You are here

Africa

Sudan army unveil new deal to return civilian rule

BBC Africa - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 17:36
Military leaders, who have been ruling the country since 2019, agree to hand over power.
Categories: Africa

Sbu Nkosi: Missing Springboks winger found 'safe and sound'

BBC Africa - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 16:59
South Africa's World Cup winner Sbu Nkosi, who was reported missing by his club side the Bulls, is found 'safe and sound'.
Categories: Africa

Spain hope penalty 'homework' pays off against Morocco

BBC Africa - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 15:52
Spain coach Luis Enrique hopes his players' "homework" of practising 1,000 penalties will pay off against Morocco in the World Cup round of 16.
Categories: Africa

New World TV: Africa's 2022 World Cup broadcaster hit by cyber-attacks

BBC Africa - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 15:48
The Togolese company that holds sub-Saharan Africa's World Cup TV rights has suffered a series of cyber-attacks since the tournament launched.
Categories: Africa

An Ineffective Mexico, in the Face of Maritime Pollution

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 14:47

Trains and trucks move cargo in the port of Veracruz, in southeastern Mexico, on August 30, 2022. Through that infrastructure, the second largest in the country for freight received, pass hydrocarbons, cars, electronic appliances and food, for internal and external consumption. Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

By Emilio Godoy
VERACRUZ, Mexico, Dec 5 2022 (IPS)

Mexico has more than 11,000 square kilometers of continental coastline and intense maritime traffic. This Latin American country received 12 045 vessels as of July, compared to 11 971 on that date in 2021.

At the port of the city of Veracruz, the second largest in Mexico by freight received, at least five ships dock every day, according to data from the General Coordination of Ports and Merchant Navy of the Secretary (ministry) of the Navy (Semar) in 2022.

In Veracruz, in southeast Mexico, maritime traffic expanded 5% in July, receiving 1 254 vessels in 2022 compared to 1 192 in 2021.

Globally, the shipping industry accounts for about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, comparable to the total emissions from aviation. If it were its own country, shipping would rank around sixth in the world for its contributions to climate change. The current international target is to reduce GHG emissions from this sector by at least 50% by 2050

But the country lacks measurements of pollution emitted by the shipping industry into the atmosphere and the water.

Globally, the shipping industry accounts for about 3 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, comparable to the total emissions from aviation. If it were its own country, shipping would rank around sixth in the world for its contributions to climate change. The current international target is to reduce GHG emissions from this sector by at least 50% by 2050.

In 2020, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) mandated that ships limit the sulfur content in fuels to 0.50% m/m (mass by mass) – a significant reduction from the previous limit of 3.5%.

However, Mexico does not have roadmaps for its reduction or concrete plans to produce marine fuels with lower sulfur content, an element harmful to human health and the environment.

Therefore, Mexico faces challenges to achieve IMO’s objectives that aim to reduce GHG emissions generated by human activities that have warmed the planet.

IMO will review their plan next year to endorse a new one, which it will check every five years, because it is estimated that GHG emissions from shipping grew from 977 million tons of CO2 in 2012 to 1 076 million in 2018 – an expansion of 9,6% – and could increase 90%-130% by 2050. Its overall level went from 2,76% to 2,89% in that period.

Emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) from the burning of high-sulfur fuels, derived as a residue from crude oil distillation, lead to sulfurous particles in the air, which can trigger asthma and worsen heart and lung diseases, as well as threaten marine and land ecosystems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In water, hydrocarbons block the entry of light and limit the photosynthesis of algae and other plants, and in fauna they can cause poisoning, alterations of reproductive cycles and intoxication, EPA adds.

SO2, which isn’t a GHG but is highly polluting, lasts only a few days in the atmosphere, but when dissolved in water it generates acids that lend its dangerous nature to human health.

Meanwhile, the emissions of nitrous dioxide (NOx), derived also from hydrocarbon consumption, stream into smog, when mixed with ground-level ozone. NOx remains 114 years in the atmosphere, according to several scientific studies.

 

Maritime pollution in Mexico. Infographic: Johana Claudio / IPS

 

Underestimated issue

IPS confirmed the impacts of this type of pollution, analyzing the data obtained through 30 public information requests to various government agencies and the consultation of satellite images of oil spills from ships that occurred in several areas of the country between 2019 and 2022.

As part of an exclusive collaboration with the Spanish company Orbital EOS (Earth Observation Solutions) – specialized in finding this type of pollution on the high seas –IPS identified through satellite images four discharges in Mexican marine areas that occurred between 2019 and 2021.

On December 14, 2021, an unidentified vessel spilled 3,14 cubic meters of a substance suspected of being a hydrocarbon, in an area of almost 79 km2, 147 kilometers off the Mexican coast, off Acapulco, in the southern state of Guerrero, according to an image taken by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite.

