Observer - Asia

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Iranian government’s e-revolution

Thrice thwarted by Iran’s parliament blocking his nominations for oil minister, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is hoping to have better luck communicating directly with the country’s 70m people.

Cabinet meetings have been held outside the capital Tehran to help prioritise poorer regions, with the president on one occasion waiting with fellow passengers for a delayed scheduled flight to the eastern city of Mashhad. Ahmadi-Nejad has told ministers to use more modest cars for official business.

The presidential office now has an e-mail address – Dr-Ahmadinejad@president.ir – for citizens to get in touch, and has released an initial batch of presidential answers.

Mohammad-Mehdi Zahedi, higher education minister, is top of the class, having been first to set up an e-mail address, zahedi-mm@yahoo.com, and promising to check his inbox twice a day.

Of course, such accountability is not always feasible. Mohammad-Reza Eskandari, minister of agricultural jihad, rather rashly invited farmers with problems to call his mobile phone. He was swamped.

Perfect pitch

It takes a brave businessman to tell a bunch of economists that competition can be unhealthy.

But Manuel Pangilinan, the chairman of Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company, got away with it when calling for a review of the government’s policy of unfettered competition in telecommunications, arguing it might not be appropriate in small markets where most customers are poor.

Perhaps it was because his speech in Manila to the annual economists’ get-together was sprinkled with lively quotes from Shakespeare to Charles Schulz.

Or perhaps because he was also brave enough to challenge the country’s most senior economist: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, no less. She personally wrote most of the government’s development plan, which received short shrift from Pangilinan.

It lacked focus, he said, had too many goals and looked more like a litany of aspirations than an actionable blueprint. It reminded him, he added, of what the emperor of Austria said about Mozart’s works: “Too many notes.”

Talking Turkey

World football governing body Fifa is not too popular in Turkey just now. First, it promised severe punishment after violent scenes in Istanbul when Switzerland scraped through to World Cup qualification ahead of Turkey this month.

Now it has jarred Turkish sensibilities further. Its 2006 Almanac of World Football describes the country’s official languages as Turkish and Kurdish.

That’s an indisputable own goal. Kurdish – widely spoken among the country’s 15m ethnic Kurds – is officially banned.

The fiercely nationalist Turkish Football Association on Monday demanded “the correction of this error which is a vital issue concerning Turkey’s national unity”. Fifa blames the book’s British publisher for the mistake and swears it was unintentional.

The Turks have not (yet) demanded the shredding of the tome.

But it will learn in January what its punishment will be for the Istanbul incidents (as will the Swiss, who are not blameless in this matter) and things may heat up further then.

Wakkie raises

Having finally resolved Ahold’s biggest legal headache by settling a $1.1bn bill with investors close to three years after an accounting scandal, Peter Wakkie’s work for the Dutch grocery group might appear to be done.

Wakkie, a top Dutch lawyer, was one of Ahold’s first boardroom recruits when it needed someone to help run the shop in the wake of the February 2003 fraud.

On Monday the legal eagle was in relaxed mood, posing for pictures with recent adversaries representing US and Dutch shareholder groups that had pursued class action and mismanagement claims.

What are his plans now? “My heart lies in retail, as you all know,” joked Wakkie, to chuckles from assembled media. “Maybe if there are some corporate adventures [ahead] for Ahold then I can be helpful. I have some M&A experience. But I am not going back to private practice.”

You have to admire his loyalty. Minutes earlier US lawyer Andrew Entwistle, who led the class action claim, revealed that his firm’s bill would be up to $220m. If Wakkie was having second thoughts, he at least kept smiling.

Royal Bond

Sir John Bond on Monday announced he was stepping down as chairman of HSBC next year after 45 years with the bank.

The news came the weekend after Britain’s Prince William ended a three-week work experience stint with the bank in London.

Is Bond, 64, retiring safe in the knowledge he has seen a future chairman, or was three weeks baby-sitting the heir to the throne too much for the 64-year-old?

Time’s reward

Meanwhile, the post-Bond reshuffle offers news to cheer any impatient graduate trainee who despairs of getting to the top. Two of the executives to be promoted joined the bank, or one of its predecessors, as trainees.

And that didn’t happen only yesterday either.

Michael Geoghegan, group chief executive-designate, and Dyfrig John, his successor as chief executive of HSBC Bank, were no more than 21 when, respectively, they joined HSBC in 1973 and Midland Bank in 1971. The older, and loyal, man has his fans.

observer@ft.com

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