Latest Developments, September 24

In the latest news and analysis…

Wage battle
Al Jazeera reports that protests continue in Bangladesh where garment workers are demanding an increase in the monthly minimum wage from $38 to $100:

“Western corporations that rely on Bangladeshi labor to make much of the clothing sold in their stores, including Wal-Mart, Gap and Macy’s, appeared reluctant to comment publicly on the protests — decisions that were criticized by labor-rights activists.
‘If the corporations were to send a clear message that they are willing to pay higher prices to manufacturers so they can pay higher wages to workers, that could have a real influence on negotiations,’ said Liana Foxvog, director of organizing at the International Labor Rights Forum, a U.S.-based group that advocates for workers in countries like Bangladesh.
But that’s unlikely to happen, Foxvog said.”

Serval omission
Le Mamouth blogger Jean-Marc Tanguy writes that the French military “surely forgot”, in its new detailed list of all the ammunition it has fired in Mali, to mention what actually got hit:

“…French soldiers fired 34,000 small-caliber rounds. 58 missiles were also launched, and Caesar howitzers contributed 753 shots. AMX-10RCR tanks chimed in with 80 shots and VBCI infantry fighting vehicles, nicknamed the ‘Saint Bernards of the desert’ spat out 1,250 25mm rounds.
Helicopters reportedly fired 3,500 shells and fighter jets dropped 250 bombs.” [Translated from the French.]

Laundered oil
Reuters reports that “much of the proceeds” from Nigeria’s stolen oil, estimated to cost the country $5 billion a year in lost revenue, are being laundered in the US and UK:

While oil majors like Royal Dutch Shell and Italy’s Eni are often the first to complain about theft, it is unclear how much they are losing from it. A measure of acceptable losses may be keeping them from taking determined preventive action, the [Chatham House] report said. Oil firms do not pay royalties on stolen oil.
‘Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale. Proceeds are laundered through world financial centres and used to buy assets in and outside Nigeria,’ said the 70-page report, entitled ‘Nigeria’s Criminal Crude’.

The report named the United States, Britain, Dubai, Indonesia, India, Singapore and Switzerland as likely money-laundering hotspots, and the United States, Brazil, China, Thailand, Indonesia and the Balkans as the most likely destination for stolen oil.

Looming coup
The New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch and UN Dispatch’s Mark Goldberg debate via Twitter the proper course of action should Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, pay a visit to UN headquarters in New York:

Goldberg: “Genocide is a uniquely horrid crime. Arresting Bashir if he comes to NYC should trump other diplomatic considerations ‪”
Gourevitch: “If US were to carry out Sudan coup d’état as you advocate, should the US then be held responsible for consequences in Sudan?”
Goldberg: “The USA would be executing the [UN Security Council’s] will when it referred the case to the ICC.”
Gourevitch: “That avoids my serious question. You call for decapitating regime – do you. Say what happens as result is irrelevant?”
Goldberg: “but yes, I do believe the int’l community bears some responsibility for helping w/ a smooth transition”
Gourevitch: “Right, it’s no simple legal/moral matter. It’s a colossal political act w/colossal political consequences & not so obvious.”

Dropping H-bombs
The Guardian reports on new evidence suggesting that US President John F. Kennedy came much closer to nuking America than any Soviet leader ever did:

“The bombs fell to earth after a B-52 bomber broke up in mid-air, and one of the devices behaved precisely as a nuclear weapon was designed to behave in warfare: its parachute opened, its trigger mechanisms engaged, and only one low-voltage switch prevented untold carnage.
Each bomb carried a payload of 4 megatons – the equivalent of 4 million tons of TNT explosive. Had the device detonated, lethal fallout could have been deposited over Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and as far north as New York city – putting millions of lives at risk.”

Cultural divide
Intellectual Property Watch reports on the resumption of UN debate over a possible international agreement on the relationship between intellectual property and “genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore”

“This has been a prickly issue, as a majority of developing countries would like to have a binding legal instrument and a number of developed countries have resisted the idea of a binding instrument.

The European Union said it recognises the importance of the work of the committee and ‘looks forward to establishing a work programme’ but with the understanding that any international instrument be non-binding, flexible and sufficiently clear. There is no agreement on the nature of the instrument, the delegate of Lithuania said on behalf of the group.”

