Royal Dutch Shell Group .com

The Independent: Shell man speaks


Walter Van de Vijver, deposed head of exploration and production at Shell, seems to have decided that enough is enough over the reserving fiasco that claimed his scalp. After weeks of rumour and hearsay, he's spoken out to say, "it wasn't me, guv", or at least, "don't try and make me a scapegoat because we were all in it together".


Shell promises to publish within a week or two an internal report into the affair, produced by the US law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell. This is widely expected to lay blame squarely at the feet of the two sacked Shell executives - Mr Van de Vijver and his chairman, Sir Philip Watts. Fearing the worst, Mr Van de Vijver has got his own shot in first. Regrettably, he raises more questions than he answers in his attempt to correct what he regards as an "inaccurate", "misleading" and "incomplete" depiction of his role.


None the less, in presenting himself as an innocent victim of the affair, who worked diligently to expose and correct the mis-statement of reserves, he does raise an intriguing point. Shell works on the basis of collective management responsibility, which many regard as the root cause of its problem. Mr Van de Vijver contends that the Committee of Managing Directors (CMD), which would have included the new chairman, Jereon Van Der Veer, were informed of the reserves classification problem the moment Mr Van de Vijver became aware of them. Moreover, he claims regularly to have communicated to the CMD the nature and the quantity of the non-compliant reserves as they unfolded.


For his part, Mr Van Der Veer admits to some prior knowledge of the reserving problem but not to the extent of it, an issue he thought best left to exploration and production to sort out. What emerges is a lack of management control and accountability which surely lies at the heart of this affair. In the ensuing blame game, the internal report will attempt to confine guilt to those intimately involved in exploration and production, as it must, for otherwise the entire CMD would be forced to resign. Yet it is clear the failure in controls that let the reserves to be overstated was much wider.


So was it incompetence, overenthusiasm or conspiracy that led to the mis-classification? The internal report ought to provide answers, but with a posse of American lawyers champing at the bit to sue, don't hold your breath for a worts and all account.

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