Latest Developments, September 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Systemic change
In assessing the performance of Britain’s outgoing international development minister, the Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that “aid is not very important for development”:

“The aid effectiveness agenda has had some successes in turning the tide of donor arrogance and aligning external funds with domestic endeavours, but its lasting and unfortunate impact has been to divert the world’s attention towards technocratic tinkering and away from what really matters: systemic change.

Better regulation of companies and fairer trade with poorer nations has long since dropped from the agenda in favour of better terms for UK companies and investors. And does anyone remember climate change? Rather than focus on the major issues – sustainable development and poverty reduction – we are exhorted to focus on aid, sold as the generosity of a kind-hearted nation.”

Anti-bribery enforcement
Transparency International has released a new report assessing the commitment of the world’s richest countries to fighting foreign bribery:

“The report assesses the progress of 37 of the 39 countries signed up to the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery] Convention, placing them in four enforcement categories: Active, Moderate, Little and No enforcement.

Eighteen countries have little or no enforcement at all, having not yet brought any criminal charges for major cross-border corruption by companies. Together these countries represent 10 per cent of world exports. Only seven out of 37 countries are actively enforcing bribery law.”

Land-grab greenwash
A new report by the Oakland Institute looks at a US-owned company’s “strategy to deceive the public into believing that there is logic to cutting down rainforests to make room for palm oil plantations” in Cameroon:

“[SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon] is 100 percent owned by the American company Herakles Farms, an affiliate of Herakles Capital, which is an Africa-focused private investment firm involved in the telecommunications, energy, infrastructure, mining and agro-industrial sectors. The Chairman and CEO of Herakles Farms, Bruce Wrobel, is also the Chairman and Executive Director of All for Africa, a ‘development’ Non-Governmental Organization (NGO).

The expected negative social and environmental impacts of the plantation are numerous, including loss of livelihoods, small returns for local communities, and massive deforestation. The involvement of All for Africa, ostensibly a ‘development’ NGO, is deceptive. While partnering in the development of a plantation that will destroy existing and valuable tropical rainforest, All For Africa’s main stated goal, to plant one million trees for sustainability, does not match up with sustainable development goals.”

Torture revelations
Human Rights Watch has released a report containing new evidence on waterboarding and other forms of torture in CIA prisons, which suggests “just how little the public still knows about what went on in the US secret detention program”:

“The United States played the most extensive role in the abuses, but other countries, notably the United Kingdom, were also involved.

Five former [Libyan Islamist Fighting Group] members told Human Rights Watch that they were detained in US run-prisons in Afghanistan for between eight months and two years. The abuse allegedly included: being chained to walls naked – sometimes while diapered – in pitch dark, windowless cells, for weeks or months at a time; being restrained in painful stress positions for long periods of time, being forced into cramped spaces; being beaten and slammed into walls; being kept inside for nearly five months without the ability to bathe; being denied food and being denied sleep by continuous, deafeningly loud Western music, before being rendered back to Libya. The United States never charged them with crimes.”

Spill fallout
The Associated Press reports that local residents are claiming they have not received adequate help following a toxic spill at a Peruvian mine run by four global corporate giants:

“At least 350 Cajacay residents were sickened by the spill of 45 tons of copper concentrate, a mineral stew of volatile compounds. At least 69 were children.
The mine’s owner, Antamina, has not responded to repeated AP phone and email requests to identify the toxic components of the slurry and details on medical care it is providing for the spill victims. A document obtained by the newspaper La Republica shortly after the spill described the mixture as ‘highly toxic.’

Antamina is the world’s third-largest zinc mine and eighth-biggest producer of copper. It is owned by a consortium including Australia-based BHP Billiton Ltd., Xstrata of Switzerland, Teck-Cominco Ltd. of Canada and Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan.”

Hello to arms
Reuters reports that France may be considering supplying heavy artillery to rebel-held “liberated zones” in Syria:

“European powers have also said they will not supply weapons to lightly-armed Syrian rebels, who have few answers to attacks by Assad’s planes and helicopter gunships. However, the source implied there may be a shift in Paris’ thinking.
‘It’s not simple. There have been transfers of weapons which then ended up in different areas such as in the Sahel so all that means we need to work seriously, build a relationship of trust to see who is who so that then an eventual decision can be taken. It takes time,’ the source said.”

Forests for sale
Global Witness reports that “a quarter of Liberia’s total landmass has been granted to logging companies in just two years”:

“The new logging contracts – termed Private Use Permits – now cover 40 percent of Liberia’s forests and almost half of Liberia’s best intact forests.

Designed to allow private land owners to cut trees on their property, Private Use Permits are being used by companies to avoid Liberia’s carefully-crafted forest laws and regulations. Companies holding these permits are not required to log sustainably and pay little in compensation to either the Liberian Government or the people who own the forests for the right to export valuable tropical timber.”

