Latest Developments, July 25

In the latest news and analysis…

The UN will hold a donors conference in Nairobi on Wednesday to try to raise $1.6 billion for drought assistance in the Horn of Africa and is looking into allegations that some of its officials are demanding money in exchange for food in refugee camps there. Former US ambassador to neighbouring Ethiopia, David Shinn, lays out some of the obstacles to helping in Somalia, including Al Shabab’s dislike of foreign aid agencies and US policy that is fixated on not helping the Islamist group in any way. A pair of Chatham House experts hold a similar view: “Both parties bear responsibility for treating emergency aid as a political tool.”

The Guardian’s Simon Bowers reports the UK’s Serious Fraud Office is allotting more resources to investigating overseas bribery cases than to fraud schemes hatched in London’s financial offices, “raising concerns that tackling the very biggest UK fraud cases may be slipping as the agency’s top priority.”

Mike Koehler, aka the FCPA Professor, looks at the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s facilitating payments exception, arguing the provision, which allows small “grease payments” to foreign officials, is wrongly being ignored by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission: “If Congress wants to remove the facilitating payment exception from the FCPA, let Congress do that, not the enforcement agencies through its charging decisions.” Similarly, a Washington Post headline decries the fact that US companies don’t know “whom to bribe.”

Al Jazeera reports on Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining’s El Dorado mine in El Salvador which is reportedly shut down at present due to ongoing protests.“Recent murders and death threats against activists in the region have put the spotlight on the gold mining project there,” according to the report. Pacific Rim, for its part, insists it has done nothing wrong and is itself the victim of unscrupulous tactics: “Despite our consistently professional behavior throughout our time in El Salvador and investigations clearing us of any involvement, we are again being maliciously and falsely tied to a horrible act for the third time,” according to a statement posted on the company website.

Despite continued rumblings within South Africa’s African National Congress about nationalizing mines, Anglo American Platinum, the world’s biggest platinum producer says the government simply does not have the money to follow through.

Declaring “the future of the global economy lies in the hands of poor countries,” Harvard economist Dani Rodrik looks at the long-term growth prospects of these states to see whether we are headed toward a newly egalitarian economic world order. His conclusion: probably not. “Ultimately, greater convergence in the post-crisis global economy appears inevitable. But a large reversal in the fortunes of rich and poor countries seems neither economically likely, nor politically feasible.”

Colombian ambassador to London Mauricio Rodríguez argues no option should be left off the table in the search for a completely new approach to fighting the global drug trade. One key element, he says, is to follow the money: “Let’s be serious about where the big money is. If you look at the trail of cocaine, you’ll find that 5% of the profits remain in the producing countries; 95% is in the distribution networks and laundered. The big money is in the big banks in the big countries; the big money is in the US, Europe and Asia.”

Fox News’s Oliver North recounts his conversation with a young man who asks him what he intends to do “once ‘The Empire’ bans your shotguns,” in reference to negotiations on the UN-sponsored Arms Trade Treaty that would regulate the international transfer of conventional weapons without interfering with “the right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownership, exclusively within their territory.” The piece ends with the two men, anxious about their guns but filled with mutual admiration, parting ways: “When he got into his truck, I noticed his license plate: Massachusetts. Home of Paul Revere, John Adams, John Hancock. When an empire struck at Americans in 1775, they knew what to do. Let’s hope we still do.”

Howard Berman, a member of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, makes the case for his efforts to modernize American foreign assistance. He says the changes he will propose this fall include “reforms in the areas of conflict prevention and mitigation, human rights and democracy, security assistance, and trade and investment programs.”  Berman points out the current legislation is 50 years old and better suited to the Cold War than today’s world. “In this tight budget environment, one thing that can unite Democrats and Republicans is a commitment to make our foreign assistance programs more efficient and more effective.  We may have differing views on how much aid to provide and to which countries, but we should all agree to deliver aid in a way that reaches the intended beneficiaries and achieves its desired objectives.” But the University of Ottawa’s Stephen Brown has argued that, while most can agree on the desirability of making aid more effective, “the definition of what constitutes effectiveness and the choice of means to promote it are highly debatable.”

A Globe and Mail piece entitled “When business charity goes wrong,” uses the example of iwearyourshirt.com as a cautionary tale about the potentially disastrous consequences of acting on good intentions without doing one’s homework first.

Inter Press Service’s Thalif Deen looks at how much progress has been made since last July’s UN resolution making water and sanitation a human right. The answer, according to those he interviews, is not much.

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