Less is more
The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York asks if the absence of foreign aid has strengthened democracy in the breakaway republic of Somaliland:

“Somaliland’s government survives on taxation revenue, which, in turn, requires a degree of political accountability and transparency. In contrast, there are 16 countries in sub-Saharan Africa where foreign aid is so massive that it equals more than half of government spending.
‘If these aid levels damage the quality of governance in recipient countries – as Somaliland’s experience suggests they may – then it might be the case that, in the long run, less money may actually do more good,’ [Stanford University’s Nicholas] Eubank wrote in a blog post.”

Resource curse
UN expert on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya argues that “economic development”, as conceived by most governments and corporations, leads all too often to the loss of self-determination and culture for those who live off the land:

“In the case of indigenous peoples, their connections to the land invariably have a longer history than the government deciding what to do with the land. According to the Rights and Resources Initiative, ownership of roughly one-half of the global south is contested, directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of over two billion people. This is no surprise, since over sixty percent of the developing world’s forests are administered by governments – who all too often give it away for pennies per hectare, for the sake of ‘quick-fix’ development.”

Latest Developments, April 15

In the latest news and analysis…

Ocampo out
Reuters reports that former Colombian finance minister Jose Antonio Ocampo has dropped out of the race to become the next World Bank president, leaving only two candidates “in an unprecedented challenge to U.S. control of the global development institution”.
“With the board of the World Bank to meet on Monday to pick a new president, Ocampo said he hoped emerging-market nations would rally behind Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in a race that he said had turned highly political.

While Kim is still the favorite to win the World Bank presidency due to backing from the United States and European countries, a rigorous challenge from developing countries could put them in a stronger position to extract concessions.”

Bad diet
The Guardian reports on new research suggesting the fertilizers used to provide people in wealthy countries with their meat-heavy diets are contributing substantially to climate change.
“It’s arguably the most difficult challenge in dealing with climate change: how to reduce emissions from food production while still producing enough to feed a global population projected to reach 9 billion by the middle of this century.
The findings, by Eric Davidson, director of the Woods Hole Research Centre in Massachusetts, say the developed world will have to cut fertiliser use by 50% and persuade consumers in the developed world to stop eating so much meat.”

Fallujah’s legacy
Inter Press Service reports on the high number of birth defects in Fallujah, the scene of heavy fighting between US forces and Iraqi insurgents in the last decade.
“According to a study released by the Switzerland-based International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in July 2010, ‘the increases in cancer, leukaemia and infant mortality and perturbations of the normal human population birth sex ratio in Fallujah are significantly greater than those reported for the survivors of the A-Bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.’

Other than the white phosphorus, many point to depleted uranium (DU), a radioactive element which, according to military engineers, significantly increases the penetration capacity of shells. DU is believed to have a life of 4.5 billion years, and it has been labelled the ‘silent murderer that never stops killing.’ Several international organisations have called on NATO to investigate whether DU was also used during the Libyan war.

SNC-Lavalin raid
The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian police have raided the headquarters of scandal-ridden engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, though the reasons for the action have not been disclosed.
“Friday’s raid was the second time in six months that RCMP officials have descended with search warrants on the company, which gained an international reputation as one of the world’s leading engineering firms but is now grappling with scandals, executive departures, questions about its business ethics and allegations of involvement in a plot to help a son of Moammar Gadhafi escape from Libya.

Investigations into SNC’s conduct are under way in Canada, Bangladesh, India, Mexico and Libya. SNC has also conducted an internal probe into allegations that $56-million in improper payments went to commercial agents to help secure construction contracts in unnamed countries.”

Extractive land grabs
The Gaia Foundation’s Teresa Anderson writes about a new study that suggests the oil, gas and mining industries are increasingly responsible for so-called land grabs in poor countries.
“The extractive industries have grown significantly in the last 10 years, due to changes in consumption patterns, and a throwaway culture where regular technology upgrades are considered the norm. In the last 10 years, exploration budgets have increased nine-fold, from 2 billion to 18 billion dollars.

Today, copper extraction requires the removal of 10 times as much earth as 100 years ago. A single gold wedding ring requires 20 tonnes of earth. Technological developments have enabled extraction from hard-to-reach deposits, as seen with the development of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ for shale gas deposits. In South Africa, a consortium of international investors has applied for the rights to drill for shale gas for a section covering around 10 per cent of the country’s surface.”

