Latest Developments, July 19

In the latest news and analysis…

Debt speculation
The Guardian reports that the UK’s privy council has ruled that a “vulture fund” cannot collect $100 million on a DR Congo debt that was, before interest, a thirtieth of that amount:

“In an attempt to skirt British law, which bans ‘vulture funds’ from buying poor nations’ debts on the cheap before suing them for 10-100 times the amount paid, [FG Hemisphere’s Peter] Grossman took the case to Jersey, a crown dependency not covered by the UK law.

Before turning to the Jersey loophole, Grossman’s company had unsuccessfully tried to seize the DRC’s embassy in Washington as a downpayment on the debt.”

Fatal strike
The Globe and Mail reports Canadian-based First Quantum Minerals has temporarily shut down operations at a copper and gold mine in Mauritania due to an “illegal strike” that has already claimed the life of one worker:

“According to local reports, demonstrators clashed with security forces outside the Guelb Moghrein mine over the weekend as workers demanded better pay and conditions. One worker died in the clashes, although further details about the circumstances were muddied amid differing reports.”

Dogs of war
The Daily Maverick reports that a leaked UN document accuses private security companies of violating international arms embargoes against Somalia and Eritrea:

“During the course of the [UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea]’s mandate, this highly profitable business has expanded beyond the provision of armed escorts to the leasing of arms, ammunition and security equipment, and the establishment of ‘floating armouries’ that operate in international waters beyond the remit of any effective international regulatory authority. PMSCs are currently holding approximately 7,000 weapons in circulation, which are either owned or leased.”

Deposed despots beware
Reuters reports that the International Court of Justice is expected to hand down a ruling on Friday that could create new legal obligations for countries with exiled former dictators residing on their territory:

“The ruling could worry former rulers like Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian president overthrown in January 2011 at the start of the Arab Spring and now in exile in Saudi Arabia.
But it could also deter other leaders facing mounting violence at home, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, from going into exile despite promises or guarantees of amnesty.
‘If Belgium is successful, it will mean that third states would be able to oblige states on whose territory an accused war criminal resides to either prosecute such persons or extradite them to a state which can and wishes to prosecute,’ Malcolm Shaw, a law professor at Cambridge University, said in an email.”

Easing pressure
The Independent reports that the UK government is proposing to relax EU sanctions against Zimbabwe, whereas opposition MP Peter Hain is calling for more sanctions:

“Mr Hain said: ‘Let us be clear: Zimbabwean military-controlled blood diamonds are now sold within the EU and almost certainly within the UK, appearing on wedding rings. It is time for jewellery companies to stop hiding behind the façade of the Kimberley Process [to stop diamonds being used to finance military activity] and take responsibility for their own supply chains.’ ”

Let’s make a deal
Reuters reports the US wants a new trade deal with the 5-nation East African Community, comprising Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi:

“[US deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs Michael] Froman said the proposal by Obama for a new trade deal was meant to encourage [growing investment in East Africa] and support further EAC integration. The deal would seek to guarantee American investors that they would be treated fairly and that their investments would be secure.
‘It calls for a focus on trade facilitation to reduce the bottlenecks at the border, such as moving to a single border clearance and harmonising customs documentation, to reduce delays and unnecessary costs,’ he said.”

Watering down the ATT
Embassy Magazine reports that opposition MPs are accusing the Canadian government of trying to sabotage the Arms Trade Treaty, currently under negotiation at the UN, by adding loopholes:

[NDP trade critic Don Davies] and other treaty supporters point to the Harper government’s desire not to include the mandatory tracking of ammunition, or detailed reporting on high-volume trades. They say another example of Canada’s attempts to gum up the treaty is Canada’s suggestion that no new money go to the UN to police the agreement’s implementation.

