Latest Developments, July 21

In the latest news and analysis…

The World Bank has released a report on the challenge posed by the theft of public assets from poor countries, which it describes as “an immense problem with a staggering development impact.” The report’s authors estimate that about $5 billion in assets have been recovered over the last 15 years, which amounts to 1/1,500th of the World Bank’s lowest estimate of the total stolen over that time. But the Tax Justice Network argues the real proportion of repatriated assets may be more like 1/3,800th of illicit financial flows out of the Global South.

Four Kenyans claiming to have been tortured by British soldiers during the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s have taken a major step towards obtaining reparations, as a British judge has ruled the plaintiffs have sufficient grounds to pursue a lawsuit. “This is not about money,” their lawyer said. “It is about restoring people’s dignity.” The UK’s Foreign Office argues it is not responsible for any wrongdoing during the colonial period and Kenya’s government should take care of compensating victims, an argument the judge termed “dishonourable.”

The UN has “strongly welcomed” new data providing further evidence that male circumcision is an effective way of preventing HIV in men. “Scaling up voluntary medical male circumcision services rapidly to young men in high HIV prevalence settings will help reach the 2015 goal of reducing sexual transmission of HIV by 50 per cent,” according to UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé. One of the leaders in this trend is Tanzania which “plans to circumcise at least 2.8 million men and boys between the ages of 10 and 34 over a five-year period.” Meanwhile, in San Francisco where HIV/AIDS was the fourth leading cause of death among men aged 25-54 in 2007, the battle is heating up over a proposed measure that would ban the circumcision of boys under the age of 18. The so-called Male Genital Mutilation Bill will be put to the California city’s voters in November.

Global Financial Integrity’s Tom Cardamone has announced the imminent launch of an international petition to fight perceived efforts by the US Chamber of Commerce and Wisconsin congressman Tom Sensenbrenner to weaken the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the 34 year-old piece of legislation aimed at punishing individuals and corporations who pay bribes overseas.

The Economist appears to have coined a new acronym, MIFF, to describe the “the emergence of a group of middle-income but failed or fragile states” that, despite moderate prosperity at the national level, account for 17 percent of the world’s people living on less than $1 a day. That figure has skyrocketed from one percent in 2005. “Anybody concerned with alleviating world poverty must reckon with the MIFFs,” the author argues.

Peru’s ambassador to the UN Gonzalo Gutiérrez makes a similar point in arguing “the cold figure of GDP per capita does not reflect the actual state of development in a particular country.” He is calling on the donor community to change the criteria it uses when devising aid policy and to recognize that most of the world’s poor live in so-called middle-income countries. “It is illogical to leave 70 percent of those who suffer most in the world, simply because a general index says that they are already in the medium-income countries,” he said.

And in a Project Syndicate piece entitle “Debt and Delusion,” Yale University economist Robert Shiller warns of the dangers of obsessing over economic indicators, such as debt-to-GDP ratios. Fear of “some magic threshold” beyond which a country will become insolvent is causing a stampede towards austerity measures which are likely to do more harm than good. “We should worry less about debt ratios and thresholds, and more about our inability to see these indicators for the artificial – and often irrelevant – constructs that they are.”

The Royal United Services Institute’s Knox Chitiyo says the relationship between Europe and Africa has moved beyond “handouts and hoopla” and the “scramble for Africa.” In fact, he believes we are now seeing the beginning of “Africa’s scramble for the world.” Now that Africa can boast some of the world’s fastest growing economies, Chitiyo says Europe needs its southern neighbour in order to dig out of its recession.

Washington-based economist Thomas Palley makes the case for a global minimum wage to counteract “globalization’s undermining of the income generation process.” Palley does not suggest introducing a rich-country level of wage floor to poor countries, but rather “establishing a global set of rules for setting country minimum wages.” Rather than calculating specific wage levels that would then rise with inflation, he proposes agreeing on a fixed percentage of median wages that would vary according to national and regional economic conditions. “Just as globalization demands global trade rules for goods and services and global financial rules for financial markets, so too labor markets need global rules,” Palley argues.

Recapping the events of last week’s Arms Trade Treaty negotiations, Transparency International’s representatives at the meetings say they are “delighted” by the apparent broad support – from investors, industry and governments – for including anti-corruption language in the agreement. And Oxfam’s Scott Stedjan refutes US gun lobby objections to the proposed treaty, saying an ATT would have “no impact on the Second Amendment freedoms.”

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