Monday, December 08, 2014

Charity and Political Power

A trawl of charity and company documents shows how Tony Blair has attracted millions of pounds in donations from the super-rich, as well as from the US government and even the Swedish lottery, largely for foundations he has set up since leaving Downing Street. His remarkable ability to network and use contacts made in and out of office has helped him establish two major international organisations with wide-ranging influence: the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative and the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Paolo Pellegrini, an Italian-born banker and his third wife Henrietta, have given AGI $1.5 million (£1 million) in three payments each of $500,000 spread over three years. The Pellegrinis made the payments through their charitable foundation – the Paolo Pellegrini and Henrietta Jones Foundation. The money was used in part to fund AGI’s move to new offices overlooking Hyde Park in central London. AGI plans to expand its operations advising African leaders into half the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, giving Blair influence over hundreds of millions of people. AGI states its “longer-term, five-year vision of achieving a footprint that touches on 15-20 countries”. If AGI was successful that would see the charity operating in about half Sub-Saharan Africa, giving Blair and his charity — which offers governance and investment advice to presidents, prime ministers and ministers — enormous influence in the region.

In Guinea, the report highlights how AGI’s team of four persuaded the president Alpha Conde to change his management style. “When we began, the president had a very personalised style of management. He delegated very little, directly managed nearly all important ministers and most of the more than 30 advisers at the presidency, and scheduled most of his own meetings via his four cellular phones.”  AGI states it was able to introduce practical changes including the introduction of a morning meeting with “the president’s top team … and even the reduction in the number of the president’s phones from four to one.”

The Swedish lottery gave AGI more than £750,000. Part of that donation was spent on AGI’s team in South Sudan, a short-lived foray that ended when the country fell into civil war and AGI was forced to pull its team out.

Bill and Melinda Gates, the richest couple on the planet and good friends of Blair, gave AGI almost £500,000 last year.

Blair has also lobbied the UK Government for funding for AGI, but having been turned down on a number of occasions by the Department for International Development (DfID), has given up trying.
AGI has been more successful with the US taxpayer. Washington’s equivalent to DfID, called USAID, is committed to giving £4.5 million through three grants. At one stage Blair’s great friend Hillary Clinton was then US secretary of state in overall charge of USAID.  Blair has insisted his charity went through proper tendering processes before winning the contracts. Emails obtained by The Telegraph, whose existence has been reported by this newspaper, disclose how Blair and his charity lobbied USAID officials ahead of the award of sizeable grants.

Last month, the US branch of Save the Children gave Mr Blair its global legacy award for his and AGI’s efforts in alleviating poverty in Africa. But the prize caused a huge split inside Save the Children with a letter signed by its own staff demanding the award be revoked while an online petition has attracted 120,000 signatures demanding the same.

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