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.”

Latest Developments, September 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Gender inequality
The World Bank’s newly released World Development Report 2012 focuses on gender equality and makes the argument that women’s rights have improved at an “astonishing” rate in recent years but substantial inequalities still persist.
“The main message of this year’s World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development is that these patterns of progress and persistence in gender equality matter, both for development outcomes and policy making. They matter because gender equality is a core development objective in its own right. But greater gender equality is also smart economics, enhancing productivity and improving other development outcomes, including prospects for the next generation and for the quality of societal policies and institutions. Economic development is not enough to shrink all gender disparities—corrective policies that focus on persisting gender gaps are essential.”

World Bank blind spots
ActionAid’s Rachel Moussié argues the latest World Development Report once again reveals the World Bank’s tendency to overemphasize the importance of economic growth while glossing over “key” elements of its own research.
“The World Bank’s faith in the market to pick up the pieces after a crisis is evident in its treatment of social protection, or lack thereof. The report reduces this multi-faceted issue to conditional cash transfers, completely neglecting the important role programmes such as South Africa’s child support grant have played in lifting households and women out of poverty. The bank seemingly fails to recognise that poverty is chronic in the current economic system and the shocks frequent.  Stop-gap measures are just not enough if governments are to prevent these shocks from reversing the gains made on gender equality.”

Al Jazeera reports environmental rights groups are concerned that Africa risks becoming a lab for lucrative carbon-trading schemes they think will likely only enrich speculators in financial capitals.
“The offsets that come from soil carbon capture schemes have been marketed by world bodies as a means to rechannel money back into climate-friendly agriculture.
However, environmental rights groups say the work of offsetting these emissions – and trading credits associated with the process on carbon markets – is where the big business lies.”

Engineering rights abuses
The Sudan Tribune has picked up on a report by Die Tageszeitung (or Taz) that German investigators are looking into the role that engineering and consulting firm Lahmeyer International may have played in alleged rights abuses surrounding the construction of a Sudan’s Merowe dam project.
“According to Taz, preliminary proceedings like this are rare in Germany, because German public prosecutors and prosecution services do not want to assume responsibility for the behavior of domestic corporations abroad. The judiciary in other states too often allows corporations from the rich north to do whatever they want to.”

Arms and their consequences
An Illinois judge has given the go-ahead to a multibillion-dollar lawsuit alleging that US defense contractor L-3 and a subsidiary assisted in the commission of acts of genocide in the Balkans during the 1990s.
“A lawsuit filed in a Northern Illinois federal court says L-3 and its subsidiary, MPRI (Military Professional Resources Inc.), helped arm and train the Croatians, who killed or displaced 200,000 Serbs in the Krajina region of Croatia. The complaint states that, ‘Whether MPRI personnel took part in the genocide is not known and is not alleged here. But what is known definitively is that MPRI provided the means that enabled the genocide to occur.’”

Swiss commodity trading
The Tax Justice Network reports on the release of a new book dealing with Swiss-based trading companies and their role in the global commodities trade.
“Commodities traders often accept far higher risks than oil companies like BP or pure mining companies like BHP Billiton. They also increasingly build their own facilities, often in crisis or even conflict areas. The industry leaders’ increasing openness to risk was recently demonstrated in Libya, where Geneva-based Vitol, with an eye on forming new business relationships, delivered $500 million of fuel to the opposition on credit. And in newly-founded South Sudan, where transparency in the oil business is central for nation building and the peace process, Glencore sealed an obscure deal with the state oil company two days before the official declaration of independence.”

Project-by-project transparency
EarthRights International’s Jonathan Kaufman urges the European Parliament to go beyond existing US extractive industry transparency legislation by requiring companies to publish what they pay to foreign governments on a project-by-project basis.
“Project-level reporting is particularly important to ERI and the groups we work with because it will enable communities to hold governments to account for the resources that are extracted from their own land. It also matters to investors because company payments on various projects within a single country may be associated with different levels of political risk. (Think, for example, about how different it would be to make a large bonus payment to a government for a mining concession in a war-torn part of eastern Congo, as opposed to the peaceful, government-held western part of the country.)”

Voluntary principles
The Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues the upcoming Busan conference on aid effectiveness should aim for broad new principles that incorporate emerging players who are rapidly changing the world of development finance.
“Voluntary principles are not exactly the most exciting weapons in the international development armoury. Observed as much in their circumvention as in their fulfilment, they are painfully ineffective at creating the kind of rapid improvements most of us want to see. But they are often the best we can do, given the reluctance of powerful entities to submit to binding approaches. And they often set the tone of an era. We recognise the limits of what voluntary principles can achieve, but believe they will help nudge development financers towards better practices.”

Non-communicable diseases
The UN News Centre reports the international body has “launched an all-out attack on non-communicable diseases” with a declaration calling for a multi-faceted strategy to tackle risk factors underlying illnesses that account for nearly two-thirds of all deaths.
“Steps range from price and tax measures to reduce tobacco consumption to curbing the extensive marketing to children, particularly on television, of foods and beverages that are high in saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugars, or salt. Other measures seek to cut the harmful consumption of alcohol, promote overall healthy diets and increase physical activity.”

The big picture
New York University’s Alex Evans, frustrated by the perceived lack of human solidarity displayed in UN discussions, quotes former US astronaut Edgar Mitchell on the life-altering experience of seeing the entire planet from afar.
“We have all said over the years, if we could get our political leaders to have a summit meeting in space, life on Earth would be markedly different, because you can’t continue living that way once you have seen the bigger picture.”