Another oil accident monitored by the Sentinel-2 satellite happened on April 14, 2019, when a ferry dumped between 0,81 and 6,08 m3 of light fuel (distillate fuels, like diesel) and between 17,65 and 176,6 m3 of thick fuel (heavy oil), 35 kilometers off the Sinaloa state coast, in the Sea of Cortez – an area of great biodiversity which is threatened by real estate development and overfishing.

The light hydrocarbon covered 20,26 km2 and the rest, 3,53 km2, according to Orbital EOS analysis.

The vessel, whose name IPS hides for legal reasons, got away with it, since it’s missing from Semar’s lists of incidents and the Attorney General’s Office’ (prosecutor’s office) of Environmental Protection’s sanctioned ships.

The ship was built in 2001, and changed its name and navigation flag in May 2019, weeks after the spill. Its last location was reported in a port in central Italy.

Sentinel-1 detected another spill on December 8, 2021, when an unidentified ship spilled 1,15 m3 of probable hydrocarbon over 28,6 km2, 180 kilometers off the Veracruz coast.

In addition, this satellite recorded on September 27, 2021, another spill of 0,28 m3 of probable hydrocarbon in 7,1 km2, 390 kilometers from the coast, in the Gulf of Mexico.

The most recent accident occurred on August 21, 2022, when a private yacht sank and leaked fuel in Balandra, in Southern Baja California, an area afforded special protection for its biodiversity.

Moreover, the US non-governmental SkyTruth, devoted mainly to tracking spills, recorded 11 discharges of oily wastewater into Mexican waters between July 2020 and December 2021.

Ian McDonald, a Department of Terrestrial, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences researcher at the Florida State University (United States), underlined the presence of oil in the water due to the operation of hydrocarbon platforms and wells for decades; oil leaks from natural fractures in the seafloor and maritime shipping in Mexican marine areas.

“Preventive maintenance (of the facilities) has been lacking. The problem is the cumulative impact on an area. Ship activities, such as dredging and waste generation, have a significant footprint on marine ecosystems. The potential impact can be very large,” he told IPS from Miami.

The “Chronic Oiling in Global Oceans” research, which McDonald co-authored and was released last June, found that 97% of oil slicks come from vessels and land discharges and 3% from seafloor fumes off the Aztec coast.

An IMO spokesperson said to IPS it cannot comment on a country’s situation and informed that it will run a review on Mexico in 2024. Meanwhile, the Mexican shipping industry association declined to comment for this reportage and the navy, Semar, didn’t answer a comment request.

Hydrocarbon pollution on the high seas depends on the volume and where it happens, and chronic contamination has long-term effects.

“Any spill is going to have an impact. Where it is less direct is in open waters, because there’s more dilution, but it tends to accumulate in the depth of the ocean and affect some organisms. The impact is bigger when the spill reaches the beaches, because it has less movement there,” explained Adolfo Gracia, researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Sea Sciences and Limnology.

Speaking from Mexico City, he highlighted a key element: the analysis of chronic pollution, coming from industries, agriculture and shipping, as a growing threat that marine flora and fauna are exposed to.

 

An oil accident, monitored by the Sentinel-2 satellite, happened on April 14, 2019, when a ferry dumped light and heavy fuels –the blue color identifies the former–, 35 km off the coast, in the Sea of Cortez – an area of great biodiversity which is threatened by many factors, in the northeastern Mexican state of Sinaloa. The vessel got away with it and it’s missing from public records.
Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

 

Worrisome sample

Of the 819 incidents that Semar has tracked since 2017, only 16 are classified as marine pollution; of these, two consisted of oil spills and one of “serious damage to the environment”, without specifying their cause, according to data obtained through public information requests. Semar only sanctioned in two cases but did not specify what the penalty consisted of.

Of the total, a hydrocarbon spill and a pollution incident occurred in Veracruz.

Semar also registered 42 fires on boats and 13 sunk ships that may pose a pollution risk.

“There is legislation (Law on Dumping in Mexican Marine Zones), but there is no enforcement. There is no accurate measurement. Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) is not investigating the issue,” Rodolfo Navarro, the non-governmental organization Comunicar para Conservar director, told IPS.

Semar said it doesn’t have registries of violations to this law.

Navarro, whose organization focuses on environmental issues, works in the Cozumel area, in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo which is one of the world’s largest cruise ship recipients, and is witness to the impact of shipping on ecosystems.

Semar, responsible for the administration of the ports since 2017 – including pollution control –, the Ministry of the Environment (Semarnat), the state-owned Pemex and the port administrations of the facilities located in the Gulf of Mexico, all lack pollution records in port areas.

As noted earlier, they also lack roadmaps to achieve the objectives of the Initial Strategy adopted in 2018 by the IMO to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 40% by 2030, for all international shipping, and to aim for a reduction of 70% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.

