Latest Developments, September 21

In the latest news and analysis…

The problem with nation states
The Institute of Development Studies’ Lawrence Haddad looks at the lessons the recent and ongoing global crises hold for development thinking on issues such as economic growth, civil society and nation states.
“Several case studies showed how national self interest will continue to undermine collective action that is in the long-term interest of all. From the G8 to the G20 to the G193, issue-specific coalitions of countries (there are 193 states recognised by the UN), and the membership of those coalitions, is probably best explained by national politics. We need to understand these national coalitions more than ever.”

Debt-collection dangers
British House of Lords member Robert Skidelsky sees in the history of interwar Europe an argument for debt forgiveness in the eurozone.
“Germans today would say that, unlike reparations, the Greek and Mediterranean debts were voluntarily incurred, not coerced. This raises the question of justice, but not the economic consequences of insisting on payment. Moreover, there is a fallacy of composition: if there are too many debt collectors, they will impoverish the very people on whom their own prosperity depends.”

The scramble for goals
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed argues that simply replacing the Millennium Development Goals with a new set of post-2015 goals would be missing the opportunity to rethink global cooperation and development for a world that has changed substantially since the 1990s.
“The MDGs can be seen as an agreement between donor and recipient countries about a set of priorities for collaboration and a monitoring framework. The goals and targets approach worked well for that.  But the world is different now. Most poor people live in countries that are both donor and recipient, or neither. Why should their governments be interested in a global agreement? What would be in it for them? Something that was all about aid would probably bypass the majority of the poorest people in the world.”

Robbing the rich to give to the bureaucrats?
Oxfam’s Max Lawson writes that the European Financial Transactions Tax, or Robin Hood Tax, now looks like a sure thing but the battle over where the resulting revenue will be channelled is heating up.
“Controversially, the Commission wants to use the FTT to finance the [European Commission] budget, none of the revenue raised would be used for climate change or development. Given the unpopularity of EU bureaucrats, this has won no support from France or Germany. Instead [French] President Sarkozy, in a speech the week after the joint Franco-German announcement [that the two countries would push for a European FTT at November’s G20 summit], again reiterated his belief that the revenue should help fight poverty and climate change.”

EU migrant abuse
Human Rights Watch has released a new report that accuses the EU’s border security agency of contributing to “inhuman and degrading” treatment of migrants.
“Frontex has become a partner in exposing migrants to treatment that it knows is absolutely prohibited under human rights law,” according to the group’s refugee program director, Bill Frelick. “To end this complicity in inhuman treatment, the EU needs to tighten the rules for Frontex operations and make sure that Frontex is held to account if it breaks the rules in Greece or anywhere else.”

Silicosis lawsuit
The BBC reports 450 former South African gold miners are alleging in a UK lawsuit that mining giant Anglo American is responsible for their lung diseases.
“Black miners at South African mines undertook the dustiest jobs, unprotected by respirators or – unlike their white counterparts – with access to on-site showers,” according to the miners’ London lawyers.
“Dust levels were high and they suffered massive rates of silicosis, a known hazard of gold mining for the last century.”

NCD baby steps
University of Toronto political scientist John Kirton says world leaders took “baby steps” towards tackling non-communicable diseases at this week’s UN summit but argues a comprehensive strategy would be good for both the world economy and its people’s health.
“The next opportunity to act comes in early November, at the G20 summit in Cannes. It’s tailor-made to address and advance the prevention and control of NCDs. The G20 summit governs critical interconnected economic, development and health issues through a comprehensive, coherent approach. It must control NCDs and thus soaring health-care costs to meet the commitments made at the 2010 Toronto summit to cut their fiscal deficit in half as a share of GDP by 2013 and to contain the global sovereign debt crisis erupting in Europe, too.”

The G20’s fifteen minutes
The McLeod Group’s John Sinclair asks if an “overconfident” G20, which initially seemed to embody a new era of greater international cooperation, is already in decline.
“It has quickly slipped into the flawed G8 mode of endless technical debate between finance and central bank officials. It has fallen into a quagmire of competing plans for avoiding a repeat banking crisis, with Americans and Europeans squabbling over whose regulations are the best (or rather, the least bad).”