Aid measurement
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie and Annalisa Prizzon make the case for “aid as a proportion of the economy” as a new way of classifying countries.
“The 0.7% target is an important symbol, but it can obscure the focus on what’s really important, which is not the proportion of donor income given in aid, but the proportion of the recipient economy depending on it. High levels of aid, while sometimes necessary in the short term, are increasingly viewed as antithetical to development in the longer term.”

Drone coverage
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting’s Peter Hart takes issue with American media coverage of the Pakistani parliament’s recent  vote for an end to US drone strikes.
“The Washington Post’s account of this news included this curious observation:
‘From Washington’s perspective, the debate in Parliament was a healthy exercise in democracy but one that is unlikely to affect the drone war. The military leaders of both nations see the drones as efficient and effective in eliminating hard-core Islamic militants that plague both the U.S. and Pakistani armies.’
I know that the Post is merely conveying ‘Washington’s perspective,’ but let’s think about this for a second. A sign of a healthy democracy is one where civilian political leadership has no power over the military–either in its own country or a nominal ally launching air attacks on its soil?”

Bottoming out
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead asks “at what point does the ‘race to the bottom’ bottom out” when it comes to international tax competition.
“While [the Cato Institute’s Dan Mitchell] argues tax competition through tax evasion in havens has fostered lower tax rates worldwide, he has also reckoned that ‘only a tiny minority’ of people who keep their money in havens ‘are escaping onerous tax burdens.’ First of all, I would be interested to see where Mitchell got that statistic because no one knows how much money is deposited in havens, let alone its origins. Such information isn’t publicly available. That’s actually the whole point. And secondly, and more importantly, I’m unclear on how such a ‘tiny minority’ of oversees deposits could drive international tax policy to such an extent that the average corporate tax rates have dropped by more than half in thirty years.”

Latest Developments, November 30

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid’s latest agenda
The Busan aid effectiveness summit has produced the final version of its outcome document which is chock-full of general promises on the future of “development co-operation.”
“We can and must improve and accelerate our efforts. We commit to modernise, deepen and broaden our co‐operation, involving state and non‐state actors that wish to shape an agenda that has until recently been dominated by a narrower group of development actors. In Busan, we forge a new global development partnership that embraces diversity and recognises the distinct roles that all stakeholders in co‐operation can play to support development.”

Perceived corruption
Transparency International has released the 2011 edition of its Corruption Perceptions Index, a ranking of 183 country/territory public sectors which places New Zealand at the top and Somalia and North Korea tied at the bottom.
“This year we have seen corruption on protestors’ banners be they rich or poor. Whether in a Europe hit by debt crisis or an Arab world starting a new political era, leaders must heed the demands for better government,” according to Transparency International’s Huguette Labelle.

Justice over reconciliation
Al Jazeera reports the International Criminal Court’s planned prosecution of former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo is doing little to promote reconciliation in the troubled West African nation.
“As both camps [in Cote d’Ivoire’s recent conflict] traded blame, global human rights groups have warned that any prosecution focused solely on Gbagbo and not those of his rival, Ouattara, could threaten national stability.
Francis Dako, the African co-ordinator at the Coalition for the ICC, urged the court to prosecute both.
‘A decision to go after the defeated president alone at this point is likely to be explosive on the ground,’ he said.”

Development priorities
Bloomberg reports that US-based Newmont Mining has halted construction at a Peruvian gold deposit in response to violence between police and farmers worried the project will threaten their water supply.
“‘We can’t allow Peruvians to be taken hostage by groups that just preach violence,’ Pedro Martinez, president of the National Society of Mining, Petroleum & Energy, told reporters in Lima today. ‘Without peace there will be no development.’
Deputy Environment Minister Jose de Echave resigned yesterday to protest the government’s backing for the project, which seeks to produce 680,000 ounces of gold and 235 million pounds of copper annually.”

Bad faith
The Wall Street Journal reports on a UK parliamentary committee’s condemnation of defense contractor BAE Systems for its behaviour following a $400 million settlement reached over foreign bribery charges.
“BAE settled with the [UK’s Serious Fraud Office] in February 2010 over allegations that it concealed bribes paid in connection with a contract for an air-traffic control system in Tanzania. The defense contractor agreed to give GBP29.5 million back to the Tanzanian people as a part of the settlement, but failed to make payments to the country months after the deal was finalized. The delay prompted the hearing.

‘The way that BAE has handled this whole process has been quite shoddy,’ Committee Chairman Malcolm Bruce said in a news release. ‘Dragging it out this way has needlessly created the impression that BAE was acting in bad faith. The company should have paid up much sooner.’”