 

In ports like Veracruz, in southeastern Mexico, the daily movement of ships and freight is constant, which generates pollution. But the Mexican government lacks measurements of contamination emitted by the shipping industry into the atmosphere and the water, as well as policies to control it, for complying with international agreements.
Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

 

A decisive convention

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), in force since 1978, is one of the vital tools to meet the IMO goals and which is composed of Annex I on the prevention of oil pollution, II on harmful liquid substances transported in bulk and III on those transported in packages.

It also consists of Annex IV on sewage, V on garbage and VI on atmospheric pollution from shipping. Mexico is a signatory to annexes I, II and IV, but not to III, V, and VI.

From 2020, the IMO applies regulations limiting the sulfur content used in cargo ships to 0,5%, from a previous rate of 3,5%. Thus, the body seeks its abatement by 77%, equivalent to 8,5 million tons of SO2.

The omission on the management of hydrocarbon pollution constitutes a violation of Annex I. By belonging to IMO, the country must achieve its goals.

In addition, the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (T-Mec) Chapter 24 on the environment, in force since 2020 and which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), stipulates the control of the production, consumption and trade of substances that damage the ozone layer, as well as the reduction of air pollution.

This section stipulates air quality priorities, including the reduction of emissions from maritime traffic.

But Mexico lacks regulations to limit shipping emissions and also did not sign last November during the Glasgow climate summit the “Clydebank Declaration for Green Maritime Corridors”, which was signed only by 24 countries and which aims to create at least six low-emission routes by 2025.

The omission in pollution control implies the difficulty of achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 13 and 14, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015 to be achieved by 2030.

The number 13, of 17 SDGs, deals with fighting the climate crisis and its effects, while the 14 focuses on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

 

Merchant vessels wait for docking at the port of Veracruz, in southeastern Mexico, on August 30, 2022. The International Maritime Organization has established mid-and-long term pollution reduction goals, so that the global shipping industry has cleaner operations, but this Latin American country lacks plans for achieving those goals.
Credit: Emilio Godoy / IPS

 

Busy docks

The Aztec port system handled 169,77 million tons of cargo as of last July, a growth of 3% compared to the same period in 2021, according to Semar figures.

Export cargo totaled 66,4 million tons, 2,6% lower than the 2021 level – 68,19 million – while imports grew 8,8% – from 66,51 million to 72,36. In the Port of Veracruz, which has 17 docks, this has been on the rise since 2008. Off the coast you can see the row of boats waiting to head to port. A line of red and green headlights and buoys points the route to the harbor.

Inside the port area, the hustle and bustle does not stop. Vehicles, trucks, trains and cranes come and go to remove and put the cargo, on which the economic activity of the region and partially of the second economy in Latin America depends.

In their bowels, these vessels move fuel, goods, vehicles or raw materials, and also carry an environmental threat, of which there is evidence.

In 2020, the seaport managed 26,2 million tons, an amount that increased 22% the following year – 32 million. As of last July, it mobilized 19,97 million, 7,6% higher than the same period of 2021. The maritime industry represents 5% of the Mexican GDP.

For Mexico, the urgency also lies in the projected growth of emissions, as calculated by the Commission on Environmental Cooperation for North America (CEC) report “Reducing emissions from the goods movement via maritime transportation in North America”, focused on 35 Mexican ports, between 2011 and 2030 due to the increase in maritime traffic.

 

Jettisoned

Annex VI, in force since 1997, is relevant for Mexico, since, by addressing the control of emissions of SO2, NOx and particulate matter (PM), it implies the creation of an emission control area (ECA) in its maritime zone.

The ECA involves the adoption of mandatory special technological methods for the prevention of marine pollution of ships, by oil, wastewater or garbage, such as low sulfur fuel oil, on-board incinerator for sludge and a cleaning system for emitted gas from combustion, according to the oceanographic and ecological conditions of the area and the peculiarities of maritime traffic.

Semarnat and the U.S. EPA argue that an ECA creation would have positive effects on public health and the environment, without exorbitant costs for Mexico.

Between 2009 and 2018, the US and Mexico, with the support of the CEC – instituted by NAFTA – collaborated, so that this Latin American country adhered to Annex VI and created the ECA.

But Enrique Peña Nieto’s government (2012-2018) did not send that request to the Senate for approval nor does the current administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador seem interested in doing so. Between 2010 and 2019, the Mexican Senate sent six exhortations to the Executive to vote on the incorporation of Annex VI.

At the 2016 North American Leaders’ Summit, then-U.S. President Barack Obama; Peña Nieto, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to work together to finalize the design of the Mexican ECA and send it to the IMO, which never happened.

Navarro, the Cozumel expert, emphasized that Mexico is not on track to reach global goals. “It could do it, but there is not the slightest will. And in international waters nobody watches anything,” he denounced.

McDonald urged attention to the problem. “The government must address it. Mexico has enormous marine resources, and it is a pity that it does not protect them. There are economic benefits to the conservation of marine ecosystems. Ships are good for governments because they represent revenue, but the environmental damage can be substantial,” he said.

