Sunday, July 20, 2008

Vicar Giveaway

Ted, I just thought I'd give away the company

DfID's dubious investment quango CDC will be familiar to BOM readers, and now it's been probed by BBC R4's File On Four.

As we know, CDC (originally the Commonwealth Development Corporation) invests UK taxpayers' money in a range of projects in developing countries. Correction - it used to invest in such development projects. It now invests in private equity deals in India and China.


Well, you see, that's where the money is. Which thinking also explains why its investments are now made via the usual battery of offshore tax havens employed by any self-respecting private equity group: the last thing you want is to pay tax to the governments of developing countries.

Which is a further example of just what a con UK tax-funded development aid actually is (see previous blogs eg here).

But there's worse.

The fund management company that actually manages the investments, Actis, used to be in the public sector. But in 2004, under the astute financial guidance of the Rev H Benn, Vicar of DfID at the time, it was privatised. 40% was retained by DfID, but 60% was sold to the incumbent management. And you'll never guess what. Oh, you guessed... yes, it was done at a ludicrously knock-down price. According to FoF:

"A majority stake in the new company, which was set up to manage public funds of £1.5bn, was bought without competition for £373,000. Also, there was a post-transaction bonus paid of £2.3m. So they the management didn't risk any of their own money."

Fantastic. The Vicar paid them a post-transaction bonus - normally paid as an inducement to senior staff to stay with a company while it's sold - and they then used a small part of that dosh to buy the company. Sweet.

Surely even Father Ted's dopey sidekick wouldn't have agreed to such a soppy deal.

But there's even worse.

According to FoF, the Vicar convinced himself Actis was going to operate on a breakeven basis for the first five years. But guess what actually happened. Oh, you guessed again... yes, that's right, Actis has somehow already made tens of millions which have been divvied up among the partners. In one year alone, the top guy got £2.1m, compared to the £200K pa he used to get as a "public servant".

According to DfID, Actis is operating on a breakeven basis. But apparently it's only breakeven after paying out the partners and paying for their plush new Thameside penthouse offices.

Verily I say unto you, it is easier for a private equity partnership to enter into a heavenly deal with the Simple Shopper than it is for taxpayers to find even the slightest competence in government.

Here endeth the lesson.

Though not the misuse of our money.

PS The NAO are now investigating - should be interesting.

Update As commenters have pointed out, the credit for uncovering this outrage belongs to Richard Brook of Private Eye, who has been pursuing the story relentlessly. It was appallingly remiss of Tyler not to say that, for which many many humble apologies.

1 comment:

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