Bad aid in Afghanistan
The International Crisis Group’s Sophie Desroulieres argues that heavily militarized international aid to Afghanistan is in urgent need of a rethink if it is actually going to help the country and its people.
“A decade of investment in security, of development aid and humanitarian assistance – $57 billion spent between 2002 and 2010 over and above the war effort, according to Afghanistan’s finance ministry – has not resulted in a politically stable or economically viable country. State institutions remain fragile, unable to provide good governance. Instead of going through Afghan institutions and reinforcing their legitimacy, 80 percent of aid went around the Afghan state. In 2010, Kabul and donors agreed that at least half of reconstruction and development aid should go though Afghan institutions by 2012. But the loss of credibility, the corruption and the nepotism corroding the regime of President Hamid Karzai have already undermined that agreement.” (Translated from French)

Selective principles in Libya
Embassy Magazine’s Scott Taylor argues NATO seems to have forgotten, or never believed in, the humanitarian values it cited to justify its Libyan intervention.
“Frustrated at their inability to make advances against the city of Bani Walid, former rebel commanders have told reporters they intend to shell the city with heavy artillery. Given the fact that there are still an estimated 75,000 civilians living there, this act would inevitably result in the death of many innocent Libyans. This, of course, is exactly what NATO claims it intended to prevent.”

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Latest Development, September 8

Latest Developments is undergoing a format change in order to free up time for original Beyond Aid reporting. All constructive feedback is welcome.

In the latest news and analysis…

Global governance

Former British foreign secretary David Miliband argues the “war on terror” has distracted world leaders from matters of more pressing existential import.
“If you think the blame game in Europe over Greece is bad, just wait for arguments about who is causing drought and food-price inflation. These are not just “environmental” questions. They are questions of justice and responsibility, and stronger regional and international institutions are needed to address them.”

Human rights

Al Jazeera reports that a UK inquiry into a 2003 detainee death found no evidence of systemic abuse but had harsh words for those involved in this particular incident.
“A three year-long investigation into the death of an Iraqi civilian in British army custody has concluded that Baha Mousa died after suffering an ‘appalling episode of serious gratuitous violence.’ Mousa died after being detained for two days by UK forces in Basra in 2003 after suffering 93 individual wounds to his body.”

UC-Santa Barbara sociologist Lisa Hajjar writes about the US-run Guantánamo detention facility which remains open despite of President Barack Obama’s pledge to shut it down.
“Only three Guantánamo prisoners were convicted in the military commissions over the course of the Bush administration, none for perpetrating the 9/11 attacks. Of the total population of 779 people ever confined at this facility, over 500 of these ostensibly “worst of the worst” men had been released or transferred by the time President Bush left office.”

Human Rights Watch says it has uncovered evidence of “high level of cooperation” among US, UK and Libyan intelligence services.
“The documents, discovered on September 3, 2011, describe US offers to transfer, or render, at least four detainees from US to Libyan custody, one with the active participation of the UK; US requests for detention and interrogation of other suspects; UK requests for information about terrorism suspects; and the sharing of information about Libyans living in the UK. This cooperation took place despite Libya’s extensive and widely known record of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.”

Reuters reports that a pair of lawsuits alleging Cisco Systems facilitated human rights abuses in China could change how US technology companies do business abroad.
“Both cases could provide answers to an evolving legal question: Can U.S. companies be held liable if foreign governments use their products for repression?”

Taxes

A coalition of French NGOs is slamming recent deals signed by Switzerland with Germany and the UK that will provide the latter two countries with tax revenue from their nationals who store wealth in Swiss accounts but will not impact banking secrecy.
“These so-called Rubik accords, which still have to be ratified at the parliamentary level, call into question pledges made within the G20, OECD and EU to promote greater tax haven transparency.”