Inter-generational thinking
Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu and former Irish president Mary Robinson call on international leaders to begin negotiating a legal agreement on climate change that would go further than the soon-to-be-expired Kyoto Protocol.
“Climate change is a matter of justice. The richest countries caused the problem, but it is the world’s poorest who are already suffering from its effects. In Durban, the international community must commit to righting that wrong.
Political leaders must think inter-generationally. They need to imagine the world of 2050, with its nine billion people, and take the right decisions now to ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a liveable world.”

Aid power
The International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development’s Don Marut writes about aid dependence and lists some of the pressures he believes underlie its perpetuation in Southeast Asia’s most populous country.
“Second, foreign aid is a way and tool for the developed countries and international financial institutions to control the recipient countries. The House of Representatives heard that there were 63 laws that had been drafted by foreign consultants.
These works are part of foreign aid in the form of technical cooperation or program support, whether they are in the form of loans or grants.
Indonesia is a country with an abundance of natural resources and has a strategic position in terms of global geopolitics.
Developed countries cannot just allow Indonesia to freely use up its resources. Aid is a soft way of controlling the policies of recipient countries, including Indonesia. The more the aid flows, the greater the control the foreign power has.”

Fighting fair
Embassy magazine’s Scott Taylor argues there is a point at which technological inequality in a military context becomes a question of morality.
“Responding to the question of whether NATO could be implicated for potential war crimes in Libya, [Lt.-Gen. Charles] Bouchard insisted his pilots had taken all possible precautions to avoid hitting civilians.
The example he provided was an incident whereby two NATO warplanes circled a Gaddafi loyalist anti-aircraft site for two hours, waiting for a nearby soccer game to end before they attacked.
If your technological advantage over the enemy allows you to hover for two hours with impunity over an air defence system before destroying it at your leisure, that is not really war, it’s murder. If a world champion boxer climbed into the ring against a blind paraplegic in a wheelchair and proceeded to pound the hapless victim to death, we would not consider it a sport.”

Latest Developments, September 13

In the latest news and analysis…

Moving beyond aid
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie writes about the significance of a new ActionAid report that suggests aid dependence is declining in poor countries.
“As bilateral aid gradually reduces in importance as a development issue, it feels a bit like stepping into the unknown. We all know that trade, climate change, tax evasion and a host of other issues are more important, but somehow aid is manageable, deliverable, known. We don’t really know what will happen on the bigger issues, with so many powerful interests at play. All the more reason for the NGOs to accelerate their shift away from being aid agencies and towards being true development agencies.”

Role reversal
The Globe and Mail’s Kevin Carmichael writes about the possibility that the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will come up with a “modern-day Marshall Plan” to help fix Europe’s staggering economies.
“This is a noteworthy development, coming only days after finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of Seven industrial nations failed to instill financial markets with confidence that the world’s established powers have things in hand. After spending much of the past year pointing fingers at the U.S. Federal Reserve and various G7 legislatures, the big emerging markets might finally have come to the conclusion that they have a more positive role to play in stabilizing the global economy.”

A new World Development Movement report places much of the blame for record food prices on “broken” financial markets and calls on the UK government to support European efforts to rein in speculation.
“Financial players including banks like Goldman Sachs and Barclays have taken over food markets, says the World Development Movement’s report, with the total assets of financial speculators in these markets nearly doubling from $65 billion to $126 billion in the last five years. Not a single penny of this has been invested in agriculture.”

The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny argues eating local, organic food is bad for the world’s poor and says people in wealthy countries should strive to become “cosmovores” who consume food from around the world.
“So how should you eat as a responsible global citizen? Consume less meat and oppose Western farm-subsidy programs — especially if they focus on livestock. Campaign against U.S. biofuel programs, which divert corn into grossly inefficient energy production. Embrace further testing and analysis of GM crops. Encourage public funding of research and intellectual property laws that ensure that poor farmers are not priced out of the potential benefits of GM seeds. Spend only on organic food that is as energy- and land-efficient as conventional production. And be a smart consumer: Local produce grown out of season and meat raised on imported feed isn’t friendly to you, the environment, or the developing world.”

