Monday, December 30, 2013

A silly Christmas/New Year’s present for the silly season

And the recipient is: me!

For those, less informed about the subject, according to Wikipedia: “In Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, the silly season has come to refer to the Christmas/New Year festive period (which occurs during the summer season in the Southern Hemisphere) on account of the higher than usual number of social engagements where the consumption of alcohol is typical.”

Thanks to the silly season (I guess) bang on Christmas Eve, I received a direct email from Mr Hamish Tyrwhitt, Leighton Holdings’ CEO, where he implies, that the delivery of my (previously sent) message has been prevented due to my email address getting ‘blacklisted’.

So, after accepting messages from me written over various intervals for 13 months– he finally, says, ‘that’s it – no more’;
With the same move he also confirms indirectly, that he had received all of the ones I sent before getting ‘blacklisted’.
(part of the first ones I sent  is copied here, just to give a bit of a taste of topics I wanted for him to look at, for those in the know);

Thank you, Mr Tyrwhitt for clearing this issue up for me!
I can (obviously) no longer write to you directly, but I’m sure, someone else will forward you my thanks.
Have a happy New Year!


From: Zolna Murray
Sent: Monday, November 19, 2012 3:54 PM
To: Riad T. Sadik;
Subject: blowing the whistle, again and again…
Importance: High

Good afternoon gentlemen!
 I’ve been with the company for just over 18 months.
I could have saved the company at least that many times 10 millions of dirhams had my advice been listened to by my superiors.
You may think you’ve seen it all and you can quietly tidy up the mess and close up the company with no damage to yourselves and those that own it.
Or at least no more damage than what has been already assessed.
You are wrong.
 Mafraq will blow up and haunt you for years. Qusahwira will too, as well as ADIB.
Al Bustan is nothing even close to being managed and will cost you hundreds of millions of dirhams to defend.
 I would be pleased to explain my reasons behind the above statements and strategies to recover, given the chance.

Zolna Murray

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A simple post, with a simple question: How long can one channel large amounts of operational money into the black hole of HLG until one gets caught out?

Don’t look for the answer to this question in my blog and do not hold your breath for getting it freely from anyone in charge of HLG or its parent companies.
Regardless of total ‘lack of evidence’ out in the ‘open’, I believe that there is money coming in to cover operational costs of this company from ‘elsewhere’ and this ‘fact’ is almost as obvious as that, the greenery would not survive in the UAE without constant water-supply feeding it at ground level.

Why do I care? After all, I’m all but at arm’s length from this company now.
(Thankfully, one might add).
Call it professional duty. Or conscience, if you prefer a softer, though somewhat idealistic term.
Sadly, you may label this continuous interest of mine in the above named topic as a personal ‘obsession’ and that will not be far from the truth either, I’ll admit.

In fact, with Christmas coming, my main wish (apart from the obvious – of reuniting my immediate family in one place) would be for three parties to answer the question from the title, those being:
José Antonio López-Monís (CEO and Managing Director HLG), Hamish Gordon Tyrwhitt (Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Leighton Holding) AND the current AUDITOR(s) for these two companies;

Can I make a speculative guess, that in the unlikely event of this question getting addressed by the first two gentlemen named  in any public forum any time soon, the response will start with the ‘to my knowledge…’ preamble?
What a perfect combination of three simple words to let one off-the hook of being party to the unsavoury practice of blunt misleading! (of shareholders, for example);
I did not know it, probably never happened.

The auditors on the other hand, may opt for a different tactic and classify these ‘cash injections’ as ‘Miscellaneous Petty cash’ – never a more appropriate use for this term, in my book. Petty, that is.
Anyway, who am I to set out what amount of money (measured in probably millions) can be classified as a bit excessive for ‘petty cash’ spent on  propping up a sinking company as opposed to just a bit of cash-flow-assistance?
You know, to ‘tie us over’ money?

Mr Habtoor, as one of the shareholders of this troubled entity is proving to be a bit savvier than I’ve given him credit to be, in the past;
One lesson he definitely has learned as a successful businessman is that ‘Throwing good money after bad’ is not a good practice – so he is staying very much clear of doing it.
Weak promises he does make, to the partners and the world, just to keep the ‘water supply’ trickling in, with the hope that all the troubled projects HLG are associated with will be completed before ‘the pipes’ run dry or someone cuts them off.

