Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Veolia Withdraws

(From North London bid, not yet from West Bank)

IT was like a surprise Xmas present - a piece of Yuletide cheer delivered in an official announcement from the North London Waste Authority, and dated December 21, 2012:      

"The North London Waste Authority has received notification from Veolia Environmental Services that they will not be submitting final tenders for either NLWA’s waste services or fuel use contracts. Veolia had been shortlisted for both contracts and, in withdrawing, Veolia has confirmed that the decision has no bearing on the quality and integrity of the projects".

The statement went on to say more about the £4.5 billion contracts, but that first par was enough to bring joy to campaigners who wanted Veolia kept out, because of the French-based company's involvment in running a transport service linking Israeli settlements encircling East Jerusalem, and more recent reports on its use of toxic landfill sites in the occupied Jordan valley.

The issue of landfill sites and toxic waste was raised by B'Tselem, the civil rights group in Israel,in a report in 2009, and by Camden-Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA) in north London.  .  

In September 2011 the Israeli Coalition of Women for Peace weote directly to London local councillors urging that Veolia be excluded from the bidding. The peace women warned that Veolia's profitable activties in the Occupied West Bank were contributing to a violation of human rights by strengthening illegal settlements, and thereby helping to obstruct any real peace process.

More recently Professor Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories produced a report in which Veolia was singled out for critiism.

Members of organisations like the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the No To Veolia Action Group (No2VAG) have been campaigning against Veolia’s bid, speaking to trades union and other bodies and doing their best to make sure councillors could not claim ignorance when making their decision.

Yael Kahn, chair of No2VAG said, “Our strategy to force councillors to seriously consider and publicly debate the issues at stake and the further actions planned No2VAG played a critical role in achieving our aim of eliminating Veolia from the NLWA procurement process.”

Not content with making the moral case against Veolia, No2VAG went into the technical critique, as Yael explains:
Part of our strategy to block Veolia's bids was to expose the financial & technical failings of its proposals, such as that it wasn't cost effective and worse for the environment: our engineer and No2VAG secretary, Rob Langlands, showed Veolia's solution wasn't actually CHP [Combine Heat and Power], in spite of misleading claims by Veolia and the NLWA. Similarly, we also informed the media, councillors and Council Leaders of the shortfalls of the NLWA project itself. We raised issues such as that the cost per tonne was to triple for a solution not a lot different than the existing one and that the total wast arisings [tonnage of waste] was over inflated. Indeed the secrecy shrouding the project has recently started to be questioned and more importantly the actual premise of the project.

The response from councils varied.

In Hackney, a Labour councillor had wanted to introduce a deputation on Veolia, and the council's lawyers said this was acceptable. Caroline Day of the No2 Veolia campaign had been due to address the councillors. But on November 21, Hackney council voted not to receive the deputation. The blocking motion was poposed by Linda Kelly, a former Labour councillor who defected to the Tories.  It received support from Mayor Jules Pipe who said "Hackney Council does not have a foreign policy."

But reports in the Hackney Gazette and the Jewish Chronicle say Hackney councillor Luke Akehurst, director of campaigns at "We Believe in Israel", an offshoot of the professional lobby group BICOM, was "instrumental" in getting the deputation blocked, and that David Lewis, secretary and treasurer of UK Lawyers for Israel, helped Cllr.Kelly draft her blocking motion.

“We didn’t want the deputation to be heard by the council if we could find a way of preventing it,” David Lewis said. “We are there to defend Israel against demonisation and consider the No2Veolia campaign as part of the demonisation exercise.”

Cllr.Kelly's motion was supported by Tories, Lib Dems and most Labour councillors. The party whips were on, and only two Labour councillors abstained.

It was a different story in Waltham Forest on December 13, where Irfan Akhtar of Waltham Forest Council of Mosques and the No to Veolia campaign was allowed to address the council meeting and make the case against hiring Veolia. Although Irfan only had three minutes to speak, he was also able to present a petition signed by 4,000 residents.

The North London Waste Authority covers the boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington and Waltham Forest.

Veolia's withdrawal was announced a year to the day after it failed to make the shortlist for the West London Waste Authority 25 years residual waste management contract covering the boroughs of Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow, Ealing, Richmond and Brent. It cannot be said with certainty that Veolia's operations in the West Bank influenced that decision, as the company was under criticism in some of these boroughs on other grounds.

Nevertheless we learned that more than 600 residents had written to the West London Waste Authority expressing concern at Veolia and human rights, and I'm pleased to say Brent trades union council lent its support to the campaign.

This year I joined a picket on Camden town hall on December 10, Human Rights Day, at the invitation of No2VAG and the Camden-Abu Dis Friendship Association, to oppose expanding settlements and occupation. We distributed leaflets against Veolia's waste bid and collected signatures from passers by, and I also sold a few Jewish Socialist magazines while I was there. An aggressive young Zionist gentleman who came along to accuse us of being "antisemites" and supporters of Hamas eventually got frustrated and started shouting that we were "terrorists" before being escorted away by police while we completed our work.

Just thought I'd mention my part in thwarting the French multinational, for those of you who think I only sit at my keyboard sounding off these days, and for a Mr.Scott Rickard, whom I'm told has me listed as an "Israeli hasbaranik" (propagandist) for some reason.  I've no idea who Mr.Rickard is or where he gets his disinformation, though I see Press TV cites him as a "former US intelligence linguist". His list appears to have been removed from Facebook or rendered inaccessible, but before I heard I was on it I was told that several friends with impeccably pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist credentials were listed before me, so I would not dream of asking for my name to be removed.

Besides, I am already on the meshuggana Zionists Massada list of terrorist enemies of Israel, and I believe the US-hosted Redwatch site run by British Nazis also has me listed quite accurately as a Jewish Red and union militant, so why should I worry about making it onto another list?  It's the nearest we plebs get to being in Who's Who, and while the nutters are busy compiling their lists they are not doing anything else.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home