Puntland guns
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that an Australian citizen with a shady past is helping to set up a large militia force that “fundamentally changes the balance of power in the north-east of Somalia” despite a UN arms embargo:

“[Lafras Luitingh] is using a string of companies registered around the world, but according to UN investigators, Australia plays a central part in their operations.
Australian records show Mr Luitingh registered the company – Australian African Global Investments – in 2006.
It has branches in South Africa, Uganda and other African countries and is involved in logistics, transport and chartering planes and ships.
The Australian company was registered by Taurus Financial Services in Sydney.”

Latest Developments, April 4

In the latest news and analysis…

Aid down
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development announced that 2011 marked the first time in 14 years that aid from its member countries had decreased.
“In 2011, members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD provided USD 133.5 billion of net official development assistance (ODA), representing 0.31 per cent of their combined gross national income (GNI). This was a -2.7 % drop in real terms compared to 2010, the year it reached its peak. This decrease reflects fiscal constraints in several DAC countries which have affected their ODA budgets.”

Transfer pricing
Reuters reports Brazilian tax authorities have announced new regulations regarding billions of dollars worth of intra-company trade by transnational corporations.
“Under new rules, the Brazilian units of companies such as Bunge, Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, Glencore and Noble must value transactions with overseas units of the same company using international price benchmarks, said Sandro Serpa, a top enforcement official at Brazil’s Federal tax authority.
The measures are aimed at ending “price manipulation” of inter-company imports and exports that allow multi-national companies to evade local taxes, he said.”

Landmine talk
Human Rights Watch points out that while the US has condemned Syria’s use of landmines, America has yet to join the ban on the weapons.
“The United States is not a party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits antipersonnel landmines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. Yet the US already follows most of the treaty’s key provisions and has condemned new use of landmines by others. On March 14, US Ambassador Susan Rice and the State Department both described reports of Syria’s use of antipersonnel mines on its borders with Lebanon and Turkey as ‘horrific.’

Until the current policy review is completed, the 2004 Bush policy remains in place, permitting the US to use self-destructing, self-deactivating antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world. In accordance with this policy, the US no longer uses antipersonnel mines that do not self-destruct – sometimes called ‘persistent’ or ‘dumb’ mines – anywhere in the world, including in Korea.”

Indigenous IP rights
The Washington Post reports that a DC-based law firm has launched a “first-of-its-kind practice” that combines intellectual property and human rights.
“Spearheaded by founding director and veteran attorney Jorge Goldstein, who specializes in health sciences, the pro bono practice aims to use patent and copyright laws to help indigenous groups in developing countries protect and leverage their right to native or regional intellectual property — such as medicinal plants, artwork and designs — that often get co-opted, patented and sold by multinational corporations, including pharmaceutical companies.”

Intervention doctrine
Manuela Picq, most recently a visiting professor and research fellow at Amherst College, draws a direct line between today’s political ethics and the 15th Century Vatican doctrine of discovery that called for enslavement of non-Christians and occupation of their lands.
“The discourse that rationalised the colonisation of the Americas in the sake of Christianity is the same that justifies protecting human rights in Iraq or privatising water supplies for the sake of development.

Dominant cultures continue to intervene in the autonomy of indigenous peoples. This continuum is proof that the doctrine of intervention did not die with formal processes of decolonisation, adapting to new zeitgeists like a chameleon.
The practice of conquest, more diverse than often assumed, needs to be reconceived as a global political challenge that concerns us all rather than as a mere cultural concern discussed in indigenous forums. It is the international system that is at stake. Universalism cannot be exported, much less imposed. It is a collective practice.”

White guilt
The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny writes that people in wealthy countries hold views that “would make [Rudyard] Kipling proud” and are “positively harmful” to both rich and poor countries.
“A recent study in Britain suggested that the dominant image of developing countries remains ‘malnutrition and pot-bellied young children desperate for help with flies on their faces.’ Perhaps that’s not surprising when a survey by journalist Marlon Miller looking at ten years of Africa coverage by major U.S. print media found the most common topic of articles was conflict, corruption, and crime. Or when well-intentioned efforts to mobilize support for famine relief or bringing war criminals to justice in Africa tend to emphasize the worst of the continent and play up the role of outsiders.”

The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie criticizes the “limited nature of development inquiry” that tends to focus on results and cost effectiveness to the virtual exclusion of other considerations.
“So while the Bank’s own evaluators (generally reckoned to be well-equipped and relatively independent) say that 59% of country assistance strategies are completed satisfactorily, the really interesting question is how many of those helped the country rather than hindered it. While Bank advice has helped some countries achieve development, there is no doubt it has done the opposite in others – the evidence is overwhelming. That makes the 59% number meaningless in terms of what it tells us about actual poverty reduction. But it fulfils the requirement of being a number, and will therefore be used in countless powerpoint presentations.”