In my humble opinion, that hope of his is a bit too optimistic, but let’s wait for the final curtain to descend onto this little performance, before we make any judgments!

Picture from here:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Someone is holding someone else to ransom here and seriously so… and I can still not figure out how the roles are dished out in this tragi-comedy that HLG is….

One friend says, I’ve got it all wrong, the Aussies run the show, no matter what the Spanish say or do;
Another says, nope – the Arabs are in charge and are giving the Aussies the run-around.
A third one warns, the Germans are being too quiet – making for an unlikely calmness to a storm coming.
The forth quietly tells me to but out of the whole thing… it is not worth a thought…

Just as the media following the happenings around HLG (and Leighton Holdings) my friends like to hang a lot of their analyses on the 800+ million dollar loan that the company received from Leightons some time ago – as both the question and answer to all possible future scenarios.

Far from wanting to belittle this ‘tidy little sum’ of money invested in this wobbly company, I find it weird that so many people choose to ignore the forest from the trees (or other way around) and the almost public knowledge that dozens of currently run HLG projects will become major financial liabilities in the future – if not already fighting for bare survival and in a ‘disastrous’ stage.

Today, Mr Al Habtoor ‘awarded’ his latest gem-of-a-project to HLG and was quoted saying:
 “I have confidence in the Habtoor Leighton Group. HLG has built some of the most prominent landmarks in Dubai and the UAE – including Terminal 3 at the Dubai International Airport, the world famous Burj Al Arab and The Officers’ Club in Abu Dhabi.”  (ref see link below)

There are 79 projects listed on HLG’s website, out of those, he selected to mention 3, that were completed with no involvement from the ‘L’ part of the ‘current’ company, most done well before they were even in the picture, one in the early 1990s, some twenty years ago. In fact if those projects were to be mentioned at all, good manners would have dictated credits given to some major (if not vital) JV partners also active on them.
But who am I to give Mr Habtoor lessons on good manners when the poor chap has a virtual gun pointed at his neck. (according to one of the many likely/speculative theories of what really is happening, that I entertain).

And as comic some of these shenanigans have become, I find it hard to treat Mr Habtoor’s words and actions as cleverly manicured PR campaigns, just see them as blunt manipulations of everyone involved.

A ‘class action’ anyone?
Where are all the ‘international trade-exchanges’ these companies are listed on when you really need them for a bit of scrutiny?

Mr Habtoor, if you feel compelled to justify your choice of a contractor for a construction project (which as a private investor you are not obliged to do) why not quote some current projects of HLG instead, for a real, feel-good impact?
Talk to us of present ‘happy clients’, a hospital operator, a local mixed development owner from the royal family, a bank or a national oil company?
What about the dozens of ‘live’ bids that HLG had been involved over the last 6 years that swallowed millions of dollars yet brought in no new projects?
Airports, hospitals, numerous large hotels, entire railways systems, shopping malls, a museum, World islands too?
Why not list those as proofs of confidence to a company that can spend up large on phantom bids and still survive?

Let’s call a spade-a-spade: this is just another ‘buying time’ game – and trust me, with time, I’ll figure out who will win and who will lose in this game in the long run.
Time, I still have. (I think - or hope);

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'Balfour Beatty joint venture awarded £121 million contract for the Ministry of Defence!'

….Shouts a news-release from yesterday.
People share it over social media (LinkedIn, for example);
Share it and/or ‘like it’.
People enjoy good news, especially those related to the company they work for.
People despise whingers that constantly complain about the company they work for.
I’m one of those people that do the latter, and on my list of favourite whinging targets is Balfour Beatty.
And I do not even work for that company, which makes the employees of it even more upset about my actions.
So, I get despised, sneered at, mocked and ridiculed, occasionally receive patronising or downright nasty hate-mails.