The Christian Science Monitor reports foreign mining companies are outraged by new Guinean legislation that aims to give the government greater access to resource-extraction profits.
“The new law would allow Guinea to purchase rights of up to 35 percent of all money made off their mines and to hike export taxes on mineral shipments. It was the keystone of President Alpha Condé’s campaign, last year, to become Guinea’s first democratically elected leader after five decades of misrule by dictators.”

Arms trade
Two US senators have introduced bipartisan legislation that would risk China’s ire by requiring the sale of at least 66 fighter jets to Taiwan.
“This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas

International justice
The International Criminal Court, which has only taken on cases involving Africa up to this point, is being asked to consider a complaint against the Vatican for its role in sexual abuse scandals.
“Human rights lawyers and victims of clergy sexual abuse filed a complaint on Tuesday urging the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate and prosecute Pope Benedict XVI and three top Vatican officials for crimes against humanity for what they described as abetting and covering up the rape and sexual assault of children by priests.”

Princeton ethicist Peter Singer writes about his recent visit to Bhutan and what he learned about the country’s experiment with gross national happiness.
“We may agree that our goal ought to be promoting happiness, rather than income or gross domestic product, but, if we have no objective measure of happiness, does this make sense? John Maynard Keynes famously said: “I would rather be vaguely right than precisely wrong.” He pointed out that when ideas first come into the world, they are likely to be woolly, and in need of more work to define them sharply. That may be the case with the idea of happiness as the goal of national policy.”

An iPhone application playfully depicting the dark side of mobile technology briefly showed up on the Mac App Store before being removed.
“Developed by Molleindustria, the Phone Story game combines economics, politics and environmental awareness with play. The 8-bit inspired graphics trace the origins of our electronic devices from the coltan mines of the Congo to the labor conditions in Chinese factories. The tale ends in the West, where our desire for the latest gadgets drives a cycle of innovation, obsolescence and e-waste.”

Writing “This does not get old,” Africa is a Country’s Sean Jacobs posts the trailer for Machine Gun Preacher, a new film starring Gerard Butler as a violent criminal who finds God and decides to help the children of Sudan in his own inimitable way.
“ – I was thinking maybe I could go over there.
– Africa?
– I reckon they could do with all the help they can get.”

Latest Developments, June 28

In today’s news…

As expected, Christine Lagarde has become the new head of the International Monetary Fund. The position came up for grabs when her predecessor resigned after being charged with sexual assault. But Lagarde may not be above reproach either, as she is currently under investigation for her her involvement in a questionable legal settlement involving 403 million euros in public money.

In the US, the trial of businessmen caught in a sting trying to defraud the people of Gabon is a sign of an increased willingness to crack down on Americans who try to bribe foreign officials. At the same time, an unassuming house in Cheyenne, Wyoming suggests tax havens are not just islands in the Caribbean.

British Prime Minister David Cameron reminds us his government is taking the lead on aid transparency. So far, only 12 governments are signatories to the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Germany is the only other G8 country among them.

Britain also found itself in a minority position when its delegates recently opted not to support a proposed International Labour Organization convention aimed at protecting the rights of domestic workers. Although the motion passed, the US, Canada and the Netherlands made it clear that in spite of their votes of support, they were unlikely to ratify the convention.

Argentina is not the only G20 country struggling to tackle money laundering. Up to $15 billion is laundered annually in Canada. And new statistics show its police only manage to identify a suspect in 18 percent of money laundering cases and prosecutors secure a conviction in just a third of trials in which money laundering is the most serious charge.

A number of civil society organizations have signed an open letter calling for the UN to establish an international tax cooperation body, while Christian Aid’s Julian Boys blasts the International Accounting Standards Board for secrecy he argues harms both the world’s poor and the IASB’s own interests.

Libya says the International Criminal Court arrest warrants issued against Gadhafi and his sons end any possibility of a negotiated settlement to the current conflict, thereby providing additional ammunition for those who argue international justice in its current form may actually harm the cause of peace in Africa.

Despite much fretting in wealthy countries about perceived mass influxes of refugees, a new UN report shows 80 percent of the world’s refugees are in poor countries, with Pakistan, Iran and Syria leading the way. The findings prompted UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres to speak of a “worrying unfairness in the international protection paradigm.”

The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie, a vocal proponent of “beyond aid” thinking, writes about reducing aid dependence rather than reducing aid. The former requires replacing aid money with other sources of revenue. The article draws extensively from a recent talk by a Uganda Revenue Authority official who asks: “Is foreign aid to Africa promoting the strengthening of tax administration or simply having a substitution effect?”