Mr. Davies attended the first week of negotiations in New York, and said foreign delegations frequently asked him why Canada was trying to weaken the treaty by pushing for ammunition and other items to be exempt.
‘I got a lot of questions on Canada’s official position that not every transaction be recorded,’ he said. ‘They asked how we saw an effective arms trade treaty if from the outset, and by design, there are loopholes built into it.’ ”

Transparency hype
Using the example of Angola, Oxford University’s Ricardo Soares de Oliveira warns that transparency reforms can amount to little more than “upgrades of the status quo”:

“The contribution of the IMF and a number of Angolan technocrats towards macro-economic reform is undeniable. What is missing from the IMF’s assessment is the fact that the reforms have had next to no impact on the elite’s approach to development and the real lives of the poor.
tA lesson of the Angolan reform trajectory is self-evident yet frequently forgotten: transparency is merely a means to an end. By itself the transparency agenda is a technocratic exercise that savvy governments can easily game. You can have an oil-rich state tick all the boxes and come out on the other side without this having any implications whatsoever for the nature of governance and broad-based development.”

Latest Developments, July 12

In the latest news and analysis…

Migrant deaths
Reuters reports that 54 people have died of thirst while trying to cross illegally from Libya to Italy by boat, leaving only one survivor:

“The incident is the latest in a long series of disasters which have killed thousands of migrants attempting to reach southern Europe from North Africa in small, unstable and frequently overcrowded boats.
According to the UNHCR, around 170 people have died this year trying to reach Europe from Libya. Around 1,300 have reached Italy by sea since the beginning of 2012 and another 1,000 people have reached Malta.”

Account closures
The CBC reports that TD Bank has decided to close the accounts of a number of Iranian-Canadians, citing the need to comply with sanctions against Iran:

“ ‘It’s…given no explanation as to why this has happened and made some cryptic reference to the sanctions. But anytime they’ve sought some further explanation, they’ve been stonewalled and treated very, very badly,’ [according to the Iranian Canadian Congress’s Kaveh Shahrooz.]
He couldn’t say exactly how many people have been affected. He said at this time it appears TD is the only bank sending out these letters.”

Democratic deficit
The US is “not seen as promoting democracy in the Middle East,” according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan and Pakistan:

“The U.S. receives mixed reviews in Tunisia. Overall, 45% have a favorable and 45% an unfavorable view of the U.S. However, President Barack Obama gets mostly poor marks – 57% say they have little or no confidence that Obama will do the right thing in world affairs. And there is no consensus among Tunisians about how the U.S. has handled the political changes taking place in their country – 31% believe the American response has had a positive effect, 27% say it has been negative, and 25% volunteer that the U.S. has had no impact.”

Criminalizing bank fraud
Michel Barnier, the EU commissioner in charge of financial reform, plans to table new rules that would make it a criminal offense to manipulate benchmarks such as Libor:

“ ‘We need to draw lessons from the Libor case,’ a spokesman for Barnier said. ‘We intend to close the regulatory gap in our proposed market-abuse legislation by including the direct manipulation of market indexes such as Libor.’
As it stands, the market-abuse proposal, which is now being negotiated with the European Parliament and EU member governments, defines insider dealing and market manipulation as criminal offences and lays down minimum penalties.”

No to EO 79
ABS-CBN News reports that environmental groups in the Philippines have three major objections to the country’s new mining rules:

“First, they say it promotes the unconstitutional overriding of local environmental codes that prohibit destructive mining operations in their area.
Second, it allegedly disenfranchises legitimate small-scale miners in favor of multinational companies, validating some 1.1 million hectares of existing mining applications and operations.
Third, it contents itself with a so-called piecemeal increase in mining administrative fees instead of collecting a “rightful” share from taxes and revenues.”

Subsitence threatened
Sherpa reports that it and four other NGOs have lodged a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development over the activities of tire giant Michelin in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu:

“The development of this land, from a rural to an industrial zone, caused, in total, the destruction of 450 hectares of communal forest that surrounded the village and supported agricultural and pastoral activities, thereby depriving the people of their primary means of subsistence. Moreover, the land leased to Michelin is located in a watershed that feeds three natural lakes that irrigate Thervoy village and are the principal source of water for agriculture in the area.
And yet, since the start of the project, local residents have been mobilized, have demonstrated peacefully and have taken the state of Tamil Nadu to court on several occasions. Indeed, this project is violating the rights of 1,500 families living in Thervoy and threatens their subsistence. 18 other villages are also impacted directly by the construction of infrastructure necessary for the site.”
[Translated from the French.]

