By Patricia Zengerle and Alister Bull
A top congressional leader on Thursday urged BP to suspend its dividend to make sure businesses hit by the Gulf oil spill get compensation, and accused the British energy giant of a 'lack of integrity.'
Asked if BP should halt dividend payments, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: 'Yes of course, and that would be their best public relations instead of taking out all these ads.'
BP has launched a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign to repair its image with Americans disgusted by the fouling of the Gulf Coast, where businesses complain livelihoods have been seriously hurt and BP compensation is insufficient.
'They made $17 billion last year. They should be paying these small businesses first. They (small businesses) don't have deep pockets. They don't have staying power ... some of the people receiving dividends perhaps have deeper pockets,' Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters at the White House.
She also sharply criticized the way BP had characterized its ability to safely drill for oil at great depth in the Gulf of Mexico.
'It is clear that there was a lack of integrity on the part of BP when it came to what it told us about the adequacy of their technology, the sufficiency of blowout prevention and the capacity to clean up,' she said.