Gracia questions the efficacy of high seas surveillance. “It depends on everybody’s good conscience. It’s a little bit complicated. In Mexico, the sole control exists when a ship enters into port. There isn’t a general surveillance plan,” he said.

Before an unconcerned Mexico, the boats will continue with their arrival and their trail of pollution.

This article is part of a two-story series that was produced with support from InternewsEarth Journalism Network.

Categories: Africa

Cyril Ramaphosa: South Africa president's fate in hands of the ANC

BBC Africa - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 13:50
Leaders of South Africa's governing party are deciding whether to sack President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Categories: Africa

Miner Glencore pays $180m in DR Congo corruption case

BBC Africa - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 13:33
The Swiss-based mining firm strikes deal with Democratic Republic of Congo to settle corruption claims.
Categories: Africa

World Cup 2022: Senegal paid for mistakes against England, says Aliou Cisse

BBC Africa - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 13:07
Senegal coach Aliou Cisse identifies lapses in defence and a gulf in class as the main reasons for their World Cup last-16 defeat by England.
Categories: Africa

African history for kids: 'Books are their window to the world'

BBC Africa - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 11:13
Kunda Kids is a series of African history books for children which focus on real-life African historical figures.
Categories: Africa

The Decline and Fall of Democracy Worldwide

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 06:24

Voters wait to cast their ballots for federal and provincial elections at a polling location in Bhaktapur district, Nepal. Meanwhile, the United Nations marked the annual International Day of Democracy, on September 15, calling on world leaders to build a more equal, inclusive and sustainable world, with full respect for human rights. Credit: UN News

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 5 2022 (IPS)

A head of state who presided over an authoritarian regime in Southeast Asia, was once asked about rigged elections in his country.

“I promised I will give you the right to vote” he said, “but I didn’t say anything about counting those votes.”

That infamous quote, perhaps uttered half-jokingly, was rightly described as an unholy combination of despotism and democracy.

In a report released last week, the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA) said half of the democratic governments around the world are in decline, undermined by problems ranging from restrictions on freedom of expression to distrust in the legitimacy of elections.

The number of backsliding countries –-those with the most severe erosion of democracy– is at its peak, and includes the established democracy of the United States, which still faces problems of political polarization, institutional disfunction, and threats to civil liberties.

Globally, the number of countries moving toward authoritarianism is more than double the number moving toward democracy.

“This decline comes as elected leaders face unprecedented challenges from Russia’s war in Ukraine, cost of living crises, a looming global recession and climate change”.

These are some of the key findings in the report titled “The Global State of Democracy Report 2022 – Forging Social Contracts in a Time of Discontent” – published by International IDEA.

Andreas Bummel, Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders, told IPS the new assessment is alarming as it confirms that democracy continues to stagnate or decline in most countries.

In addition, non-democratic regimes are becoming more repressive, he added.

“It is clear that stronger efforts are needed to counter these trends. People all over the world actually want democracy”.

And current protests in China and Iran are a testament to this, to name just two examples. International IDEA refers to surveys that indicate a growing sentiment in favor of authoritarian leaders.

But there are other surveys, too, that show consistently high popular support for democracy as a principle of government, he argued.

“Lack of confidence mainly relates to the actual performance of democratic governments. Most importantly, they must do more to ensure that their policies benefit the majority of people in a tangible way”.

They need to fight corruption and lobbyism in their own ranks and beyond, he noted. Innovations are needed so people have more opportunities to be heard.

‘Democracy Without Borders’ suggests that convening a transnational citizens’ assembly should be considered that looks into common root causes of democratic decline and how they can be addressed. Democracies need to collaborate better and step up internationally, too.

“They need to help strengthen democratic representation and participation of citizens at the UN. Another proposal we are currently looking into is establishing the mandate of a UN Special Rapporteur on Democracy”, declared Bummel.

Meanwhile, the 193-member United Nations was no better– where buying and selling votes were a common practice during UN elections mostly in a bygone era.

When UN member states compete for the presidency of the General Assembly or membership in the Security Council or in various UN bodies, the voting was largely tainted by bribery, cheque-book diplomacy and offers of luxury cruises in Europe– while promises of increased aid to the world’s poorer nations came mostly with heavy strings attached.

Back in the 1940s and 50s, voting was by a show of hands, particularly in committee rooms. But in later years, a more sophisticated electronic board, high up in the General Assembly Hall, tallied the votes or in the case of elections to the Security Council or the International Court of Justice, the voting was by secret ballot.

In one of the hard-fought elections many moons ago, there were rumors that an oil-soaked Middle Eastern country was doling out high-end, Swiss-made wrist watches and also stocks in the former Arabian-American Oil Company (ARAMCO), one of the world’s largest oil companies, to UN diplomats as a trade-off for their votes.

So, when hands went up at voting time in the Committee room, the largest number of hands raised in favor of the oil-blessed candidate sported Swiss watches.