Private prisons
Bloomberg reports that the Canadian government is considering using the services of private companies to run certain aspects of the country’s prisons, prompting an opposition politician to accuse the ruling Conservatives of “opening the door to privatization”:

“If Canada turned to the private sector, it would follow countries such as the U.S., U.K. and Australia that have relatively larger prison populations.
There are 209 prison facilities managed by private companies worldwide, with 181 in the U.S., according to data from the Association of Private Correctional and Treatment Organizations. There were 44 privately-run facilities in the U.S. in the late 1980s, according to research by Management and Training Corporation, a closely held company that manages prisons.”

EU-Africa trade
Ten year-old trade negotiations between Africa and the EU are unlikely to bear fruit unless they are guided by a fundamental shift in thinking, according to the European Centre for Development Policy Management’s Sanoussi Bilal:

“Africa does not need a trade deal with Europe to grow, though it might help. What Europe and Africa both need, however, are stronger relations based on a more equal footing, where legitimate economic and political interests are openly acknowledged, not couched in benevolent, somewhat paternalistic, rhetoric on ‘development’.”

Latest Developments, July 11

In the latest news and analysis…

Secret War legacy
As Hillary Clinton becomes the first US secretary of state to visit Laos in over 50 years, Congressman Michael Honda calls on his government to do more to help clean up the unexploded ordinance remaining from 580,000 American bombing missions flown during the Secret War of 1964-73:

“The bombings dropped one ton of ordnance for every man, women, and child in Laos at the time, making it the most heavily bombed nation per capita in history. Up to a third of these bombs did not explode when they hit the ground and remain to this day literal time bombs, preventing much needed agriculture and infrastructure development and threatening the lives and livelihoods of villagers across Laos.

The U.S. began supporting clean-up of these bombs in 1997, and has since contributed a total of almost $47 million through the State Department. The U.S. is the largest contributor to this effort, but the funding since the war ended pales in comparison to the $17 million spent every day for nine years dropping these bombs. In fact, only about one percent of these bombs have been cleared thus far.”

Unintended consequences
Tehran-based political analyst Mohammad Ali Shabani argues Western sanctions imposed on Iran are punishing the country’s people more than its leaders:

“A Gallup poll carried out earlier this year showed almost half of Iranians didn’t have enough money to buy food their families needed at times during the past year. That proportion is triple the figure when the first UN sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme were adopted in 2006. The same survey stated that a mere eight per cent of Iranians approve of US leadership, warning that ‘Western leaders need to monitor the unintended effects sanctions may have on Iranians’ lives’.”

Corporate transparency
Transparency International has released a new report assessing the operational openness of the world’s 105 biggest companies:

“Transparency International calls on companies to fight corruption by disclosing more information about how they mitigate corruption and by making public how they are organised and how monies flow in the countries in which they operate. Only with this level of information can citizens the world over know how much money flows into public budgets, a key issue of accountability for governments everywhere.
Governments and regulators should make transparency obligatory for all companies seeking export subsidies or competing for public contracts. Investors should demand greater transparency in corporate reporting to ensure both ethical, sustainable business growth as well as sound risk management.”

The World Bank giveth…
Inter Press Service reports on the ongoing controversy over the World Bank’s decision to cancel a $1.2 billion loan to Bangladesh due to allegations of corruption involving the proposed Padma Bridge “mega-giant project”:

“The Bank suspended its loan for the massive project based on a referral to a case filed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) against the Canadian engineering firm SNC Lavalin, stating that the latter had bribed former communications minister Hossain in order to secure its bid to become the main consultant on the project.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has termed the Bank’s decision ‘deeply regrettable’ and urged the global lending agency to review its decision.”

