The Times (London)

May 29, 2009 Friday

Edition 1

Tory promoted his business on EU trip to Barbados;

Case study Nirj Deva

BYLINE: Dominic Kennedy


LENGTH: 617 words


ATory politician responsible for overseeing the EU's ¤8 billion aid budget used an expenses-paid trip to a poverty conference to promote his own business interests (Dominic Kennedy writes).

Nirj Deva, an MEP, used an official trip to Barbados to lobby on behalf of a plastic bag company seeking to expand its business in the developing world, The Times has learnt.

Mr Deva, who is paid £33,000 a year as chairman of Symphony Environmental Technologies, which promotes "vanishing" biodegradable plastic bags, has been reselected as Tory candidate for South East England in the European elections next week.

Symphony, which employs 22 people, promotes an additive, d2w, which it claims solves the litter problem by making plastic bags disintegrate gradually after contact with oxygen.

Professor David Miller, director of Spinwatch, which campaigns for transparency in lobbying, said: "This is yet another case of a clear conflict of interest with an MEP and his commercial links. Every time this happens people lose faith in the European project. If they want to restore trust in the EU, politicians should give up all commercial lobbying activity when they become an MEP."

Mr Deva portrays himself as an important figure in securing funds for developing countries. He is co-ordinator of the European Parliament's overseas development committee and has served as draftsman for the Parliament's aid budget report.

On his website the MEP claims credit for: 6 securing ¤800 million for Afghanistan; 6 helping to prepare a report which won ¤700 million for Bangladesh; 6 assisting Indonesia to secure ¤27 million for reforestation; 6 securing European aid for computers in Indian schools.

When he flew to Barbados in 2006 to meet leaders of poorer countries, they could be in little doubt about Mr Deva's important role in the EU's aid budget.

Mr Deva was in Europe's delegation for the Africa Caribbean Pacific-European Union joint parliamentary assembly (JPA), where MEPs meet MPs from developing nations to discuss aid.

Mr Deva used the opportunity to promote the business he chairs. Symphony's executives flew out to host a cocktail and dinner reception at the Barbados Hilton, at which about 100 guests were told about the company's biodegradable plastic bags. Symphony urged developing countries against banning plastic.

"He used the fact that he was there at the function to arrange a presentation on behalf of Symphony. He used his influence to get a lot of people there attending the conference to come along on one of the evenings.

"He was the one that told us who to send all the invitations out to and he made the opening remarks at the function. It was his idea," one Symphony source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It was an opportunity for Symphony to present themselves and their technology to the visiting delegates from all their countries. That's a recent example of him using his position as an MEP to the benefit of Symphony."

Another Symphony insider said: "It was as a direct result of Mr Deva's introductions, letters (placed [by workers] in the pigeon holes of delegates) and personal contacts that many of these people attended."

The European Parliament requires MEPs to declare remunerated activities but there is no specific rule against conducting business while on official visits.

Mr Deva said: "I attended the JPA in Barbados in my capacity as [the centre-right grouping's] co-ordinator and did a full week's work on my parliamentary duties. What we do in the evenings when the JPA is not sitting is not parliamentary business. Attending a reception in my free time and discussing a technology I am proud of is not bad faith and might even have helped Britain."