Sunday, June 21, 2009

A vile creature

More than a few eyebrows were raised when, after the sudden departure of Caroline Flint, Glenys Kinnock was appointed Europe minister.

Open Europe was then quick to report that, for their 10 years on the EU gravy train, she and her husband were rewarded with more than £10 million in salaries, expenses and pension rights.

But, writes Christopher Booker, little attention has been paid to what Baroness Kinnock was actually doing for our money during her 10 years as an MEP. From his account of some of her activities as an MEP, there emerges some detail of quite how vile a creature this woman really is.

In various roles, Booker writes, she was much occupied with Africa, and thus became involved in two lengthy and very nasty sagas, which were scarcely reported in the British media.

The first was the tragic story of how, since 1996, the Botswanan government has used every means, including shooting and torture, to force the few hundred remaining bushmen off the Kalahari Central Game Reserve (which was constitutionally guaranteed them in perpetuity when Botswana won independence from Britain in 1966). Claiming that the bushmen needed access to modern educational and health facilities, the government herded them into a hellish settlement at New Xade, dubbed by the bushmen "the place of death".

In 2002, Mrs Kinnock made a regal visit to New Xade as "EU spokesman" though to local ears it seemed she simply retailed the propaganda of the Botswanan officials accompanying her. When the bushmen's dignified leader, Roy Sesana, rose to give the other side of the story, the microphone was snatched off him. He said later: "She wasted money coming from London. I am crying when she says these things. She should pay the money back."

The other horrible story concerns the catastrophe which befell a large rural community outside Nairobi, when in 1989 an Italian company embarked on an EU-funded motorway scheme. Carving right through the settlement was bad enough, but a barrier in the middle of the highway caused dozens of deaths, as villagers tried to jump over it to reach schools, shops, friends and relatives. But much worse was the appalling damage done by the blasting and crushing of a million tons of rock for road building materials, creating a 97ft-deep crater right in the middle of Rungiri village.

Homes and schools were damaged by flying rocks. I spoke last week with Francis Gautugata, a Kikuyu elder, and his niece Rosemary Wambui, recalling how the whole area was carpeted for five years in dense, choking dust, killing animals and crops and leaving some 2,000 villagers with serious health damage. Blasting destroyed the area water table and the quarry filled with water, in which, to date, more than 40 villagers have drowned, many falling from steep rocks while trying to wash their clothes in the only filthy water left to them.

When, with the aid of Ann Usher, a Nairobi-based British nurse, the villagers began to plead for help, Glenys Kinnock, as a new MEP in 1994, expressed concern at what had happened and wrote: "I will pursue it". In 1995, a letter to the British government from a senior Brussels official claimed there had been only "minor damage" to a few houses. All who suffered had been "duly compensated"; the villagers had been provided with drinking water; the quarry was now safely fenced off; and a dead boy, Mr Gautugata's nephew, only drowned through "lack of swimming practice".

This was all so blatantly untrue that it prompted a storming response from six MEPs, including Mrs Kinnock. They pointed out that the project had clearly been "fundamentally flawed", and that, under the Treaty of Rome, the EU was liable for damage caused by "its servants". It must "accept responsibility" for a "series of failings" which had led to "human misery" and "material harm".

Help was pledged by the head of the EU delegation to Kenya, but the promised aid never arrived. In 2002, after I reported this story, the case was taken up by another Labour MEP, Philip Whitehead. Brussels offered to provide two boreholes, which were finally installed in 2006. When Mrs Usher wrote again to Mrs Kinnock, setting out the story in harrowing detail – health problems were worse, villagers were still drowning and being killed on the road – the new head of the local EU delegation, Eric van der Linden, drafted an extraordinary reply.

The EU had done all it could to help, he said, implying (in the face of a mass of medical evidence) that most of the compensation claims were bogus. He ended: "There is nothing more to be done on this matter". Mrs Kinnock sent on this chillingly contemptuous letter to Mrs Usher and the Kikuyu community, noting: "I hope this response is helpful." In May, this year Mrs Usher wrote yet again to Mrs Kinnock but received no reply.

Now that Baroness Kinnock is our Europe minister, Booker suggests, the least she can do is ensure that justice is very belatedly done to those thousands of Africans whose health and livelihood has been destroyed by this disaster which, 13 years ago, Lady Kinnock readily acknowledged the EU had a responsibility, under the Treaty, to make good.