Monday, 31 March 2008

Is Sarkozy planing to cut aid?

On the occasion of President Sarkozy’s state visit in the UK last week, Oxfam has attacked his plans to go back on France's promise to increase aid to poor countries. There are rumors that France - the first G8 country to sign up to the UN target of delivering 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) as foreign aid by 2012 - is set to abandon that commitment. Instead the President is likely to propose an extension of the deadline to 2015, a decision that will represent a serious breach of promise for the millions of people in poor countries who rely on French aid. It will also send out a dangerous message to other rich country governments who came together at Gleneagles in 2005 to 'make poverty history' that they are free to break their aid commitments with impunity.

"President Sarkozy's plans to break promises on aid are morally indefensible and politically inept," said Sébastien Fourmy of Oxfam France - Agir ici. "If France breaks its 0.7% pledge, millions of people will be let down in their fight against poverty." France has consistently shown leadership on the vital issue of ending world poverty and fighting suffering in Africa. It was at the heart of the G8 decision to increase aid by $50bn per year by 2010 and was the first G8 country to set a timetable to meet the 0.7% of GNI, by 2012. This decision would represent a real fall from grace for a country that has historically been such an aid champion.

President Sarkozy met with Gordon Brown on Thursday morning to discuss issues such as closer cooperation on immigration and nuclear power, as well as the possible deployment of additional 1,000 French troops in Afghanistan. But it was also expected that Brown wanted aid and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals to be high on the agenda. In the end the two politicians outlined a range of common initiatives from the reform of the UN Security Council to an increased collaboration on defense and new nuclear power stations. They also announced to increase spending on education in Africa by an additional €1.27bn (£1bn) by 2010 (>>> joint communiqué).

This year's aid figures will show that overall levels of aid have fallen for the second year in a row and that progress towards the promises made in Gleneagles in 2005 has been minimal. A negative signal from France could send a very negative signal to other rich nations and especially EU member states in terms of breaking Gleneagles promises with impunity. Currently French Overseas Development Aid is 0.47% of GNI - a very tiny part of the French budget. It is set to fall for the second year in a row when figures are announced in early April. The cost to France of meeting its aid promises is just only 127 € per person, just under half what the average citizen spends on perfume.

IMF governance reform negligible and needs to go much further

As the Board of Directors of the International Monetary Fund met last Friday to agree on reform of the institution, Oxfam International has warned that the proposal for discussion means minimal change in the organization’s structure.
The Board signed off on a “quota formula” that will decide the share of votes that each country receives. But Oxfam warned that the poorest countries will not see any real increase in their voting share. After years of debate, a proposal that gives only a small increase in quota share for a handful of developing countries - and none for the rest – is more than disappointing. Also, this proposal must be the beginning of a longer debate that will give poor countries a bigger say in the decision-making process. This cannot be the end of the line, Oxfam said.

“The Europeans need to give up their overly-dominant position. It’s unacceptable that Ireland, Greece and Luxembourg are about to see an increase in their voice, while poor countries that make up 70% of the IMF's work, gain nothing,” said Oxfam International’s Elizabeth Stuart. Oxfam warned that the proposal on the table will barely increase the minuscule voice of Sub-Saharan Africa – which includes South Africa and 39 other countries – at the IMF. The G7 grouping of industrialized countries meanwhile, will keep more than 45% of the quotas in the Fund.

“The proposal under discussion does not represent the long-overdue reform that was promised. The new Managing Director of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, should use his influence on shareholders to bring about the necessary reform to the way the institution is run. The IMF needs to come into the twenty-first century,” Stuart said. The final decision will be voted on and passed on by Finance Ministers as part of the spring meetings on April 12-13 in Washington. However, the decision is likely to be a rubber-stamping exercise on what is agreed this week.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Protest Rallies Against Turkish Dam All Over Europe

Critics of the ill-conceived Ilisu Dam in Turkey today held protests and rallies all over Europe in front of government buildings, banks and companies involved in the dam project. Actions were planned for Paris, Milan, Rome, Perugia, Berlin, Stuttgart and other German cities today, March 14, to mark the International Day of Action for Rivers, Water and Life. At least 77 organisations from 20 countries, including France, Germany and Italy, are all urging the governmental and financial institutions to withdraw from the project.

