By IPS World Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)
Open data is a pretty simple concept: governments should publish information about what they do to fight corruption– data that can be freely used, modified and shared by anyone for any purpose, according to two major international anti-corruption watchdogs. This is particularly important in the fight against corruption.
In 2015 the Group of 20 (G20) governments agreed on a set of G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles. These principles aim to make crucial data public specifically because they can help stop corruption, a joint research published by Transparency International (TI) and the Web Foundation has revealed.
“In 2015 the G20 (Group of the 20 most industrialised countries) agreed that in order to help stop corruption, governments should publish data on open data platforms so that civil society could monitor the use of public resources, including how taxes are spent, how contracts are awarded and how money is funnelled into political campaigns.”
Publishing this data would allow civil society to monitor things like the use of public resources and taxes, the awarding of public contracts, and the sources of political party finance, the research underlines, explaining that this would make it easier to hold governments to account and deter criminal activities like bribery and nepotism, adds the research.
“Alongside the overview report, five country-level studies (Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa) revealed a range of shortcomings in national commitments to G20 open data principles. The graphics below summarise the main finding and recommendation for improvement per country.”
Transparency International and the Web Foundation examined the extent to which five G20 countries – Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa – are living up to these principles. There are individual country reports (see below) as well as an overall report.
The basic conclusion: there isn’t enough progress. No country released all the data-sets required, and much of the information proved either hard to find or difficult to use.
Read previous IPS article: Five Key G20 Powers Break Promise to Help Tackle Corruption
By Edgardo Ayala
Feb 27 2017 (IPS)
The Izcanal Radio and Television set is simple and austere, but this TV station made history in El Salvador, being the first, and until now the only one, to make the leap from community radio to community TV channel, in 2006.
It has done this through a local cable TV station, not an open signal channel, but that could change very soon.
“Our greatest wish is to compete for Izcanal to have its frequency and broadcast on an open signal channel; that’s our dream,” said Wilfredo Hernández, news coordinator at the Izcanal station, which was born in February 1993 in Nueva Granada, a town in the eastern department of Usulután.
Izcanal’s signal reaches across this town to 35 surrounding municipalities, but to receive it you have to pay for cable TV service. “The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way to guarantee this right.” -- Leonel Herrera
Its programming is focused on showing positive developments and initiatives in the community, revolving around themes such as local development, women and gender, environment, a culture of peace and migration.
“The major media outlets don’t show the good things that are happening in the communities, we offer this option,” said Sandra Juárez, coordinator of programming and content, while she edited an audio file on a computer.
Hernández and Juárez hope that radio and television, which are currently dominated by private commercial stations, will become more open and democratic, but to achieve that the authorities would have to generate the appropriate conditions.
They told IPS that the legal and operational foundations are in place to open up to new alternative projects, which would lead to a strengthening of the freedom of expression.
The government of leftist President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has announced the launch of digital TV in 2018, a new technology which will optimise the bandwidth and could make way for new stations, especially community, public and academic stations, among others.
For the shift from analogue to digital, the authorities chose the ISDB-Tb model, known as the “Japanese-Brazilian” model, used throughout Latin America, except in Colombia and Panama.
Social organisations grouped together in the Network for the Protection of the Right to Communication (RedCo) are fighting for El Salvador’s General Superintendency of Electricity and Telecommunications (Siget), the regulator of the sector, to promote the incorporation of these new players in the TV frequencies and also to open spaces on the jam-packed radio spectrum.
The expansion of the radio spectrum gained momentum following the reform of the Telecommunications Law in May 2016, which acknowledges community and other non-profit stations, and established alternate mechanisms for them to participate in the allocation of frequencies, such as direct allocation and a tendering process.
When the 1980-1992 civil war ended, a score of community stations were operating, initially broadcasting without a license from private frequencies, which led to crackdowns by the police.
In 2008, they managed to secure, through third parties, an FM license, which they fractioned and divided into zones to broadcast their programming, although with interference.
For years they struggled for the elimination of the auction system, imposed by the now reformed 1997 Telecommunications Law, a scheme that prevented community stations from competing on an equal footing.
In 2015, the Supreme Court came down on their side, ruling that something other than the auction system should exist, to guarantee the participation of these actors, in response to appeals on the grounds of unconstitutionality filed by social organisations in 2012 and 2013 against this mechanism and other aspects of the law in force at the time.
The inclusion of these new players in radio and television would give the country’s media a more pluralistic and inclusive character, which would strengthen freedom of expression, said Leonel Herrera, head of the Association of Participatory Radios and Programmes of El Salvador (Arpas).
“The right to freedom of expression has to do with access to different sources of information and spaces for participation, and when the media system is exclusive and corporate, there is no way of guaranteeing this right,” Herrera told IPS.
But the idea of extending the allocation of frequencies faces heavy opposition from commercial radio stations, controlled by five corporate consortiums, which account for 92 per cent of the spectrum, according to Siget.
The segment for open TV is almost entirely in private hands, although of the 42 existing stations, seven are not commercial and are run by religious organisations, and two others are state-run.
But the entry of new players, in radio as well as in television, cannot be taken for granted, and if the current system remains as it is, blocking the entry of other participants, the media will become even more concentrated in fewer hands, said Herrera.
In the case of television, the digital platform and its greater bandwidth would allow diversification, but Herrera argued that the existing license-holders intend to keep the extra bandwidth for their channels.
In radio, the panorama is even more complex, because the radio spectrum is full and the commercial consortiums refuse to give space to community stations, although there are proposals to divide the frequency bandwidth to double the space.
“Siget must comply and make room, otherwise the reform that acknowledges community radio stations will only remain on paper,” said Izcanal’s Hernández.
A request from IPS for an interview with the superintendent of the regulator, Blanca Coto, received no answer.
An opportunity for new licenses in radio could open this year, during the renewal of frequencies, a process which takes place every 20 years. Until the reform in 2016, they were automatically renewed, a mechanism which practically ensured the concessionaires a license for life..
Now they must meet requisites such as keeping up with payments, failing to commit serious infringements, and making proper use of the broadcast signal.
But RedCo argues that with these standards almost every station will manage to get its license renewed, and that other aspects should be taken into account, such as whether the license was originally obtained in a transparent, legal manner.
A report from the Presidential Secretariat of Participation, Transparency and Anti-corruption revealed in September 2016 that 60 per cent of the concessions granted before the 1997 Telecommunications Law have no paper trail to verify their allocation.
The then regulatory body used to grant frequencies as an award for political favours or to benefit relatives or friends of the right-wing National Republican Alliance (Arena), in power from 1989 to 2009.
If Siget includes this transparency factor proposed by the organisations that make up RedCo, some licenses may not be renewed, giving community stations a chance.
But even if community stations are granted radio and TV licenses, this would not be enough to bring about a more democratic media system. To do that, the state must back up these measures with public policies aimed at promoting and developing community radio, said the interviewees.
The RedCo organisations have submitted a Proposal for a Public Policy in Communications, to contribute to a debate that, in the end, should generate clear measures to democratise the media in El Salvador.Related Articles
By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Australia, Feb 27 2017 (IPS)
Juvinal Dias has first-hand experience of mistreatment at the hands of a foreign power. Born in 1981 in Tutuala, a village in the far east of Timor-Leste, Dias’ family fled into the jungle following the 1975 invasion by Indonesia.
It was during this time, hiding from the Indonesian military, that his eldest sister died of malnutrition.Widely seen to be central to the maritime boundary issue with Timor-Leste is the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, reported to be worth some 30 billion dollars.
Speaking to IPS from Dili, Timor-Leste’s capital, Dias told of how “the struggle” against the Indonesian occupation had intertwined with his own family’s history. “I heard, as I grew up, how the war affected the family,” he says.
Dias’ father fought against the occupation with FALANTIL guerrillas, the armed wing of FRETILIN (Revolutionary Front for an Independent Timor-Leste) before surrendering in 1979. Up to 200,000 people are believed to have been killed by Indonesian forces or died from conflict-related illness and hunger during the brutal 1975-1999 occupation.
“People saw the Indonesian military as public enemy number one,” says Dias, now a researcher at the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis, known as La’o Hamutuk in the local Tetum language.
But things have changed. Dias says that it is now Australia that provokes the ire of the Timor-Leste public, who regard their southern neighbour as a “thief country” due to its behaviour towards Timor-Leste over disputed territory in the Timor Sea.
Timor-Leste has long-sought a permanent maritime boundary along the median or equidistance line, as is often the norm in such cases where nations’ Exclusive Economic Zones overlap.
For Timor-Leste’s government, concluding a maritime boundary with Australia is linked to the young nation’s long history of subjugation, including its centuries as a Portuguese colony, its occupation by Indonesia and its treatment by Australia.
“The achievement of maritime boundaries in accordance with international law is a matter of national sovereignty and the sustainability of our country. It is Timor-Leste’s top national priority,” said Timor-Leste’s independence hero Xanana Gusmão last year.
Australia, for its part, has repeatedly avoided entering into such negotiations. Instead, it has concluded a number of revenue sharing deals based on jointly developing petroleum deposits in the Timor Sea with both an independent Timor-Leste and Indonesia during the occupation years.
Australia argues that any border with its much smaller neighbour be based on Australia’s continental shelf, which extends well into the Timor Sea, and should therefore be drawn much closer to Timor-Leste. Australia has taken a hard-nosed approach over border negotiations for decades with nations to its north.
Widely seen to be central to the maritime boundary issue with Timor-Leste is the potentially-lucrative Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, reported to be worth some 30 billion dollars. If the median line was accepted by both sides, Greater Sunrise would likely fall within Timor-Leste’s jurisdiction, potentially providing one of the poorest nations in the region with much-needed revenue.
However, under current arrangements based on a 2006 deal, Australia and Timor-Leste have agreed to equally divide revenue from Greater Sunrise.
But this deal is set to expire on April 10 following Timor-Leste’s January notification to Australia that it was withdrawing from the treaty. Timor-Leste had been calling for this agreement to be scrapped following the 2012 revelations by a former Australian spy that Australia bugged Timor-Leste’s cabinet rooms in 2004 to gain the upper-hand in the bilateral negotiations that eventually led to the 2006 treaty.
Australia has also been criticised for a 2013 raid on the offices of Timor-Leste’s Australian lawyer in which sensitive documents were seized.
While Timor-Leste took Australia to the International Court of Arbitration in April last year in the hope of forcing Australia to settle on a permanent maritime boundary, Australia’s 2002 withdrawal from compulsory dispute settlement procedures under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea meant, according to the Australian government, that Australia was not bound by any decision made by the court.
But in a significant development, Australia announced in January that it would seek to establish a permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste by September this year.
Ella Fabry, an Australian activist with the Timor Sea Justice Campaign, says that Australia now has an opportunity to go some way in righting the wrongs of the past by negotiating in good faith with Timor-Leste and agreeing to a border along the median line.
“For Timor-Leste, it could mean literally billions of dollars of extra funding for them that could then go on to fund health, education [and] all of those things that a developing country needs,” she says.