World without borders
Oxfam’s Duncan Green asks why migration does not figure more prominently on the “development agenda”:

“[The Center for Global Development’s Michael Clemens] reinterpreted the fall of apartheid as the abolition of borders between white South Africa and the Bantustans, and showed that everyone benefitted from this sudden upsurge in migration – the incomes of blacks and coloureds increased rapidly, and whites lost nothing. Effectively, he was making the economic case against borders of any kind.”

Nuclear denial
The Center for International Policy’s William Hartung argues the world’s nuclear problem goes well beyond Iran’s possible quest for the bomb:

“Although none of these scenarios, including a terrorist nuclear attack, may be as likely as nuclear alarmists sometimes suggest, as long as the world remains massively stocked with nuclear weapons, one of them – or some other scenario yet to be imagined – is always possible. The notion that Iran can’t be trusted with such a weapon obscures a larger point: given their power to destroy life on a monumental scale, no individual and no government can ultimately be trusted with the bomb.
The only way to be safe from nuclear weapons is to get rid of them – not just the Iranian one that doesn’t yet exist, but all of them. It’s a daunting task. It’s also a subject that’s out of the news and off anyone’s agenda at the moment, but if it is ever to be achieved, we at least need to start talking about it. Soon.”

Fear of a black planet
In a Q&A with Metro, former US Olympic sprinter Tommie Smith looks back on his famous salute at the 1968 games in Mexico City:

“I wasn’t going to stand there with my hand on my heart while they played my country’s national anthem and then go back to life as a second-class citizen. So myself and John [Carlos] raised our fists in a silent, non-violent protest. It wasn’t for Black Power, it was for human rights and I suffered greatly for that moment. I never raced again, I couldn’t find a job and I struggled to finish my degree.

Those who do anything except stand there and accept a medal will be looked upon as a radical. If an athlete decides to take that step, they have to accept the lifelong sacrifice. You can do it but you will pay for it. I still have never had an apology and I’m still not a member of the US Olympics Hall of Fame.”

Post mortem
The University of Ottawa’s Stephen Brown argues that Canada’s outgoing minister of international cooperation oversaw an “increasingly instrumentalized” Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), most notably in efforts to further Ottawa’s objectives in Afghanistan:

“In another instance where CIDA prioritized Canadian interests, the current list of countries of concentration and the latest budget cuts both reduce assistance to poor African countries, while shifting resources to middle-income countries in Latin America that are more important for Canadian trade. Oda also provided incentives for NGOs to work with Canadian mining companies, and even admitted that she made no distinction between Canada’s trade and foreign policy interests and actual development goals.”

Latest Developments, March 15

In the latest news and analysis…

BAE pays up
The Guardian reports UK-based defence company BAE Systems has “finally” paid for textbooks to Tanzanian schools as a settlement over bribes it allegedly paid 10 years ago.
“BAE was fined £500,000 in 2010 for concealing payments of $12.4m to Sailesh Vithlani, a marketing adviser in Tanzania, in connection with the radar deal. The company agreed with the [Serious Fraud Office] to make an ex-gratia payment equivalent to the size of the contract to the Tanzanian people. MPs on the international development committee last year strongly criticized BAE for dragging its feet over the payment. BAE wanted the payment to be described as a ‘charitable contribution’ to Tanzania in negotiations over the drafting of the memorandum of understanding.”

The problem with sanctions
The Atlantic’s Max Fisher argues the long list of products recently bought online by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad shows that Western sanctions against out-of-favour regimes punish the wrong people.
“International economic sanctions have been a popular tool of the West since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Clinton administrations came to see them as a low-cost, low-risk alternative to military action. But a growing body of academic research has found that they are ineffective at pressuring governments to change their ways. ‘The probable effectiveness of economic sanctions is, generally, negative,’ Johan Galtung wrote in 1967, and he seems to have been right.”

Agence France-Presse reports on a new study that suggests Africa will produce more e-waste than Europe within five years.
“ ‘There is population growth … and there is the penetration rate — there are increasing numbers of people with access to these devices,’ [the Basel Convention on hazardous waste’s Katharina] Kummer Peiry said.
‘You have to bear in mind that there are efforts undertaken at all levels to increase access — it’s part of development,’ she said, describing the growth of both the population and the penetration rate as ‘exponential.’

