Latest Developments, January 26

In the latest news and analysis…

Tax breaks
Reuters reports that iron ore exports could propel Sierra Leone to 51.4 percent GDP growth in 2012, but the extent to which the country’s people will benefit may depend as much on two UK-based companies as on the government.
“Sierra Leone adopted a new mining law in 2009 designed to improve the state share of the country’s resource wealth by raising royalty rates. Previous legislation also established a tax rate of 37.5 percent for mining companies.
Both London Mining and African Minerals obtained substantial tax discounts in their contracts and are paying well below the percentages outlined, even after London Mining’s accord was renegotiated.

‘The limited tax contribution from the mining companies has huge implications for poor people in Sierra Leone,’ Danish watchdog DanWatch said in a recent report.”

Mining denial
The National Post is the first Canadian newspaper to report on last week’s death of a Mexican protester near a Canadian-owned mine, which Fortuna Silver says had nothing to do with its operations.
“A spokeswoman for the Canadian group MiningWatch criticized the company’s position.
‘There has been conflict over this project and worries over potential impacts on local water supplies for several years,’ said Jen Moore.
‘Instead of trying to deny any responsibility, the company should work to help diminish tensions.’ ”

Human-free bombing
The Los Angeles Times reports that the US Navy is testing a new drone that “has no pilot anywhere,” a development that raises a number of ethical questions.
“ ‘Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability,’ said Noel Sharkey, a computer scientist and robotics expert. ‘This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military’s acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?’
Sharkey and others believe that autonomous armed robots should force the kind of dialogue that followed the introduction of mustard gas in World War I and the development of atomic weapons in World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the group tasked by the Geneva Conventions to protect victims in armed conflict, is already examining the issue.”

Chevron lawyers up
The Am Law Daily reports oil giant Chevron has disclosed that it is employing “no fewer than 39 law firms” to defend itself against a multi-billion dollar lawsuit over pollution in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
“By the Ecuadorian plaintiffs’ count (which we did not verify), Chevron employs close to 500 outside lawyers or paralegals to counter their claims.

According to the plaintiffs’ unverified count, Chevron lists 60 lawyers from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher alone. The plaintiffs estimate that Gibson Dunn charged Chevron $250 million in 2010, and the same amount again in 2011, but they don’t explain their calculations. This number seems at least two times too high, since according to The American Lawyer‘s published figures Gibson Dunn’s total litigation billings in 2010 were approximately $595 million.”

Genocide denial
In the wake of the recent report by a French judge on the events that triggered the Rwandan genocide, freelance journalist Julie Owono calls for France to re-examine its role in “the first genocide in Africa of the 20th century” perpetrated against the Bamileke people of western Cameroon in the early 1960s.
“Much less about this is known however, since the archives detailing direct French involvement remain under the seal of secrecy by the French state. The recent publication of a journalistic and historical thesis by two French journalists and a Cameroonian historian, recounts in detail the war by France on the edge of the independence of Cameroon to impose the first president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, to a population which in a majority supported the Cameroonian Independence Party, testimony in support of survivors of the massacres and actors, as well as the paradoxically more accessible archives of the Cameroonian army, and has gradually begun to open the wall of silence in which the French authorities had sealed the question of this genocide.
The answer given by French Prime Minister François during his official visit in Yaounde in 2009 might therefore attest the same memoricide will: ‘I absolutely deny that the French forces were involved in anything related to murder in Cameroon. All this is pure invention.’ ”

Counterintuitive capital movements
The London School of Economics’ Keyu Jin wonders why it is that “capital-scarce (and young) developing countries” are exporting rather than importing capital that they need for consumption and investment.
“China is a case in point. With its current-account surplus averaging 5.5% of GDP in 2000-2008, China has become one of the world’s largest lenders. Despite its rapid growth and promising investment opportunities, the country has persistently been sending a significant portion of its savings overseas.
And China is not alone. Other emerging markets – including Brazil, Russia, India, Mexico, Argentina, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Middle Eastern oil exporters – have all increased their current-account surpluses significantly since the early 1990’s. Collectively, capital-scarce developing countries are lending to capital-abundant advanced economies.”

Disputed hunger figures
The Guardian’s Claire Provost looks critically at the Food and Agriculture Organization’s oft repeated estimate that there a billion hungry people in the world, a figure from which even the UN body is distancing itself.
“Unfortunately, little of the uncertainty surrounding global hunger estimates is ever reported alongside the emotive, top-line figures.

While the FAO hunger indicator has long dominated discussions, it is not the only way to measure food insecurity. Over the years, it has been criticised on many fronts: for the poor quality of underlying data; for the focus on calorie intake, without consideration of proteins, vitamins and minerals; and for the emphasis on availability – rather than affordability, accessibility or actual use – of food. Some say we’d be better off focusing on improving household consumption surveys, opinion polls, and direct measures of height and body weight.”

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