As anecdotes go, it symbolized the corruption that prevails in voting in inter-governmental organizations, including the United Nations — perhaps much like most national elections the world over.

Just ahead of an election for membership in the Security Council, one Western European country offered free Mediterranean luxury cruises in return for votes while another country dished out — openly in the General Assembly hall— boxes of gift-wrapped expensive Swiss chocolates.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to boost democracy worldwide, the US hosted its first ‘Summit for Democracy’ in December 2021.

And on November 29, the Biden administrations announced that the governments of Costa Rica, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of Zambia, and the United States will co-host the second ‘Summit for Democracy’ on March 29-30, 2023.

Building on the first Summit, the upcoming gathering is expected to demonstrate “how democracies deliver for their citizens– and are best equipped to address the world’s most pressing challenges.”

“We are living through an era defined by challenges to accountable and transparent governance. From wars of aggression to changes in climate, societal mistrust and technological transformation, it could not be clearer that all around the world, democracy needs champions at all levels”.

Together with other invitees to the second Summit, “we look forward to taking up this call, and demonstrating how transparent, accountable governance remains the best way to deliver lasting prosperity, peace, and justice”, said a statement from the US State Department.

The link follows: https://www.state.gov/summit-for-democracy/

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of International IDEA, Kevin Casas-Zamora, says the world faces a multitude of crises, from the cost of living to risks of nuclear confrontation and the acceleration of the climate crisis.

“At the same time, we see global democracy in decline. It is a toxic mix. “Never has there been such an urgency for democracies to respond, to show their citizens that they can forge new, innovative social contracts that bind people together rather than divide them.”

Regionally, the findings, according to the report, are as follows:

ASIA AND THE PACIFIC

# Democracy is receding in Asia and the Pacific, while authoritarianism solidifies. Only 54 per cent of people in the region live in a democracy, and almost 85 per cent of those live in one that is weak or backsliding. Even high- and mid-performing democracies such as Australia, Japan and Taiwan are suffering democratic erosion.

AFRICA AND THE MIDDLE EAST

# Despite myriad challenges, Africa remains resilient in the face of instability. Countries including The Gambia, Niger and Zambia are improving in democratic quality. Overcoming a restricted civic space, civic action in several countries has created opportunities to renegotiate the social contract; outcomes have varied by country.

In Western Asia, more than a decade after the Arab Spring, protest movements continue to be motivated by government failures in service delivery and economic opportunities—key aspects of social contracts.

THE AMERICAS

# Three out of seven backsliding democracies are in the Americas, pointing to weakening institutions even in longstanding democracies.

# Democracies are struggling to effectively bring balance to environments marked by instability and anxiety, and populists continue to gain ground as democratic innovation and growth stagnate or decline.

# In the US, threats to democracy persist after the Trump presidency, illustrated by Congress’s political paralysis, counter-majoritarianism and the rolling back of long-established rights.

EUROPE

# Although democracy remains the dominant form of government in Europe, the quality of democracy has been stagnant or in decline across many countries.

# Nearly half of the democracies—a total of 17 countries—in Europe have suffered erosion in the last five years. These declines affect 46 per cent of the high-performing democracies.

This article contains excerpts from a recently-released book on the UN titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote me on That.” Available at Amazon, the book is a satire peppered with scores of political anecdotes—from the sublime to the hilarious. The link to Amazon via the author’s website follows: https://www.rodericgrigson.com/no-comment-by-thalif-deen/

IPS UN Bureau Report

 


!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');  
Categories: Africa

IMF Led Privatization, Land and Resource Grab in Sri Lanka

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 06:02

Credit: IMF

By Asoka Bandarage
WASHINGTON DC, Dec 5 2022 (IPS)

On September 1, 2022, debt-trapped Sri Lanka reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a 48-month Extended Fund Facility of $2.9 billion, which hardly covers the country’s outstanding debt, nor its immediate survival needs.

Nevertheless, IMF structural adjustment requires the country to meet its familiar debt restructuring conditions: privatization of state-owned enterprises, cutbacks of social safety nets and alignment of local economic policy with US and other Western interests.

There are already signs that these policies would be detrimental to the well-being of ordinary Sri Lankans and the sovereignty of the country and will inevitably lead to more wealth disparity and repeat debt crises.

The most important source for generating state revenue identified in the 2023 Sri Lanka budget is the privatization of SOEs (State Owned Enterprises), a primary strategy of IMF structural adjustment and neoliberal economics.

The 2023 Sri Lankan budget states:

    “The government is currently maintaining 420 State-owned enterprises. 52 of these generate over Rs. 86 Billion in losses… A Unit has now been established at the Ministry of Finance with the specific task of restructuring SOEs. Initially, measures will be taken to restructure Sri Lankan Airlines, Sri Lanka Telecom, Colombo Hilton, Waters Edge, and Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation (SLIC) along with its subsidiaries, the proceeds of which will be used to strengthen foreign exchange reserves of the country, and strengthening the Rupee.”