IFI criticism
Inter Press Service reports on calls by NGOs for international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to practice what they preach when it comes to transparency and accountability, and to alter their traditional policy prescriptions which critics deem harmful to the world’s poor.
“Other groups, such as the Europe Corporate Observatory, raise similar complaints against the Bank and the IMF, for supporting free trade agreements (FTAs) with developing countries, which obviously damage local public health initiatives and food provision.
The most salient case is the European FTA with India, slated to come into force this year, which would force the Indian pharmaceutical industry to cease producing inexpensive generic medications to treat contagious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, which most of the developing world is dependent on as a cheap alternative to patented drugs.”

Latest Developments, July 27

In the latest news and analysis…

The UK has recognized the Libyan rebels as “the sole governmental authority in Libya” and unfrozen $150 million in oil revenues, measures the Gadhafi regime has termed “irresponsible” and “illegal.” On the other hand, the British and French seem to be opening the door for Gadhafi to stay in Libya as long as he gives up power, a position that is not popular with the International Criminal Court. Referring to the ICC’s insistence on Gadhafi’s arrest as “a monkey wrench into the diplomatic machinery,” James Dorsey says “it may well help to make the irony of the need for humanitarian help for Qaddafi-held areas of Libya that result from the international community’s own actions a reality.”

A power struggle appears to be underway between members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – a group of 34 rich countries that includes none of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – and those on the outside over who gets to set global tax rules. The rich countries believe the OECD should retain that privilege, while their opponents want to see an increased role for the UN’s Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters. In a blog update, one of the authors of the Guardian piece wrote: “According to preliminary indications, things haven’t gone very well in Geneva this afternoon for developing countries – but we await further information.”

Greenpeace Argentina has released a report (in Spanish) accusing Canada’s Barrick Gold of destroying glaciers in Argentina and Chile and flouting national environmental laws in the process. Daniel Whalen of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs suggests such behaviour by Canadian mining companies is all too common. Given that Canada’s mining industry is the largest in the world, he argues “it is imperative that Ottawa hold its industries accountable to some approximation of environmental and human rights standards, both at home and abroad.”

Vedanta Resources, an Indian mining company which has its head office and is traded in London, faced protests at its annual general meeting over alleged human rights and environmental abuses, as well as its plans to set up an open-pit bauxite mine in an area considered sacred by local indigenous people. Among those protesting was asset manager Aviva Investors, “a small but vocal shareholder whose move to join the protest marks a more activist stance from institutional investors on social issues,” according to a Reuters report.

Diageo, the world’s biggest maker of spirits, has agreed to a settlement over American allegations it paid $2.7 million in bribes to officials in India, Thailand and South Korea to improve whiskey sales and get tax breaks. “Without admitting or denying the charges, Diageo agreed to desist from further violations and pay $11.3 million in disgorgement, $2.1 million in prejudgment interest and a $3 million penalty,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network has released a statement decrying proposed budget cuts to the US Agency for International Development and the State Department it claims would “roll back the huge progress that has been achieved in making U.S. foreign assistance more effective and accountable, impeding ongoing efforts to ensure that taxpayer dollars are getting into the hands of people who need our help.”  Meanwhile, New York University’s Richard Gowan warns that aid “retrenchment” is likely to become the norm in Europe over the next few years. “The question is whether this will be smart retrenchment – with governments, NGOs and international organizations actually working out how to introduce sensible reductions, evaluate what works, etc. – or a poorly-coordinated set of budget cuts justified by vague appeals to “the need for austerity”.”  Answering his own question, Gowan says all signs point to the latter.

Jonathan Glennie writes in the Guardian the English language has moved beyond “aid” – the preferred term is now “development cooperation” – but he is not convinced the shift represents more than semantics. “Rich countries (old and new) will still make decisions based on a mix of interest, ideology and altruism, just as they always have; it will take more than a progressive declaration to change the power mechanisms inherent in international relations.” Moreover, he points out that aid discourse over the last half decade has focused increasingly on efficiencies and cost cutting and he worries the new linguistic shift could mean it would no longer be only “aid concepts that are colonised and techno-fied, but the broader development agenda.”

Similarly, development experts Stephen Brown and John Sinclair point out the Canadian International Development Agency’s new open data initiative provides access to aid inputs but not to the outputs. So, for example, one can see how much money Canada gave to Haiti following last year’s earthquake, but not the actual impacts of those hundreds of millions of dollars. “If the government wants to show it is fully committed to aid transparency,” the authors argue, “it will join the International Aid Transparency Initiative. This would involve much more than quantitative information on some very selective inputs—it would also require more complete data on participating organizations, activities and budgets, as well as public access to actual documentation—all downloadable from the CIDA website.”

The Center for Global Development’s Charles Kenny walks his readers through the arbitrariness of World Bank country income classification and suggests an “attempt to make the income and [International Development Association] thresholds actually reflect something about the nature of countries independent of their relationship to the World Bank and its arcane concerns with civil works preference.”

As the Canadian government deliberates over setting appropriate immigration levels, the Embassy Magazine’s Jim Creskey supports the idea, put forth in a new book, “that Western governments should simply accept the inevitable and open their borders” and he argues for “putting the very important idea of people first before the abstract idea of national borders.”