Friday, April 24, 2015

Tony Blair's Colombian Conflict

Tony Blair
Tony Blair ended his prime ministership of the United Kingdom with a generally positive image, it seems to me, as a dynamic, innovative leader (despite following the United States into the disastrous Iraq war). Since then, however, he has garnered criticism by parleying his fame and connections into a fortune calculated by some in the many tens of millions of dollars.

Now, Blair's initiatives are earning him flack in Colombia.

Windrush Ventures, which receives fees for consulting done by Tony Blair Associates (TBA), signed a contract to advise Colombia on the use of royalty income from mining. However, the work is being paid for by the oil-soaked United Arab Emirates.

That might sound like a sweet deal for Colombia. However, the arrangement has people asking whether the payment arrangement constitutes a conflict of interest. Will Blair favor Colombia, or his paymaster, the UAE?

"In this way, the Arabs pay Blair to obtain privileged information from each nation where they want to invest and also to facilitate their business by arranging meetings with government officials to accelerate the investment process," columnist Jose Manuel Acevedo wrote in an opinion column in Semana magazine entitled 'How Much Does Tony Blair Cost Us?

Colombia's Procuraduria also sent a letter asking similar questions.

The UAE recently invested in a Colombian gold mine.

What's more, Blair is the Middle East envoy for the Madrid Quartet, consisting of the United Nations,
Blair and Juan Manuel Santos.
U.S., the European Union, and Russia, whose mission is to resolve the region's connections. Some asked whether, if Blair was receiving payments from a Middle Easter nation, he could act as a neutral broker in the region.

Complicating more the situation, Blair is a long-time friend of Colombian Pres. Santos. The two even wrote a book together in 1999 about 'the third way,' a political philosophy developed by Blair and adopted by Santos.

In response to the questions about Blair's Colombian work, the Colombian government issued a statement asserting that Blair was not privy to any sensitive information about mining resources.

On his website, Blair said that Tony Blair Associates maintains strict confidentiality and denied any impropriety:

"TBA’s work has included support to improve the country’s Royalties’ distribution system, to help boost economic development and ensure that government revenue is allocated more equally across the population...TBA has also been helping establishing a Delivery Unit, so that the government can better deliver services which will increase jobs, reduce poverty and transform the lives of people in Colombia."

TBA also says that its commercial ventures finance Blair's philanthropic work, including combating religious conflict, promoting sports and Middle East peace efforts.

Blair is unquestionably a talented guy, and I've no reason to question his good intentions. However, the ex-leader of an resource-poor nation doesn't seem like the obvious choice to advise about resource revenue use. Couldn't they find someone from resource-rich Canada, Australia or Norway, instead? This sounds rather as tho the Colombian government sought Blair's stamp of approval to open export markets for Colombian minerals.

And the potential conflicts of interest are obvious: Is the TBA really looking out for the interests of Colombia, or of the UAE, which is paying it? Can Blair really be an impartial actor as a mid-east envoy when an he's accepting payments from one of the region's nations?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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