Investment in such areas is indeed needed in Timor-Leste. According to global charity Oxfam, 41 percent of Timor-Leste’s population of 1.13 million people live on less than 1.25 dollars per day and almost 30 percent do not have access to clean drinking water.
Australia’s foreign affairs department identifies high maternal mortality rates and poor nutrition – leading to stunted growth in half of all children under five years – as being among key areas of concern.
Whether negotiations eventually lead to the financial windfall for Timor-Leste that some are predicting remains to be seen. A maritime boundary agreement along the median line is far from certain and there are serious concerns over the viability of a gas pipeline connecting Greater Sunrise to Timor-Leste, not least because it must cross the three kilometre-deep Timor Trough.
For Juvinal Dias, what often gets overlooked in the maritime boundary dispute is his nation’s over-reliance on income from petroleum resources, which, he argues, has led to a lack of investment in the non-oil economy.
“The oil money has dominated everything in Timor-Leste,” he says.
Timor-Leste has earned more than 12 billion dollars from its joint petroleum development area with Australia. It set up a petroleum fund in 2005, the balance of which was 15.84 billion dollars at the end of 2016, down some 1.3 billion since its peak in May 2015.
According to La’o Hamutuk, Timor-Leste’s oil and gas income peaked in 2012 and will continue to fall, with the Bayu Undan field expected to end production by 2020. It has also warned that if current spending trends continue, the petroleum fund itself will run dry by 2026.
This is a serious concern in a country where petroleum revenue has provided some 90 percent of the budget, leading to what Dias describes as “a very dangerous situation”.
He says that while there is a growing awareness in Timor-Leste about the importance of diversifying its economy, there is no time to waste.
“If we can’t manage our economy today, the poverty will be even worse in the next decade,” says Dias.Related Articles
By Dr. Abdullah Shibli
Feb 26 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)
China’s President Xi Jinping has been walking a very delicate tightrope since the inauguration of the new President of the USA who has threatened to launch an economic war with China. One of candidate Donald Trump’s promises to his nation was to declare China as a currency manipulator on day one of taking his oath of office. Fortunately for China, President Trump is busy with other more pressing problems and has missed his self-imposed deadline by more than a month already. It is a fair guess that President Xi Jinping is counting days before his US counterpart will succumb to the calls by Democrats to implement one of his campaign promises and declare China a currency manipulator. The top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, called out to President Trump, “Mr. President: if you really want to put America first, label China a currency manipulator.”
Empowered by this legislation, every six months, the Treasury department puts countries in a blacklist known as “Monitoring List” on the basis of three tests:
* The country must have a significant trade surplus with the US.
* The country has a “material” current account surplus.
* The country is engaged in persistent one-sided intervention in the foreign exchange market.
In the past, China has met at least two of these criteria and has been on the “list” on and off since 1994. China’s image in the US took a hit on the chin when Donald Trump declared his candidacy for the president’s position in 2015. On November 9, 2015, Donald Trump wrote in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page a harsh critique of China’s currency practices. The article, “Ending China’s Currency Manipulation”, Trump did not mince words when he proclaimed that “China’s de facto tariff on imported goods has cost the US billions of dollars and millions of jobs.” Rightly or wrongly, he has kept up this barrage of attacks on China’s economic policy throughout 2016, regardless of the evidence that China had moved away from deliberately undervaluing the yuan.
As a matter of fact, the yuan’s value against the dollar has been declining since 2014 and it is at a six-year low. China, either to prevent yuan from sliding further or to forestall any accusation from US that the devaluation is a result of covert government manipulation and hurting US exports anyway, has spent more than USD 1.3 trillion of its reserves to buy its currency to shore up its value. In other words, China is attempting to raise the value of yuan not to cheapen its value in the foreign exchange market. However, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal last month, Trump is not convinced and ridiculed Jinping’s administration’s claim about supporting their currency “because they don’t want us to get angry”.
To compound the situation, Donald Trump has been continuously saber-rattling, off and on since winning the elections. In mid-December he said on Fox News that “We’re being hurt very badly by China with devaluation; with taxing us heavy at the borders when we don’t tax them; with building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing; and, frankly, with not helping us at all with North Korea.”
He now appears to be leaning towards a multi-pronged attack, along the economic front as well as in the geopolitical sphere. While it is not clear which economic measures the new Administration will finally take, the outline is pretty clear. The US wants China to step away from flooding the US market with cheap Chinese goods while keeping out US exports, thus causing US to run a trade deficit with China to the tune of USD 300 billion annually. More directly, President Trump has been singling out US companies that have outsourced their manufacturing to China and taken away jobs from US workers. He has also been threatening China with a 45 percent tariff on Chinese exports, similar to the 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to pay for the border wall. China and other countries are not powerless, though, against these threats since any form of tax on imports could be challenged in international courts as violation of WTO rules.
China could face other types of sanctions too. It has been reported that President Xi Jinping’s counterpart in the White House is exploring a new plan under which “the US Commerce Secretary would designate the practice of currency manipulation as an unfair subsidy when employed by any country, instead of singling out China”, allowing US companies to bring anti-subsidy actions themselves to the US Commerce Department against China or other countries.
All this uncertainty is throwing the Chinese leadership in turmoil since these challenges are coming on the eve of China’s 19th National Congress scheduled for next autumn. 2017 is a big year for the Communist Party of China and its President. “The Chinese leadership will likely face significant political uncertainty both internally and externally, and in response they will likely place social and economic stability as a top priority throughout 2017,” a Credit Suisse research team led by Vincent Chan wrote in a note.
President Xi Jinping, however, is not a pushover. Aware of the danger that Donald Trump faces if he carries his anti-China stance too far, Trump spoke with the Chinese president on the phone and reaffirmed US commitment to “One China” policy, which recognises Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan. Trump’s action to cancel TPP was also seen as a positive signal by China. And, Xi Jinping holds the ultimate trump card: China has more than USD 1 trillion in US bonds, notes and bills and Mr. Trump is aware that any move by China to sell these will cause major disturbances in US financial markets.
The writer is an economist and author of several books on economics.
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh
By Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Feb 26 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)
Last Sunday’s front page lead story in this newspaper on the risk to foreign employment due to the 2017 Budget by raising the minimum wage for skilled labour seems to have caught the eye of Parliament. The Minister in charge of Foreign Employment confirmed the fact that her ministry was rather perturbed that it had not been consulted, and wanted the proposal reversed.
Foreign remittances of workers and others overseas have become the single largest foreign exchange earner and are now the mainstay of successive Budgets of successive Governments which have been unable to generate sufficient finances on their own but go on a spending spree nevertheless.
US dollars 7.2 billion (Rs. 1.1 trillion) is what foreign remittances bought in to this country in 2016. The fact that Sri Lanka is facing a debt crisis of huge proportions is an open secret. Desperate for foreign investment that has otherwise dried up, and the rupee on a slippery slope against the US dollar, the Government’s predicament is somewhat understandable.
In this desperation, however, to try and tap even more from the reservoir of foreign remittances by upping the minimum wage of migratory workers — they seem to almost to count the chicks before they are hatched — is to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. What the Government must endeavour to do instead is to lobby more aggressively in the manner of ‘collective bargaining’ with other countries providing expat labour, especially in West Asia so that adventurist exercises like what the Government seeks to do don’t come a cropper in the long run by other countries snapping up the jobs Sri Lankans can have. The end aim should be getting a better deal for all concerned.
The Government must play the role of a trade union demanding better wages and working conditions from the employer, mindful also that West Asian and Gulf countries are facing their own economic slumps with oil prices dropping in recent times and wars in the region.
Only last month did the Abu Dhabi Dialogue – an initiative by the United Arab Emirates having stakeholders highlight the potential of contractual labour mobility to benefit workers in West Asia and the host country, meet in Sri Lanka. Known as the ‘Colombo Process’, the exercise is a tribute to employer-employee relations and an exemplary milestone in migratory contractual labour mobility.
New laws and regulations and transparent recruitment mechanisms were highlighted along with achieving the migration-related target of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals as part of its work plans. Bangladesh has urged that the deliberations of the ‘Colombo Process’ be conveyed to the Global Compact on Safe and Orderly Migration Policy in New York.
It need not be all horror stories coming from West Asia and the Gulf. There may be commendable moves initiated to dissuade Sri Lankan women from going as housemaids to some of the countries, and promoting skilled workers to go for foreign employment rather than as mere labourers. But without providing the training facilities for those skilled labourers who are in short supply, the Government is putting the cart before the horse in fixing minimum wages. That will only prevent more Sri Lankans from finding jobs abroad triggering a drop, not an increase, in revenue to the state purse.
With Sri Lanka now in the chair of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue and the ‘Colombo Process’, one would hope for a more enlightened approach on a win-win basis for Sri Lanka’s golden goose — the long suffering migrant workers without whose remittances this country would be in even deeper economic troubles.
Talks behind closed doors
As if synchronised, visits this week by US Congressmen, a senior Indian diplomat and members of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, are no better a pointer to the geopolitical interest in Sri Lanka.
The Government has not thought it necessary to let the people know what these visits were all about. Keeping them below the radar, the Government seems to believe that what the people do not know, is not happening. Or that the plebs need not know what their leaders do. It was only the President’s Media Unit that at least issued a bare-bones release on some of the visits. The result; widespread speculation, intensifying suspicion, but the Government seems to care little.
What the discerning public receive are the official release from the Indian side and reports published in the Indian media (often reproduced locally) on the Indian Foreign Secretary’s visit. The Chinese would rather stay below the radar saying the visit was to discuss the entire gamut of China’s recent investments in Sri Lanka, but the corridors of power are buzzing with the talk that it was another reading of the ‘Riot Act’ to Sri Lankan leaders to hurry up and sign the controversial agreement for the Hambantota Port Development Project, now stalled by public protests and a pending court case.
Even if the Sri Lankan Government maintains a deafening silence, the unusually loquacious Chinese ambassador has recently spoken in public on the status of these negotiations, suggesting what is best for Sri Lanka, when a case is being adjudicated before the country’s Supreme Court. Acting in the manner of a Viceroy, the envoy who is invited to brief Cabinet sub-committees nowadays, is certainly not going to be summoned by the Foreign Ministry to be cautioned about diplomatic conduct. On the other hand, with the new US Administration changing course on two issues that country championed for decades – free trade and free speech, it may be China wanting the mantle – at least abroad.
Recent reports indicate that several countries have begun reviewing rapidly expanding Chinese investments around the world on the basis of “national interest”. Some projects have been cancelled in Australia and Germany on these grounds. Beijing is also imposing a certain amount of controls on the outflow of its capital.
The Hambantota port and Colombo’s ‘Financial District’, which is the port city, may fall into the category of strategic interests to China rather than of commercial value, but what Sri Lanka must guard against is that in its negotiations, secret as they are, don’t run counter to our own long-term national interests; and that they are not merely seen from the prism of overcoming an immediate debt problem that the previous Sri Lankan Government foisted on the people.