In Africa ‘in the last decade, the penetration rate of personal computers has increased by a factor of 10, while the number of mobile phone subscribers has increased by a factor of 100,’ the report said.”

Emptied islands
The University of Oxford’s Sarmila Bose writes about a new book on the Chagos Islands whose inhabitants “were unceremoniously removed from their homeland by a joint operation of the United Kingdom and the United States” four decades ago to make way for a military base.
The Island of Shame is a discomforting read, especially for British and American readers who will probably find themselves cringing at the well-documented account of the deceit and inhumanity, not only of their forbears in the past, but also of policymakers today. For many years, now the Chagossians have been fighting an uphill battle to obtain justice through the courts. Verdicts in the English courts had gone in favour of the Chagossians in 2000, 2006 and 2007 until the House of Lords overturned them all and ruled in favour of the British government. The Chagossians have now petitioned the European Court of Human Rights. Possibly as a pre-emptive action in case they win at the European Court, the last Labour government declared the Chagos Archipelago a ‘marine protection area’, which would restrict fishing and therefore human re-settlement. The Chagossians have had to take legal action against this ‘green’ initiative as well.”

Silicon Valley’s exceptionalism
Reuters Breakingviews’ Rob Cox takes on the myth that America’s high-tech business leaders operate according to higher moral standards than their counterparts in other industries.
“The original robber barons had decent intentions when they built railroads to connect America’s emerging cities and drilled oil wells that fueled the nation’s growth, but their empires still needed to be regulated, reined in, and in some cases broken up by vigilant watchdogs. Lofty words and ideals are fine for motivating employees and even for spurring sales, but they can also serve as cover for motives that clash with the broader interests of consumers and society. We need more than fancy promises in IPO prospectuses to ensure that the rise of the Silicon Valley engineer is good for the world.”

History’s limits
Oxfam’s Sally Baden suggests Ha-Joon Chang’s new book on agricultural policy focuses so much on lessons from the past that it neglects some fast-evolving new realities.
“We have moved from a situation of a lack of both public and private investment in agriculture to private funds actively seeking opportunities in developing country agriculture. But quite often this investment is driven by biofuels mandates, lack of other investment opportunities, the promise of increasing land values or by food-importing countries’ and companies’ concern with security of supplies of food and commodities, rather than the concerns of long-term agricultural development. Governments need to responsibly promote and regulate this investment with an eye to its consequences for small–scale farmers and national food security. European governments need to stop providing indirect incentives for landgrabbing and developing country governments need to provide adequate safeguards – for both people and the environment – from predatory or speculative investment.”

Drug money
Global Financial Integrity’s EJ Fagan argues that transnational drug syndicates’ huge financial resources do not “just magically disappear into the criminal underworld,” which means they end up in the global banking system.
“We can’t expect to curtail 100% of all money laundering by organized crime syndicates. However, we can do a much better job than we are currently doing. A report by [the United Nations Office of Drugs] finds that less than 1% (probably around .02%) of laundered money is seized and frozen. This is a laughably low number. It is too cheap and too easy for drug lords to move their drug money into Western banks. If we were to increase that number to, say, 5%, drug lords would be looking over their shoulders a lot more often. They would have more trouble operating large, complex organizations. Central American law enforcement would be much more able to beat them back.”


Latest Developments, August 24

In today’s news and analysis…

Libya’s rebels are calling for $5 billion in emergency funds to be unfrozen from Gadhafi regime assets. The US is working in the UN on getting $1.5 billion. Of course, as the Globe and Mail’s Eric Reguly writes, it is no secret that Libya has something everybody wants: “By Wednesday it was amply clear that NATO’s mission creep was lubricated by oil.” The question, he says, is “who will get the prizes.” Earlier in the week, a rebel spokesman said they had good relations with an eager bunch of NATO countries but “may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil” who were less keen on providing military support against Gadhafi. And although the rebels have pledged to honour all legal contracts, Reguly writes that “Libya is looking suspiciously like an oil war and the countries that delivered the bombs want their rewards.” But human rights NGO Global Witness is calling first for measures “to guard against a Libyan “oil grab” and ensure the Libyan people benefit fully from the exploitation of Libya’s natural resources.” It wants no new oil deals before democratic elections are held, extensive and “concrete” transparency measures, recovery of Gadhafi-regime money stashed abroad and sanctions against banks that sheltered such funds.