Tax-News.com reports France and Germany are making progress towards a common corporate tax rate.
“[French Finance Minister François] Baroin explained that plans for a complete project would be drawn up for 2012, with planned implementation in 2013.”

The Nation reports Nigeria has begun recovering the assets of former president Sani Abacha’s family from the Channel Island tax haven Jersey.
“The Federal Government has recovered £22.5m (about N6.18 billion) loot from the family of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha. There are plans to recover $400million more, it was learnt yesterday.”

Unsavoury friends

Former secretary general of the European Green Party, Arnold Cassola, writes that Libya’s deposed leader Moammar Gadhafi could not have remained in power for over four decades without some high-placed Western allies.
“The International Criminal Court in The Hague, one hopes, will one day bring Qaddafi, his family, and his minions to justice. But one should also hope that Libya’s new government will expose the links between Western politicians and the Qaddafi regime. At that point, the court of public opinion, at the very least, can render its judgement on their actions.”

Wired’s Danger Room reports one of the top general’s of Somalia’s US-backed government is widely known as “The Butcher.”
“If you thought it was bad that Washington is paying a shady French mercenary to do its dirty work in Somalia, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Just wait to you see our latest ally: an admirer of Osama bin Laden with a gory past.”

Immigration

The Canadian Press reports Canada’s government has set up a hotline for people to report those they suspect of citizenship fraud.
“Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is declaring that “Canadian citizenship is not for sale” and he’s encouraging people to use the tip line to report suspected cases of citizenship fraud.”

The Australian reports Australia’s government and opposition close to agreeing over controversial proposed immigration measures that would outsource the processing of refugee claims.
“A face-saving deal that includes Labor’s Malaysian refugee swap and offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island has emerged as the most likely solution to the nation’s border protection impasse.”

Thanks but no thanks

The Guardian reports on attempts to provide poor countries with low-tech, context-appropriate medical instruments such as a donkey ambulance.
“It is a familiar problem. A well-meaning donor gives a shiny new piece of equipment to a poor country only for it to gather dust. Parts that are expensive and difficult to replace, the need for a constant electricity supply, a lack of trained operators, unsuitability to rough terrain are all factors preventing the use of these devices in the developing world.”

Tax Justice Network reviews a new book on Africa’s “odious debts” that estimates capital flight from the continent at $700 billion over the last 40 years.
“More than half of the money borrowed by African governments in recent decades departed in the same year, with a significant portion of it winding up in private accounts at the very banks that provided the loans in the first place. Meanwhile, debt-service payments continue to drain scarce resources from Africa, cutting into funds available for public health and other needs.”

Latest Developments, August 16

In the latest news and analysis…

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy met to discuss a way out of the financial crisis currently spreading across Europe. While they spoke of greater integration, they dismissed as premature the idea of euro bonds that would make all members jointly responsible for the debt of each member. The two leaders did, however, propose a tax on financial transactions both to generate revenue and to discourage speculation, but it is far from certain they will have the support necessary to implement it: “Both Merkel and Sarkozy have mentioned the prospect in the past, but resistance from the US and UK — and promises that firms will pull up stakes and do business elsewhere — has held back efforts by any one jurisdiction from pressing ahead,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

While Europe and America struggle with taming massive public debt, Cote d’Ivoire is opting to skip debt payments even though it has sufficient funds to meet its obligations. Perhaps surprisingly, the International Monetary Fund appears to approve of the decision: “I think that [investors] would be happier with a government that missed a few [payments] and made it up later and had a strong recovery, than a government which met its debt service in a timely manner but failed to relaunch the economy,” the organization’s local director told Reuters.