From all accounts, the Indian Foreign Secretary has given a telling message that the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord is outdated in some aspects and the demand for the North-East merger is now passé. Whether the contentious issue of poaching in Sri Lankan waters by Indian fishermen, causing irreparable harm to the Sri Lankan economy was ever discussed is anybody’s guess. With a pro-active disclosure policy under the new Right to Information Law in operation on the one hand, the acute deficiency in letting the citizens know the outcome of all these discussions with these key overseas players on the other, is not just unfortunate, it is not in the public interest.
This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Feb 25 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)
Donald Trump`s presidency is the tip of the spear that xenophobic white supremacists are using to reconquer America. A Republican-dominated Senate and the House of Representatives may dif fer with Trump on smaller matters but will support him on core issues. The alt-right`s goal is to barrel over traditional American values of freedom and generosity, terrorise Muslim and immigrant families into leaving, and remove the checks and balances that have preserved the country`s openness to new peoples and ideas.
The future is uncertain. An unhinged, foulmouthed, openly racist, narcissistic casino owner is not just president but is also commander-in-chief of the world`s most powerful military. Under him the United States could become the Fourth Reich a reincarnation of a Nazi-like Germany. Let`s note that Trump is only four weeks into his presidency with 98pc still to go. Yale history professor Tim Snyder says that American democracy has less than a year to live. He predicts that the Madisonian republic, founded in 1789 and renewed in 1865, could die.
But whatever ultimately happens, something is definitely slowing down and even stopping the right wing`s mad charge to topple all that is good and decent about America. What? First, it`s the American people. Most of the articulated opposition comes from well-educated Americans brought up on decent, enlightened values learned in school. Tens of thousands have stormed congressional district of fices and town hall meetings to vent at Trump`s regressive agenda on climate change, banning Muslims and Mexicans, increasingincomeinequality, and denialof women`s reproductive rights. One in three Californians want their state to leave the US legally and peacefully in 2019. Cal-Exit may not actually happen, but it shows how upset Americans are.
The pace of resistance is astonishing. Back in 1970, as a student in Boston, I had travelled to Washington to join a crowd of 50,000 people protesting America`s war against Vietnam. It had taken about 10 years of patient organising to achieve this size. But last month, with barely a few weeks ofeffort, an estimated 3.3 million angry people mostly educated women appalled at Trump`s misogyny took to the streets. In Washington D.C. itself there were 500,000, significantly more than the estimated attendance at Trump`s inauguration the day earlier.
Second, Trump faces an obstinate, uncompliant judiciary. He fired Sally Yates, acting attorney general, for declaring illegal his executive order blocking Muslims. Subsequently, a lower court reaf firmed her decision, which was further upheld by three judges from the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Thousands of barred travellers could thereaf ter enter the US.
Faced with defeat, Trump retreated and says he will issue a new executive order. But, unless he replaces most of the judges, that too will f ail. Under a system of checks and balances, an American president appoints judges but courts can declare his orders unconstitutional.
Third, a free American press is fiercely resisting.
Trump says that the media specifically naming CNN, ABC, CBS, and the New York Times -is acting as an opposition party. Last Friday he tweeted that they are not just his enemies but also `the enemy of the American people. SICK`.
This outburst comes because the press has exposed Trump`s shady business dealings, exaggerations on the size of the inauguration crowd, promotion of his daughter`s fashion business,lewd remarks on women, help received from Russia for getting elected, and the dubious character of his political henchmen. All this must hurt, but what gets Trump apoplectic are mocking parodies on TV channels and YouTube videos that feature impersonations of Trump and his spokespersons. Such lampooning weakens his authority by depriving him of the gravitas that other US presidents have enjoyed.
This is music to the ears of most Pakistanis and a relief to much of the world. But now we need to compare this with our own score card on the above three counts.
Media: Yes, Pakistan`s media is free free to slam politicians and elected governments on evening talk shows. This is, of course, as it should be. Butnone can touch generals and mullahs. If you want to hide in cyber space and still try then be prepared for abduction, declared as missing, and perhaps returned as four of the five bloggers are known to have been but terrified into silence.
America has Fox but also other channels;Pakistan has only numerous versions of Fox. America has Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Glenn Beck among others who spew stupidity and ignorance, lie, and pander to the lowest level of society. But, for fear of lawsuits, they still cannot match the infinitely more degraded, life-threatening, fact-less nonsense spewed by some highly popular Pakistani anchors.
Judiciary:Intheory,Pakistan`stooisindependent of the executive branch. But nobody believes this, and nobody should. If it was true, Asif Ali Zardari would have long been in jail, Panamagate would have been settled, and the grant of land to generals could be legally challenged.
Of course, we have our heroes. Justice of the Supreme Court Qazi Faez Isa single-handedly put together the detailed Quetta terrorism inquiry commission report that convincingly indicts the interior minister for improper behavior. But nothing has happened yet and nothing will. In contrast, a mere US sessions judge could stump Trump and overturn his executive Muslim-ban order.
People: I cannot remember the last time when Pakistanis rallied together for a cause that was not specifically Muslim. Of course, Kashmir, Palestine, Bosnia and Myanmar are all worthy causes, but they are Muslim causes. In contrast, the thousands of Americans who stormed airports last month to protest Trump`s Muslim ban were there to protect a principle that all peoples of all religions and ethnicities should have exactly the same rights.
Perhaps someday we too will learn to respect people for what they are -humans and fight for their rights also, not just our own. Perhaps an Ahmadi, Hindu, Christian or Parsi will be allowed to run for president of Pakistan or become the army chief.
Until that time, in moral terms, we cannot really protest where Trump wants to take America. The writer teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad.
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan
By Jose Romero JR., PHD.
Feb 25 2017 (Manila Times)
The summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) being hosted by the Philippines this year has an opportunity to defuse the escalating tension in the China Sea. With all the claimants sitting around the table some progress can be achieved if the dialogue among the participants effectively moderate behavior and expectations in the South China Sea. With a spirit of give and take, the multilateral dialogues can produce new regional initiatives that can enhance cooperation on less sensitive issues, such as the environment, scientific research and eventually cooperative resource management. This in turn can lead to the final solution of the South China Sea dispute.
Claimants to the vast ocean should consider the South China Sea not as a divisive “maritime territory” waiting to be carved up, or a venue for threats and incursions, as a writer has pointed out, and instead look at it as a source of animal protein and energy, a regional maritime bridge, and an international thoroughfare to be shared by the people living around it. It should be considered as a transport route for all the world’s merchant fleets and navies so that it could indeed be a boon to a region now vacated by colonialists. In sum, the vast China Sea should not produce a wall separating neighbors but rather a bridge to connect them.
After years of talks culminating in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in 2002, which expressed the desire of claimants to the disputed territory to exercise restraint in the conduct of activities that may complicate or escalate the disputes, it appears that the DOC has failed to restrain its signatories.
Given the above, it is humbly suggested that Asean now break out of its narrow confines and reach out to East Asia to defuse the situations. It needs to move beyond the idea of “codes of conduct,” institution- building and norm-setting, and look forward to the establishment of a more comprehensive security scenario.
No less than a new governance approach, with emphasis on participation, partnership, negotiation and consensus, represents a system leading towards a soft regional integration in Southeast Asia and to some degree within East Asia as a whole.
This cooperative approach can be termed “soft governance” which can provide a way forward more effectively than “soft regionalism,” which often involves a loose, informal integration centered on consensus, as in the Asean system.
However, it is accepted that soft integration, based on continued dialogue and consensus, can be extremely difficult to effectively apply or engage in the case where key clashes of sovereign interest apply (as in a direct attempt to solve territorial claims in the South China Sea). However, a great deal of collaboration can be made in a range of other problems of transnational environmental pollution, biodiversity protection, illegal labor flows and piracy. Starting with collaboration on data collection and scientific research, the parties could slowly move towards the agreed grounds for cooperative action, e.g. shared “environmental security protocol” etc.
Given the environmental/ecological situation, the inadequacies of charts, the absence of search and rescue or pollution response capacity, and the virtual absence of monitoring and enforcement, the stakeholders of the South China Sea could perhaps agree on soft regional governance which could be most effective in enhancing the regional move towards preventive diplomacy.
Moves by China to develop its economic and military capabilities to enhance its comprehensive national strength has raised fears among her neighbors who view this as a prelude to a long-term strategy designed to secure a stronger control of the South China Sea and its resources. This negative perception has been moderated, however, by a greater appreciation of a new phase of Chinese policy, which has begun to explore a more cooperative approach with its Southeast Asian neighbors, including Vietnam and this country. The exchange of visits by the heads of state of these countries is mute testimony to the warming of relations which has helped to decrease tension among the claimant countries.
Chinese policies towards the South China Sea seemed to be locked in the two horns of a dilemma—the desire to protect what are viewed as sovereign territories and the desire to maintain a highly cooperative “partnership” with the Southeast Asian nations. Understandably, China is eager to protect its soft underbelly in the south and to right past wrongs in what it considers a century of humiliation in the hands of Western powers. It undeniably also wants to maintain sovereignty in the face of rival superpowers, as well as the need to secure oil, gas and fishery resources. In effect, this is perceived by observers as an attempt by one “nationalistic” China seeking to re-establish its Middle Kingdom status in East Asia.
China wants to soften this image by emphasizing that Chinese foreign policy focuses on cooperation, with a disdain for superpower hegemonies and reliance on a “soft” power approach in diplomacy, alongside more forceful forms of dialogue. For China, the stability of the Asia Pacific and peaceful relations with major trading partners is the sine qua non for the modernization of China and preferable to whatever micro-gains that might be extracted from a more assertive South China Sea approach.
Given all the attending circumstances in the China Sea dispute, the complete resolution of all claims can start with confidence-building measures and creative diplomacy that can hopefully reduce tensions and significantly improve the security of the region.
Some have suggested that, at this stage in international affairs, a re-investment in comprehensive security at the regional level could well reduce certain blockages in regional cooperation and initiate a deepened round of negotiations in the Asean + 3—referring to the 10 member countries of Asean, plus their three dialogue partners of Japan, Korea and China—setting. Accordingly, it has been suggested that a comprehensive security dialogue be shifted from track 2 towards “track one-and-a-half” as a prelude to a more explicit role in Asean within a wider dialogue process.
Here, Asean indeed needs to break out of its cocoon and reach out to East Asia and the wider Asia Pacific. Not that this idea is a novel one. The concept of Neo-Asianism, with the emergence of Asian consciousness and identity followed the departure of the colonial masters. Indeed, an “Asian Renaissance” is one which Lee Kwan Yew described as a dream that has never faded away. It will be recalled that as early as the 1970s the South Koreans had presented the concept of an Asian Common Market. This was followed by the Japanese with its modern version of an Asian Co-prosperity Sphere. Not to be forgotten was Dr. Mahathir’s call for an East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC) in the 1990s.
