Last week when the Barclays rate fixing scandal broke out, Andrew Neil, Presenter of the Daily Politics show said, ‘why don’t we just clear this generation of banker chief executives.’ I was thinking to myself, if only it was that easy, wishing I had a magic wand that would make them disappear, then we would all be spared sitting through endless drivel fed by them in these inquiries.
Not only is this a waste of money, but more importantly time. We’ve already seen an estimated £6 million spent on the Leveson Inquiry. I bet the MPs could do themselves a favour by attending to their constituencies’ needs in such austere times – how about creating jobs and restoring hope to a generation of unemployed graduates for a start?
The public have had enough since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, and this has reiterated the fact that the financial industry is infested with practices and culture that is beyond repair.
So out of curiosity to know who did what and who was responsible, I was glued to the BBC’s Democracy Live to catch Barclay’s Chairman Marcus Agius testify to the Treasury Select Committee (TSC) yesterday afternoon.
Unlike the suave and confident CEO Bob Diamond, Mr. Agius was less articulate, stuttering and hard to comprehend. But that isn’t the point; at least he was candid, attempted less waffle and co-operative with the TSC to say the least.
Prior to the start of the inquiry, the Select Committee was handed a series of letters from the regulatory body Financial Services Authority questioning Barclays on many of its practices. Most members of the committee asked why these letters were only received yesterday and not last week. Letters are said to have strong variants to his testimony, which has raised further suspicions on whether the committee will recall Mr. Diamond to testify again.
So could Mr. Diamond have deliberately misled the committee or did he seriously have no recollection of the letter issued by Lord Adair Turner in April 2012?
When Mr. Diamond spoke at the inquiry last week, he denied having any such memory of a letter issued by the FSA, while Mr. Agius maintained it was discussed at length. However, yesterday evening, after watching Mr. Agius testify, Mr. Diamond was dismayed by suggestions by the TSC that he was ‘less than candid’, writing in his letter addressed to Chairman Andrew Tyrie it was ‘ totally unfounded and unfair.’ He went on to clarify, he was absent at the April 2012 meeting and he is happy to discuss further.
Mr. Diamond had pointed out that the FSA had been “specifically pleased” with the “tone at the top of the bank”, while Mr. Agius admitted there were concerns from the regulatory bodies.
So when MP David Ruffley asked Mr. Agius if Diamond has lied to the Select Committee, his response was: “I cannot speak for Mr Diamond’s testimony.”
In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, one member of the select committee Pat McFadden said; “The big thing that comes out of this is the culture of Barclays. What has been going on in this bank over the years and who are the people who have been presiding over this?”
What stood out at Mr. Diamond’s inquiry was his undying love for Barclays, the reprehensible behaviour of traders and his physical illness after reading the email exchanges. But his oblivion to idea of practices and rate fixing is what has enraged most members of the TSC with some insisting he was either complicit or too incompetent.
It was clear the difference in information given by Mr. Agius, compared to Mr. Diamond a week earlier, infuriated the TSC with the chairman saying, “The discrepancy will look to us – and frankly will look to everybody listening – like another example of a complete lack of candour to parliament by the chief executive of Barclays.”
Another MP said “A great British bank has been dragged through the mud – are you ashamed?” To which Agius replied, “I regret deeply what’s happened to Barclays. I’m truly sorry.”
Jerry del Missier, Barclays Chief Operating Officer, will appear before the committee at 4pm on Monday. Lord Turner, Andrew Bailey and Tracey McDermott of the FSA will then follow at 4.45pm.
In their quest to find the truth and prosecute criminals, as more revelations start to unfold, and more senior members and banks are dragged into an inquiry, this could be another saga of denials and blame shifting with no end in sight.
A move welcomed by Mr.Agius and the public, Diamond gave up his £20 million, but still walked away with £2million. If this becomes a judicial inquiry, it will cost the taxpayers a few millions more and the criminals will be set free.
So whichever way this goes forward, I hope the interest of the public will be at heart and for God’s sake in this debt-ridden economy, spare them the burden of a few extra million pounds.