The UN’s World Food Programme acknowledges that some of its aid to Somalia has disappeared but calls the scale of theft recently reported by the Associated Press “implausible.” Calling the food crisis in the Horn of Africa “man-made,” a World Bank economist says controls on local markets are to blame for high food prices that are exacerbating widespread hunger. “Maize is cheaper in the United States and in Germany than it is in eastern Africa,” according to Wolfgang Fengler. Cambridge University’s David Nally agrees the current humanitarian disaster is not a purely natural one but unlike Fengler, believes the world’s powerful countries must share in the blame for what he considers violence: “The portrayal of the passive victim enables NGOs and Western governments to assume the role of rescuer without having to ask uncomfortable questions about their own complicity in the suffering that is unfolding.” Although he stresses that there is no “clearly identifiable agent” responsible for the famine, he believes the global economy and its priorities play a substantial role. Nally concludes by arguing “the more it’s shown that “the sort of thing which happens in that place” is partly an outcome of policies designed in this place, the more responsibility we have to do something about it. When viewing images of starving children or reading about deaths from malnutrition in the daily newspapers, we ought to consider critically the architecture of violence behind the picture or story, not merely the sad abjection of the victim. There is a need, as Susan Sontag once said, to put privilege and suffering on the same map.”

The Associated Press’s Jonathan Fahey writes that the “golden decade” of America’s defense industry has ended and its companies’ shares are likely to continue their downward trend. But one area that may prosper, given the financial and human resources advantages it offers, is the development and manufacture of drones: “The era of manned airplanes should be seen as over,” according to the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon. The latest in drone technology is on display in Washington, DC this week at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International annual convention. And far away from the showroom floor, a US drone strike has reportedly killed four people in Pakistan.

The US pursued 3.5 foreign bribery cases for every one undertaken by the rest of the world during the last decade, according to the new Global Enforcement Report released by Trace International. In other corporate accountability news, the back-and-forth continues following last week’s New York Times op-ed that claimed a piece of American legislation aimed at preventing minerals from fuelling conflicts is actually having a devastating effect on the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a letter to that same paper’s editor, Margot Wallstrom, UN special representative of the secretary general for sexual violence in conflict, argues “the United States government should be commended for its leadership in trying to regulate “conflict minerals” and to starve rebels of the resources and weapons they need to kill and rape.”

The Center for Global Development’s Kimberly Ann Elliott makes a case for imposing so-called Deterrence of Illegitimate Resource Transfers (DIRT) sanctions on Syria. To impose such sanctions would mean to “declare that any new loans to the Syrian government, and new contracts with the state-owned oil industry, are illegitimate and need not be honored by a democratic successor government.” As with normal sanctions, the DIRT variety would aim to diminish the resources of a leader deemed undesirable by the international community (in whole or in part) and to motivate said leader to change his or her ways. But these specialized sanctions would also “spare a future, legitimate government and its people from having to repay an “odious debt” or abide by contracts tainted by corruption” while allowing it to “still retain access to international credit markets.”

Latest Developments, August 9

In the latest news and analysis…

While London’s riots may not really seem like Beyond Aid material, commentators such as Laurie Penny have highlighted common ground through their accounts of how difficult it is for a society to provide thoughtful analysis of its own culture’s uglier aspects: “The violence on the streets is being dismissed as “pure criminality”, as the work of a “violent minority”, as “opportunism”. This is madly insufficient. It is no way to talk about viral civil unrest.” Similarly, Daniel Hind writes in an Al Jazeera piece it is a mistake to view the riots as apolitical: “We should perhaps ask [the young rioters] what they were thinking before reaching for phrases like “mindless violence“. We might actually learn something.” In the meantime, while stressing he does not wish to “draw a straight line from the decision to bail out the banks to what’s going on now in London,” he provides an assessment of his own: “Those who want to see law and order restored must turn their attention to a menace that no amount of riot police will disperse; a social and political order that rewards vandalism and the looting of public property, so long as the perpetrators are sufficiently rich and powerful.”

Oxfam’s Duncan Green makes no mention of the riots on his blog but does suggest a distance between government priorities and those of the public with his comments on the UK Office of National Statistics’ recently published report “Measuring What Matters”: “Topline results from a big public consultation is that ‘what matters’ are health; good connections with friends and family; present and future conditions of the environment and education and training. Not much of that reflected in our leaders’ fixation on GDP.”