The Asian monetary crisis in the late 1990s which saw the impotence of the Asean, APEC and the IMF for their failure to come to the rescue of beleaguered Asian economies triggered the Ching Mai initiative of late which showed the potential of an Asean + 3 (APT) to make up for the shortcomings relying solely on international groupings and institutions. It also bolstered confidence that regionalism albeit expanded to include APT can do the trick.
Combined with the positive shift towards cooperation in China’s engagement with its periphery, as indicated by its seemingly successful projection of soft power in the region, there is now a real possibility that a wider cooperative agenda can begin within the limits of objectives set out by the APT framework.
A deepened East Asian cooperation with Asean offers the best arena for enhancing comprehensive security at the regional level. Asean itself and an Asean-Plus grouping may be more effective levels for building convergence on patterns of governance and a genuine move towards comprehensive security beyond the foreign policies of individual states. Indeed, a regional security area that could lay the foundation for a widened regional society with Chinese, South Korean and Japanese commitment could be more effective in securing a zone of peace in the region.
Indeed, an APT framework could be deepened to seek regional solutions to outstanding problems. The methods used should be based on “soft” governance principles, rather than on coercive rule enforcement, and in contrast to narrow bargaining over national interests. It could start by tackling those areas that do not invoke mutually incompatible claims and build confidence in this new framework. The problems of regional piracy and environmental pollution in the South China Sea could be low-threat starting points, points noted as far back as the 1992 Asean Declaration on the South China Sea. There could be cooperation over the existential threat of piracy as a starter. This could be followed by cooperation in the management and protection of people around the area who are periodically ravaged by typhoons, floods, pollution, and depletion of fish stocks, piracy and war.
As we write, this country is seeking the help of both China and the United States to combat sea pirates in the light of apparent militant Islamist attacks on international shipping. An existential threat to this country and its neighbors are possible attacks along the Sibutu Passage between Sabah and southern Philippines. This deepwater channel is used by 13,000 vessels annually and offers a short cut between Australia and the East Asian manufacturing giants–China, Japan and South Korea.
Over time deepened commitments to regional comprehensive security will help to reduce threats—social and economic—in the face of a turbulent global system, lessen the arms race and make disputed claims in the South China Sea opportunities for cooperation rather than conflict.
For this, the joint cooperation between Asean and China, Japan and South Korea in areas of comprehensive security would be essential. Japan’s offer to help improve coast guard operations in Southeast Asia, based on its concern over piracy against Japanese ships and major oil or LNG carriers, is a promising sign of a more proactive stance. For this to happen, there will have to be more cooperation between China and Japan on security issues. This could only happen if both countries bury the hatchet, so to speak.
Chinese concerns over sustained economic development, over the future of Taiwan, of expansion in the South China Sea, over defense modernization and increased power projection abilities, and a latent containment policy by a US coalition, has in the past prevented China from providing regional leadership.
Today, however, China may have stopped wailing over its century of humiliation as it braces itself as a great power preparing to be more assertive. The One Road, One Belt (OBOR) initiative and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) is China’s attempt to convince its neighbors that it has no intention of bullying them, even after it becomes economically stronger.
The involvement of both China and Japan in Asean designs is a healthy development in that the process is likely to produce a check and balance to eliminate some of the risks of either of these great powers gaining too much unilateral influence. Indeed, the quest for a “stable and legitimate” regional order, linking different integrative circles at the levels of Southeast Asia, East Asia and the Asia Pacific can only be the best situation for Asean.
Moving away from the geopolitical issues and going into the geo-economic—in the absence of the doomed Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative of the US—the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership proposal of China, plus her landmark program, the OBOR—which promises to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, e.g. railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe, to be underwritten by the AIIB—should be the centerpiece in any Asean + 3 dialogue, one which would could place in the backburner the raging controversy surrounding claims in the South China Sea which can now be discussed in a more congenial atmosphere après the above confidence-building measures.
Let’s face it, the sustainable development of the Asean does not lie in its pulling itself by its own bootstraps, so to speak, but by engaging geopolitically and geo-economically its larger periphery controlled by economic and political superpowers in East Asia and the Asia Pacific. The fact is the Asean intra-regional trade is much smaller than its interregional trade and its security relies mostly on a modus vivendi with the superpowers.
This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines
By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)
The unequal battle that small farmer Francisca Ramírez is waging against the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega has become so well-known that people are calling for her security and her rights from the political heart of Europe.
Who is she and why did the European Parliament order Nicaragua on Feb. 16 to protect her life and rights, as well as those of thousands of peasant farmers in the centre-south of this impoverished Central American country?
Ramírez is a 40-year-old indigenous farmer who has lived all her life in the agricultural municipality of Nueva Guinea, in the Autonomous Region of Caribe Sur, 280 km from the capital.
She told IPS in an interview that her family has always lived in that rural area, which was the scene of bloody fighting during the 1980s civil war.
When she was eight, her father abandoned them and her mother had to work as a day labourer, while Ramírez took care of her five younger siblings.
Having survived the U.S.-financed war against the government of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (1979-1990), Ramírez learned agricultural work, got married at 18, had five children, and with the effort of the whole family, they acquired some land and improved their living conditions.
Ortega, who governed the country in that period, after overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, returned to power in 2007. In January, he started a third consecutive term of office, after winning widely questioned elections where the opposition was excluded, supported by a civil-military alliance which controls all the branches of the state.
Ramírez was happy with her life until 2013. “They told us over the radio that they were going to build a canal and I thought that it was a very important thing because they said that we were no longer going to be poor,” she said.
Then, gradually, the news started to change her perception of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, granted in concession to the Chinese group HKND in 2013, and she started to ask questions that nobody answered.
One day, bad luck knocked on her door: delegations of public officials who her community had never seen before, accompanied by members of the police and the military, escorted delegations of people from China who made measurements and calculations about the properties of the farmers.
“The route of the canal runs through your property and all of you will be resettled,” they told her.
Law 840, passed in 2013 to give life to the over 50-billion-dollar mega-project, which she was barely able to understand with her three years of formal schooling, was very clear: they would be paid for their lands a price which the state considered “appropriate”.
So the resistance began. “At first everybody was happy, we thought that at last progress was coming, but when overbearing soldiers and police officers started to show up, guarding the Chinese, the whole community refused to let them in their homes and we started to protest,” she said.
Since then, she said the official response has not varied: repression, harassment and threats to farmers who refuse to give up their land.
Ramírez said that she became an activist in the National Council in Defence of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty, a civil society initiative to organise the peasant movement to defend their lands and rights.
She started marching behind the rural leaders who led the first demonstrations against the canal.
Later on, the leaders were arrested, threatened, intimidated and repressed by the police and military, and Ramírez unexpectedly found herself leading the demonstrations in 2014.
Her leadership caught the attention of the national and international media, human rights organisations and civil society.
Soon, the peasant marches against the canal became a symbol of resistance and more people joined, turning the movement into the most important social force to confront Ortega since he took office again 10 years ago.
The peasant movement against the canal “is the strongest social organisation that exists today in Nicaragua. Within any movement, an authentic and genuine leadership emerges, and that is what Mrs. Ramírez represents,” sociologist Oscar René Vargas told IPS.
The president “is aware that the movement is the most important social force that his government is facing,” he said.
The admiration that Ramírez arouses, with her ability to organise and lead more than 90 demonstrations in the country, has irritated the authorities.
More than 200 peasant farmers have been arrested, about 100 have been beaten or wounded by gunfire, and the government has basically imposed a military state of siege in the area, where it refuses to finance social projects, according to the movement.
Police checkpoints along the entire route to Nueva Guinea and military barricades in the area give the impression of a war zone.
Ramírez has not escaped the violence and harassment: her house has been raided without a court order, her children and family persecuted and threatened by intelligence agents and police officers, her belongings and goods that she sells, such as food, confiscated and damaged, and she has been accused of terrorist activities.
One of the latest episodes occurred in December 2016, during a visit to Nicaragua by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro, to discuss with Ortega the allegations of attacks on democracy.
To keep Ramírez and other leaders of the movement from meeting with Almagro, police convoys besieged the community and repressed members of the movement, she said.
They partially destroyed the main bridge out of the area, and suspected members of the movement’s Council were held at military checkpoints.
They even confiscated Ramírez’s work vehicles, used them to transport troops and later damaged them, according to Gonzalo Carrión, from the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.
“Ortega’s government has visciously mistreated Francisca Ramírez and the farmers who follow her. Her rights have been violated, from the right to protest to the right to freedom of movement, and we fear that they will violate her most sacred right: to life,” Carrión told IPS.
Walking along footpaths in the dark and crossing a deep river, where she almost drowned, Ramírez got around the military cordon and travelled, disguised and hidden in a truck, to Managua, where she was able to meet with Almagro on Dec. 1, 2016 and tell him of the abuses to which her community had been subjected for refusing to give up their lands.
On Feb. 16, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the lack of protection for human rights activists in Nicaragua, putting a special emphasis on the case of Ramírez, and lamenting the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in this country.
The members of the European Parliament urged “the national and local police forces to refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal against Francisca Ramirez for carrying out her legitimate work as a human rights defender.”
“Francisca Ramirez is a victim of abuses by the police in the country aiming at risking human rights defenders’ security and livelihood,” the European Parliament denounced.
“Ramírez, coordinator for the Defense of the Land, the Lake and Sovereignty, was in Managua to file a formal complaint over acts of repression, violations of the right to free circulation, and aggression experienced by several communities from Nueva Guinea on their way to the capital city for a peaceful protest against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, projects which will displace local farmers activities and indigenous people from the premises of the construction,” the resolution states.
While the government remained silent about the resolution, social activist Mónica López believes that it represented a victory for the rural movement.
“Without a doubt, the resolution is a social and political victory for the peasant movement against the canal, a condemnation of Nicaragua, and a global warning about what is happening against indigenous peasant movements in Nicaragua,” López told IPS.
The government asserts that the canal project is moving ahead, although a year has passed with no visible progress, and it maintains that it will eradicate the poverty that affects more than 40 per cent of the 6.2 million people in this Central American country.Related Articles
By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)
A Malaysian aid convoy has arrived in Myanmar with supplies for ethnic Rakhine civilians and Rohingya Muslims.
The Malaysian government sent hundreds of tons of food and other necessities including clothing and hygiene kits to Myanmar’s Yangon region which were then delivered to Rakhine State’s capital of Sittwe. Military ships also offloaded supplies in neighboring Bangladesh which has seen an influx of Rohingya refugees since violence was reignited in 2016.
Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts in October.
According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) , cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation. OHCHR said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”
The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations.
Approximately 90,000 people have since fled the area with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.
In its annual report, Amnesty International said that there has been little improvement since the new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, took power in 2015 including ongoing conflict and restricted humanitarian access.
Myanmar’s government reportedly tried to block the Malaysian aid ship, stating that it had not acquired official permission to enter the country. The government later only issued clearance for the port in Yangon, declining Malaysia’s application to deliver aid directly to Sittwe and the surrounding townships. They also required that supplies be delivered to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in the region.
The Malaysian government has been particularly vocal regarding the plight of Rohingya Muslims.
