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PUBLISHED COMMENTARY: Deceptive Dance of Shills

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Dennis Minott | Deceptive dance of shills Scamming without long lead-sheets: implications for decision-making in unsophisticated jurisdictions

Published: Monday | September 11, 2023 | 12:06 AM Shill bidding is a tactic that involves individuals or organisations posing as impartial supporters of a project or idea in order to influence decision-making. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as submitting fake letters of support, organising fake public meetings, or inundating social media with positive comments. Shill bidding is particularly problematic in unsophisticated jurisdictions, where there are weak regulations and oversight. In these environments, shills can easily manipulate decision-makers and steer projects in their favour. The problem of shill bidding is not limited to Jamaica or CARICOM. It is a worldwide problem that has been documented in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and South Africa. In the energy sector, shills have been used to influence decisions about new projects, such as the construction of power plants and pipelines.

HOW SHILL BIDDING CORRUPTS EOI Shill bidding can corrupt expression of interest (EoI) in a number of ways. For example, shills can: – Submit fake letters of support from local communities, university staff, research institutes, or environmental groups. – Organise fake public meetings in support of a particular project. – Flood social media with positive comments about a project. – Pay off decision-makers or government officials to approve a project.

The implications of shill bidding for unsophisticated jurisdictions are significant. In these jurisdictions, there are often weak regulations and oversight, which makes it easier for shills to operate. As a result, shills can have a disproportionate influence on decision-making, which can lead to the approval of projects that are not in the best interests of the public.

HOW TO COMBAT SHILL BIDDING There are a number of ways to combat shill bidding, including: – Strengthening regulatory oversight: The government should strengthen its regulatory oversight of projects and programmes that are vulnerable to shill bidding. This could involve requiring project proponents to disclose their financial interests and to undergo conflict-of-interest checks. – Forming independent panels of experts: Independent panels of experts should be formed to assess projects and programs that are vulnerable to shill bidding. These panels should be composed of individuals with no financial or other conflicts of interest. – Educating the public about shill bidding: The public should be educated about the dangers of shill bidding. This could involve public awareness campaigns and school programmes that teach students to identify and resist shill bidding attempts. – Ensuring that all information is accurate and transparent: All information about projects and programs should be accurate and transparent. This could involve requiring project proponents to disclose all of their financial information and to make all of their documentation publicly available. – By taking these steps, unsophisticated jurisdictions can protect themselves from the harmful effects of shill bidding and ensure that decisions are made in the best interests of the public. Shill bidding is a serious problem that can have a significant impact on decision-making in unsophisticated jurisdictions. By taking steps to strengthen regulatory oversight, educate the public, and ensure that all information is accurate and transparent, these jurisdictions can protect themselves from the harmful effects of shill bidding and ensure that decisions are made in the best interests of the public.

EOI EXERCISES The use of shills in influencing energy projects through the EoI process is another critical aspect of the shadowy influence in unsophisticated legal jurisdictions. Shills have historically employed a range of tactics to improperly sway decisions related to energy projects. These tactics include: – False public support: Shills create the illusion of widespread public support for an energy project by submitting fake letters of endorsement, organising fake public meetings, or inundating EoI processes with fraudulent comments in favour of the project. This deception can mislead decision-makers into believing there is significant grassroots backing. – Astroturfing: Shills establish fake grassroots organisations or coalitions that purportedly represent local communities or stakeholders. These fabricated groups then participate in EoI processes, presenting a misleading image of community support or opposition. – Misleading economic claims: Shills may exaggerate the economic benefits of an energy project, such as job creation or revenue generation, without providing accurate and transparent data. Decision-makers may be swayed by these inflated claims, believing the project will bring substantial economic gains to the jurisdiction. – Influencing political figures: Shills may attempt to influence politicians or government officials through campaign donations, gifts, or other forms of inducement. This can lead to political support for particular energy projects, even if they are not in the best interests of the jurisdiction. – Concealing environmental and health risks: Shills may downplay or hide the potential environmental and health risks associated with an energy project, using deceptive language or incomplete information to make the project appear less harmful than it is. – Exploiting regulatory gaps: In unsophisticated jurisdictions with weaker regulatory frameworks or lax enforcement, shills can exploit these gaps to manipulate the EoI process, secure permits, or avoid stringent environmental assessments. – Bribery and corruption: In some cases, shills may engage in outright bribery or corruption, offering financial incentives or kickbacks to officials, academics, or decision-makers to ensure that the EoI process favours their preferred project. – Intimidation and coercion: Shills may resort to intimidation tactics, such as threats or harassment, to silence opposition voices or coerce stakeholders into supporting the energy project. – Obfuscation of ownership: Shills may hide their true identities or affiliations by using front companies, offshore entities, or complex ownership structures, making it difficult to trace their involvement in the EoI process. To counter these tactics, unsophisticated jurisdictions can take steps to enhance transparency, accountability, and public participation in the EoI process. This may include implementing stronger regulatory frameworks, conducting thorough due diligence on project proponents, ensuring that all information is accurate and complete, and fostering an environment where the concerns of local communities, nearby nations, vulnerable industries, and stakeholders are genuinely considered in decision-making. Additionally, educating the public about the potential influence of shills and their tactics can help build resilience against improper influence in energy project EoI exercises. Dennis Minott, PhD, is the CEO of A-QuEST-FAIR. He is a renewable energy specialist and worked in the oil and energy sector. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.

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