Libyan officials have accused NATO of the “massacre” of 85 civilians. NATO denies the charge, saying there is no such evidence and the overnight air strikes were “legitimate.” The EU has added to its existing sanctions against Libya by targeting two organizations it claims are “directly linked” to the Gadhafi regime. And the US is reportedly preparing to impose new sanctions against Syria and to tell President Bashar Assad he must go.

Self-described social entrepreneur Dermot Egan argues in the Guradian that reactionary corporate social responsibility must give way to social enterprise, which requires that a company to embrace “positive social impact” as its central purpose: “Companies cannot continue to pretend to serve society while simultaneously acting against it. Neither can they continue to give shareholder’s interest primacy above the interests of the public. No amount of investment in charitable causes or employee volunteering can change that fact. The purpose of a company will be to create shared value, where business and society achieve success together.” In the meantime, Wyoming state legislators are considering adopting new measures to combat corporate fraud, including banning the practice of appointing nominee directors which companies can use “to hide the company’s real corporate officers and to help the operators avoid responsibility for the company’s actions,” according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. And activists in India are outraged the organizers of the London 2012 Olympic Games have accepted Dow Chemical – the parent of Union Carbide whose pesticide plant was the source of a gas leak that killed thousands in Bhopal, India in 1984 – as a sponsor.

In a statement marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said large numbers of the world’s indigenous people have lost or risk losing “their ancestral lands, territories and natural resources because of unfair and unjust exploitation for the sake of ‘development.’ On this day, let us ask the crucial question: who actually benefits from this so-called development, and at what cost is such development taking place?” She also called on multinational corporations involved in resource exploitation on indigenous lands to respect human rights, before concluding: “The right to development is a human right for all, and indigenous peoples have the right to define and determine their own development.”  Two of the countries Pillay singled out for their problematic handling of relations between extraction companies and indigenous populations were Canada and Brazil. During the current visit by Canada’s prime minister to Brazil, the two nations set up a committee to deepen bilateral trade,  co-chaired by the CEOs of Brazilian miner Vale and Canada’s Scotiabank which last year helped set up “the largest arms length oil and gas deal in Brazilian history.”

A new Economist Intelligence Unit report predicts the African banking industry will grow 178-248 percent by 2020 “due to huge unmet financial needs in a world largely marked by excessive debt and leverage.” On the subject of excessive debt, Jonathan Glennie argues a debt default by a wealthy European nation could be a good thing for poor countries if , as a result, it became easier for them to repudiate their own dates. He believes it is “morally bankrupt to force poor countries to pay debts while their people suffer in extreme poverty, especially if much of the debt is illegal or otherwise illegitimate.” He does not dispute that default is a difficult and painful process, but wonders if repaying massive debts and the attendant interest might not be worse over the long run. As things stand, creditors dictate repayment conditions. But Glennie would like to see debtor nations have recourse to an independent panel that “would try to ensure that the debtor emerges from the proceedings with good prospects for financial and economic stability. And lenders will know that they can no longer get away with odious or careless lending.”

Latest Developments, August 5

In the latest news and analysis…

Standard &Poor’s has downgraded the US credit rating from AAA to AA-plus for the first time ever. Although a lower credit rating tends to mean higher interest rates, Planet Money’s Jacob Goldstein is not convinced this particular adjustment will have much practical impact, arguing most financial institutions don’t distinguish between the two ratings. Princeton economist Paul Krugman, for his part, is totally dismissive based largely on the agency’s recent track record: “In short, S&P is just making stuff up — and after the mortgage debacle, they really don’t have that right.” But even if there is little domestic impact, a continuation of negligible growth and extremely low interest rates in the US could mean “emerging market economies—Brazil, other strong performers in Latin America, much of Southeast Asia, and even the better performers in sub-Saharan Africa—will continue to experience a flood of capital seeking higher returns, hot money with all the attendant risks of a bubble,” according to the Center for Global Development’s Liliana Rojas-Suarez. And the Guardian reports that bubble may already be about to burst.