Anticipating a possible European oil embargo against Syria, international petroleum companies are not signing any new deals with the increasingly isolated country, which announced the discovery of a new gas field just last week. But for the time being, company executives said they “still had outstanding contracts that were signed months ago, to either supply refined products or buy crude,” according to the Financial Times. Former US Vice-President Dick Cheney took a much harder line with Damascus in his day, as he reveals in his upcoming autobiography that he wanted to bomb Syria in 2007. The New York Times reports he also defends the use of waterboarding in interrogations and is “happy to note” that current US President Barack Obama has not shut down the prison at Guantánamo Bay as promised.

Meanwhile, there is still a famine going on in Somalia and the African Union is holding a “pledge summit” to address the Horn of Africa food crisis. International Foundation for Agricultural Development President Kanayo Nwanze welcomed the intiative, saying Africa cannot wait for other countries to solve its problems: “No nation, no people ever had sustainable growth that sprang solely from external support. Africa’s development must be made in Africa, by Africans, for Africans.”

The UK and Switzerland have agreed on a new deal that would require taxes be paid in Britain on money held in by British citizens in Swiss bank accounts but would preserve the anonymity of the account holders. Drawing a parallel with the tough-on-crime frenzy that has taken hold in Britain since the riots, the Tax Justice Network’s Richard Murphy is livid: “So at a time when the government is demanding respect for the law, high moral standards and responsibility by all in society one group of criminals – those who have deliberately and knowingly broken the law by tax evading in Switzerland – are going to be let off without paying anything like what they owe even in tax, let alone in penalties and interest. What is more, instead of these people being brought before an all night court sitting to make sure justice is done with names and addresses being published for all to see anonymity is instead being guaranteed to those criminals so they can still held (sic) their heads up high in polite society.”

The Canadian Medical Association has denounced the federal government for blocking the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on a UN treaty’s list of hazardous substances. “This is an important health care issue and a product that causes significant illness and even death,” according to the organization’s outgoing president Jeff Turnbull. “Canada should not be in the business of exporting such a dangerous product.”

The Guardian’s John Vidal says “plans for a US-based investment company to lease up to 1m hectares of South Sudan for only $25,000 a year appears to have stalled following protests by local communities over the potential “land grab“.” But Indian agribusiness investors are showing major interest in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda, where they say there is as much arable land as in their home country. As in South Sudan, however, local populations are expressing misgivings: “No one should believe that these investors are there to feed starving Africans, create jobs or improve food security,” according Solidarity Movement for New Ethiopia’s Obang Metho.

Also writing in the Guardian, Rick Rowden argues that the UK’s Department for International Development’s new emphasis on promoting private sector growth in poor countries fails to distinguish “between the needs and interests of domestic private sector firms and those of foreign investors” and “perpetuates the foggy notion that the needs and interests of the two parties are somehow exactly the same. They are not.” He argues that, in countries where the private sector has taken off over the past decades, domestic companies got help from their own governments, whether in the form of temporary trade protection, cheap credit or R&D investment. But far from encouraging such measures today, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the proliferating bilateral trade agreements between rich and poor countries proscribe them as “bad government intervention.”

Richard Falk, a retired Princeton law professor, argues “the Afghanistan war is being fought against the nationalist Taliban and on behalf of a corrupted and incompetent Kabul regime for political control of the country” and as such is hurting America’s image and giving “extremism a good name” in the region. “Such an analysis yields a single moral, legal and prudential imperative: when foreign intervention is losing out to determined national resistance, leave the country quickly, stop the killing immediately, and declare victory with pomp and circumstance.”