Yet, in my own disillusioned state of mind, I keep on thinking that my questioning is valid and deserves honest answers or at least a response to each.
For example, I thought it fair and reasonable to ask Andrew Hayward, head of Ethics, Risk and Assurance the following question yesterday:

Dear Andrew,
A couple of weeks have gone by since you last heard from me – you must have felt relieved, that I had finally given up on the doomed little campaign I was trying to instigate – by and large unsuccessfully, and got on with my normal life which I must have had once, otherwise I would have never been employed by a BB subsidiary in the first place.
For now, I reserve the right not to disclose my future plans on this subject to you or others. Regardless, I believe to have the right to ask you to tell me the name and full contact details of the person you are reporting to.
I expect to receive this information within the next 24 hours.
Best regards,

I knew the timeframe I nominated was reasonably short, so I sent the same request to another couple of people that would (or at least should have) known the correct answer, in case Andrew took an early Christmas break or was otherwise busy, yet no response came from anyone.

Thankfully, I have a large number of BB-connections in my LinkedIn network so, I’ll address them directly:
Help a brother (sister) out!
Let me know who oversees the work of the Ethics committee of your (Balfour Beatty) company.
(email is and privacy is guaranteed for any info given in confidence);

Realistically speaking, there is almost a zero chance that I will get any meaningful info back following this plea;
On the other hand, writing to all of these people will at least provide me with another little experiment:
In a day-or-two I’ll know how many BB connections will keep me on their own networks having received this request.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Finally, it all makes sense… Sort of. (speculation, truth and fiction on the subject of the HLG affair in the ME)

My latest theory is this: In spite of all my previous predictions, (including yesterday’s post)  Mr Habtoor will walk away from HLG scratch free and leave the tab for Mr Sadik to pick up as the company called HLG turns into custard in the very near future.

And (probably) rightly so.
After all, wasn’t Mr Sadik the naughty boy that conspired with the Leighton-brothers and got out on his own, unchecked, unapproved?
By disregarding old alliances he went into sabotaging the parent company, in spite of the’ whole ball of wax’ Mr Habtoor had done for him over their long association as business partners!

Mr Habtoor gave him everything that a talented and hardworking, yet displaced and disadvantaged Palestinian young engineer could hope for.
A piece of a sweet pie, a citizenship to a country few of his type can hope for, money, luxury, fame.
A business outside of the reach of the jittery construction market, a bite at the hospitality industry, his own hotel.
He even let Mr Sadik be the chairman of the newly formed alliance with the greedy Australians once HLG was born, the only condition was to have his younger boy in the board too, as an apprentice to learn the trade.
The boy needed some hands-on experience beyond collecting and driving expensive cars, this was not a lot to ask for and could have also been easily the ticket back to Mr Habtoor’s heart, had Mr Sadik recognised so and genuinely undertook to mentor the young chap.

Unfortunately, and at the cost of the long lasting friendship of Mr Sadik and the Habtoor chief, the future that the Savage-lead, ‘quasi Leighton team’ had waived before Mr Sadik’s eyes was too hard to ignore, let alone resists, full of glitter, status, privileges and class.
Directorships at various international companies, people that truly needed him for once, and  no-more, around the clock checking of dusty construction sites, cheap coffees, paper cups and needy Pilipino draftsmen and women to tend to.
He got dazzled by it all, enjoyed the bliss. And paid the price. Or will so, in the future.

Far away minefields of diamonds and gold were calling while local construction sites went for months unchecked, down the tube of disastrous delays, defects and cost overruns.
Arrogant, negligent and incompetent Leighton staff led the disenfranchised Pilipino drafting army.

It could have been easily assumed, that Mr Habtoor knew what the end chapter of this fairy-tale was going to be all along – alternatively maybe, he made it up as the story was unfolding and let his once-friend walk in the trap he dug himself.
Regardless of the preambles, the results were similar and brutal:

These days, Mr Habtoor is all but ready to jump ship, abandon the construction-arm of his multiple mega-businesses, once a fundamental part of success, now a shrivelled body part – not-good for anything, something to kick aside with petty – leave to Mr Sadik to salvage – or sink with it.
Either way Mr Habtoor will not be around to see the final chapter.

Too much other stuff to do.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

‘Has he walked away from Leighton? Did the journalist know of them at all?’

