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A High Court judge has ruled that Health Secretary Matt Hancock acted unlawfully in failing to publish multi-billion-pound COVID-19 government contracts within the 30-day period required by law.

This is a story that ought to be dominating every front page and leading every BBC news bulletin: the sums of taxpayers’ money which have been squandered in this procurement fiasco are truly scandalous; so shocking, indeed, that under normal circumstances this would bring an immediate end to the career of the minister responsible.

At least £18 billion worth of contracts for protective equipment has been handed out by the government in what the Mail has called ‘cash for cronies.’

Here, courtesy of the Mail, are some examples of the unlikely beneficiaries of government largesse.

The NAO [National Audit Office] said it would launch an urgent investigation into one extraordinary deal for surgical gloves and gowns with a Florida-based jewellery designer where Spanish businessman, Michael Saiger, who served as a middleman, was paid an astonishing £21million in UK taxpayers’ cash.

The report – which came out last week, sparked claims the Government had frittered away huge sums of public in flawed and uncompetitive contracts, sometimes buying “useless PPE”, with the ‘taxpayer now reaping the ruin’.

In another case, Sabia Mokeddem, a 23-year-old investor from Lyon, France, was given £880,000 to supply 55,000 coveralls despite not having any experience in the sector.

She said she acted as a go-between for a wholesaler in Hong Kong and has since completed delivery of all the coveralls, priced at £16 each. Miss Mokkedem said the coveralls cost £11 before the pandemic – but they charged £16 as market demand and rising cargo costs pushed up prices.

There have been many similar cases of people with little to no relevant expertise suddenly being handed eye-wateringly large contracts. Often the equipment turned out to be useless to the point of unusability.

Here is another example from Mail investigative reporter David Rose:

Take Jonathon Bennett. As the Mail reported this month, he is a veteran textile importer with extensive contacts in China, where most PPE is made. His bid to supply millions of masks in April was highly competitive – well below the Government’s ‘benchmark’ price.

But the £253million contract went to Ayanda Capital, a firm with no experience which was charging almost twice as much. Worse, 50 million of their masks were of the wrong design.

Mr Bennett has long suspected Ayanda won its contract because it was brokered by someone who until recently had been an adviser to Trade Secretary Liz Truss – an Ayanda associate called Andrew Mills.

The NAO report confirms this. It was thanks to a “referral” by Mr Mills that Ayanda’s bid got the VIP treatment.

The excuse being trotted out by the government is that all contracts were awarded with “due diligence” and that any delays in reporting publicly the details of these contracts was the result of problems caused by the pandemic.

But Mr Justice Chamberlain, the judge who found against Hancock, said that this was “an excuse not a justification.”

Where, though, are the consequences?

Britain in 2021 appears to have become so detached from democratic transparency or accountability that is now apparently possible for a small number of Conservative government insiders to award multi-million contracts to favoured, but often unsuitable cronies — and get away with it.

In any remotely functioning democracy, heads would roll for this scandal. Top of the list would be the power-crazed Health Secretary Matt Hancock who has been found in breach of the law by the High Court and who must ultimately bear responsibility for the billions of pounds’ worth of squandered taxpayers’ cash.

The British people really deserve better than the corrupt, cruel, and outrageously authoritarian regime currently in control of their country. It doesn’t look like they’re going to get it any time soon.

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