24th July 2012
The Phnom Penh Post reports that the Prime Minister cancelled on July 2nd, a 14,981-hectare concession granted to Indochina Gateway Capital Limited for a banana plantation in the forests of the Cardamom Mountains after lobbying from the Wildlife Alliance (WA), or so the conservation group would have us believe.
“We are thrilled that this has happened and we have campaigned for this for 18 months. This is one more sign of the government’s commitment to protect the Cardamoms,” Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO of WA, which runs a conservation programme in the area, told the Post breathlessly on Sunday.
WA had fought the concession over fears of damage it could do to a so-called “elephant corridor” between two areas of forest. It also exceeded a 10,000-hectare restriction on Economic Land Concessions in the 2001 Land Law.
It represented Peter Costello’s first major private sector venture, a $US600m investment fund focusing on “rice, bananas and sugar” since the former Treasurer retired from Australian politics and became managing director and partner at corporate advisory group BKK Partners, apparent parent of Gateway, founded and run by ex-Goldman Sachs and NAB execs and chaired by Alistair Walton, a long-time friend of Costello’s from his days in student politics.
Back in the halcyon days when the project was first announced, Costello, in a video interview with the Post, said he would “bringing in major multinational agro-technology firms and investors in a bid to add value to the Kingdom’s farming sector”, as well as teak and palm oil.
BKK Partners Managing Director John Anderson also explained at the time that the main reason to pursue the project was the “profit motive through the private equity fund” and also cited a “social development angle”, that would “transport western technology and skills” into the country’s fields. Five per cent of the investment would go towards a charitable foundation, so he claimed.
Back in early May, the Prime Minister announced a moratorium on issuing new leases for economic land concessions, following an outcry earlier this year, and saying the government would take back land from any firms that breach their lease by “cutting trees to sell, without developing the economic land concessions… and grabbing villagers’ or community land”.
So far there has been no explanation so what transgression Gateway is guilty of.
Ironically, it was Costello’s post-political role, rather than his status as former Australian Treasurer, that made him a key figure for BKK and Indochina Gateway Capital – such as the fact that he has been a member of the World Bank’s 4-person anti-corruption Independent Advisory Board since 2008.
Having just established that the new Queensland Lib-Nat government is effectively bankrupt, Costello is rumoured to be considering another tilt at the leadership of the Australian Liberal Party. And we thought Abbott and Costello had such a ring to it!