Mark Thomas has a letter for Hilary Benn

The Secretary of State for International Development has decided to back a World Bank loan for a BP

Letter from a chief executive officer

To Hilary Benn
Secretary of State for International Development

Dear Hilary,

Congratulations! US$250m of public money for a BP oil pipeline - well done! I must say that when I first learnt you were to head up the Department for International Development (DfID) I was so furious that I nearly wrote to my MP about it. I am sure you know that when I, as chief executive of a multinational so huge that it doesn't pay tax in the UK, say "my MP" I really do mean mine.

It was your name that gave me the shock. Not the Hilary bit, the Benn bit. For a moment I thought we had been saddled with some liberal left-wing do-gooder at DfID, acting under the illusion that you can help the world's poor by giving them money. Of course you can't. The poor are by definition the worst people to give money to. If they knew how to handle money they would not be poor. That they are poor proves that they should not be trusted with it.

I am not saying that DfID should provide handouts to the rich instead. No, not at all. The rich are layabouts. Public money should go to those who deserve it, namely the absolutely super-duper rich. So, imagine my delight when I read of your excellent work approving the $250m loan to BP for the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline.

Well done, my boy! Easy money for multinationals! Who'd have thought it from a Benn? Forking out for an oil pipeline is one thing but forking out for a pipeline that goes through 11 conflict zones shows the kind of brass neck that even Diane Abbott would envy.

To CEOs everywhere you have sounded a clarion call, and that call is: "Fill your boots, boys, 'cos Benn is backing you!" This is why from now on I shall see the Department for International Development as the Department for Corporate Welfare. You, dear Hilary, are the billionaires' very own little social services department. You are providing a system of benefits for us billionaires just as surely as tax credits provide for single working mums, except without the whiff of fried food and the static storm of nylon everywhere.

Naturally, you and your officials can deny responsibility for offering the loan. "It was not our decision to give BP the money; it was the International Finance Corporation's, and the IFC is part of the World Bank," you can say.

And it is true; it is absolutely the World Bank's decision. Though on a cautionary note, I am sure I do not need to mention how foolish it would be to carp about your role at the World Bank.

It is true that you and you alone decide how Britain will vote at the World Bank when it considers whether to back a project such as the BP oil pipeline. However, you'll end up about as popular as a buggered butler at Buck House if you shout about it too much.

It is only to be expected that the Commons committee for international development would stick its nose in and get all Oxfammy about the whole thing. A lesser man would have given in to all those environmentalists and human rights wackos who claim that the BP pipeline breaks the World Bank's own guidelines 173 times.

But not you, Hilary: you have faced up to your critics in time-honoured Whitehall fashion and pretended that it is not happening. In fact, I hear through the grapevine that the World Bank has not even bothered to read the select committee's criticisms.

So, the governments of Georgia and Azerbaijan - two countries through which the pipeline runs - are experiencing a few local difficulties with democracy. "Why," bleat the hand-wringing soap-dodgers, "is the west rewarding human rights abuse?"

I say Georgia is delaying announcing its election result until it gets the right one. If that's good enough for George Bush it should be good enough for the Georgians.

Incidentally, do you ever wonder if the critics are right to say that western governments which support projects like this one are creating the next Saddam Hussein? Maybe they are right . . . If so, what are we to do?

Invest in the arms industry, is my advice.

So, once again, well done. I know you won't want to take the opportunity just yet but I am absolutely sure your "knowledge" and "insight" will become invaluable at boardroom level in a non-executive director sense. I pride myself on being able to spot the next Ken Clarke and though you may not yet know it, my boy, I believe it could be you.

All the best,

Your friend in industry.

If any fellow CEOs or any of their vast array of minions feel like faxing a letter of thanks to the minister or even a copy of this one, they can do so, either via Hilary Benn's private secretary: 020 7023 0634 or hbenn@dfid.gov.uk or privatesecretary@dfid.gov.uk

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