Should the Howard Government take some of the blame, along with disgraced AWB officials such as Trevor Flugge, for the AWB Iraqi oil-for-food scandal? $290 million is a lot of money (even in Government terms) to give to a rogue regime, albeit indirectly, and many commentators are saying that the Government needs to be held to account for being incompetent or deceptive, or both, in failing to check wheat contracts and detect kickbacks.

Mike Steketee, National Affairs Editor of the Oz, thinks Alexander Downer and Vaile should resign over the bribery scandal: “This happened under the nose of a Howard Government that was under a legal obligation to enforce UN sanctions: the very sanctions that were designed to stop Saddam developing Weapons of mass destruction.”

Wilson Tuckey, the notoriously outspoken Liberal backbencher, thinks the Howard Government is guilty of just one thing: “Trusting a mob of agri-politicians – all of which have close connections with the National party.” Tuckey’s point was that if the Nationals refused to back changes to the single desk system, they were effectively endorsing corruption. Strong stuff…

However, Steketee’s colleague at the Oz, Greg Sheridan, paints a completely different picture of events. Rather than being a target of blame, the Government should be commended for the way it’s handled the issue: “The Howard Government deserves serious criticism for its one real mistake in this business: setting up the Cole inquiry…Not one other country of the 66 named has set up a full, open, judicial inquiry into the goings-on of its corporate and government entities involved.”

Despite Sheridan’s glowing endorsement, there appears to be more legal wrangling ahead. According to an ABC report from yesterday, US wheat farmers are preparing to sue AWB for more than $1 billion under laws which are most commonly used against Mafia figures in America.

According to Washington lawyer Palmer Floret, “The AWB was involved in a criminal enterprise, ie, paying money to the Hussein Government in order to have the exclusive, or almost exclusive right to sell wheat to them through the UN program.”

Henry, being the money man he is, is of the opinion that economic implications, such as the loss of massive export contracts and the eradication of the single-desk system, is the key ingredient to make AWB weak at the knees, not the blame game that is currently being played out through the press.

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Read more at Henry Thornton.

Peter Fray

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