Michael Pascoe writes:

Maybe it’s because I’m just a simple boy
from the Queensland bush, but the alleged BHP involvement in the AWB scandal hasn’t
been making any sense to me – and now the way BHP is behaving about it is
making less sense again.

If a good corporate citizen has done
nothing wrong, you would expect it to happily place all and any of its cards on
the table for every and any one to see and move on.

If a smart corporate citizen has been
caught doing something wrong, it should quickly come clean, confess publicly,
apologise profusely, shoot an executive or two and move on. See the Peter
Beattie operating manual.

But BHP, amidst some
funny-looking business
, has suddenly shut up shop. The odd now looks fishy. Try this bit from
the SMH:

BHP told the Herald
on Monday the US$5 million it provided to Iraq was for a 20,000-tonne wheat donation it called a
“humanitarian gesture” and likened to its donations to tsunami
victims.

BHP denied the money was intended to help secure BHP oil
rights in Iraq.

“We did not participate in the oil-for-food program
or participate in any oil and gas transaction with the Hussein regime,”
the BHP spokeswoman, Samantha Evans, said on Monday.

When questioned yesterday about AWB’s claim that oil
rights were expected in return for the 20,000 tonne shipment, Ms Evans said BHP
had now chosen not to comment on matters before the inquiry.

That’s a PR mistake – or something worse.

Here’s BHP saying it made a US$5 million
humanitarian donation. Nothing wrong with that. Good citizen. And if,
subsequently, a good citizen wins some oil rights, I personally have no trouble
with that anyway. Companies do similar things here in Australia
and all round the world all the time. They often call it “giving something
back” or just “being a good corporate citizen”. Having a nice reputation helps
people do business (compare and contrast that statement with
AWB’s future).

But how does a humanitarian donation
suddenly become a debt and attract US$3 million in interest? I’d like BHP to
very quickly explain that.

Furthermore, how does ownership of that
alleged US$8 million debt get passed to a little company owned by two former
BHP employees who have an interest in paying money to influential Iraqis? I’d
like BHP to explain that even quicker.

This is not the time for BHP to retreat to
the bunker – unless it’s not a smart corporate citizen and it has something to
hide.