The left-wing and nationalist Bandaranaike governments established many SOEs between the mid-1950s and the mid-1970s, many of them import substitution industries to replace foreign imports with domestic production.

Many SOEs were privatized after the introduction of the Open Economy in 1977, and privatization (or commercialization) has continued steadily since then, with successive governments selling SOEs outright or turning them into Public Private Partnerships (PPP).

There are 55 strategic SOEs, 287 SOEs with commercial interests and 185 SOEs with non-commercial interests in Sri Lanka. The 55 strategically important SOEs are estimated to employ around 1.9 percent of the country’s labor force. The total state sector workforce is estimated to be about 1.4 million people, which accounts for over one in six of the country’s total workforce.

Many Sri Lankans prefer to work for the government sector given job security, retirement and other benefits. There are concerns that “…privatization can result in lower salaries and benefits as well as retrenchment and high employee turnover,” and that privatizing SOEs that enjoy monopolies can result in “corporations making decisions based on profits rather than on public benefit.”

Unlike the private sector, many of the SOEs in Sri Lanka have powerful trade unions, with workers at different skill and professional levels, which have fought for workers’ rights and the country’s sovereignty for decades.

Privatization is likely to lead to the elimination of many trade unions, strikes and other forms of labor resistance. In October 2022, Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) workers held a protest strike against the proposed privatization of the CPC.

Similarly, 1200 union workers of the Government Press plant – also targeted for privatization and cutbacks in wages, work conditions and jobs – went on strike in November 2022.

The CPC, a vital enterprise in the island’s oil supply and energy security, has been targeted for privatization under the IMF restructuring program. Lanka India Oil Company (LIOC), China’s Sinopec, Petroleum Development Oman and Shell have expressed interest in this deal.

It is important to note that, in the name of privatization, the CPC is being handed over to state owned enterprises of powerful foreign countries. The parent company of LIOC is the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOC) which is owned by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas of India.

Similarly, Sinopec Group is the world’s largest oil refining, gas and petrochemical conglomerate and is wholly owned by the Chinese state; and Petroleum Development Oman is owned by the Government of Oman, Royal Dutch Shell, Total Energies and Partex.

Parasites and Vultures of Privatization

Sri Lanka must take lessons from privatization episodes in other parts of the world. According to a 2016 study, ‘The Privatising Industry in Europe’ by the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, privatization in Europe has failed to produce the expected revenue as only “profitable firms are being sold and consistently at undervalued prices.”

The study notes that privatized firms are no more efficient than state-owned firms and that, under the rubric of privatization, many European energy companies in Portugal, Greece and Italy, have been sold off to state-owned corporations from China.

The Study also states that privatization in Europe has “encouraged a growth in corruption, with frequent cases of nepotism and conflicts of interest” in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the UK.

We must also be vigilant for conflicts of interest in such large deals involving public money and wellbeing. For example, the financial and legal advisory firms Clifford Chance and Lazard have been hired by the Sri Lankan government to assist with IMF debt restructuring.

The Transnational Institute Study lists Clifford Chance as part of a small group of privatization advisory law firms, with annual revenues of more than a billion Euros, “reaping huge profits from the new wave of crisis-prompted privatisations.”

Lazard is reputed to be both “the number one sovereign advisory firm” and “the world’s largest privatization advisory player.” Lazard’s operational global headquarters are in New York City, but the company is officially incorporated in Bermuda – always a warning sign when it comes to (lack of) financial ethics.

In previous government advisory contracts, Lazard has taken advantage of its prominent position by involving itself not only its advisory services branch, but also its asset management branch. According to the Study, “Upon the Initial Public Offering (IPO) of important state companies, Lazard has on a number of occasions undervalued the price of a company, which has allowed its asset management branch to buy up the stock at low prices which have then been sold for considerable profit when stock prices soared.”

The practice of both advising on processes of privatization and then profiting from that advice, raises ethical questions about Lazard. Questions are also raised about the entire global financial industry responsible for creating debt crises in the first place, and then finding devious ways to benefit from them, at the expense of debt-trapped countries.

Despite such serious concerns over privatization, there is now an enormous push by local and international actors that the solution to Sri Lanka’s debt and economic crises is to privatize the remaining SOEs, and no doubt a select few profit greatly in the process.

A key local player in this is the Sri Lankan NGO, the Advocata Institute in Colombo, which is associated with the Mont Pelerin Society and the Atlas Network and their neoliberal agenda.

Advocata is spearheading a major campaign to convince the public that privatization of SOEs is the path to ‘reset Sri Lanka’ for solvency and prosperity. The ‘Great Sri Lanka Fire Sale’ of state owned enterprises and strategic assets is now on, with huge returns expected for colluding local and global financial and corporate elites and pauperization for ordinary people.

Land Privatization

One key state-owned resource at risk is land, such that commoditizing state-owned land is a major aspect of privatization in Sri Lanka. Not only the land, but water – indispensable for survival of life on Earth – is threatened by privatization and commoditization in Sri Lanka and around the world.

