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.”

Latest Developments, July 15

In today’s news and analysis…

The pre-negotiations for the proposed international Arms Trade Treaty have come to an end. In theory, the real negotiations will take place next year, culminating in a legally binding global compact. The Control Arms Coaltion says it is pleased with how the week went, particularly a joint statement of support for the process by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, who together account for 88% of the global arms trade. But while there appears to be broad support for some kind of treaty, there is much disagreement on details, reportedly prompting Russia to say consensus is “very, very unlikely.”

After the latest Mumbai bombings, Ramesh Thakur, one of the formulators of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, says India, a country where over half the population lives on less than $2 a day, “must invest all means necessary” to acquire the capabilities to take “the fight to neighbouring territory from where terror attacks originate through strikes and targeted killings of terrorists.” He concedes that such a policy would risk destabilizing India’s already fragile, nuclear-armed rival but concludes that “is no longer an unacceptable risk.” A quick reminder: The three bombs detonated in Mumbai this week killed 18 people, while the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August, 1945 killed an estimated 150,000-250,000 people.

A Reuters piece looks at the rise of the drone as America tries to extricate itself from its wars and avoid getting embroiled in new ones, while targeting perceived threats in an ever growing list countries. The EU, meanwhile, is looking to come up with a drone strategy within the next 12 months.

Canadian immigration authorities have denied internationally acclaimed Tinariwen visas to play this weekend’s Vancouver Folk Festival. A festival organizer, pointing out that the Malian band were in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics and are touring in the US right now, said the decision made no sense. Could it be the Canadian government, which is trying to toughen up its immigration laws, mistook a group originally formed in Libyan refugee camps three decades ago as current refugee claimants? An internal government report indicates a third of all such cases are refused because an officer does not believe the refugee’s story.

Writing about oil and corruption, Global Witness’s Brendan O’Donnell puts much of the blame on the likes of Muammar Gadhafi and other autocratic rulers, but not all of it. “Essentially, because oil companies do not currently have to disclose what they pay to foreign governments for resource deals, and banks do not have to report on their financial dealings with sovereign funds, it’s very hard for citizens to know how their leaders are using their countries’ natural resource wealth.”

According to Transparency International, the phone hacking scandal “shows that even in a well-functioning democracy where corruption levels are perceived to be low, weaknesses in institutions considered pillars of integrity can lead to breaches of trust if there is insufficient vigilance.”

In a Guardian piece about the post-2015 development agenda, the author reports Allister McGregor as telling the British Parliament the MDGs are outdated and a more nuanced view of the world is necessary: “It’s basically about inequality, how we live well together and how we share wealth.” The trick, according to Jack McConnell who was quoted in the same piece, will be to keep the new goals tangible and verifiable: “If you want to pin governments down, you need precise targets.”

A piece in the Globe and Mail points out “the microfinance revolution that rippled around the world focused squarely on the lending side of the ledger – largely overlooking microsaving.” As a result, poor people had nowhere secure to store their small savings. But that is now changing.

A new Institute of Development Studies bulletin on seed politics and the push for an African Green Revolution asks “who wins, who loses, and whose interests are being served?”