“The Robin on the steeple
Is singing to the People
a Tissue, a Tissue
We all Fall down”
“Ring a Ring o’ Roses” or “Ring a Ring o’ Rosie” is an English nursery rhyme which has often been used to refer to the great plague in Britain.
And then….along came COVID19 and many people jokingly drew parallels between the ’tissue’ , followed by a ‘fall’ and the painful death that came through cold like symptoms as people suffered from a painful respiratory distress. Previously, it was often associated with the Black Death or the Spanish Flu.
Except that this time, the Fall is of many other things that were amongst last thread of integrity and dignity any people in the middle class had as they kneel to poverty and hunger, if they do not succumb to the virus.
In my decade or so of Law Practice, where I have held the view that there has to be a fair (if not entirely equal distribution of wealth) I have yet to feel so negative, pessimistic and bitter as I do at this point of time.
Granted that fairness remains a subject concept, the Bar of what is considered Fair, keeps reaching its most disgusting depths.
Lets get to the Robin(s) first.
Only a couple of days ago, old friends from law school in UK started contacting me with invites to join their campaigns on holding the UK Government accountable for the PPE and needed my feedback on how gowns and typeIIR masks are classified between UK and China as interchangeable standards.I stated that with due respect, I am a humble lawyer of a country, Pakistan, already riddled with Procurement corruption.How would my participation help?
I did however have a chance to look at a bunch of old emails earlier this year, where we had panicked real estate brokers and sometimes self-appointed PPE consultants with Yahoo Email addresses from EU and USA asking me if I could pinpoint them in the correct direction of where they could find ‘Gowns’ for NHS in China.The sad part was that when I asked them to confirm which category and type of medical gowns within the EU/UK standards they needed advice on assessing, I would mostly get clueless replies of ‘ok we will check’ and a request on price and how much they could ‘add’ on the figure.I also remember how Turkey was also trying to sell these gowns to the UK at that point and there was a delay or problem (I cannot recall the details) which was well-publicised in the media.
After letting my old starry eyed friends know that Britain was still coping better than my own jurisdiction with the COVID19 pandemic and they should feel blessed with such an accountable system of checks and balances, I got a very puzzled and well, luke warm, ‘ok thank you’ from them.
But then, I do confess I have been reading, with great concern all of the Tweets and Articles on the PPE saga of Britain.And while I have been reading , a grain of sympathy for the brokers , sub-contractors and even the owners of the 100 GBP capital companies set up 2 weeks before the contract awards, has finally emerged in my heart.Please note the word ‘grain’ when I refer to sympathy for these elements of the post-Covid19 supply chain.My heart remains with the hungry children of Britain, the marginalised Asian and Black communities and well, the brave frontline/medical workers who are the actual causalities of the cat and mouse game the lawyers, politicians, rich business fat cats and cronies of the government will play to guise their incompetence.
This Grain of Sympathy, has emerged because of my new understanding of how the events seem to have unfolded as per the news, twitter queries and reports I have been reading.At the top there were a few favourite suppliers and ‘consultants’ of the UK’s political administration who it is now revealed, were handed over lucrative contracts which were never published/published unacceptably late on the contracts websites for public procurement in UK.
What would happen once Mr ABC (the hand-picked contractor seemingly a part of the VIP channel directly signing with the NHS/DHSC) was that a hunt of all sorts would begin with suppliers, who were recommended by these same self-styled PPE consultants and starving real estate brokers.Then the LOIs, BCLs and what not would start.Escrows would be funded only to result in cross country litigation.Some high risk countries demanded partial upfront payments and partial ‘irrevocable’ L/Cs.Prices went sky-high in China, as I personally witnessed around the time of April 2020.
Chinese sales agents we would interview for law clients during procurement verification processes would coyly state when questioned on the state of price gouging that , “oh but you do know its a Seller’s market’, as European agents or buyers would furiously negotiate with them to squeeze in their 1 or 2 dollars per unit into order’s price.If the broker at the Top or the ‘Government Supplier’ agreed, after adding their own 5 dollars, it would be a happy ending for many, unless the subcontractors were one of the classic conmen who have made money magically disappear into their offshore accounts as payment for PPE never delivered.
People who were entrusted with these purchases by the lazy fat cats who were in turn entrusted by the Government with the tax payers’ funds paid less attention to whether they were buying a garbage bag grade of gowns or the proper Type IIR gowns which were the medical workers direly needed to avoid death while saving lives.To squeeze in large broker profits, poor quality PPE was forced into circulation and well, as we can all see now, USA and Europe now have to live with 3rd rate PPE for their 5 year hoarded stock.Stock, which has none of the medically required standards for combating the COVID infection which, we are fearful will strike in Winter again with a vengeance.How Britain will cope with this post-Brexit mess is a mystery known only to their Government and Treasury.
Coming back to the Grain, the very tiny grain of Sympathy.This money will partially disappear in to the accounts of the subcontractors of most of these suppliers.There will be trials and judgements against 100GBP Capital companies, which can safely declare bankruptcy.Tasty did bits of the money stowed safely in the bank accounts of the cheating subcontractors will funnel itself back magically into the accounts of the corrupt ministers and defaulting suppliers.The brokers, agents and well people who were counting on the PPE will never benefit from this exercise.
