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Dear Mr Caborn... A personal view from Mark Thomas.

Without a shadow of a doubt 99 per cent of the British people would consider the ability to make a politician run away to be a gift, which would only be surpassed by the ability to make them disappear altogether. However watching the Minister for Trade Richard Caborn run away from me the other evening was a curious event. Despite his attempt to remain aloof, there was an air of panic in his behaviour, reminiscent of a bull running into an industrial blender. He was scared. Not of me but of his own department, the Export Credit Guarantee Department and it¹s track record in dealing with corruption, human rights abuse, corporate welfare, arms dealing and accountability.

Mr Caborn was leading the Governments reply to a Trade and Industry Select Committee Report into the ECGD in Westminster Hall. From the safety of the Hall, with no media cameras or baying pack of hacks Mr Caborn fled.

Perhaps Mr Caborn was worried that I might question him on the Ilisu Dam. Perhaps he thought I might mention a company called Skanska, a Swedish firm involved in the dam project, who pulled out of the deal about 7 weeks ago. As they represented 24 per cent of the consortium their leaving is enormously significant. Firstly, what lead them to quit the Ilisu dam deal was the impact the scheme was having on their public image and in particular their environmental image. Secondly, those who support the dam have often said it will happen with or without British participation (in the form of the ever-popular Balfour Beatty getting £200 million from the ECGD.) With Skanska gone we have proved that international campaigning can have an effect. Balfour Beatty has a 31per cent stake in the project. If they don¹t get the credit, the project is essentially finished.

If Mr Caborn was worried about that he shouldn¹t have been, it was far from my mind as his press department lackey tried to tug me away from him. Perhaps he was fretting that I might raise the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP). This report was commissioned by the Turkish Government to assess the proposed eviction process of some 25,000 Kurds. The leaked report revealed that the number of potential Kurds affected by the dam had been vastly underestimated and could be as many as 78,000.

Let me put Mr Caborn¹s mind at rest. The leaked report was far from my mind as he barged me aside whilst deeply engrossed in conversation with John Butterfill (Conservative Member for Bournemouth.) So maybe Mr Caborn thought he might be asked his reaction to the news that UCATT, the construction union, not only have policy condemning the dam but the London South East UCATT Regional Council have just issued a "Green Ban" on it. This means they will " encourage all UCATT members and construction workers within our region to refuse to undertake any works on the contract." As the ECGD, Balfour Beatty and Mr Caborn have boasted about how great the dam is for British industry and therefore jobs, it might seem a little awkward not to mention wilfully ungrateful for workers to refuse to work on the project.

But Mr Caborn I promise you that the "Green Ban " was not what I wanted to chat to you about. Maybe he thought I would mention Semor. Semor is the Turkish firm who are being brought in to prepare the relocation of the 25,000-78,000 Kurds. Evidence from the region shows that Semor have issued consultation questionnaires to some Kurds. The fact that they have asked people to fill in their answers in pencil and sign their names in pen does question the integrity of the consultation process, and the British Government should demand to see the paperwork to assess it¹s fairness.

Wrong again Mr Caborn! I didn¹t want to even mention this to you. Had I the chance to speak to you the other night this is what I would have said.
" I am doing a new series of the Mark Thomas Product. Would you like to take half of one the shows to promote the ECGD? All you have to do is find one project that best exemplifies the ECGD and you can have half the show to say whatever you want about it. In the other half of the show I will talk about the worst project the ECGD has backed. Obviously as the ECGD is one of the most secretive departments in government it is difficult to find examples of really bad work. However, as you have recently talked of about the new transparency in the ECGD, I would like you to embrace that spirit and tell me the worst project. You only have to give the name."

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