the hills with a hunting rifle and a do-it-yourself nuclear bunker
Enron has had repercussions across the globe. In Dabhol, India, where the company's bullying tactics led to its being criticised by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, I imagine the odd bitter laugh was heard. In the UK, Lord Wakeham's role as a non-executive director of Enron provoked a more gleeful response - if, like me, you derive pleasure from seeing ennobled Tory party grandees end up with egg on their faces.
As Enron went belly up, it became increasingly hard to find an American politician who didn't have any financial links with the same overvalued power corporation on which they were promising tough action. It turned out that Enron had given money to dozens of politicians, from the very highest to the very lowest, and, lower than that, to President George Bush himself.
The Congressional hearings into the affair were billed as proof that Capitol Hill had not been contaminated by Enron's money. So focused were the politicians in their ruthless pursuit of truth, and spurred on by a possible decline in campaign contributions, that they failed to notice the polite coughing in the wings by the Cayman Islands government.
On 8 February 2002, a month into the Congressional hearings, and two months after Enron's stock had become less popular than a contemporary jazz solo, the Cayman Islands government issued a press release. It stated that the Cayman Islands government would be happy to co-operate with the US in the inquiry, should the US request it.
This might seem insignificant, but at the time, Enron had nearly 700 subsidiaries registered in the Cayman Islands and not one person from the entire US government had had the wisdom, time or power to request the disclosure of these companies' details. If I were a US citizen seeking to be reassured of my government's probity and diligence, I would at this stage be heading for the hills with a hundredweight of beef jerky, a hunting rifle, a do-it-yourself nuclear bunker and a lot of Van Halen CDs.
It is entirely possible that there is little of importance in those 692 offshore subsidiaries. However, that is no excuse for inaction. The investigators should have looked at them long before the Cayman Islands went out of their way to be so helpful. The press release even informed the US how the Caymans would go about investigating the companies. "Any request in the Enron matter would be treated in accordance with Sections 30 and 43 of the Monetary Authority Law (2001 Revision), which provides for full co-operation with overseas regulators." You can't get much more polite than that: I bet they even cleaned the best china in readiness and got some posh biscuits in, just in case someone from Washington popped by.
David Marchant of Offshore Alert revealed the importance of the Enron subsidiaries when he said: "These entities, some of which allegedly were used for Enron's off-balance sheet activities, are at the heart of the investigation into the firm's collapse."
In the middle of this remains the White House's refusal to disclose documents that relate to meetings between Enron and Vice-President Dick Cheney's energy task force, as well as eight other government regulatory agencies. So now we have a situation where an offshore tax haven is being more transparent and accountable to the American people than the very man whom the American people approximately elected president.
As Bush continues to bomb Afghanistan, destabilises international attempts to get weapons inspectors into Iraq, and prepares to punish the Iraqi people for suffering the misfortune of having been born under a dictator, it is worth remembering the type of democracy Dubbya is fighting for: the shit kind, where the stench of corruption is permitted to gather by order of the White House. I just hope Tony Blair carries some joss sticks with him next time he visits his bombing buddy.
No wonder there is a general belief that, when politicians order an "inquiry", you can be pretty sure that inquiring will be the last thing that goes on. It was Lord Wakeham's role in Enron, or at least the publicity surrounding his involvement, that helped prompt the Trade and Industry Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, to announce an "inquiry" into non-executive directors. It will be led by Derek Higgs, and is unlikely to make us all rest easy in our beds. Higgs was appointed a non-executive director of Allied Irish Banks about 18 months ago, the same Allied Irish Banks that employed the trader John Rusnak. Which is the same Rusnak who ran up debts of £485m and hid them from Allied Irish Banks over a period of five years.
Higgs's involvement in AIB is hardly going to generate a resounding cheer of confidence in yet another "inquiry", or in new Labour's willingness and ability to regulate business.