Only a month after replacing the disgraced Dominique Strauss-Kahn, International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde has learned she will face a criminal inquiry over her roll in a questionable $600 million payment to a political ally. According to the IMF’s website, the “Fund’s approach to combating corruption emphasizes prevention, concentrating on measures to strengthen governance, and limiting the scope for corruption. The IMF also has strong measures in place to ensure the integrity of its own organization.” Nevertheless, the allegations Lagarde faces had been widely reported well before her appointment as the organization’s managing director despite resistance from a number of non-European countries who felt it was time to end that continent’s six-decade hold on the IMF’s top job.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sets off this weekend for a four-country Latin American tour that will focus on trade, rights and security, according to Postmedia News. In a recent statement, Amnesty International said many of the hemisphere’s governments are not doing a satisfactory job of balancing these considerations at home: “Countries across the region – including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Peru – have failed to consult Indigenous Peoples before passing laws that would threaten their livelihoods. They also carried out development projects in Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral lands without respecting their right to give free, prior and informed consent.”  And in terms of international relations, the Canadian parliament approved a free trade agreement with Peru  in June 2009, a few days after dozens died in protests over new Peruvian laws facilitating oil and gas exploration in the Amazon.

A couple of telecommunications companies have run up against the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Magyar Telekom, a Hungarian corporation controlled by German Deutsche Telekom, is currently in talks with the Securities and Exchange Commission over possible bribes paid in Macedonia and Montenegro. And a federal jury has convicted two former executives of Florida-based Terra Telecommunications Corp. for authorizing bribes paid in Haiti over a period of several years. Meanwhile, a pair of US lawmakers has proposed legislation absolving non-Americans living outside the US of having to report their bank deposits within the country to revenue authorities, according to a Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development blog posting by Ann Hollingshead. In her view, such a law would encourage people to hide dirty money in US bank accounts. She sums up: “[Gregory] Meeks and [Bill] Posey, two officials elected to represent the interests of U.S. citizens, have introduced a bill that represents the interests of foreign money launderers, tax evaders, terrorist financers, and, perhaps, big banks.” Writing on the same blog, Global Financial Integrity’s Ryan Isakow writes about a PR/framing coup for the global anti-corruption movement: “It’s interesting to note that connecting corruption to something which directly interests those in power—economic growth— has elicited a bigger response from government leaders than the abundance of stories written everyday on the impoverishing effects corruption has on their own countrymen.  After all, if exploiting the poor bothered them, they would have more reservations about robbing their country’s resources in the first place.”

The US Navy has held a celebration to mark the launch of the 2,000th Tomahawk missile. “It was a great feeling to have taken part in the 2,000th missile launch,” according to a sailor quoted in a Navy press release. “There were a lot of us that had never shot before, so to be able to fire off the 2,000th one was a great experience; it means a lot to us.” The US Navy has launched over 200 Tomahawks in the Libyan conflict so far at a cost of $607,000 each, according to Defense Tech.

In other technology matters, Tactical Technology Collective’s Tanya Notley says mobile phones and the Internet are among the tools that can help people impose a certain level of accountability on governments and development agencies but “there are many “invisible” layers that track what we do online.” And given that such bodies do not always like questioning and exposure, there are real (and sometimes fatal) risks attached to engaging in such behaviour. Consequently, “we should all be thinking about what kind of digital future we want and what risks we might be taking or asking others to take when we promote digital technologies as tools for transparent, fair and just development.”

Former US assistant defense secretary Joseph Nye regrets that Bush Administration “policy failures” led to the view among many that democracy promotion smacked of imperialism and hypocrisy: “Democracy is not an American imposition, and it can take many forms,” he writes. But he stresses the need to “stimulate emulation” by maximizing domestic democracy, rather than trying to impose values on others. But Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin sees little in the way of positive examples as he presents “the top eight foreign-policy items currently held up by the do-nothing 112th Congress.” Der Spiegel columnist Jakob Augstein is harsher still in writing of America’s “apparent political insanity” and arguing the “divided country has more in common with a failed state than a democracy.”