Latest Developments, July 28

In the latest news and analysis…

It has been exactly a year since the adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution declaring access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation as human rights, rights that continue to elude 900 million and 2.6 billion people, respectively. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said it was “not acceptable that poor slum-dwellers pay five or even 10 times as much for their water as wealthy residents of the same areas of the same cities,” while making it clear he did not believe water should be free. But speaking at UN headquarters in New York, Bolivian President Evo Morales slammed water privatization: “Water is life. Water is humanity. How could it be part of the private business?” And Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians writes that Canada and Tonga are the only two countries who have not recognized the right to water and she reminds readers access to water is not universal, even in rich countries.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) has released its review of American aid policies. The assessment was the result of the organization’s “peer review” process, meaning only members of the DAC – an even more exclusive group than the OECD which is  commonly described in newspaper shorthand as a “rich-country club” – can be “examiners.” In this instance, it was Denmark and the EU. The accompanying press release carried the headline “US, a generous donor, is committed to making aid more effective” and said the world’s biggest aid donor had “significantly enhanced its development strategies, policies, and programs” since the last review in 2006. The examiners do, however, note that the 0.21 percent of American GDP devoted to aid falls well below the DAC average and called on the US to “better incorporate and reflect the goals and strategies of developing countries.” They also point to “concerns about the role of the U.S. military in humanitarian assistance.”  The US Agency for International Development’s Donald Steinberg called the assessment “fair, objective and rigorous.”

Malawi’s government, reeling from the suspension of American and British aid over alleged human rights abuses and poor economic management, is trying to defend its actions, claiming those killed during last week’s demonstrations were not protestors but looters and blaming the lack of fuel and foreign exchange on IMF-imposed privatization. Under mounting pressure to devalue the national currency, President Bingu wa Mutharika has said: “I cannot devalue the kwacha because no one, including the IMF, is giving me convincing arguments on what will be done to deal with the rise of the cost of living that will follow the devaluation.” One bit of good news for Malawi’s embattled government is the country’s top ranking in the latest Hunger Reduction Commitment Index.

If Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab will not deal with foreign agencies, the international community should go through local NGOs, according to the Somali Relief and Development Forum umbrella group. “There are divisions within al-Shabaab and there are Somali NGOs that are able to work around al-Shabaab and bypass them, but there is hardly any international engagement with these local NGOs,” forum spokesman Mustakim Waid told the Guardian.

As the food crisis in the Horn of Africa continues to unfold, a growing chorus is calling not just for emergency relief but long-term assistance to allow the region to feed itself through future droughts. According to a Bloomberg report, World Food Program head Josette Sheeran thinks her organization’s Purchase for Progress initiative can help do exactly that by using “the agency’s buying power to integrate the world’s poorest farmers into the global food economy.” But a skeptical Frederick Kaufman, in a 2009 Harper’s Magazine piece, wonders how inculcating the profit motive in food producers will help the world’s poor: “Henceforth, the rural farmer could follow fluctuating prices with the technology of his mobile phone. The once indigent peasant could become a commodity trader and peg his sale to any time of the year. In this way, he could forecast, model, and leverage more financing. No matter that commodity speculation and grain hoarding had helped trigger the world food crisis.”

In a Transparency International blog post entitled “Saving the World? Prove it,” Krina Despota argues dodgy carbon offsets actually lead to more emissions since they are used as justification for polluting elsewhere. The biggest offset scheme is the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), through which major polluting countries can meet their Kyoto commitments by obtaining credits through investing in greening projects in other countries. But as of October 2008, “over 75% of all projects registered under the CDM had been completely constructed prior to being approved for carbon credits, suggesting that in some cases projects did not rely on financing from the CDM to be realized.” Despota also argues the CDM can actually provide incentives to pollute, as companies fiddle with emission levels in order to maximize the number of credits for which they are elligible.

A new Hollywood movie entitled “The Whistleblower” takes on the link between international peacekeeping and the sex trade as it played out in Bosnia during the 1990s. According to Ari Karpel of the New York Times, the film depicts graphic abuse and “implicates the United Nations, the State Department, private contractors and nongovernmental organizations in the sex trade.” Nevertheless, the star of the film, Rachel Weisz, tells the Times the true story has been toned down for public consumption: “In real life there were girls doing this as young as 8 years old.”

As reported yesterday, liquor giant Diageo agreed to a $16 million settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission over allegations of bribery in three Asian countries. But if the US Chamber of Commerce gets the changes it wants to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, companies will no longer have to pay fines for paying bribes abroad as long as subsidiaries do the dirty work, according to Global Financial Integrity’s Dan Hennessey. Moreover, companies “with anti-corruption programs would also be able to use the existence of those programs in order to defend themselves from legal action.”