In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on its Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis, stating: “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place… We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have value.”
Violence first erupted in 2012 when Rohingya Muslims clashed with the Buddhist majority.
Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”
Myanmar’s government is currently seeking to investigate the situation in the border state, while the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar is due to present her final report on her recent trip in March.
By IPS World Desk
ROME/COLOMBO, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)
With an estimated 1 billion migrants today –or one in every seven people– their health needs are huge. Nevertheless, health systems are struggling to adapt and consequently access to health services among migrant populations varies widely and is often inadequate.
This has been the key issue before senior public health officials from over 40 countries, who met on February 23 in Colombo, concluding that addressing the health needs of migrants reduces long-term health and social costs, enhances health security and contributes to social and economic development.
Health systems must be strengthened to provide equitable, non-discriminatory, migrant-centred health services, noted the participants in the 2nd Global Consultation on Migrant Health, which was hosted by the Government of Sri Lanka, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The scale of human migration currently witnessed is unprecedented, WHO reminds, there are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world today, including 250 million international migrants and 763 million internal migrants, the UN body adds. “Some people migrate voluntarily; while others are forcibly displaced, fleeing conflict and war. This has important implications for the health sector.”
On this, IOM said that when one combines the volume of international migration, the large scale of internal migration of an estimated 740 million people worldwide, and the unprecedented and protracted displacement of populations due to unresolved conflicts and natural disasters, we can see that there is urgent need to address the cumulative health needs of people on the move.
“With the global volume of remittances sent home by migrants surpassing half a trillion dollars in 2016, the world is increasingly moving towards the realization that migration is an effective poverty-reduction strategy and an important means to respond to workforce shortages caused by demographic shifts,” adds IOM.
“Yet, despite the clear economic benefits of migration, large groups of migrants remain at risk of social exclusion, discrimination and exploitation…It is important to emphasize that migrants do not generally pose a health risk to hosting communities and they should never be stigmatized or associated with the risk and stigma of importing diseases.”
Rather, it is recognised that conditions surrounding the migration process today, more than ever, can increase the vulnerability of migrants to ill health, particularly for those forced to move and those who find themselves in so called ‘irregular’ situations. In that sense, migration is a social determinant of health.
Sri Lanka is providing leadership on migrant health, the UN health body informs. It is one of the few countries in the world to have a ‘National Migrant Health Policy’, introduced in 2008. Sri Lanka recognizes the contribution of migrants to national and overseas development, the WHO informed.
“Almost 2 million Sri Lankans work overseas, the country hosts a large number of immigrants and receives 2 million tourists annually. Ensuring the health of these migrants and the country’s own population is a top priority.”
Participating health leaders adopted the Colombo Statement, which calls for international collaboration to improve the health and well-being of migrants and their families. The move aims to address the health challenges posed by increasingly mobile populations.
“Protecting the health of mobile populations is a public health and human rights imperative. Ensuring the highest attainable standard of health for all, including migrants and refugees, is something we must all strive towards, and is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of leaving no one behind,” said WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh.
For his part, Dr. Davide Mosca, director of IOM’s Migration Health Division, said “Migrant health must be looked at as a global agenda and the SDGs should be interpreted by linking the call to facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration and mobility of people… with the achievement of universal health coverage.”
This can only be realised through the implementation of well-managed and coordinated migration policies, which include financial risk protection and equal access to quality health services, he said.
The Colombo Statement calls for mainstreaming migrant health into key national, regional and international agendas and promotes international solidarity for equitable migrant health policies, a shared research agenda and the development of global frameworks to ensure migrant health is protected.
The momentum generated by the Global Consultation will be carried forward to the World Health Assembly – WHO’s annual meeting in May 2017, where 194 countries will deliberate on priority actions to protect migrants’ right to health.
By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
Feb 24 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)
It was once a familiar refrain amongst the restaurant-goers in Dhaka that even if one didn’teat or drink anything in a restaurant, one could still end up paying twelve annas for breaking a drinking glass. That saying embodied concerns over the costliness of eating out and its incidental hazards, but eventually acquired a deeper meaning of life. It implies a Kafkaesque helplessness when one has to pay for something without partaking in any of its pleasures. Almost five years later, the Padma Bridge scandal looks like a throwback to that disturbing despair. Some people may have paid the price without doing anything significantly wrong.
Unless the World Bank knows something we don’t. The bank now seems to be the sole custodian of a scandalous secret, dutifully guarding the entrance of truth like Anubis guards the entrance of the underworld in Egyptian myths. The global lender, for reasons best known to itself, seems to have taken an unbreakable vow of silence.
Meanwhile, others have spoken out loud. On February 10, a Toronto court acquitted three former officials of SNC-Lavalin, who were accused of planning to bribe Bangladeshi officials to secure a consultancy contract in the Padma Bridge project. This accusation formed the eye of a storm that forced a minister to resign, a secretary sent to jail, and the project director removed from his post. It also brought shame for us watching our country dragged through the mud.
Now we feel ashamed of being ashamed, and only the World Bank can save us from this terrible embarrassment. It knows what had happened and why it cancelled the USD1.2 billion IDA credit for the bridge. The construction of the Padma Bridge, which is going to connect 21 districts with the country’s capital, got delayed while the cost multiplied. Lucky for Bangladesh, it stuck to its guns and mobilised Chinese loans and internal resources not to give up on that dream.
Whatever transpired between their government and the World Bank, the people of this country have paid the price. They not only suffered the awkwardness of a scandal that involved their government, but also withstood the anguish of watching their country being put on the spot. They have also lost time on the benefits of a more connected country. The budget for the bridge multiplied to Tk. 288 billion from Tk. 102 billion in 2007.
What the World Bank has done compares to a hit-and-run accident. The international agency made a serious accusation and then fled the scene, leaving behind a wounded nation of 160 million to live with the consequences. If this is how the bank wished to behave, it should have been more discreet about the whole thing. Nobody is guilty until proven. The World Bank upended that maxim of law by maligning our country before it proved anything beyond doubt.
The burden of proof always lies with the accuser. The World Bank owes it to the people of Bangladesh and the rest of the world to show how it’s right. So far this global body appears to have demonstrated the scruples of a village hag, who goes around spreading slanders just for fun. The bank may use its policies as a shield for its reticence. But after it brutally defamed a country, it simply can’t hide behind that purported smokescreen.
The Bangladesh government couldn’t have thrown out a more open challenge than it did after the recent Canadian court verdict. Our Prime Minister has even named the names to establish her claim that the cancellation of the World Bank loan for the Padma Bridge was a part of the sinister design to twist her arm. The World Bank should realise that while it may think silence is golden, its silence is actually giving consent to that cynicism.
“Speak now or forever hold your peace,” is a trope usually used in Christian matrimonial proceedings. If the World Bank doesn’t open its mouth now, it should never talk about it again. It has already confused us twice, first by levelling an accusation against this country and again by refusing to corroborate it. If nobody has eaten or drank anything, nobody should have to make the ludicrous payment for breaking a glass.
Will the World Bank eat humble pie? It depends on how confident our government feels that no wrong was done. It can pursue this matter in international forums, work with the international media, and take it up with the governments of countries which donate big money to the World Bank. Going to the court is another option.
Oscar Wilde defines scandal as gossip made tedious by morality. We have had enough gossip over the Padma Bridge scandal for almost five years. Now is the moment of truth. If the World Bank doesn’t open up, morality will degenerate into scandal made tedious by gossip.
The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh
By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)
For those who still deny the tangible impact of climate change, please note that the extended spell of high global temperatures is continuing; the Arctic is witnessing exceptional warmth with record low ice volumes–the lowest on record; global heat is putting Asia on higher risk than ever, and Africa is drying up.
Also please note that almost one half of all forests is now gone’ that groundwater sources are being rapidly depleted, and that biodiversity has been deeply eroded.
In fact, reports from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies said that global average surface temperatures for the month of January were the third highest on record, after January 2016 and January 2007, says the UN World Meteorological Organization.
According to NOAA, the average temperature was 0.88°C above the 20th century average of 12°C. The European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, Copernicus Climate Change Service, said it was the second warmest, WMO on February 17 informed.
Natural climate variability – such as El Niño and La Niña – means that the globe will not break new temperature records every month or every year.
“More significant than the individual monthly rankings is the long-term trend of rising temperatures and climate change indicators such as CO2 concentrations (406.13 parts per million at the benchmark Mauna Loa Observatory in January compared to 402.52 ppm in January 2016, according to NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory).”
Meantime, the largest positive temperature departures from average in January were seen across the eastern half of the contiguous U.S.A, Canada, and in particular the Arctic. The high Arctic temperatures also persisted in the early part of February.
“At least three times so far this winter, the Arctic has witnessed the Polar equivalent of a heat-wave, with powerful Atlantic storms driving an influx of warm, moist air and increasing temperatures to near freezing point.”
This way, the temperature in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, north of Norway, topped 4.1°C on 7 February. The world’s northernmost land station, Kap Jessup on the tip of Greenland, swung from -22°C to +2°C in 12 hours between 9 and 10 February, according to the Danish Meteorological Institute.
“Temperatures in the Arctic are quite remarkable and very alarming,” said World Climate Research Programme‘s Director David Carlson. “The rate of change in the Arctic and resulting shifts in wider atmospheric circulation patterns, which affect weather in other parts of the world, are pushing climate science to its limits.”
As a result of waves in the jet stream – the fast moving band of air which helps regulate temperatures – much of Europe, the Arabian peninsular and North Africa were unusually cold, as were parts of Siberia and the western USA.
Sea Ice Extent, Lowest in Four Decades
“Sea ice extent was the lowest on the 38-year-old satellite record for the month of January, both at the Arctic and Antarctic, according to both the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and Germany’s Sea ice Portal operated by the Alfred-Wegener-Institut.”
Arctic sea ice extent averaged 13.38 million square kilometres in January, according to NSIDC. This is 260,000 square kilometres below January 2016, the previous lowest January extent – an area bigger than the size of the United Kingdom. It was 1.26 million square kilometres (the size of South Africa) below the January 1981 to 2010 long-term average.
“The recovery period for Arctic sea ice is normally in the winter, when it gains both in volume and extent. The recovery this winter has been fragile, at best, and there were some days in January when temperatures were actually above melting point,” said Carlson.
“This will have serious implications for Arctic sea ice extent in summer as well as for the global climate system. What happens at the Poles does not stay at the Poles.”
WMO, thus, confirms that the Antarctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record. A change in wind patterns, which normally spread out the ice, contracted it instead.
New Climate Change Alarm in Asia
Meanwhile, Asia is set to witness a new, extreme weather alert. On this the UN specialised body also warns that climate change, environmental degradation, population growth and urbanisation are putting pressure on water supplies in many parts of the Asian region, and exposure to extreme weather and other hazards is increasing.
The most populated region on Earth is impacted by a wide range of natural hazards: tropical cyclones and storm surges; heat and cold waves; drought and wildfires; intense precipitation, flooding and landslides, and sand and dust storms. Air pollution is an additional major concern.