Latest Developments, September 16

In the latest news and analsis…

Broken promises
The UN says donors are not living up to their promises in Haiti and around the world.
“There is a troubling distance between what we have promised and what we are actually doing to support the global partnership for development. And that gap is expected to widen,” according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Missing plutonium
Wired’s Danger Room reports on the difficulties encountered by the US, which has sold 17.5 tons of fissile material to other countries over the last 60 years, as it seeks to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material” worldwide.
“And there’s just one other problem. Subtracting all the nuke material that’s been accounted for and secured still leaves 2,700 kg — nearly three tons — outstanding. And that’s enough material to make dozens of nuclear weapons.”

The drug hemisphere
The White House’s new list of major drug producing or transit countries names 22 states, of which 17 are in the Americas.
“Pursuant to section 706(1) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003 (Public Law 107-228)(FRAA), I hereby identify the following countries as major drug transit or major illicit drug producing countries: Afghanistan, The Bahamas, Belize, Bolivia, Burma, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela.”

Corporate transparency
In a piece carrying the headline “Licence to Loot,” the Economist looks into international efforts to end the secrecy surrounding beneficial ownership of companies.
“Campaigners and, increasingly, criminal-justice agencies want the rules tightened—and not only in faraway islands. The case for this is highlighted in “The Money Laundry”, a new book by Jason Sharman, an Australian academic. As a test, he tried creating companies in various places without using a real (verified) ID. Of the 47 providers of registration services he approached in OECD countries, no fewer than 35 agreed to form shell companies without requiring proper documents. Some also helped to open bank accounts. Classic tax havens were on the whole much more rigorous.”

Anti-bribery legislation
Global Financial Integrity’s Tom Cardamone writes about a new paper entitled “Busting Bribery: Sustaining the Global Momentum of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” authored by a pair of American law professors to counter the US Chamber of Commerce’s recent campaign against the anti-bribery legislation.
“To the idea that a company could be insulated from a charge of bribery if it had an anti-corruption program in place [Harvard’s David] Kennedy and [Northeastern’s Dan] Danielsen note that this would merely allow corporations to implement ‘fig leaf’ FCPA compliance programs in order to avoid criminal culpability.  Rather than leveling the playing field as the Chamber suggests, this provision could increase the incidents of bribery while reducing the likelihood of conviction.”

Democratizing the IMF
According to the findings of a Center for Global Development online survey, development workers in 81 countries overwhelmingly favour an end to Europe’s exclusive hold on the International Monetary Fund’s leadership.
“First, both European and non-European participants reject Europe’s traditional selection prerogative by large margins, with equally strong support for an open, transparent, competitive selection process. Agreement with an open process characterizes 92 percent of respondents from low-income countries, 90 percent from middle-income countries, and 84 percent from high-income countries.”

Bad food
Calling voluntary guidelines inadequate, a UN expert called on national governments to stand up to the food industry by imposing taxes and tougher regulations on unhealthy foods that kill about 3 million people per year worldwide.
“It is crucial for world leaders to counter food industry efforts to sell unbalanced processed products and ready-to-serve meals too rich in transfats and saturated fats, salt and sugars. Food advertising is proven to have a strong impact on children, and must be strictly regulated in order to avoid the development of bad eating habits early in life,” according to Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter.

Expensive food
Mother Jones food and agriculture blogger Tom Philpott rejects the Wall Street line that soaring demand and relatively stagnant supply, rather than rampant speculative trading, explain the record food prices that have pushed millions into poverty and hunger around the globe.
“One way that investors morally justify the price surge they have set off is by arguing that while it might boost hunger in the short term, higher prices draw additional investment into agriculture, which will help “feed the world” going forward. But this, too, is hype. Indeed, commodities aren’t the only ag-related bubble now in the process of puffing up—prices of farmland, too, have exploded as investors search for new ways to cash in on Wall Street’s food pitch. And as investors snatch up farmland in places like Africa and Latin America for export crops, the amount of land devoted to feeding low-income residents of those places dwindles, and food insecurity rises.”

NCD generics
Intellectual Property Watch reports on concerns that next week’s UN summit on non-communicable diseases will concentrate on prevention to the exclusion of a much-needed debate on treatment as NCDs become a bigger problem in poor countries.
“But public health advocates see a coming crisis in treatment and want measures now to address it. For instance, Health Action International issued a briefing paper this week showing medicine prices are often too high for those on low wages, and urging the summit to ‘refocus on the attainable goal of universal access to essential medicines as a core priority for the treatment of NCDs.’

Ideology promotion
London School of Economics PhD student Karl Muth argues Carnegie Mellon University is set to “sow the seeds of African neoliberalism” with its announcement of a planned new campus in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.
“However, liberal universities have a history of large influence in post-conflict zones, particularly in places recovering from internal conflict.  While the influence of the Chicago Boys after the 1973 Chilean coup is the most famous example, various neoliberal institutions have had more subtle effects, from encouraging the rapid evolution of economic policy in the Philippines to opposing minimum wage laws in post-handover Hong Kong.  The disorder of post-internal-conflict political reformation combined with the fact that incoming regimes are more likely to have military might than economic expertise allows foreign institutions to have disproportionately more influence.”