THIS week a former Labour Party minister in the UK’s foreign office, Mark Malloch Brown, handed Geneva-based Onyx, a company providing treasury, corporate finance and general management services, the equivalent of a nasty diplomatic démarche.
Lord Malloch-Brown, also a former deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, is chairman of the Europe, Africa and Middle East division of FTI Consulting, a global business advisory firm headquartered in Florida. He told executives that the division of FTI Consulting he heads could no longer provide the strategic communications service Onyx has used for some time.
The cause of this abrupt divorce is the role played on one side by Onyx, which provides management services to the Beny Steinmetz Group, and the personal position of Malloch-Brown, who is closely involved with billionaire George Soros.
In both cases the issue is Steinmetz Group Resources, which holds key mining exploration licences in respect of exceptionally valuable iron-ore deposits in Guinea, the West African country that has been governed into bankruptcy by brutal dictatorships since 1958. These licences are held through a joint venture with Brazilian mining house Vale in a company known as VBG.
Soros, now 82, is best known as "the man who broke the Bank of England", an animadversion earned when he sold short more than $10bn in sterling, triggering Britain’s withdrawal from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism and prompting a devaluation of the pound, which earned Soros a profit of $1.1bn. Nobel Economics Prize winner Paul Krugman has described Soros as one of those "investors who not only move money in anticipation of a currency crisis, but actually do their best to trigger that crisis for fun and profit".
Soros has since become a philanthropist with wide interests. These include the Soros Foundations, the Open Society Foundations and Global Witness, a magazine dedicated to exposing corruption in the natural resources industry. Soros has donated money to many other causes. He is estimated to have given away as much as $8bn. But he was also a founder, with noted commodity trader Jim Rogers, of the well-known Quantum Fund, reportedly a major source of Soros’s funds.
Malloch-Brown is involved in many Soros-funded organisations and has been associated with Soros for about 25 years. Writing in the New York Sun in May 2007, columnist Benny Avni cynically congratulated the pair for "making a long-time concubine an honest woman; (their) relationship was a source of whispering and resentment for years and is now legitimate."
Malloch-Brown told Onyx officials his involvement with Soros meant he had a conflict of interest over the VBG joint venture which Soros, apparently, opposes. The Steinmetz Group is on record as saying that Soros and others associated with him are desperate to deprive it of its exploration licences. Soros’s involvement in Guinea is as a consultant dedicated to providing assistance to the state in devising a new, transparent, mining code.
Alpha Condé, Guinea’s recently installed president (in controversial circumstances), says the country’s new mining code will include a commitment to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, another Soros-funded organisation, and will use the Revenue Watch Institute and the International Senior Lawyers Project, both linked to Soros, to provide legal advice.
A coup attempt against Condé in July last year was foiled. But this triggered a claim made, it is alleged, by Soros, that the Steinmetz Group had organised the attempted coup. Soros has denied the allegation.
I understand that executives in the Africa division of FTI Consulting are aware that Soros has repeatedly phoned Malloch-Brown over the past month urging that the FTI’s role in providing a high-level investor communications capability for Onyx should be terminated. I am unaware, however, of any equity position that Soros may have in FTI Consulting, although he did at one stage own some shares in the business and I presume therefore that Soros’s requests are based on his personal relationship with Malloch-Brown.
The South African involvement in Guinea is through several interventions, which I shall explore in this column over the next few days.
AFRICAN National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has had a lot to say — little of it complimentary — about the print media.
But judging by his report to the last meeting of the ANC’s national executive (November 16-18), when it comes to manipulating the facts, he has no room to criticise.
Discussing Census 2011, Mantashe claims progress "in the area of education, which is normally targeted for criticism, is actually massive". Where is he coming from? He goes on: "This finds confluence with the criticism of the education benchmarking we have voluntarily subjected ourselves to. Of the 60 countries that are part of the benchmark we are now number 52 in general and 60 in mathematics and science."
And he thinks progress in education has been "massive". He says that was based on a benchmark of 60 nations — but that everyone forgets there are actually 194 countries. Well, so what? The 60 that matter are in that list.
Mantashe should take a closer look at the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness index (although he would probably dismiss the forum as a counterrevolutionary force created by the west). According to that index the most problematic factor weighing against doing business in South Africa is our inadequately educated workforce.
In higher education and training, South Africa registered 140th out of 144 countries for the quality of the education system, and 143rd for the quality of its maths and science education. And Mantashe thinks our strides in this area have been "massive?" C’mon.
South Africa comes last in labour-employer relations, is 143rd for hiring and firing practices and 140th for flexibility of wages determination. Before Mantashe gets to Mangaung we must hope he gets spectacles.