Latest Developments, September 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Reforms held up
Inter Press Service reports that the International Monetary Fund has warned of delays in reforming its voting system which is currently weighted heavily in favour of the US and European members:

“According to the IMF, based here in Washington, these reforms are aimed specifically at ‘enhancing the voice and representation of emerging market and developing countries, including the poorest’, and are supposed to be formally agreed upon by January 2013 to be officially integrated the following year.

China, for instance, today the world’s second-largest economy, only has voting rights on par with Italy. Under the new setup, China’s weight within the Fund would effectively double, along with that of several other emerging economies, while the voting rights of several developed countries would be curtailed.”

iPhone problems
The New York Times reports on fresh allegations of labour abuses at Chinese factories of Apple supplier Foxconn just as the world’s richest company is set to unveil its latest phone:

“Foxconn has acknowledged using student ‘interns’ on manufacturing lines, but says they are free to leave at any time. But two worker advocacy groups said Monday that they had spoken with students who said they had been forced by their teachers to assemble iPhones at a Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou, in north-central China.
Additionally, last week Chinese state-run news media reported that several vocational schools in the city of Huai’an, in eastern China, required hundreds of students to work on assembly lines at a Foxconn plant to help ease worker shortages. According to one of the articles, Huai’an students were ordered to manufacture cables for Apple’s new iPhone 5, which is expected to be introduced on Wednesday.”

Egyptian assets
The BBC reports that the British government is offering a lawyer to Egypt to help it recover assets held in the UK by allies of deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak amid allegations London is dragging its feet on the matter:

“In February 2011, [British Foreign Secretary William] Hague told Parliament the UK had agreed to Egyptian government demands to freeze the assets of several former Mubarak officials.
But it took more than a month before Britain and 27 other EU states applied the sanctions. Egypt said the delay allowed the accused officials to move their money elsewhere.
A BBC Arabic and Newsnight investigation found that property and companies linked to key figures in the Mubarak regime have been largely unaffected by the sanctions.

Speaking earlier this month, Assem al-Gohary, head of Egypt’s Illicit Gains Authority, said: ‘The British government is obliged by law to help us. But it doesn’t want to make any effort at all to recover the money. It just says: “Give us evidence”. Is this reasonable?’ ”

Guantanamo death
The Toronto Star reports on the history of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, the Yemeni man who has become the ninth detainee to die at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, which US President Barack Obama had promised to close down in 2009:

“According to court records, Pentagon officials first recommended Latif be transferred out of Guantanamo in 2004, when it was determined he was “not known to have participated in combat/terrorist training.” Again in 2006 and 2008, the Bush administration authorized Latif’s transfer home to Yemen, according to his assessment file made public by WikiLeaks.
In 2010, the U.S. District Court in Washington agreed, ruling that the government had failed to prove its case and ordering Latif’s immediate release. But the court’s decision was overturned in appeal, and in June, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.”

Fracking fight
Waging Nonviolence reports that the South African government’s decision to lift the moratorium on natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing is not going unchallenged:

“The industry’s argument that natural gas could diversify their energy supplies while creating jobs, all at a lower carbon cost than oil or coal, are particularly potent in those countries that suffer high unemployment, though African countries may also be especially skeptical due to their history of resource exploitation by outsiders. [Treasure the Karoo Action Group’s Jonathan] Deal noted that Shell’s reputation in Africa in terrible, particularly as a result of accusations of orchestrating the execution of environmental activists in Nigeria. Because of this, he explained, ‘Poor people are not that keen to trust.’ ”

Axing the tax?
Reuters reports that Ghana is reconsidering its proposed windfall tax on mining profits:

“The West African nation, the continent’s second-largest source of gold, proposed the 10 percent windfall tax on mining companies’ profits in its 2012 budget as part of measures to boost income to state coffers.
The government also raised the corporate tax rate on miners from 25 to 35 percent for this year.

The International Monetary Fund last year recommended that Ghana, which is also the world’s number 2 cocoa grower and an oil producer, consider raising taxes or introducing new ones to increase revenues.”

Silicosis suit
The Independent reports that nearly 3,000 South African miners are taking “FTSE 100 giant” Anglo American to court in the UK, claiming that working conditions destroyed their health:

“The latest court filing comes as Anglo is required to disclose information that will effectively decide the jurisdiction of the cases. Anglo argues that any hearings should take place in South Africa, but [British law firm] Leigh Day is examining whether a corporate restructuring in 2009 means that most operational direction now comes from the UK head office.”

Bases, bases everywhere
TomDispatch’s Nick Turse writes about what happens to US military infrastructure when wars end:

“Of those 505 US bases in Iraq, some today have been stripped clean by Iraqis, others have become ghost towns. One former prison base – Camp Bucca – became a hotel, and another former American post is now a base for some members of an Iranian “terrorist” group. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. But while a token number of US troops and a highly militarised State Department contingent remain in Baghdad, the Iraqi government thwarted American dreams of keeping long-term garrisons in the centre of the Middle East’s oil heartlands.
Clearly, US planners are having similar dreams about the long-term garrisoning of Afghanistan. Whether the fate of those Afghan bases will be similar to Iraq’s remains unknown, but with as many as 550 of them still there – and up to 1,500 installations when you count assorted ammunition storage facilities, barracks, equipment depots, checkpoints and training centres – it’s clear that the US military and its partners are continuing to build with an eye to an enduring military presence. ”

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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.”