Latest Developments, July 25

In the latest news and analysis…

The UN will hold a donors conference in Nairobi on Wednesday to try to raise $1.6 billion for drought assistance in the Horn of Africa and is looking into allegations that some of its officials are demanding money in exchange for food in refugee camps there. Former US ambassador to neighbouring Ethiopia, David Shinn, lays out some of the obstacles to helping in Somalia, including Al Shabab’s dislike of foreign aid agencies and US policy that is fixated on not helping the Islamist group in any way. A pair of Chatham House experts hold a similar view: “Both parties bear responsibility for treating emergency aid as a political tool.”

The Guardian’s Simon Bowers reports the UK’s Serious Fraud Office is allotting more resources to investigating overseas bribery cases than to fraud schemes hatched in London’s financial offices, “raising concerns that tackling the very biggest UK fraud cases may be slipping as the agency’s top priority.”

Mike Koehler, aka the FCPA Professor, looks at the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s facilitating payments exception, arguing the provision, which allows small “grease payments” to foreign officials, is wrongly being ignored by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission: “If Congress wants to remove the facilitating payment exception from the FCPA, let Congress do that, not the enforcement agencies through its charging decisions.” Similarly, a Washington Post headline decries the fact that US companies don’t know “whom to bribe.”

Al Jazeera reports on Vancouver-based Pacific Rim Mining’s El Dorado mine in El Salvador which is reportedly shut down at present due to ongoing protests.“Recent murders and death threats against activists in the region have put the spotlight on the gold mining project there,” according to the report. Pacific Rim, for its part, insists it has done nothing wrong and is itself the victim of unscrupulous tactics: “Despite our consistently professional behavior throughout our time in El Salvador and investigations clearing us of any involvement, we are again being maliciously and falsely tied to a horrible act for the third time,” according to a statement posted on the company website.

Despite continued rumblings within South Africa’s African National Congress about nationalizing mines, Anglo American Platinum, the world’s biggest platinum producer says the government simply does not have the money to follow through.

Declaring “the future of the global economy lies in the hands of poor countries,” Harvard economist Dani Rodrik looks at the long-term growth prospects of these states to see whether we are headed toward a newly egalitarian economic world order. His conclusion: probably not. “Ultimately, greater convergence in the post-crisis global economy appears inevitable. But a large reversal in the fortunes of rich and poor countries seems neither economically likely, nor politically feasible.”

Colombian ambassador to London Mauricio Rodríguez argues no option should be left off the table in the search for a completely new approach to fighting the global drug trade. One key element, he says, is to follow the money: “Let’s be serious about where the big money is. If you look at the trail of cocaine, you’ll find that 5% of the profits remain in the producing countries; 95% is in the distribution networks and laundered. The big money is in the big banks in the big countries; the big money is in the US, Europe and Asia.”

Fox News’s Oliver North recounts his conversation with a young man who asks him what he intends to do “once ‘The Empire’ bans your shotguns,” in reference to negotiations on the UN-sponsored Arms Trade Treaty that would regulate the international transfer of conventional weapons without interfering with “the right of States to regulate internal transfers of arms and national ownership, including through national constitutional protections on private ownership, exclusively within their territory.” The piece ends with the two men, anxious about their guns but filled with mutual admiration, parting ways: “When he got into his truck, I noticed his license plate: Massachusetts. Home of Paul Revere, John Adams, John Hancock. When an empire struck at Americans in 1775, they knew what to do. Let’s hope we still do.”

Howard Berman, a member of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, makes the case for his efforts to modernize American foreign assistance. He says the changes he will propose this fall include “reforms in the areas of conflict prevention and mitigation, human rights and democracy, security assistance, and trade and investment programs.”  Berman points out the current legislation is 50 years old and better suited to the Cold War than today’s world. “In this tight budget environment, one thing that can unite Democrats and Republicans is a commitment to make our foreign assistance programs more efficient and more effective.  We may have differing views on how much aid to provide and to which countries, but we should all agree to deliver aid in a way that reaches the intended beneficiaries and achieves its desired objectives.” But the University of Ottawa’s Stephen Brown has argued that, while most can agree on the desirability of making aid more effective, “the definition of what constitutes effectiveness and the choice of means to promote it are highly debatable.”

A Globe and Mail piece entitled “When business charity goes wrong,” uses the example of as a cautionary tale about the potentially disastrous consequences of acting on good intentions without doing one’s homework first.

Inter Press Service’s Thalif Deen looks at how much progress has been made since last July’s UN resolution making water and sanitation a human right. The answer, according to those he interviews, is not much.