Latest Developments, September 25

In the latest news and analysis…

Subsidized bribery
The Age reports that Australian government officials appear to have been “deeply involved” in a $150 million shipbuilding deal allegedly secured through bribing of Filipino officials:

“In what shapes as a second big international corruption scandal for Australia following the Reserve Bank bribery affair, cables show Australian officials knew in 2005 that an order by the Philippines for search and rescue vessels from Tenix was made without the required budgetary approvals in Manila.
This knowledge should have prompted immediate probity concerns within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which had since the late 1990s been issuing written warnings about corruption in the Philippines specifically involving government contracts.
The Tenix deals in the Philippines, which are at the centre of a police bribery probe, are sensitive for the Australian government because they were underpinned by huge Australian taxpayer grants and loans.”

Justice delayed
A new joint report by Amnesty International and Greenpeace calls for a UK criminal investigation into Trafigura’s role in the 2006 dumping of toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city, “resulting in over 100,000 people seeking medical assistance”:

“ ‘This is a story of corporate crime, human rights abuse and governments’ failure to protect people and the environment. It is a story that exposes how systems for enforcing international law have failed to keep up with companies that operate transnationally, and how one company has been able to take full advantage of legal uncertainties and jurisdictional loopholes, with devastating consequences,’ said Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo.”

Park oil
The Associated Press reports that the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has granted permission to British company SOCO to explore for oil in North Kivu’s Virunga National Park:

“Minister of Hydrocarbons Crispin Atama Tabe told The Associated Press that national economic interests take precedence over environmental considerations in Virunga, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Minister of Environment and Tourism Bavo Nsamputu refused to comment on the news.
The permission to explore for oil in Virunga is in contrast to the environment minister’s decision in March 2011 to suspend oil exploration in Block 5 of the Albertine Graben area of Virunga park that is home to more than 200 gorillas.”

Scramble redux
In a PanAfrican Visions Q&A, former Pambazuka editor-in-chief Firoze Manji is pessimistic about the continent’s ability to cope with a second “Scramble for Africa”:

“But it would be a serious mistake to view the entry of the ‘emerging powers’ with those of the US, Europe and Japan. The latter are the dominant exploiters of African labour, extractors of natural resources, and decimation of the environment. China, for example, is certainly becoming as big as the US in terms of trade. But in terms of natural resource extraction and in terms of extraction of wealth through debt financing, they remain a very small player in comparison to the US, Europe and Japan. Remember, the domination of the multinational corporations, banks and international finance institutions is guaranteed not by the ‘emerging powers’ but principally by the US. There is a growing US military presence in Africa in the form of US AFRICOM. We have seen military intervention in Africa from the US and its NATO allies in Somalia, Côte d’Ivoire, Libya. There has been no equivalent military intervention and occupation by the emerging powers.”

Legalize it
Espolea’s Lisa Sánchez and the Transform Drug Policy Foundation’s Steve Rolles write that after decades of devastation caused by the American-led war on drugs, “the era of blanket global prohibitions on drugs is finally coming to an end”:

“It is vitally important to learn from the mistakes made with alcohol and tobacco regulation. That means avoiding over-commercialisation and, while allowing legal availability to adult consumers, putting in place a regulatory framework to minimise health and social harms, rather than maximise profits. What this means in practice has been explored in some detail in Transform’s Blueprint for Regulation which outlines potential controls over products (potency, price, information on packaging etc), vendors (licensing, vetting, training requirements), venues for sale and consumption (location, appearance, opening hours), and availability (age access controls, membership clubs). A responsible government is a far better entity to develop such a model than the free market.”

Drone terror
Reprieve’s Clive Stafford Smith compares CIA drones in Pakistan to German doodlebugs in WWII London in terms of the fear and trauma caused to civilians:

“I hope that this report reminds us all what the US – with British support – is doing to the people of Pakistan. Maybe then there will be less surprise at the hatred the drone war is engendering in the Islamic world – and a chance that we will reconsider what we are doing.”

Poverty barons
The World Development Movement’s Deborah Doane writes that problems with the UK government’s approach to reducing global poverty have more to do with ideology than excessive largesse toward British consultants:

“In one stark example, UK aid money is currently paying for consultants to advise the Bangladeshi government on the establishment of new special economic zones aimed at attracting private-sector investment. Existing zones give multinational companies tax holidays and subsidised land while placing severe restrictions on trade union activity to an extent where the average wage inside these Bangladeshi ‘export processing zones’ is around £30 a month. Here, the scandal goes well beyond the approximately £14m that we are paying the consultants. The heart of the issue is the fact that we are using aid to support a project that will do everything to benefit multinationals like Adidas, which made 671 million Euros in profit last year, and next to nothing for the supposed beneficiaries.”

Communication breakdown
Marginal Revolution reproduces a statement by New York University’s Paul Romer on why he and his “Transparency Commission,” appointed by presidential decree last year, are no longer associated with a proposed charter city or Region Especial de Desarrollo in Honduras:

“From recent newspaper reports, I learned that the Honduran agency responsible for public-private partnerships had signed an agreement about a RED with a private company. When I asked for information, I was told that I could not see this agreement.
The administration’s current position is that because the decree was never published, the Transparency Commission does not exist in the eyes of the law and the five named members have no legal basis for reviewing any agreements.”