This is not new; privatizing and commoditizing state land for export production has been going on in Sri Lanka since the British colonial era. Although the more recent neoimperial US Millennium Corporation Compact agenda, initiated under George W. Bush in 2002, has not been officially signed by Sri Lanka, contemporary Sri Lankan governments have been advancing its agenda of privatizing state land to prioritize export production over local food production, despite rising prices of imported food and the food crisis facing the country.

Two very important proposals in this regard have been slipped into the 2023 budget proposals without public discussion. Firstly, Clause 12.1 on ‘Lands for Agricultural Exports’ states:

    “A vast amount of land belonging to Janatha Estate Development Board [EDB), Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SPC), and Land Reform Commission (LRC) remains without being cultivated or productively utilized for a long time, ….. Accordingly, a programme will be devised to allow investors to productively utilize them in a manner to increase both the production and exports. Hence, it is expected that large parcels of unutilized/unproductively used lands will be leased out on long-term basis to grow exportable crops…”

Secondly, Clause 13.1 of the 2023 Budget on ‘Disposal of Government Lands’ states:

    “…activities related to the disposal of government lands are carried out by District Secretaries/Government Agents through Divisional Secretaries/ Additional Government Agents…, , such duties were also allocated to Sri Lanka Mahaweli Authority and Land Reform Commission which were established for special requirements at a later stage…there are occurrences of discrimination and malpractice as …activities related to disposal of lands … Therefore…, a programme will be prepared during the next year to enable preliminary activities in relation to disposal of all government lands including the disposal of lands under the above two institutes only by the Divisional Secretaries.”

Nationalist members of Parliament and the Federation of National Organizations have criticized the move to place state land under Divisional Secretaries as a ploy for land grabbing, and that the move to deliberately privatize state land may have ‘irrevocable consequences.’

While recognizing the need to reform the existing Land Reform Commission, they point out that solely empowering Divisional Secretaries would encourage partisan land distribution.

The 2023 Budget seems to put the MCC Compact into effect although activists challenging the Compact have warned of a neocolonial agenda for a massive modern-day land grab, displacement and peasant pauperization.

There is great concern over the legitimacy of crucial land and other privatization decisions taken by President Wickremesinghe as neither he nor his United National (UNP) Party have a mandate to do so from the people. The land, the ports and the state enterprises do not belong to politicians but to the people and to future generations of Sri Lankans.

Clearly, there needs to be careful deliberation of alternatives before the IMF dictated ‘Great Sri Lanka Fire Sale’ is allowed to proceed.

Asoka Bandarage PhD has taught at Brandeis, Mount Holyoke, Georgetown and other universities. She is currently Distinguished (adjunct) Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. She is the author of Colonialism in Sri Lanka, The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka, Women, Population and Global Crisis Sustainability and Well-Being: The Middle Path to Environment, Society and the Economy and many other books and publications. She serves on the advisory boards of the Interfaith Moral Action on Climate and Critical Asian Studies

IPS UN Bureau

 


!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');  
Categories: Africa

Excessive & Unfair Criticism of Human Rights Violations in Qatar

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 05:20

Qatar at the UN General Assembly. Credit: United Nations

By Rosi Orozco
MEXICO CITY, Dec 5 2022 (IPS)

Peter Zimmermann owns a bar located in the German city of Cologne, which for thirty years has been a favorite for those who want to watch a soccer game.

Curiously enough, for the World Cup that is currently taking place in Doha, Qatar, the owner of Lotta, as the bar is called, decided to join a protest movement, and instead of announcing any specials, he hung a banner with the legend “#BoycottQatar2022”.

The position taken by the German sector that presumes to be concerned about the condition of human rights is interesting, considering that human traffickers for sexual exploitation are treated with benevolence in that country.

In the most recent Trafficking in Persons Report released in July 2022 by the United States Department of State (DOS), it is recognized that the German government meets “minimum standards” to address the problem.

However, the report criticizes that “Judges continued to issue lenient sentences resulting in 66 percent of traffickers arrested receiving fully suspended sentences or fines of less than one year in prison.”

This means that in Germany, traffickers continue to operate, causing internal security and injustice problems. “A German who steals a car will spend more time in jail than a human trafficker,” John Cotton Richmond, who was the US Ambassador General to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking from 2018 to 2021, told us recently.

The same DOS report highlights that the German government still does not have a national victim identification guide, a fact that makes the process complicated for those who seek refuge or request asylum.

Nor did the government report whether it granted compensation or restitution for the victims, something that is infrequent for cases in that country, where funding for shelters and NGOs for care and assistance to victims is scarce.

All this is also ignored by German soccer player Phillip Lahm, (Brazil 2014 World Cup Champion), who also claimed that “human rights should play a more important role in the awarding of a tournament” and was surprised that the competition takes place “in a country that is one of the worst in terms of respect for human rights.”

