Latest Developments, September 22

In today’s latest news and analysis…

MDG blind spot
The Institute of Development Studies’ Richard Jolly offers some suggestions for reducing inequality, a problem he says is destructive for societies as a whole and is “largely overlooked” by the Millennium Development Goals.
“Inequalities fell when governments expanded social protection programmes like Brazil’s Bolsa Familia. Minimum wage legislation and policies allowing more people to access secondary and higher education also contributed to success. Successful countries used progressive taxation or channelled mining and oil revenues to fund inequality-reducing programmes.”

The price of secrecy
Reuters reports on the tax deal signed by Germany and Switzerland that would allow the former to collect more tax revenue and the latter to maintain its banking secrecy.
“This goes against European Union efforts to clamp down on banking secrecy and has prompted strong objections.
‘This quasi-tax amnesty is not only morally abject but also crazy from a fiscal policy viewpoint,’ Germany’s main union federation, DGB, said in a statement on Wednesday.
‘Tax evaders may remain anonymous and are even rewarded retrospectively and legalised,’ it said.”

Tax dodging
Christian Aid is worried that G20 officials preparing the agenda for November’s summit intend to “water down” efforts to tackle tax avoidance in poor countries.
“This would be a scandal. Tax dodging by some unscrupulous companies costs poor countries more than they receive in aid. In fact, it’s one of the biggest single factors keeping people poor.
The G20 acknowledges this, and has previously committed to help governments collect tax revenue to fund development.”

Teaching peace
Medical doctor and Independent blogger Sima Barmania chose World Peace Day to ask if peace is actually possible.
“There are indeed a ‘lot of nutters’ out there – but a significant part of their attitudes have been shaped by culture, education, and other socializing processes,” according to the US-based National Peace Academy’s Tony Jenkins. “Peace education – and how we facilitate it – plays a big role.”

Cameron the action hero
In his first speech to the UN General Assembly, British Prime Minister David Cameron celebrated the NATO intervention in Libya and suggested the UN must engage in less talk and more action.
“You can sign every human rights declaration in the world but if you stand by and watch people being slaughtered in their own country, when you could act, then what are those signatures really worth?
The UN has to show that we can be not just united in condemnation, but united in action, acting in a way that lives up to the UN’s founding principles and meets the needs of people everywhere…
The United Nations played a vital role authorising international action. 
But let’s be clear the United Nations is no more effective than the nation states that come together to enforce its will.”

Western intervention
British author Dan Hind interviews fellow-writer Greg Muttitt on Western intervention and the problem with trying to shape a post-conflict Libya without much understanding of the country’s culture and history.
“We should watch out for Western interpretations about what Libyan society is like. It is in the West’s interests for the Libyan political class to be weak and isolated, so it can be easily influenced from outside. That doesn’t mean that officials and generals have to sit down and work out a ‘divide and rule’ strategy. But everyone is tempted to see things in terms that suit their interests. Western policy-makers are no exception. There’s ample evidence of that in recent history,” according to Muttitt.

Land rush
The Guardian’s John Vidal writes about a new Oxfam report entitled Land and Power that relates specific cases, such as the forced evictions of over 20,000 Ugandans to make way for the UK’s New Forests Company, to draw attention to the issue of foreign interests buying up African land.
“It’s not acceptable for companies to blame governments for shortfalls in their operations. Investors, no matter how noble they purport to be, cannot sweep aside the needs and rights of poor communities who depend on the land they profit from,” according to Oxfam director Barbara Stocking.

Hunger as disaster
Hunger, which affects nearly 1 billion people worldwide and whose causes and possible solutions “go to the core of virtually all the major components of the functioning of the international system,” is the focus of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ new World Disasters Report 2011.
“The traditional, mainly Western-dominated approach to defining the world’s problems and solutions will weaken as new, more fluid configurations of state and non-state actors complicate the process by which collective action will be taken to deal with global issues. The power dynamics of the humanitarian sector – to date, a largely Western construct – will also change as greater capacity and stronger political clout emerge from other regions. At the same time, the growing primacy of state sovereignty around the world will determine the limits of humanitarian intervention and the approaches that will be tolerated by governments.” (p.183)

Open letter on Somalia
Oxfam presents a summary of the bullet points contained in an open letter it signed, along with 19 other NGOs, calling for Somalia’s belligerents and the international community to set aside their differences for the sake of those suffering from the country’s famine.
“The letter urged international governments to change their approach to Somalia and enhance diplomatic engagement with the parties to the conflict, to ensure the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid. It said donors should also remove any legal impediments on providing impartial assistance to people living in areas dominated by armed groups.”

iProtest
Al Jazeera reports on the efforts of activist Debby Chan to investigate reports of safety and labour rights violations after a series of suicides by workers at the Chinese factories of Apple supplier Foxconn.
“As consumers we should ask ourselves how certain products are made …. Corporate social responsibility is always window-dressing measures without enforcement mechanisms and remedies for workers. So the only way to stop labour rights violations is through campaigning. We hope that more consumers can pressure Apple and Foxconn,” according to Chan.