“2016 was the hottest year on record, beating even the exceptionally high temperatures of 2015 because of a combination of long-term climate change and the strong El Niño,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
“There is increasing evidence that warming Arctic air masses and declining sea ice are affecting ocean circulation and the jet stream, disrupting weather patterns in lower latitudes in Asia. Glacier melt is linked, in the short term, to hazards like flooding and landslides and, in the long term, to water stress for millions of people.”
According to Taalas, in the last decades, the countries in the Asian region have been exposed to weather and climate events of increased intensity and frequency… The year 2016 was no exception.” India, Iraq, Iran and Kuwait all saw peak temperatures of more than 50°C last summer. Many other parts of Asia also saw heat-waves.
In view of this situation, the WMO’s Regional Association for Asia’s four-yearly conference, held on 12-16 February in Au Dhabi, discussed how best to support implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change and associated moves towards a low-carbon economy, including through targeted climate services for the energy, water, transport, industry, agriculture and land use sectors.
Drought Set to Worsen in Greater Horn of Africa
Pararelly, many parts of the Greater Horn of Africa are expected to receive below average rainfall in the important March to May rainy season, worsening food security and water availability in countries already seriously hit by drought, according to a new seasonal outlook issued by the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum.
“What makes the current drought alarming in the Equatorial Greater Horn of Africa region is that it follows two consecutive poor rainfall seasons in 2016, and the likelihood of depressed rainfall persisting into the March-May 2017 rainfall season remains high,” said the Intergovernmental Authority onDevelopment’s Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC), which convened the regional forum.
“The situation will be worse in countries already experiencing drought, including Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, parts of Uganda, South Sudan and parts of Tanzania. Many parts of the region will experience serious water stress.”
With the exception of Sudan and Rwanda, the October – December 2016 rains failed in most countries in region. Contributing factors include the weak La Niña, which has just ended, and reduced moisture influx due to the cooling of the ocean water in the east African coast.
The forum, attended by meteorological and climate experts and users from agriculture and food security, livestock, water resources, disaster risk management, Non-Governmental Organisations and development partner, took place in Addis Ababa from 6 to 7 February 2017.
The Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum said there is an increased likelihood of below normal to near normal rainfall over northern and eastern Tanzania; north, eastern and coastal Kenya; southern and north-western Somalia; north and western Djibouti; western and south-eastern Eritrea; north-eastern, eastern and southern Ethiopia; southern parts of South Sudan; north-eastern Uganda and southern parts of Sudan.
Still having doubts about the impact of climate change?
By Aasim Sajjad Akhtar
Feb 24 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)
As the Soviet Union disintegrated in front of his very eyes, its last leader Mikhail Gorbachev uttered quite possibly the most prescient words of his entire political life: the demise of global communism would deprive the United States of its most visible enemy, the artefact justifying its imperialist adventures around the world. Gorbachev understood that Washington would have to devise a new ideological ‘other’ to retain a mandate to intervene whenever and wherever it wanted.
We Pakistanis were part of the anti-communist bandwagon then, just like we are part of the anti-terrorist bandwagon now. The irony of history is that at least some of the same proxies that we cultivated to wage holy war against the Soviet Union metamorphosed into terrorists that we want to hunt down now.
‘Terrorism’ is one of the vaguest terms of our time.
Which begs the question: what is ‘terrorism’? Given how ubiquitous the word has become in our daily lives, one would expect a great deal of clarity in our collective understanding of it. In fact, it is one of the vaguest terms of our time. On the surface it can be equated with the use of egregious violence to achieve political ends. But by this definition the state is by far the biggest terrorist force in history.
Cue Max Weber, who defines the state as an entity that enjoys a monopoly over legitimate violence. The implication is that the state is authorised to employ violent means against those it ostensibly serves. Non-state actors who resort to violence to achieve political ends have no claim to legitimacy whatsoever. In theory, the state either uses violence in avowed wars with other states, or against non-state actors that are challenging the state’s monopoly over coercion.
All of this is well and good, but things become more complicated when one reads between the lines. The US president Dwight D. Eisenhower openly admitted the collusion of his country’s military with the munitions industry in his farewell address of 1961, thus acknowledging the possibility that what he called the military-industrial complex could wage endless war as a means of securing endless profits.
You might argue that the notional citizen is now too informed to support mindless violence just because it serves the interests of businessmen, generals and other elites. But in recent decades we have seen time and again just how the powers-that-be, to borrow Noam Chomsky’s words, ‘manufacture consent’ for wars and the like that are based on exaggerated threats to civilisation that do not actually exist.
Take, for instance, the notorious ‘weapons of mass destruction’ drama that precipitated the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Or the various interventions undertaken by Washington and other Western powers in other Arab states like Libya and Syria. Are these countries rid of the ‘terrorist’ menace that these barely disguised imperialist adventures promised to eliminate? No matter how many ‘victories’ are won, ‘terrorism’ is never defeated.
Closer to home, it has now been 15 years since the Pakistani state initiated its own ‘war on terror’, and it is debatable whether any substantive gains have been made in weakening the material and ideological infrastructure that sustains right-wing militancy. Until a few weeks ago, the mood was relatively self-congratulatory, statements emanating from all quarters about the breaking of the terrorists’ proverbial backs.
The gruesome eve¬nts of recent days have, however, confirmed again that the so-called ‘existential war’ will continue for some time yet, now under its latest guise of Operation Raddul Fasaad. Military courts are likely to be revived and more defence equipment bought. Media anchors, the pro-establishment intelligentsia and notable elements within political parties will continue to manufacture consent. And the show will go on.
What was once an endless war against communism did one day end, but that end was signalled by the demise of a state system with the USSR at its forefront. The bogeyman that is ‘terrorism’ is likely to last for much longer, precisely because it is so nebulous.
There is little doubt that right-wing militancy is amongst the biggest threats of our time, and there is an urgent need to think deeply about its causes and manifestations. But then that is what some of us were saying back in the day when today’s terrorists were defenders of the faith fighting with the rest of the ‘free world’ against communism.
As it was then, so now it is the blank slate that we provide to the state in the name of security that is as big a threat to our humanity as anything else that we confront.
The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2017
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan
By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)
Years of violence and unrest in North-East Nigeria have left millions of people at risk of starving to death. Both the violent up surging of Boko Haram and the government’s harsh military crackdown have left already historically marginalised communities with next to nothing.
Some towns have already seen all of their children aged less than five years of age die from starvation, according to Toby Lanzer, the UN’s coordinator for the region.
The violence, which began in North-East Nigeria has spilled over into the three other countries bordering Lake Chad: Cameroon, Niger and Chad.
A donor’s conference in Oslo, Norway on Friday raised $672 million dollars for the crisis – well short of the target of $1.5 billion.
IPS spoke to Sultana Begum, Oxfam Advocacy and Policy lead for the Lake Chad Basin crisis, who was in New York ahead of the donor’s conference.
The emphasis on responding militarily to the crisis has left already historically marginalised communities worse off, Begum told IPS.
“It isn’t just Boko Haram. It is the governments and the militaries of the region and the way that they are fighting this war,” she said. “In order to cut off Boko Haram from food and supplies, they have also cut off the lifeline of the civilian population.”
International governments have also been providing military and counter terrorism support in the region, says Begum, but she hopes they will also help support Nigeria to increase the humanitarian response through providing the funding needed to help people affected by the conflict.“In order to cut off Boko Haram from food and supplies, they have also cut off the lifeline of the civilian population.” -- Sultana Begum, Oxfam
The military has also been funding vigilantes as a way to fight Boko Haram, a strategy which could potentially backfire and do further harm to local communities, according to a new report released Wednesday by the International Crisis Group.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian military has also been leading parts of the humanitarian response, such as running refugee camps, says Begum.
“New areas that the military has retaken, it is very militarized,” she says. “As soon as possible the military needs to hand (the camps) over to the civilian authorities, to humanitarians.”
However the vast majority of displaced people sheltered in the region are living in the homes of relatives, distant acquaintances and even strangers, who have opened their homes.
“These communities have been so incredibly generous some of them have taken 5, 6 families into their own homes,” said Begum.
“They’ve shared the little food that they have and they have very little themselves. They’ve really opened their hearts. Really they’re the heroes of the story, and they haven’t just been helping for 6 months, 5 months, many of them have been hosting these families in their homes for 2 to 3, sometimes 4 years. Some of the host communities hope that people will pay rent but people really can’t afford to pay rent.”
Begum says that these communities are hosting some eighty percent of the people who are displaced in the region even though they themselves have their own struggles.
“If you look at Maiduguri, for example its an urban area, its an area that is historically been neglected. There are already issues to do with do people not having enough services like access to water, education.”
These host communities ”are really struggling themselves now,” says Begum. “They don’t have that much. There’s an economic crisis in Nigeria on top of everything else that’s going on. You know the price of food is really high. They have very little themselves and they need assistance.”
Sultana also notes that it’s important to recognise that people living on the edge economically may begin to see these groups as an option.
“When research has been done in terms of peoples’ motivations for joining Boko Haram, especially youth and young men in particular, the motivations are often to do with economics,” she said.
“Boko Haram offers them money. They offer them motorbikes. They offer them incentives. They offer them wives. You know these are all things that young men, they want. They need jobs, they need livelihoods and they want to get married and they want to have families and things like that. And those are opportunities they weren’t being offered.”
“So we’re hearing less about the ideological reasons why people are joining Boko Haram and more issues around the financial incentives.”
However in some cases the military crackdown has taken away what little economic opportunities these communities have.
Over the border in Niger, Begum says that emergency measures have destroyed the economy in the Diffa region.
“The two major economies are smoked fish and small pepper production.”
The small pepper “was so lucrative for the region,” people called it ‘red gold’.
“The emergency measures that were bought in banned fishing, banned the selling of fish, basically restricted peoples access to fuel and fertilizer, banned motorbikes, brought in curfews. So what that meant was that people stopped fishing. Most of these fishermen relied on fishing for 89 percent of their income,” she says.
“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.”
“Some people have been killed by Boko Haram (or) they have been picked up by the military and accused of being Boko Haram, put into detention, or have disappeared.”
“The farmers are taking part in illegal trade. They are out trying to get hold of fuel and fertilizer illegally.”
This week the UN warned that North-East Nigeria alongside Yemen and Somalia, are at imminent risk of famine, after South Sudan on Monday became the first country to declare famine since 2012. In North-East Nigeria alone more than 5 million people now face serious food shortages, according to the UN.
In all of these four countries the current food crisis is considered man-made, the result of years of unresolved conflict.
However, despite their roots in conflict, much more than a military response is needed to end these crises.
Update: This article has been updated to include information about the funds raised in Oslo. An earlier headline has also been corrected.
By Wolfgang Kerler
MUNICH, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)
Internationally, German chancellor Angela Merkel was praised for her humanitarian decision to open the countries’ border to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq. But the decision has considerably reduced her support among Germans. Chances are real that Merkel could lose the chancellorship in the upcoming national elections.