If there is a refund, a full refund to the British National Treasury, the money will be locked away safely, none of it obviously intended for the poor and downtrodden children, minorities and unemployed people of Britain, facing a cold winter, crippling debt and well, hunger.
But in the end the Offshore and Onshore Bankers are happy with the money that has poured into the accounts opened by the nouveau rich, the lawyers are happy with the amount of work which will pour in with bankruptcies and contractual disputes as well as fraud claims.
Most of the Global social media forums like Twitter have been stormed by angry people demanding how and why precious taxpayer funds have been siphoned off to untraceable companies, with the government obstinately refusing to be allowed to be held accountable for its choice of PPE suppliers and choice of who the contracts were awarded to.
One of these “Robins”, which is the Good Law Project run by a dynamic lawyer in UK Mr Maugham, who has spoken of his campaign and made it a great success on Twitter and other media channels and well, his court actions funded by the public against the government seem promising.We also see many Labour Party MP’s and other activists making their points and calling for action.
From great legal experience of how procurement corruption works (yes I live in Pakistan which is a previous colony of Britain remember?) I would say that the Robin has sung a bit late to the people to wake up to the reality of governance in Britain and the horrors which will await a post-Brexit Britain, if the current financial crisis fuelled by COVID19 is further worsened by the continued mismanagement of how the incumbent chooses to answer or for that matter evade to answer the questions of people.Then again no one would have guessed back in April, that the UK government’s procurement standards would emerge as faulty, erroneous and well, less than Transparent (VIP Channels, ring a bell?).
Despite my great regard for Mr Maugham’s efforts in holding the current government accountable on Twitter, in UK Courts and on Media, we need to understand how the destructive opposition he faces will choose to address this threat to their megalomanic existence and false sense of entitlement.The money which has been paid already to the suppliers who ‘delivered’ (whatever they delivered in the name of PPE) is unlikely to be fully or partially refunded by the suppliers without frivolous litigation at their end.At the most the 100 GBP companies will be ‘blacklisted’ and new ones with the same ‘Shadow Directors’ will join the VIP List.The 3rd Grade PPE which is still untested will continue to sit in the containers on coasts and unknown fields until it is too late to sue for its bad quality or even detect it.
Around Midnight on the 17th/18th of November, we saw an Audit Report come out of the NAO office of UK titled , “Investigation into government procurement during the COVID-19 pandemic, dated 16 November 2020” with a promise by NAO to issue a more PPE centred Report, ‘later in November 2020’. The fact of the matter is that this panic buying was engineered and there was never, any supply chain disruption in PPE.I continue to state this, as I always have.The supply chain disruptions of PPE were engineered and a well-conjured fictions by brokers and government suppliers alike.
Will this report save the British economy? No.
On the contrary it will bring a possible avalanche of useless litigation, legal disputes and well, business bankruptcies for any and all people connected to the NHS suppliers and their supply chains and sub-contractors.
Neither this report nor any report or investigation can globally even begin to account for the Looting and Plundering done by the 1% in the name of ‘procuring PPE’ while frontline workers and nurses continue to wear repurposed trash bags.
The fact of the matter is, sadly, that none of these investigations, judicial reviews or twitter debates will address the impending reality of the hunger, hopelessness and financial depression which lies ahead for those who lost their jobs, and those who are are a part of the marginalised parts of the society.
Across the Atlantic, USA has bid farewell to another leader whose misconduct proved to further weaken the economy and bring people and businesses to a Halt.Then again Donald Trump is also the hero of PPE brokers as he left all US states to clamour and fight for their own PPE procurement and foot its bill.
The last 3 years before COVID19 were not the best years of the world economy either.
I have seen people scrambling for their dignity as their standard of living depleted with each passing day.
The same is true for Pakistan, and its neighbouring South Asian regions.A lot of talk, or a lot of spending on whitewashing what are obvious State Blunders or even daylight robberies of the State Budget by incompetent Civil Service and Political factions.
It is mid-November now, a depressing day for the 99% and well, a normal happy day for the privileged 1% of the Population who may have already funded safe underground , apocalypse proof bunkers for themselves or bought a dozen palaces and gold mines in offshore tax havens.We all know, this money will never return in full, with interest to the National Exchequers it left, no matter which country we look at.Those 100 GBP companies
Something is very wrong with the way the common man and the middle class have been cheated and plundered.As days pass, bank statements will show up with added interest, businesses will declare bankruptcy, debt repayment notices and threats from creditors will become more harsh, yet ineffective. People will scramble for every penny they can remember X, Y or Z owes them, and friendships where money was owed will falter into bitterness and alienation.
The Law has globally failed the healthcare workers and the patients, but it will protect the privileged and their cronies, no matter what part of the world we choose to look at.
Let’s all hope and pray, that in five years we do not look back and think that those who died of the Pandemic in the early days of the crisis were lucky to have died at the start and did not have to starve and lose their dignity and ultimately their humanity to sociopathic politicians, with no regard for the poverty and chaos which would follow for their citizens and nationals.