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'Riding herd' on BP

Mark Mardell | 14:48 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010


The man in charge of the government's operation in the Gulf is complaining that BP isn't being open enough.

Admiral Thad Allen, of the US Coast Guard, has written to BP's boss, Tony Hayward, reminding him of the company's promise and obligation to pay "just and timely" reimbursement to families and business that have suffered economic damage because of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

His essential complaint is that BP has not allowed the authorities access to its data base to check that it is making the payments. He says the government needs more openness and detail on what he calls "this critical issue". This is "riding herd" on BP, as President Barack Obama promised.

When I quoted the president in a radio piece, a colleague said he'd never heard the phrase and asked me to explain it. But to me it is a rather graphic metaphor of a cowboy tightly controlling cattle, making sure no beast wanders off. I can almost smell the rawhide. But it is not clear whether the rodeo performance is all for show.

The letter comes less than 24 hours after a statement from BP proudly saying that it had paid out $49m and issued nearly 18,000 cheques from its 25 claims offices. Importantly, the company adds, it has not denied a single claim.

People here say BP is paying out, but slowly. The boss of a crab processing factory told me he had been forced to ransack his house for every last piece of paper. "I've given them everything except my birth certificate: I've given more than I have to give the tax people." But he had got a cheque for $5,000.

But he was worried that this only covered last month. And he didn't think his Mexican workers, in tears on the phone when told they were being laid off, would see any of the money, although presumably they are entitled. Of course, BP can't be expected to pay any claim without evidence - but the last thing fisherman, oil workers and small business people here feel like doing is paperwork.


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