The newswires have been buzzing with the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal, which were released yesterday, and its potential impact. For those not familiar with it the tribunal lasted 14 years and costs 150 million euro. It’s purpose was to investigate alleged improprieties around the awarding of Ireland’s’ 2nd mobile phone license to the Esat Digifone consortium in 1996.
I won’t go into much detail here short of saying that the tribunal has found that the whole process smelled to high heaven. It has found that the then Minister for Communications Michael Lowry (who was recently re-elected to the government) had cosy tete-a-tete with Dennis O’Brien who headed the Esat Digifone consortium. It also found that Michael Lowry shared privileged information with Mr. O’Brien and finally it finds that the consortium or Mr. O’Brien made substantial payments to both Michael Lowry and/or the Fine Gael party which was in government at the time.
Now most of the outrage is directed either of Michael Lowry or Denis O’Brien but I think there is a third-party which actually should take most of the blame. That party is the government of that time. Allow me to explain; Yes, Dennis O’Brien/Esat allegedly broke the law and paid what is clearly a bribe. However consider what Esats’ purpose is and it’s purpose. Esat was a consortium with a commercial purpose. It existed for one purpose only and that is to make a profit. Being awarded the 2nd mobile phone license in any country is basically a license to print money. The fact that Digifone was sold the BT Telecom for €2.4 billion 4 years later is testimony to that. So paying a few relatively small amounts of money in circumstances that might not have been legal is something that happens in high stakes games like that. It’s not correct but considering the stakes I wonder if many people in his position would have acted differently.
Michael Lowry on the other hand could have not acted any more wrong if he had tried. Going by the findings of the Moriarty tribunal . To quote from the Tribunals report:
It concluded it is “beyond doubt” that then minister for transport, energy and communications Mr Lowry gave “substantive information to Denis O’Brien, of significant value and assistance to him in securing the [mobile] licence”.
Lowry is a rotten putrid maggot-ridden apple in the political basket. While being in a position of public office, a supposed representative of the Irish people and being paid with tax payers money he purposely went out to prostitute himself to the highest bidder. I might be idealistic but it is my opinion that holding public office binds a person to certain moral & principle standards. Lowry obviously only had his own wealth in mind.
But lets consider the big third party here, one that has so far escaped most of the blame but with whom most of the blame should lie in my opinion. That party is the Irish Government of the time. Imagine this if you will; you are safeguarding something that could create infinite amounts of wealth for someone. It’s not yours, and the rightful owner of this intangible, wealth-creating “magic box” is not able to use it themselves. So you have the option to allow a third party to take this “thing” and make lots & lots of money with it. So should you expect a payment for the right to use this “thing” and use the revenue generated for the greater good of the rightful owners? Off course you should!
Now lets take all the magical terminology away. The Irish government manages the radio spectrum on behalf of its rightful owners which are the Irish people. neither the Irish State nor the Irish people should run a mobile phone company. The Irish state can however sell or license the rights to use said spectrum to a private sector entity and do so in a revenue creating transaction. This revenue can than go into the state coffers and be used to build roads, hospitals, schools, whatever.
ALMOST EVERY OTHER COUNTRY HAS DONE SO!
The process is called a spectrum auction. The regulatory body sets out the amount of radio spectrum and the terms & conditions of its use and auctions it of to the highest bidder. It’s a fair process and raises significant amounts of revenue:
Since July 1994, the FCC has conducted 87 spectrum auctions, which help raising over $60 billion
The recent auctions of Wimax licenses all over the world are a great example. Even a small country like the Netherlands made 100 million by auctioning a single Wimax license to Worldmax. The process is straightforward, transparent and equal.
By deciding to forego an auction and instead to simply award the license (even though a relatively paltry amount of 15 million euro exchanged hands) the Irish government knowingly opened the door to corruption and willingly cheated the Irish people out of a huge sum of money. The creation of a process where very much could be gained by doing/paying very little created an environment primed for backroom deals and “brown envelope payments”. I would dare to alledge that this was done knowingly & willingly and even if I am wrong in my assumption that it proves the gross incompetence of the government. Lets hold these people responsible for their actions. they created this climate of corruption and have done it again & again (remember our fishing right, and the oil field of the Donegal coast?). People in public office are subject to a much higher moral code and if they break this code punishment should be severe.
One way or the other heads should roll over this. But only through due process. I do not want another knee-jerk reaction. Let’s get the bastards who are responsible for this but let’s do it in a way that is watertight, truthful and infallible.