THERE have been some critical articles about BAE Systems in recent weeks, about the allegations of questionable payments to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia over the huge Al-Yamamah arms contract of course, but also about its inability to get its public relations right, especially in the United States. The message that something needed to be done, and quickly, seems to have got through at last to judge by a couple of announcements from the company yesterday.
BAE has appointed a high-powered Washington lobbying firm, Blank Rome Government Relations to burnish its image in the United States generally and with the government and Congress in particular. This is a long-overdue move and it will amaze anyone with a knowledge of how Washington works that BAE has not had this kind of representation in the past.
BAE has also asked Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice, to carry out a review of the company's ethical standards. This is obviously a response to the allegations in The Guardian and on BBC's Panorama about secret payments in connection with the Al-Yamamah contract. However, the positive effect that Lord Woolf's involvement might have achieved has been largely cancelled out by the news that his review will concern only the future and that the past is out of bounds. Since BAE have consistently said that they have nothing to hide over Al-Yamamah it is difficult to understand why Lord Woolf's remit does not include that contract.
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