Latest Developments, September 6

In the latest news and analysis…

Systemic change
In assessing the performance of Britain’s outgoing international development minister, the Overseas Development Institute’s Jonathan Glennie argues that “aid is not very important for development”:

“The aid effectiveness agenda has had some successes in turning the tide of donor arrogance and aligning external funds with domestic endeavours, but its lasting and unfortunate impact has been to divert the world’s attention towards technocratic tinkering and away from what really matters: systemic change.

Better regulation of companies and fairer trade with poorer nations has long since dropped from the agenda in favour of better terms for UK companies and investors. And does anyone remember climate change? Rather than focus on the major issues – sustainable development and poverty reduction – we are exhorted to focus on aid, sold as the generosity of a kind-hearted nation.”

Anti-bribery enforcement
Transparency International has released a new report assessing the commitment of the world’s richest countries to fighting foreign bribery:

“The report assesses the progress of 37 of the 39 countries signed up to the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Anti-Bribery] Convention, placing them in four enforcement categories: Active, Moderate, Little and No enforcement.

Eighteen countries have little or no enforcement at all, having not yet brought any criminal charges for major cross-border corruption by companies. Together these countries represent 10 per cent of world exports. Only seven out of 37 countries are actively enforcing bribery law.”

Land-grab greenwash
A new report by the Oakland Institute looks at a US-owned company’s “strategy to deceive the public into believing that there is logic to cutting down rainforests to make room for palm oil plantations” in Cameroon:

“[SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon] is 100 percent owned by the American company Herakles Farms, an affiliate of Herakles Capital, which is an Africa-focused private investment firm involved in the telecommunications, energy, infrastructure, mining and agro-industrial sectors. The Chairman and CEO of Herakles Farms, Bruce Wrobel, is also the Chairman and Executive Director of All for Africa, a ‘development’ Non-Governmental Organization (NGO).

The expected negative social and environmental impacts of the plantation are numerous, including loss of livelihoods, small returns for local communities, and massive deforestation. The involvement of All for Africa, ostensibly a ‘development’ NGO, is deceptive. While partnering in the development of a plantation that will destroy existing and valuable tropical rainforest, All For Africa’s main stated goal, to plant one million trees for sustainability, does not match up with sustainable development goals.”

Torture revelations
Human Rights Watch has released a report containing new evidence on waterboarding and other forms of torture in CIA prisons, which suggests “just how little the public still knows about what went on in the US secret detention program”:

“The United States played the most extensive role in the abuses, but other countries, notably the United Kingdom, were also involved.

Five former [Libyan Islamist Fighting Group] members told Human Rights Watch that they were detained in US run-prisons in Afghanistan for between eight months and two years. The abuse allegedly included: being chained to walls naked – sometimes while diapered – in pitch dark, windowless cells, for weeks or months at a time; being restrained in painful stress positions for long periods of time, being forced into cramped spaces; being beaten and slammed into walls; being kept inside for nearly five months without the ability to bathe; being denied food and being denied sleep by continuous, deafeningly loud Western music, before being rendered back to Libya. The United States never charged them with crimes.”

Spill fallout
The Associated Press reports that local residents are claiming they have not received adequate help following a toxic spill at a Peruvian mine run by four global corporate giants:

“At least 350 Cajacay residents were sickened by the spill of 45 tons of copper concentrate, a mineral stew of volatile compounds. At least 69 were children.
The mine’s owner, Antamina, has not responded to repeated AP phone and email requests to identify the toxic components of the slurry and details on medical care it is providing for the spill victims. A document obtained by the newspaper La Republica shortly after the spill described the mixture as ‘highly toxic.’

Antamina is the world’s third-largest zinc mine and eighth-biggest producer of copper. It is owned by a consortium including Australia-based BHP Billiton Ltd., Xstrata of Switzerland, Teck-Cominco Ltd. of Canada and Mitsubishi Corp. of Japan.”

Hello to arms
Reuters reports that France may be considering supplying heavy artillery to rebel-held “liberated zones” in Syria:

“European powers have also said they will not supply weapons to lightly-armed Syrian rebels, who have few answers to attacks by Assad’s planes and helicopter gunships. However, the source implied there may be a shift in Paris’ thinking.
‘It’s not simple. There have been transfers of weapons which then ended up in different areas such as in the Sahel so all that means we need to work seriously, build a relationship of trust to see who is who so that then an eventual decision can be taken. It takes time,’ the source said.”

Forests for sale
Global Witness reports that “a quarter of Liberia’s total landmass has been granted to logging companies in just two years”:

“The new logging contracts – termed Private Use Permits – now cover 40 percent of Liberia’s forests and almost half of Liberia’s best intact forests.

Designed to allow private land owners to cut trees on their property, Private Use Permits are being used by companies to avoid Liberia’s carefully-crafted forest laws and regulations. Companies holding these permits are not required to log sustainably and pay little in compensation to either the Liberian Government or the people who own the forests for the right to export valuable tropical timber.”

Puntland guns
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that an Australian citizen with a shady past is helping to set up a large militia force that “fundamentally changes the balance of power in the north-east of Somalia” despite a UN arms embargo:

“[Lafras Luitingh] is using a string of companies registered around the world, but according to UN investigators, Australia plays a central part in their operations.
Australian records show Mr Luitingh registered the company – Australian African Global Investments – in 2006.
It has branches in South Africa, Uganda and other African countries and is involved in logistics, transport and chartering planes and ships.
The Australian company was registered by Taurus Financial Services in Sydney.”