It worked for Al Capone… why not Tony Hayward and so many other oil executives? Remember the adage that you’re never punished for the crime but you’ll be doomed for the cover-up? The oil spill is horrific but what’s more damaging has been the response, the obfuscation, the denials, and the apparent path of half-truths.
It seems apparent there will never be enough money to pay for all the losses, the hardships, the heartache. Besides fines are merely money paid by a corporation and diddled about on a balance sheet. In an age where we mourn the absence of real responsibility, make the crime personal, not just business.
Al Capone was never convicted for crimes regarding prohibition but for tax evasion. What’s the crime committed by the oil executives? Perjury!
Follow the logic. Or perhaps better phrased, follow the money. In order to gain government leases, in order to win approval of countless drilling plans, even when testifying before Congress following the disaster on Transocean’s Deep Horizon drilling rig it seems evident the executives from BP systematically misstated the facts (lies, fibs? white lies, convenient truths?) on government forms, contracts, plans and in testimony.
And that, ladies and gentleman of the jury, is perjury.
$20 billion dollars will never be enough as a set aside for damages. BP is already claiming they have spent 10% of that on containing the spill alone. What will happen when gulf beaches become oil stained gooey sand dunes, devoid of tourists for years? Or what will happen to spring-break-centered towns like Panama City when no students return next year? Or for anyone who bought condos on a once white-sand beach who will never be able to unload those albatrosses? Imagine the devastation from the first hurricane in the gulf which inhales oil soaked sea and distributes that as rain hundreds of miles inland, not to mention the storm surge, both of which will leave an oily residue hundreds, perhaps a thousand miles from the spill?
There is simply no way to contain the damage nor provide restitution for all these ‘legitimate’ claims. How do you put a value on some of the losses, or for deaths of wildlife or fish? As for the examples like a hurricane BP will most likely argue that flood surge and rain is an act of God and nature and surely they cannot be held responsible for that! As for the more acute, local claims, one must believe they will follow Exxon’s tact of making every nickle and dime a hard-won fight for those who suffered the loss.
Which brings me back to my principal theme. In order for any real change there ought to be personal and not just business accountability. This may seem like some sort of Jonathan Swift parable but change is unlikely to stem from political posturing, Congressional displeasure and environmentalist hand wringing. For any oil or drilling executive who made their false assertions, who knew that there were not enough booms, or that the valve was not up to par, they should be held accountable for simply this: lying. They seem to have lied or misled or misrepresented inconvenient truths regularly. Senior and highly trained engineers at BP and other oil giants should have known better – they to either lied or went mute when higher-ups changed or modified their reports. They kept their jobs but at an ethical price that is now being borne by others who are quite innocent victims. Similar assertions of defense and denial echoed at war crime tribunals with only a modicum of success. Surely we would not be able to jail all of the senior vice presidents, the vice presidents, the senior engineers and on down the line, and some offer value as government witnesses, but the point is simple – let’s make those responsible pay for their perjury. While we’re at it, perhaps offer an amnesty for all the other oil companies might be considered, for perhaps 90 days, as a period when they could review and revise their plans too.
And this new truth-telling or ethical conduct might be applied to the mining industry… or transportation, or food too as there seem to be countless industries that have grown too cozy with government regulators who believed we’re paid by taxpayers to protect the public at-large.
The point is this – instead of focusing solely on monetary recover, which is important, let’s not settle for the easy solution – the money alone – but use this disaster as a water shed mark in US history when companies are put on notice that too-close-for-ethical-comfort relationships with K Street lobbyists is not an alternative to the more costly truth; and that doing business well requires ethics. That success is not judged solely on the balance sheet or an ability to recover from a whoops-moment.
We have suffered through the banking crisis, the housing meltdown, the oil spill and yet it feels as if we haven’t learned a lesson called accountability. Fiscal, moral, ethic accountability and leadership is what is sorely needed. We have suffered a hat trick of woe. Have we learned anything more than, “Wow, it sure is expensive” and “How did that happen?” Are we that naive? Are we perpetually doomed to be ostriches? If we don’t want to put the bastards in jail then let’s break out the old family recipe for mixing tar and start gathering the feathers.
The media has treated each of these events in a episodical way. The public sees them as disasters each in their own right. But I think there may be an underlying cause that transcends all three… greed, a lack of ethics and accountability. Money wont restore that – not even the most Draconian fine. Accountability is not s synonym for businesses with deep pockets but rather it should be a maxim for the behavior of a company’s leadership, its C-levels and its Board.