The protesters' case against the dam was bolstered by revelations in a new report that environmental and social conditions are not being followed. Indeed, the report – written by a committee of experts hired by European governments – shows that the social and environmental risks of the project are as great as anticipated by NGO critics. The experts found that Turkish officials in charge of the project were completely unfamiliar with the additional social and environmental requirements, which were conditions of loans to the project from European financial institutions. Among their findings were that 200 additional experts would have to be hired for the resettlement plan alone, that plans to create an archaeological park with monuments from the flooded area are unlikely to attract tourists, and that those monuments cannot be transported without risk of destruction and damage. The experts also revealed that key environmental studies are missing.

The planned Ilisu Dam is extremely controversial because of its massive negative environmental, social and cultural impacts. At least 55,000 people would have to be displaced for the project and a 10,000-year-old town would be flooded. Last year governments of Germany, Austria and Switzerland granted export credit guarantees for the project. They justified this support by attaching environmental and social conditions to the contracts, claiming that the project would then adhere to international standards. But Heike Drillisch from the German organisation World Economy, Ecology & Development (WEED) asserts, “The European governments try to continue with business as usual and negotiate new deadlines with the Turkish officials. In reality, the report reveals the fiasco the European governments entered into by approving the export credit guarantees for Ilisu.”

Monday, 3 March 2008

Governments and companies must deliver on EITI

Governments and companies signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) must now deliver concrete results towards making revenues and payments from oil, gas and mining transparent and accountable, said the global civil society coalition Publish What You Pay (PWYP). Seven resource-rich countries were approved as EITI candidates by the EITI Board in Accra, Ghana last month, bringing the total number of EITI candidate countries to 22. PWYP is a global coalition of over 300 civil society organisations campaigning for transparency and accountability in the extractive industries. PWYP is represented on the multi-stakeholder EITI Board through various member organisations, such as Oxfam, Global Witness, Grupo Propuesta Ciudadana, La Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l'Homme, and Secours Catholique.

“We will hold all candidate countries to the same standard of civil society engagement in the EITI implementation and validation process,” said Bennett Freeman, an EITI Board member representing Oxfam America and Oxfam International. “In some countries in particular, fundamental reforms will be necessary to allow civil society to play its rightful role as envisioned by the EITI.” The seven new candidate countries are: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Madagascar, the Republic of Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone and Timor-Leste. The following 15 countries were accepted as EITI candidates in September 2007: Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Mongolia, Niger, Nigeria, Peru, and Yemen.

“Companies, too, need to step up to the plate and fulfil their end of the bargain,” said Corinna Gilfillan of Global Witness. “It is unacceptable that only 3 of the 37 oil, gas and mining companies that have endorsed the EITI have complied with the requirement to report on steps taken to meet the EITI transparency principles.” These 3 companies are Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and StatoilHydro.

PWYP called on governments to move forward swiftly with implementation, and urged the EITI to carefully monitor country progress and to provide the necessary support and technical assistance. All countries have a 2 year period in which to become validated as fully compliant with the EITI criteria or face losing their candidate status. PWYP also welcomed the creation of an EITI working group to develop effective EITI responses in instances when civil society participation is threatened. “Transparency activists, including some EITI Board members, have faced threats, harassment and, in some cases, even imprisonment in places such as Gabon, Angola, and the Republic of Congo,” said Radhika Sarin, International Coordinator of PWYP. “Civil society participation is intrinsic to the EITI process, and the EITI must have a zero-tolerance policy on this critical issue.”