Writes my husband in an email to me this morning, with the scanned feature article written on Mr Khalaf  Al Habtoor published in the latest Gulf Business magazine attached.

It is my father’s birthday today (83 and seriously ill) and, we are half a world away from him  – and from each other, technically homeless with two teenage daughters out of school and in someone else’s care…but my husband’s primary interests are in synch with mine.

I bought the same magazine 2 days ago in transit at the airport in Dubai – lured to it by its cover, hopeful to finally find the answer to the question that has bothered me for the last 3 years:
Has the Grand Mr Habtoor fallen into and does he continue to be the a victim of a ‘massive and evil’ manipulation scammed by the Leighton management or is he the shrewd businessmen that he likes to portray, that will indeed come out of this affair unscathed?

Personally, I am still in favour of scenario 1 – to the extent that I can publicly promise to ’eat one of my shoes’ if the second theory turns out to be correct – not that anyone seem to care much about my dietary habits or even what the truth is in this case.
The big boys on the two sides are fighting BIG with their PR machines all fired up – small ‘barking fish’ like me are just a minor nuisance, if anything at all.

It would be a self-contained ‘little’ culturally-charged affair, if the game I’m referring to was purely between Leighton Holdings and Mr Habtoor, one side trying to save face of the Wall King empire under the attack of allegedly deeply set-in, globally spread corruption and the other working on conserving his, when confronted by dozens of large scale building-projects turning rapidly into financial disasters impacting on numerous big name co-patriots.

This is no game of two halves.

For whatever reason, the many others involved and impacted by it are still and ‘by and large’ staying quiet, waiting for the ‘rope’ to swing a bit more decisively onto one side or the other.
For a start, there are many-many big name and themselves very powerful clients of HLG operating in the region that have been sold a ‘lemon’ and are scrambling to get their projects finished and save what is saveable while being fed empty promises by Habtoor’s favourite schmoozers, quite often the quietly humble and understated Mr confidante Riad Tawfik Al Sadik himself.
Then, there are the armies of subcontractors, from relatively small to very large corporations caught up working on mismanaged, negligently and amateurishly run sites, themselves paid late, if ever, intimidated into walking away empty handed, bitter and cheated.
At the bottom of the pile of marginalized are the ‘honest’ employees of the old Habtoor Engineering Enterprise, often dropped by arrogant Leighton-faithful managers after decades of steady and loyal work or the few good western-bred professionals left within the ranks that the Habtoor flavoured HR can no longer stomach because they know too much.

Bizarrely though and for me most amazing is the silence that ‘comes’ from those that are in ‘reality’ the owners of this ‘naughty child’ that HLG has turned into almost immediately after its birth, neither Hochtief, nor ACS appear to have the ability or willingness to put their foot down and sort the mess out before it takes their own share prices down on its way of inevitable self-destruction.

I will not even try to put a number to the people (including ‘everyday mom-and-dad shareholders’) that will be negatively impacted by the domino effect triggered, if the truth of inability of HLG to complete even one project on time to the promised quality and price really comes to surface?

Or when someone financially literate does a proper audit of its books and is game enough to faithfully report on the sorts of moneys that had been spent on chasing projects in the region the company realistically never had the slightest chance to land?
Or count the number of highly paid employees that are still occupying its expensive offices to produce meaningless reports as phantom bids and work overtime to keep the floodgates of disaster from opening?

Because, if markets did work as they are supposed to and publicly listed companies did abide by the rules then the risk of domino effect that will sweep over shareholders big and small, private and institutional that invested in this trio of companies (Leighton, Hochtief , ASC) would be hardly there. They could all sleep easy without the worry of HLG blowing up and taking them down any time soon and I would not need to guess the number of financially aggrieved that will be very large once this company does hit the wall.

As I look at the measuredly cheerful image of the confident Mr Habtoor on the cover of the Gulf Business I can be fooled that all is well and rosy in his empire and this bleak destiny of a company that is so closely associated with his name I am predicting will never happen.

Still, I’m vary of the manicured smile and I cannot agree with my husband’s presumption from the title that Mr Habtoor could, even if wanted to under any circumstance, just walk away from HLG – it is far too late for that.