Not long ago, a scene like this seemed impossible.
In spring 2015, all national polls saw Merkel’s conservative party at more than 40 percent support among Germans. The Social Democrats, which came in second, reached less than 25 percent. Even after almost ten years as chancellor, Merkel was considered as indispensable by most Germans. She enjoyed an approval rating of 75 percent.
However, after the events of September 2015, her popularity quickly started to drop to levels below 50 percent. Her party fell to 32 percent in recent polls.
Angela Merkel made her famous statement “we can make it” on August 31st of 2015. The number of refugees entering the country had already risen to 100,000 a month and she wanted to assure the public that Germany could tackle the integration of those immigrants.
Within days after Merkel’s comment the situation became even more dramatic.
Hungarian authorities had blocked thousands of refugees, who were fleeing violence and war in the Middle East, from boarding trains to Austria or Germany where they wanted to apply for asylum. Families had to sleep in makeshift shelters outside Budapest’s train station, while volunteers were struggling to provide at least a minimum of aid.
On September 4th, chancellor Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Werner Faymann therefore decided to open their countries’ borders for the people stranded in Budapest. Soon afterwards, first trains arrived in Munich, and many Germans welcomed the refugees and supplied food, drinks and clothing. A total of 890.000 asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015.
“The German government’s reaction was not an open-door policy, but a humanitarian reaction on the basis of international law”, Petra Bendel, a professor for political science at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, told IPS.
She also pointed out that Merkel’s grand coalition switched to a more restrictive refugee policy within weeks.
For example, the coalition introduced residence restrictions for asylum seekers. Instead of giving out money, some social benefits are provided in kind. And by granting only subsidiary protection instead of refugee status for Syrians, family reunions were made more difficult. On top of that, the German government started to push forward returns and expulsions.
“Timing suggests that these policy proposals must have existed in the drawers and waited for their time to come, since they were introduced in record time”, Bendel, who is also a member of The Expert Council on Integration and Migration, added.
But the rapid shift to a more restrictive stance on immigration and even the steep decline in the number of refugees coming to Germany in 2016 did not lead to a recovery of Merkel’s popularity.
Those parts of society that saw refugees as a threat to their wealth and security had already turned their back on her. Social networks were flooded with “Merkel must go!”-postings. After the events of Cologne and other cities, where groups of migrants sexually assaulted hundreds of women on New Year’s Eve 2015, tensions within the German society intensified.
“The events clearly had a decisive effect on public opinion”, said Bendel. “Survey data showed that in January 2016 for the first time a clear majority – 60 percent of survey participants instead of 46 percent in December – considered that Germany could not cope with such a large number of refugees.”
In the same time, eurosceptic right-wing party AfD gained momentum with a fierce and populist anti-immigrant rhetoric. The party easily surpassed the long-established Greens, the Left Party, and the Liberals in several regional elections with double digit results. In return, Merkel’s own Christian Democrats suffered one defeat after another.
In recent weeks, however, polls showed diminishing support for AfD. But it was not Merkel’s conservative block that benefitted. Instead, the Social Democrats which have been the junior partner in the ruling coalition made a comeback after nominating Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, as their candidate for chancellor.
Schulz already outpolled Angela Merkel in personal popularity.
“The few moderate AfD-supporters have migrated to the Social Democrats because they believe Martin Schulz could oust Angela Merkel, whom they hate”, Manfred Güllner, the head of pollster Forsa commented a survey that his institute conducted for TV network RTL and magazine Stern.
However, the resurge of the Social Democrats does not mean that refugee policy will not play a major role in the campaign for the national election due in September.
“Analyzing the party platforms, migration issues are on top of each and every party’s agenda”, Bendel said. “The danger exists that particularly the AfD’s campaign, which has already been leaked, further builds on irrational, explosive contents and appeals to most primitive instincts.”
Political observers now see a chance that after twelve years, Angela Merkel could lose the chancellorship.
By IPS World Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)
Five key G20 countries are failing to meet commitments to publish data that helps tackle corruption, warns a new report by international anti-corruption watchdogs.
“If the data was publicly available it could be used to curb criminal activities, including money laundering and tax evasion,” according to the joint research, published on February 23 by Transparency International (TI) and the Web Foundation.
“In 2015 the G20 (Group of the 20 most industrialised countries) agreed that in order to help stop corruption, governments should publish data on open data platforms so that civil society could monitor the use of public resources, including how taxes are spent, how contracts are awarded and how money is funnelled into political campaigns.”
Connecting the Dots: Building the Case for Open Data to Fight Corruption looked at how much progress Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa have made in implementing the G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles, according to the research. These countries were chosen as a representative global and economic cross-section of G20 countries.
The conclusion is clear: there is not enough progress, says the report, adding that no country has released all the information and much of the information that has been released is hard to find and use.
According to the report, none of the countries posted any information about who owns companies (beneficial ownership information). France was the only country to publish some information on lobbying activities and only Brazil published information about government spending.
“Governments need to step up their game if open data is to put a dent in global corruption. ..They must work to change attitudes among civil servants, invest in vital technology and the development of skills, and crucially, they must enshrine G20 Principles into national law,” said Robin Hodess, interim Internal Managing Director of Transparency International and a co-author of the report.
“The Panama Papers showed us the scale of corruption happening in the shadows that datasets can help reveal. These developments called for urgent solutions. That governments are instead dragging their feet on mobilising open data raises questions about their commitment to transparency,” said Craig Fagan, Web Foundation Policy Director.
Transparency International and the Web Foundation analysed ten data sets linked to anti-corruption measures. These included public information on lobbying, land registrations, government spending, beneficial ownership of companies and political financing.
According to the report, researchers scored the quality of each data set using a nine-point checklist that includes an assessment of the timeliness for publication and updates, ease of access, provision of supporting documents, and the ability to cross-reference data sets.
“France performed best, scoring an average of 5.4 out of a possible 9 points. Indonesia received the lowest score, managing just 1.5 points.”
The dataset that had the most information was on government budgets with an average score of 7.8 across the five countries, says the report.
However, government spending and lobbying registers each scored 1.6 and land registers scored 1.8. This shows that governments are not collecting or disseminating crucial information in key areas prone to corruption.”
No country released all anti-corruption datasets
• France showed the most progress, publishing eight of ten datasets identified as key to anti-corruption
• Brazil was the only country to publish data on government spending
• No country has a beneficial ownership register – despite all showing some level of commitment to do so at last year’s Anti-Corruption Summit in London.
When released, data is not always useful and useable
• In many cases the data is stale and lacks granularity – making meaningful insights difficult to draw
• Access is a problem in all countries, with datasets hard to find and not all available from a single platform, meaning those looking to identify corruption need to dig further to find critical information
Data not published to open data standards
• Only France published the majority of its datasets in line with open data standards
• This lack of adherence to open data standards makes merging and comparing datasets difficult, particularly between countries
Lack of open data skills
• Although some countries do offer some level of open data training for staff, these rarely incorporate an anti-corruption focus
Transparency International and the Web Foundation call for governments to take immediate steps to publish more information that can be used to fight corruption.
The report makes recommendations on the required legal measures needed to enforce open data and for commitments to invest in training.
Finally, the report suggests that in order for governments to make open data the default option, there will need to a change of culture, which will only come about when there are formal incentives for openness.
By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)
The Netherlands announced that it will work with Japan and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to establish a Global Centre of Excellence to help countries, institutions and businesses to adapt to a warming climate, which is increasing the frequency of natural disasters and causing economic disruptions.
The Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation aims to bring together international partners, including leading knowledge institutes, businesses, NGOs, local and national governments, international organisations and financial institutions.
On this, the Dutch Minister for the Environment, Sharon Dijksma on February 6 said “Many around the world are hit hard by global warming. The ground-breaking Paris Climate Change Agreement puts climate change adaptation on par with mitigation.”
Failure of dealing adequately with climate change will increase a multitude of risks such as natural disasters, social and economic disruptions and increasing political tensions, Dijksma added.
“Many people are looking for good practices and guidance with regard to climate change adaptation. I am convinced the Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation can help addressing these challenges.”
For his part, Ibrahim Thiaw, UNEP‘s deputy chief, said “Even with the Paris Agreement on climate change, our planet is heading for a global warming of around 3°C.”
“Our survival depends on learning to live on a hotter planet with more extreme weather, erratic rainfall and rising sea levels. This Centre is a welcome step, but other countries need to follow this example and urgently invest in climate adaptation.”
By signing the Paris Climate agreement countries have made climate change adaptation a top global priority and the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation, a joint initiative of The Netherlands, Japan and UN Environment Programme is an important step to deliver on that commitment.
The Centre will support countries around the world to effectively adapt to climate change. It will collect lessons from recently executed projects and use those to develop guidance to accelerate climate adaptation.
The resulting pool of global knowledge and know-how to understand what works and what doesn’t will be used to support countries, communities and companies to successfully integrate climate adaptation into their investment decisions.
Italy Further Contributes to UN Environment Fund
Meanwhile, Italy’s Environment Minister Gian Luca Galletti and Erik Solheim, UNEP Executive Secretary, this month signed a new agreement to intensify collaboration on pressing environmental issues, such as clean energy and environmental education.
On the occasion, the Italian government also made a significant, 5 million euro contribution to the Environment Fund.
The money will help UNEP implement crucial projects to design a sustainable financial system, boost resource efficiency and reinforce the sustainable management of natural resources and the marine economy.
“This generous contribution is yet another signal of Italy’s unwavering commitment to a clean, safe and healthy planet. We look forward to working with the Italian government to build the green future we all deserve,” said Solheim on February 6.
This new donation brings Italy’s total contributions to the Fund to over 10.5 million, euro or 11.2 million dollars since 2014.
Italy’s environmental priorities also include the transition to a green economy, clean energy and environmental education. The country is also expected to play an active role at the third UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, in December, where the world’s environment ministers will tackle the pressing challenge of pollution worldwide.
The UN Environment Fund depends on voluntary national contributions and is the main source of money for UN Environment to follow its programme of work in tackling trans-boundary challenges on topics ranging from climate change to the sustainable management of chemicals and flagging new environmental threats.
Italy is also a major donor to other project work for the environment through sources such as the Global Environment Facility.Related Articles
- UN Declares War on Ocean Plastic
- Making the Deep Blue Sea Green Again
- Conservation Congress Sets Ambitious Target to Protect Oceans
- World Oceans Day – A Death Sea Called Mediterranean
- What Lies Ahead for Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources
- World Running Out of Time to Save Oceans
- Latin America Should Lead in Protecting the Planet’s Oceans
By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)
The available data is enough for the United Nations to literally declare war on oceans plastic: more than 8 million tonnes of leaks into their waters each year – equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic every minute, wreaking havoc on marine wildlife, fisheries and tourism, and costing at least 8 billion dollars in damage to marine ecosystems.
In fact, the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on February 23 launched an unprecedented global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter: micro-plastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic by the year 2022.
Launched at the Economist World Ocean Summit in Bali, the #CleanSeas campaign urges governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targeting industry to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to the seas.