Faced with similar lawsuits launched in all parts of the world, we have to ask ourselves: Is Qatar one of the worst-rated countries in terms of human rights? Taking into account the 2022 Trafficking in-person report, the small nation is located at a second level in terms of human trafficking along with countries such as Denmark, Israel, Italy, Mexico, and Switzerland.

It also shares the second level with other Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, and is well ahead of others recognized as human rights violators such as Iran or Syria, let alone Yemen or Libya.

Although the report charges that “the Government of Qatar does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”, it concedes that “it is making significant efforts to do so” and found that the authorities have shown an overall increase in efforts compared to the previous period.

Currently, more cases of forced labor are being investigated, and a greater number of traffickers are being prosecuted and convicted.

Where Qatar receives the harshest criticism is in the recent report by Amnesty International (AI) which points out that despite the reforms celebrated by the government, “the migrant worker population continued to suffer labor abuse” without being allowed to “change jobs freely” also pointing out the increase in restrictions on freedom of expression in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup “while women continued to suffer discrimination in law and practice”.

Once again, AI’s criticism of Qatar seems fair, but it should be noted that a country like Mexico —which was awarded the venue for the 2026 World Cup together with the United States and Canada—, according to AI, has reported disappearances, violence and impunity, unlawful homicides, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, violence against human rights defenders, violence against refugees and migrants; a large package of violations that do not occur in Qatar.

Since 2009, the United Nations Organization has had a Human Rights Documentation and Training Center (OHCHR) in Doha, the capital of Qatar. Not only for the nation where the World Cup is being held but also, for 21 others located in Southwestern Asia and Arab regions.

Through training programs, the center focuses on judicial laws and practices to address, prevent, and increasingly reduce human rights violations on the application of international standards. OHCHR trains Judges and others to increase accountability for serious violations of international law and human rights in general.

I witnessed this training in 2015 when I had the opportunity to participate in the 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice held in Qatar, where I as part of a group of experts, demanded that the authorities of that country accelerate the changes; demands on which they were quite receptive.

Finally, seeking to host the World Cup, opening up to the world, and being examined by a magnifying glass in every way, allows us to see another face of the monarchy that has ruled Qatar for more than 70 years.

I am convinced that taking the 2022 World Cup was an excellent idea because, in addition to no longer excluding the countries of the Middle East from events like this (the first one in almost 100 years), it is an opportunity to try to understand their traditions, mentality, and customs, sometimes so far removed from our “western values”. Cancel culture does not pave the way to progress, understanding and accountability, it alienates and harbors resentment.

Rosi Orozco is President, United Against Human Trafficking and former Congresswoman, Mexican Chamber of Deputies.

IPS UN Bureau

 


!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');  
Categories: Africa

Nigeria's Kaduna train attack: How I survived hijacking and captivity

BBC Africa - Mon, 12/05/2022 - 02:09
Nigeria's reopening of a high-speed rail link brings back traumatic memories for hostage survivors.
Categories: Africa

Nigerian student Aminu Adamu Mohammed apologises to Aisha Buhari over tweet

BBC Africa - Sun, 12/04/2022 - 23:33
Aminu Adamu Mohammed, 24, describes the experience as the ''darkest hours'' of his life.
Categories: Africa

England 3-0 Senegal: England set up quarter-final with France

BBC Africa - Sun, 12/04/2022 - 22:08
England will meet France in the World Cup quarter-finals on Saturday after an impressive demolition of Senegal at Al Bayt Stadium.
Categories: Africa

Cyril Ramaphosa: South African leader leaves future in ANC hands

BBC Africa - Sun, 12/04/2022 - 16:36
Cyril Ramaphosa, under pressure following a critical report, says the ANC will decide his next move.
Categories: Africa

World Cup 2022: 'All of Africa is behind you.'

BBC Africa - Sun, 12/04/2022 - 15:24
Fans send messages to the Senegal team ahead of the match against England.
Categories: Africa

South African worshippers swept away in Jukskei river flash flood

BBC Africa - Sun, 12/04/2022 - 13:26
South African rescue teams search for the missing who had been taking part in a church ceremony.
Categories: Africa

Sbu Nkosi: Missing person case opened for South Africa wing

BBC Africa - Sun, 12/04/2022 - 08:17
South Africa's World Cup winner Sbu Nkosi has been reported missing by his club in Pretoria.
Categories: Africa

Red Sea soul: Revolutionary cries for recognition in Sudan

BBC Africa - Sun, 12/04/2022 - 02:15
The musician who invented a stringed instrument to strum the soundtrack of Sudan's recent revolution.
Categories: Africa

Pages

THIS IS THE NEW BETA VERSION OF EUROPA VARIETAS NEWS CENTER - under construction
the old site is here

Copy & Drop - Can`t find your favourite site? Send us the RSS or URL to the following address: info(@)europavarietas(dot)org.