Latest Developments, September 14

In the latest news and analysis…

Moving beyond aid
In a speech entitled “Beyond Aid,” World Bank President Robert Zoellick argued wealthy countries have not yet adapted to a rapidly emerging multipolar world and continue to take a “do what I say, not what I do” approach to international relations.
“In a world Beyond Aid, sound G7 economic policies would be as important as aid as a percentage of GDP. In a world Beyond Aid, G-20 agreements on imbalances, on structural reforms, or on fossil fuel subsidies and food security, would be as important as aid as a percentage of GDP.”

Self-interested aid
Looking into the Canadian International Development Agency’s near future, the McLeod Group’s Stephen Brown and Ian Smillie see funding cuts and shifting priorities that have little to do with improving the lives of the poor in other countries.
“For instance, as Canada winds down its military involvement in Afghanistan, the Canadian International Development Agency will be “normalizing” aid to a level comparable to its 19 other “countries of focus.” This confirms a poorly-kept secret: aid to Afghanistan was always more about Canadians, candy and Kandahar than about sustainable long-term development.”

Resource curse
ECONorthwest’s Ann Hollingshead says the so-called resource curse is too often seen as a problem for the countries with said resources to resolve on their own.
“Above, I said the resource curse is “seemingly” an issue of national jurisdiction. That deserves some explanation. Governance itself is an issue of national jurisdiction, but the extractive industry that drives the supply of these resources is not. Most of these companies are, in fact, American and European and—therefore—are accountable to the governments of America and Europe. It is these companies, with their corrupt practices and lack of accountability, that facilitate the embezzlement and revenue misappropriation, which directly contribute to the resource curse.”

Population
The Overseas Development Institute’s Claire Melamed takes exception to arguments pinning poverty, hunger and climate change on population growth.
“Climate change is not a population problem.  It’s a consumption problem.  People in rich countries, where population is static or falling, consume many hundreds of times more carbon than people in the poor countries where population is still rising.  Let’s start with the problem we have now – consumption in rich countries – rather than worrying about some hypothetical future when everyone in Mali has a washing machine and two cars.”

Drones
University of Ottawa political scientist Roland Paris calls for the establishment of clear international rules regulating the use of drones before the technology becomes widespread.
“The U.S. seems to be taking the opposite course, extending its drone campaign to countries far removed from the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan – including Yemen and Somalia – and using rules of engagement that are, at best, obscure and, at worst, illegal.
This is a dangerously short-sighted strategy. While execution by drone may appear to be a relatively low-cost and low-risk option for dealing with America’s enemies, it legitimizes methods that other countries may be expected to follow once they acquire similar capabilities.”

Mercenaries
The UN News Centre reports a UN panel has called for tighter regulation of private military and security companies “by both host and contributor countries” in order to reduce the risk of human rights violations and to ensure accountability when abuses occur.
“The panel…noted in its report on Iraq that incidents involving private military and security companies there had dropped since the killing of 17 civilians and wounding of 20 others in Nissour Square in Baghdad by employees of the United States security company Blackwater in 2007.
But it added that Iraq continues to grapple with the grant of legal immunity extended to private security contractors by US authorities after the 2003 invasion, preventing prosecutions in Iraqi courts while the case against the alleged perpetrators is still pending in US courts.”

AfriCom
The Hill reports the head of the US military’s three year-old Africa Command thinks looming Pentagon budget cuts are the biggest, though not the only, reason not to establish physical headquarters in Africa.
“Since AfriCom was formally established in October 2008, Pentagon officials and lawmakers have floated the idea of shifting its main hub from Stuttgart, Germany, to Africa or the United States.
But U.S. officials are hesitant to have a permanent and high-profile U.S. military presence on African soil due to indigenous skepticism about such an arrangement, which has left no clear candidates for its permanent home.”

Banking secrecy
The European Network on Debt and Development’s Alex Marriage says opposition to the so-called Rubik plan, whereby Swiss banks hand over tax money to national governments in exchange for maintaining their secrecy, could scupper a recent bilateral deal with Germany.
“The [Social Democratic Party]’s financial concept note published last Monday rejects the agreement with Switzerland. It is now quite likely that the deal will be rejected by the Upper Chamber, the Bundestat. North Rhine Westphalia’s Finance Minister Walter Borjans argued that effectively giving an amnesty to tax evaders was unconstitutional. Nicolotte Kressl and  SPD finance experts in the Bundestag said the deal should be halted as not to undermine EU efforts to secure automatic exchange of information with Switzerland.”

Corporate transparency
The Wall Street Journal reports the European Parliament has adopted a report that calls for laws to enforce transparency from oil, gas and mining companies.
“The report, which was first released July 25, contains a provision that calls for the EC to “establish legally binding requirements for extractive companies to publish their revenue payments for each project and country they invest in, following the example of the U.S. Dodd-Frank bill,” it said.”

Tobacco
The Guardian reports approximately 85 percent of the world’s tobacco is produced in the global south, often through the use of children as young as five working long hours under poor health conditions.
“The tobacco giants, who all have anti-child labour policies in place, insist they abide by the rules. British American Tobacco (BAT) says on its website that it does “not employ children in any of our operations worldwide”, but admits that using intermediaries to purchase tobacco makes it difficult to trace the country from which they buy the leaf and ensure all farm owners follow the rules.”

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.”