Erik Solheim, UNEP’s Executive Director, said, “It is past time that we tackle the plastic problem that blights our oceans. Plastic pollution is surfing onto Indonesian beaches, settling onto the ocean floor at the North Pole, and rising through the food chain onto our dinner tables. We’ve stood by too long as the problem has gotten worse. It must stop.”
Throughout the year, the #CleanSeas campaign will be announcing ambitious measures by countries and businesses to eliminate micro-plastics from personal care products, ban or tax single-use bags, and dramatically reduce other disposable plastic items.
The #CleanSeas campaign is a global movement targeting governments, industry and consumers to urgently reduce the production and excessive use of plastic that is polluting the earth’s oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health. “We don’t need to invent or negotiate something new, we just need to have action to implement what we already agreed upon.” - Isabella Lovin, Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden.
The UN environment body aims to transform all spheres of change –habits, practices, standards and policies around the globe to dramatically reduce marine litter and the harm it causes.
So far, ten countries have already joined the campaign with far-reaching pledges to turn the plastic tide: Belgium, Costa Rica, France, Grenada, Indonesia, Norway, Panama, Saint Lucia, Sierra Leone and Uruguay.
Pledges to Turn the Plastic Tide
Indonesia has committed to slash its marine litter by a massive 70 per cent by 2025; Uruguay will tax single-use plastic bags later this year. Costa Rica will take measures to dramatically reduce single-use plastic through better waste management and education.
And Vidar Helgesen, Minister of Climate and the Environment of Norway, said: “Keeping our seas clean and our marine life safe from plastic is a matter of urgency for Norway. Marine plastic litter is a rapidly increasing threat to marine life, seafood safety and negatively affects the lives of people in coastal areas all around the world. Our oceans cannot wait any longer.”
Eneida de León, Minister of Housing, Territorial Planning and Environment of Uruguay, underlined: “Our goal is to discourage the use of plastic bags through regulations, give an alternative for workers in the waste sector, and develop education plans regarding the impact of the use of plastic bags on our environment…”
According to estimates, at the rate we are dumping items such as plastic bottles, bags and cups after a single use, by 2050 oceans will carry more plastic than fish and an estimated 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic.
Major announcements are expected during The Ocean Conference in New York at the UN Headquarters 5 – 9 June, and the December UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya.
“No Need to Invent or Negotiate Something New…” – Sweden
In addition to the 8 million tons of plastic dumped each ears in the waters, oceans are also victims of overfishing, acidification and increasing global water temperatures linked to climate change.
The United Nations on 15 February held a two-day meeting in its headquarters in New York, to prepare for an Ocean Conference in June this year, which will aim “to help safeguard the planet’s oceans and help them recover from human-induced problems.“video log on Twitter that the Conference could be a “chance of a lifetime” to save the oceans under enormous stress.
Most likely reflecting the general feeling of most scientists, environmentalists and civil society organisations, Lövin said “We don’t need to invent or negotiate something new, we just need to have action to implement what we already agreed upon.”
Lövin was referring to the expected ‘Call to Action’ that will result from the Conference in connection with stopping illegal fishing, stopping marine pollution and addressing the special circumstances of small island developing States.
“The World Going in the Totally Wrong Direction”
In an interview to IPS UN Bureau, Lövin said the world is going “in the totally wrong direction,” when it comes to achieving the goal of sustainable oceans and life below water.
“If you look at the trends right now, you see more and more overfishing, we are seeing more and more pollution, plastic litter coming into our oceans, and we’re also seeing all the stress that the ocean is under due to climate change, acidification of the water, but also the warming and sea level rises and all of this is putting a tremendous, tremendous pressure on our oceans,” Lövin explained.
During the New York meeting, the UN has called for voluntary commitments to implement Goal 14 and on February 15 launched an online commitment registry, which has its first three commitments – the Swedish Government, the UN Environment Programme, and Peaceboat, a non-governmental organisation.
The site will be up through the end of the Conference, which starts on World Environment Day, marked annually on 5 June, and includes 8 June, celebrated as World Oceans Day.
The voluntary commitments “underscore the urgency for action and for solutions,” said Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo, who heads the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs and serves as the Secretary-General of the Conference.Related Articles
- Making the Deep Blue Sea Green Again
- Conservation Congress Sets Ambitious Target to Protect Oceans
- World Oceans Day – “ A Death Sea Called Mediterranean
- What Lies Ahead for Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources
- World Running Out of Time to Save Oceans
- Latin America Should Lead in Protecting the Planet's Oceans
By Saleemul Huq
Feb 22 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)
Over the next two to three decades, there are two major overarching trends that Bangladesh will have to deal with, and therefore have to plan for as well. The first trend is a positive one, which is our desire, and indeed commitment, to graduating out of Least Developed Country (LDC) status within less than a decade. The second, more negative trend, is to tackle the adverse impacts of climate change that will occur along the way.
First let us define what we mean by the private sector which is a very large catch-all term that includes everything from multinational companies operating in Bangladesh to large Bangladeshi corporations to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as individual farmers and road-side vendors.
For the purposes of this column, I will use the term to mean the larger corporations (counting both multinational as well as national ones) as well as SMEs.
In this domain again there are major sectors in which they can be disaggregated like finance and banking, industry, energy, transport, garments, textiles, tea growing, etc. Each sector is usually represented by trade and industry associations who are all members of the major chambers of commerce and industry such as the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) and Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI).
For the overall economic development of the country, the key roles will have to start with finance and banking sectors which can leverage both national and international capital to invest in the other industries and commercial sectors at a much larger scale than we have done in the past while reducing our dependence on concessional loans and grants through Official Development Assistance (ODA) from the richer countries. This will enable the country become much more self-reliant economically.
On the climate change front, there are two separate aspects, like two sides of a coin that need to be considered, namely threats and opportunities.
With regard to threats of adverse impacts of climate change, as one of the world’s most vulnerable countries, Bangladesh has to prepare itself to face more frequent (and possibly more severe) floods, cyclones and droughts as well as sea level rise in coming decades.
However, Bangladesh has a long history of successfully tackling such challenges, such as the cyclone warning systems and shelter programmes, which have resulted in lives lost from cyclones to drop by nearly 100 percent over the last few decades. Cyclones still happen and cause damage to crops and infrastructure but human lives lost have been successfully prevented.
So for the private sector, the requirement is for all of them to become aware of the climate change risks that they will have to face over time and build their own capacity to prepare to face those risks without too much damage to their business. For the larger corporations, they can afford to pay for this advice and capacity building but for SMEs, there will need to be an investment from the government to initially provide information to raise awareness and then do training and capacity building to enable them to take necessary actions.
For the other side of the coin, namely opportunities to make profits, there are two domains of such opportunities available for the private companies in Bangladesh.
The first is to tackle the emissions of greenhouse gases through climate change mitigation actions, which include promoting renewable energy such as solar energy, where a number of Bangladeshi companies are already making good profits. The second is to find profit making business opportunities for adaptation to the adverse impacts of climate change through things like selling saline, flood and drought tolerant varieties of crops and other agricultural products, insurance schemes and other activities. This is a relatively unexplored area where Bangladeshi companies can indeed become pioneers and possibly even export their expertise to other companies over time.
It may be noticed that I did not mention the issue of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This is not because I don’t recognise its role but because depending on CSR alone will not be enough. Unless we can unleash the power of profit-making from good development and tackling climate change, we will not be able to make the changes at the scale required to meet our aspirations and goals. However, with the right kind of policies, and incentives along with knowledge generation and sharing, it is well within our grasp.
The writer is Director, International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh.
This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh
By Kulsum Ahmed
Feb 22 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)
Karachi’s air is more polluted than Beijing. Think about it. All the clues have been there for many years — my mother-in-law constantly on oxygen or using an inhaler in Karachi, my children using inhalers or taking anti-allergy tablets. But as a scientist, my light bulb moment only happened when I saw a graph in the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s Global Outlook report for 2016, which showed Karachi next to Beijing, but higher on the pollution scale. The IEA’s report was on air pollution because, as the report’s foreword notes, “energy production and use is the most important source of air pollution coming from human activity.” I cannot get that graph out of my head.
Poor air quality increases the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma. Air pollution kills about eight million people annually, and is the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide, costing the global economy about $225 billion in lost labour income in 2013, according to the World Bank. Even greater is the cost of illness, resulting in health costs and loss of productivity due to days off work. The highest cost is the agony of watching our children or parents suffer from diseases such as asthma and the loss of pride associated with living in a dirty city.
To tackle the pollution in our cities, we need to first acknowledge that we have an air quality problem.
However, many cities and countries have successfully addressed this problem. Mexico City made huge improvements by acting on vehicular pollution and Bogota by improving fuel quality. Others succeeded temporarily until investments were made that locked in a development path that did not take into account future pollution. In China’s case, it is the coal power plants that are a major source of air pollution. Therefore, in 2012, the Chinese government sought to remedy this by tightening emissions standards for their coal power plants ahead of many countries, including the EU. Thus, they were able to respond to their energy needs and protect the health of their citizens.
In order to tackle the pollution in our cities, we need to first acknowledge that we have an air quality problem and begin to share data regularly on air quality and emissions sources with citizens. Indeed, the right to a clean environment is already enshrined in our Constitution and confirmed by the Supreme Court.
Secondly, we need to identify the sources of pollution in each of our major cities using a fairly simple test where air is passed through a filter paper and the pollution sources analysed. These results are validated by comparing them with the outcomes of computer models that take into account emission source inventories and meteorological effects. Past analyses suggest that in the case of Karachi, industrial emissions (including from poor quality fuel oil), vehicular emissions, fossil fuel combustion, burning trash, and dust from construction, street cleaning, agricultural residues, and sea salt are important sources.
Third, we need to address as many of these sources as possible. In fact, it’s not that difficult. Just procuring diesel and fuel/furnace oil with lower sulphur content, reducing industrial emissions through use of cleaner technology, covering our construction sites, or putting in place a better waste management system so the burning of trash is avoided can make a huge difference.
Finally, we need to systematically think about future sources of pollution and put in place frameworks to manage these from now. Take the planned increase in coal power plants as an example. Recognising this as a future source of pollution, the federal environment protection agency could introduce new emissions standards for PM2.5 (which do not even exist currently in Pakistan) for coal power plants and adjust other emissions standards, learning from China. This will help to ensure that clean technology is used right from the start in these coal plants, reducing the risk of new plants worsening our air quality. Putting these standards in early will also help to ensure that investors do not have to face additional costs later for retrofitting these plants or even closing them down altogether.
As a concerned Pakistani, who has helped many other cities and countries address this problem, it really pains me to see the path that we are unwittingly following on air quality. We need to wake up. We should be defining our own future, a future where each Pakistani not only has the right to breathe clean air, but can actually do so. We can neither tolerate nor afford anything less, if nothing else for our children and our parents’ sake.
The writer was practice manager for the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice and the senior-most Pakistani at the World Bank when she retired in October 2016.
Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2017
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan