A Toast to the Right to Development


New York

June 22, 2016

A Toast to the Right to Development

by Martin Khor

http://www.thestar.com.my

Many problems threatening the world can be addressed through the lens of the Right to Development – that should be celebrated on its 30th anniversary.

THE Declaration on the Right to Development is 30 years old. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1986, it has had an illustrious history, having great resonance among and giving a boost to people fighting for freedom and more participation in national affairs, as well as to developing nations striving for a fairer world economic order.

It has been invoked by the leaders and diplomats of developing countries on numerous occasions, when they try to convince their counterparts of the developed countries to show more empathy for the needs of the poorer countries.

It has a central place in the Rio Principles of the 1992 Earth Summit, and most recently it was mentioned in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

On this 30th anniversary, it is fitting to recall the important elements of this right to development. It is human and people-centred, an inalienable human right “to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.”

Politicians and policy makers should take human beings as the central focus of their development policies, and ensure they can actively participate in the process of development and development policy, as well as benefit from the fruits of development. (Article 2.3).

But the Declaration also places great importance on the international arena. States have the duty to cooperate with each other in ensuring development and eliminating obstacles to development (Article 3.3).

And effective international cooperation is essential in providing developing countries with appropriate means and facilities to foster their comprehensive development (Article 4.2).

The right to development recognises that there are national and international obstacles to the realisation of the right to development, and it calls for states to take steps to eliminate these obstacles.

It is useful to identify some present global problems and how they affect the right to development.

First, the global economy in crisis. The economic sluggishness in developed countries has had adverse impact on developing economies.

They are facing low commodity prices, and reduced export earnings. They face great fluctuations in the inflow and outflow of funds, due to absence of controls over speculative capital flows and fluctuations in the value of their currencies due to lack of a global mechanism to stabilise currencies.

Some countries are on the brink of another debt crisis. There is for them no international sovereign debt restructuring mechanism and countries that do their own debt workout may well become victims of vulture funds.

Second, the challenges of implementing appropriate development strategies.

There are challenges in developing countries to have policies right in agricultural production, ensuring adequate incomes for small farmers, and national food security.

Industrialisation involves the challenges of climbing the ladder, moving from labour-intensive low-cost industries to higher technology industries and overcoming the middle-income trap.

There are the challenges to providing social services like health care and education and water supply, lighting and transport as well as developing financial services and commerce.

This policy-making is even more difficult due to premature liberalisation, some of which is due to loan conditionality and to trade and investment agreements which also constrain policy space.

In particular, many investment agreements enable foreign investors to take advantage of imbalanced provisions and shortcomings in the arbitration system that cause countries to lose a lot in compensation and also have a chill effect on their right to regulate and to formulate policies. A review is needed.

Third, climate change is an outstanding example of an environmental constraint to development and the right to development. There is an imperative to cut global emissions as sharply and quickly as possible. But which countries and which groups within countries should cut emissions, and by how much?

The danger is that the burden will mainly be passed on to developing and poorer countries and to the poor and vulnerable in each country.

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 was a success in terms of reaching a multilateral deal.

But it is not ambitious enough to save humanity, and it also failed to deliver confidence that the promised transfers of finance and technology will take place. Much more has to be done and within a few years.

Fourth, the crisis of anti-microbial resistance brings dangers of a post-antibiotic age. Many diseases are becoming increasingly difficult to treat because bacteria have become more and more resistant to anti-microbials.

The World Health Organisation Director General has warned that every antibiotic ever developed is at risk of becoming useless and that we are entering a post-antibiotic era.

The World Health Assembly in 2015 adopted a global plan of action to address anti-microbial resistance but the challenge is in the implementation.

Developing countries require funds and technology such as microscopes and diagnostic tools; they also need to have access to existing and new antibiotics at affordable prices.

Fifth, the challenges of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, which are closely linked to the right to development.

For example, Goal 3 is “to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. One of the targets is to achieve universal health coverage, that no one should be denied treatment because they cannot afford it. But unless there are sufficient funds, this will remain an unfulfilled noble target.

The treatment for HIV/AIDS became more widespread only when generics were made available at cheaper prices, and since then millions of lives have been saved.

Many of the new cancer drugs and the new “biologics” are priced above US$100,000 (RM408,850) for a year’s treatment. Unfortu­nately, due to global patent rules, most patients have no access to cheaper generics.

For the SDGs to succeed, finance and technology have to be transferred to developing countries and some international rules on trade and intellectual property have to be altered if they are found to be obstacles to the right to development.

All the above global challenges have to be diagnosed as to where they comprise obstacles to realising the right to development, and the obstacles should then be removed.

That is easier said than done. But the Declaration has thrown light on the way ahead.

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

 

 

 

Jakarta Governor points the way for London Mayor Sadiq Khan


June 2, 2016

Jakarta  Governor points the way for London Mayor Sadiq Khan

by Kishore Mahbubani*

 

The election of Sadiq Khan, a practising Muslim, as Mayor of London was rightly celebrated across the world. It confirmed that openness and tolerance, hallmarks of western civilisation, are alive and well. More surprising, perhaps, is that this spirit can be found in parts of the Islamic world, too.

Indonesia is the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Its capital city, Jakarta, is run by Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese Christian popularly known as “Ahok”. This is highly significant. Why? As recently as 1998, Jakarta saw anti-Chinese riots in which more than a thousand people were killed. Mr Purnama and his family had to defend themselves with sticks, Molotov cocktails and machetes.

After 17 months as Governor of Jakarta, Mr Purnama remains immensely popular. He has made some bold changes: closing down trendy but disruptive nightclubs, cleaning up red-light districts, evicting people from slums (while providing them with better housing) and dredging clogged-up canals.

He has also demonstrated his willingness to make difficult policy choices, such as discontinuing a long-stalled monorail project in favour of a more cost-effective and efficient light rail system. Even more significantly, an underground railway, which had been held up by bureaucracy for more than 25 years, is going ahead.

Mr Purnama also believes in transparency. The entire budget of the city of Jakarta is online. Citizens can scrutinise all spending. Even his mobile phone number is public, meaning that he receives a large number of text messages, many of which he responds to personally. The city’s inhabitants feel that their lives are improving.

 

The City of Jakarta skyline

This is why the attacks on him by hardline Islamist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, also known as Front Pembela Islam, are not working. In theory, appeals to religious loyalties by such groups should work against Mr Purnama. In practice, however, they have failed — suggesting that in Jakarta, as in London, a corner has been turned. The big question is why.

One reason could be greater access to information. A little-known fact about Indonesia is that its social media penetration rates are among the highest in the world. There are more than 80m users of social networks in the country. In the new climate of transparency, there is increasing evidence for Mr Purnama’s claim that conditions in Jakarta are improving.

How to succeed politically? Be prepared to die. I am ready to die. Tweet this quote

Corruption is also declining in what was a notoriously corrupt city. Video clips of Mr Purnama berating officials of the city’s transport administration have gone viral. Despite the traditional Javanese preference for avoiding confrontation, he has adopted a brash, in-your-face style that has clearly angered many. He has acquired enemies.

When I met him earlier this year, I asked him for his views on how to succeed politically. He replied: “Be prepared to die. I am ready to die”.

His courage is obvious. And for a Chinese Christian in a largely Muslim society to have displayed such courage could have been politically suicidal. Instead, it has proved to be a vote-getter. A grass roots campaign to put him on the ballot as an independent candidate to run again as governor in 2017 has drawn wide support from the city’s predominantly Islamic population. He has received more than enough nominations.

Mr Purnama’s success in Jakarta is not just a local phenomenon. It demonstrates that we are moving into a new world in which people make more informed and rational decisions on the basis of greater access to information. The citizens of Jakarta are aware how backwards their city had become, even in relation to its Asian peers. So when a Chinese Christian promises that he will study best urban practices from Singapore and Taipei and bring them to Jakarta, they support him.

This is why I believe that we are witnessing globally a fusion of civilisations, not a clash of civilisations. Societies around the world are beginning to learn best urban practice from others.

The brash Chinese Christian Governor of Jakarta is popular among the Islamic population of Jakarta because he says to them, in effect: “You can see on your phones how the rest of the world has moved ahead. Follow me, and I will bring the world’s best practices to Jakarta.”

In theory, an Islamic population ought to have been reluctant to follow a Christian leader. In practice, they are embracing him. This is as significant as the election of Mr Khan.

Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani is Dean and Professor in the practice of public policy in the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy NUS, Singapore.

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/f510a93e-27f8-11e6-8ba3-cdd781d02d89.html#axzz4ANX79Mlk

Laos’ Hydro Dam Project:Ecosystem of Mainland Southeast Asia at risk


May 30, 2016

Laos’ Hydro Dam Project: Ecosystem of Mainland Southeast Asia at risk

by Tom Fawthrop

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Laos’s Threat to the Mekong River

In the Mekong River’s 4,800 km journey from the snow-capped mountains of Tibet to Vietnam delta, the Sipandon area in southern Laos stands out as a critical part of the river‘s ecosystem, blessed by raging waterfalls, picturesque islands and a small colony of endangered freshwater dolphins.

Sipandon – meaning 4,000 Islands – is an area of immense biodiversity, ecotourism and abundance of fish migration, but its survival is at serious risk from the hydropower Don Sahong dam, which is on the verge of construction. “If this special wetlands zone is protected, it could be one of the great wonders of the world”, Carl Grundy-Warr, a geography professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) told Asia Sentinel.

But instead of signing up to the Ramsar Convention for Wetlands Protected Areas, the Lao government has opted for a dam that will block fish migration through the Sahong channel, bypassing the waterfall at Khone Phapeng.

Hundreds of NGOs object

Mega-First Malaysia, the Malaysia-based co-developer of the 256 mw dam project along with the Laotian government, faces opposition from hundreds of NGOs in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. More than 300,000 people have signed petitions to attempt to stop the dam, and Cambodian communities have staged demonstrations.

Even after calls from Mekong River Commission experts and constant calls by the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam to suspend all construction, however, preparations have steamed ahead. But now there appears to be a glimmer of hope for the 60 million people whose lives depend on a healthy, free-flowing Mekong. Dam construction that had been scheduled to start last month has been delayed.

Mekong specialist Brian Eyler, Deputy Director of the Washington, DC-based Stimson Center, views the delay as linked to “a recent flurry of meetings between the governments of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia in the past two months,” trying to resolve the conflict over dams on the lower Mekong.

A spokesman for the Mekong River Commission confirmed that “the matter is no longer in the hands of the MRC. It’s now in the hands of the governments,” referring to the three member states but without any reported participation by Thailand.

Vientiane Remains Obdurate

Laos has up to now refused all requests from the riparian countries to engage in a joint scientific investigation of dam impacts and trans-boundary studies and suspend or postpone all dam construction on the mainstream river.

Eyler believes the current pause in the dam’s development could be attributed to downstream neighbors putting diplomatic pressure on Laos. The impact of this projected dam, the Xayaburi dam and nine more scheduled to be built across the Mekong would also have a devastating impact much farther down river.

Seven dams on the Chinese stretch have already reduced the natural flow of nutrient-rich sediment to the delta, the rice-bowl of Vietnam, which accounts for 20 percent of the world’s rice exports.

Research by wetlands specialist Nguyen Huu Thien based in the delta point to a grim future for 18 million people living there. “If all 11 dams go ahead on the Mekong, then in 20 years’ time, Vietnam will cease to be a rice exporter,” Thien said in an interview. “The delta will be sinking because the dams upstream will block the sediment. Any delta sinks when it is not replenished by sediment flow.”

If Vietnam is getting tougher with Laos, their long-time Indochina ally, it is hardly surprising. Laos unilaterally proceeded with the construction of the first dam on the lower Mekong – the Xayaburi dam, now  60 percent completed – and brushed aside demands by the riparian countries for comprehensive environmental impact studies. China’s Sinohydro has contracted to build the dam and has completed a bridge linking the dam site on an island to the mainland.

Still possibility of a deal

The Irrawaddy Dolphin is regarded as a sacred animal by both Khmer and Laos people with a rounded head and measures up to eight feet in length. The Laotian hydro project threatens the survival of this friendly animal.

Read this : http://www.wildernessclassroom.com/irrawaddy-river-dolphins-endangered-animals/

In spite of the well-advanced preparations to build the Don Sahong dam, in Eyler’s assessment there is still a chance of a last-minute deal.  “Given this high stakes situation where the future of the region is at risk,” he said, “we shouldn’t see Don Sahong’s construction as a foregone conclusion.”

Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai earlier this year cited the delta’s importance to the development of southern Vietnam and the country as a whole, telling local media that: “The Mekong Delta supports 27 percent of Vietnam’s GDP, 90 percent of its rice exports and 60 percent of fishery exports and the region is facing enormous challenges to water resources.”

The Mekong supports the world’s largest inland fishery with an estimated annual harvest of 2.2 million tonnes of wild fish, annually worth US$7.8 billion according to a report released in October by Ian Cowx, director at the Institute of Fisheries at Hull University in the UK.

Tourists from around the world visit the Ochiteal dolphin pool in Cambodia to see the Irrawaddy dolphins. ©Lee Poston / WWF-Greater Mekong

Mega-First counters that their dam will include extensive fish mitigation that would divert a wide variety of fish species away from the Sahong to smaller channels that have been widened and deepened. However, independent scientists have rejected these claims. Fish mitigation imported from other parts of the world, they argue has no track record of success when applied to tropical rivers.

Mekong River Commission (MRC)

Although during the MRC consultation process the overwhelming response from riverine communities Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam rejected the dam, the toothless Mekong River Commission has no veto right.

Duong Ni, Director of the Center for Biodiversity at Can Tho University in the delta has expressed strong concern that the US-backed Lower Mekong Initiative has focused only on climate change while paying little attention to what scientists consider to be an even worse threat: the dams being built upstream.

“Dams will erode all attempts to cope with climate change,” Duong’s said. “While we are busy adapting to climate change and rising sea levels, the dam will hit us like a rock to the back of the head.”

Laotian government planners believe that building hydropower dams to sell electricity to their power-hungry neighbors will generate the hard currency to escape its position as one of Asia’s poorest countries. Cambodia and Vietnam have so far failed to address Laos’s projected loss of revenue if they abandon the dams in deference to the urgent concerns of downstream nations

Research by the Stimson Center provides the outline of an alternative energy strategy that could protect the Mekong from more mainstream dams, and potentially generate even more income than their current strategy. In their latest paper New Narratives on the Mekong, they address this very point as part of an innovative plan for conflict-resolution on the Mekong.

Cooperation to supply energy grid?

Laos lacks a national electricity grid. If assistance were given to the land-locked country to create one, the Stimson report argues that could enable potentially more net export revenue with fewer mainstream dams while also reducing or eliminating the current need to import electricity from Thailand.

Laos is already building large numbers of dams elsewhere other tributaries to supply such a national grid, which would not generate the diplomatic fallout engendered by the Don Sahong dam conflict, and any other dam on this international river. International support for Vientiane to turn to renewable energy such as solar and wind-power could also play a part in the conflict resolution.

But if current diplomacy fails, then the Mekong River Commission, founded on the mantra that the Mekong is a river of international cooperation, friendship and respect for shared water resources, is clearly dead.

Tom Fawthrop (tomfawthrop@gmail.com) is a Chiang Mai-based journalist and filmmaker specializing in Southeast Asia.

Chris Hedges: America 2016


May 23, 2016

Chris Hedges:  America 2016

Erudite “ChrisHedges  is an American journalist, activist, author, and Presbyterian minister. Hedges is also known as the best-selling author of several books including War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2002)—a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for NonfictionEmpire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009), Death of the Liberal Class (2010), the New York Times best seller, written with cartoonist Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt (2012), and his most recent Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (2015). http://www.wikipedia.org.

I like his views about government-big business– big bank partnerships.  His comments also seem to resonate well, especially among young American voters since The Bern (Bernie Sanders) has been making headlines in the US  primaries by giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money. So I thought I should share them with you on my Double 7 Day. And of course, I expect responses from all of you.–Din Merican

 

 

 

The American Dream: Detroit’s resuscitation


April 4, 2016

The American Dream: Detroit’s resuscitation

by Shrey Srivastava

If one could epitomise the phrase “could have been” in one simple image, it would indubitably be the image of Detroit. The unyielding forces of time have taken a once great city and denigrated it to the status of one of not only one of America’s most economically destitute, but also one of its most dangerous regions. Nowadays, Detroit carries many of the hallmarks of the lesser developed countries of the world, especially with roughly 47% of the population being described as “functionally illiterate” by The National Institute for Literacy, a rate only 13.8% higher than that of Afghanistan. Despite this, Detroit still carries as much, if not more potential as it did in the 20th century, and is simply crying out for some economic solutions to its varied and diverse range of problems. Much of Detroit’s high crime rate can, in truth, be narrowed down to a high unemployment rate, leading to a lack of jobs for people to occupy themselves with, so even this ailment, is, at its core, financial. What this means is that there is still hope for this long-suffering city, as long as the relevant American policymakers act in a fashion that is both effective and sustainable; alas, it is clear to see that this has not happened thus far. Nevertheless, what I endeavour to achieve with this article is to perhaps shed some light on how Detroit can again become the bustling, cosmopolitan hub that it once was, through, primarily, the introduction of a special economic zone.

Special economic zones, which seem like a highly unusual step for a developed country such as the USA, may in fact be a simple and effective solution to revitalise the city of Detroit. The step of making the city a special economic, or more specifically, an industrial zone could potentially be the catalyst for a holistic revitalisation of the Detroit economy. In a nutshell, an industrial zone is a zone specifically made out for industrial development, where tax cuts and tax holidays, among other financial incentives, would incentivise corporations to set up operations in Michigan’s largest city.

Detroit’s unemployment rate was a whopping 29% during the worst that we saw of the 2008 recession, meaning that more than 1 in 4 people were unemployed at the time. Despite having reduced somewhat due to, among other causes, a steady outflow of people from the city, unemployment rates are still grossly high, and if Detroit wants to reverse its fall from grace, this is one of its first facets that need changing. The only way to do this, in truth, is by somehow persuading businesses to come to this dilapidated zone of urban decay, and invest in the revitalisation of the area. Now, feasibly, the only way in which this can happen is by supplying them with the aforementioned financial incentives to encourage them to locate in Detroit, supplying jobs for a great proportion of the population. This is the intuitive first step to Detroit’s regeneration.

exposures-detroit-slide-L6QT-videoSixteenByNine1050.jpg

Functional illiteracy, as alluded to above, is also a major proverbial roadblock to the future success of Detroit. The solution to this is almost as obvious as its problems itself; to invest more in education. Despite politicians’ repeated assertions stating the importance of education, they themselves seem not to believe in what they say, the evidence of which lies in Detroit’s astonishingly abysmal literacy rates. Regardless, education is quite frankly one of the most important facets of any developed region, so for Detroit’s schools to be in the state they are in (as repeatedly shown by the mass media) is frankly shocking. Needless to say, this can only be solved through an increase in education spending in the city, which would give a better education to many residents of the city, thus giving them more transferable skills with which to work and earn money. In addition to this, education has a vital role to play in keeping school-aged adolescents off the streets, thus reducing crime rates, and making the city overall more attractive for people to relocate to. With the low house prices across the whole of Detroit nowadays, it could prove a popular location for many individuals desiring a lower cost of living, if only there was a basic level of security and educational services in the area. By spending more on education, many of Detroit’s fundamental problems could perhaps be ameliorated or even eradicated altogether.

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To make sure that Detroit does not fall prey to the same evils which caused its dilapidation decades ago, they need to learn from their various mistakes. The biggest of these was to rely far too much on the car industry, which turned into its Achilles heel when Ford Motors, among other corporations, left the city. Diversification is the key here to financial prosperity, as Detroit needs to ensure that when one industry perhaps fails in the city, there are many others to continue to back up the city financially. This was exactly the problem with the city before; they did not have a backup plan for when demand for automobiles lessened. The conversion of Detroit into an industrial zone and a renewed focus on education will only be sustainable if the city manages to provide wide-ranging sources of income; otherwise, they will simply consign themselves to the same fate as before. In addition, without diversification, a great deal of brain drain would occur, with talented residents leaving the city due to lack of opportunity in their chosen field of expertise. As such, it is crucially important for Detroit to spread its roots far, not deep, if they want to ensure their continued financial prosperity. Of course, in addition to the 3 economic reforms outlined here, much social reform needs to take place in the city before we can truly say that it has been regenerated, but these financial steps provide the building blocks to restore Detroit, again, into a great pillar of the USA.

 

 

Listen to Tshering Tobgay, Enlightened Prime Minister of Bhutan


 

March 26, 2016

Listen to Tshering Tobgay, Enlightened Prime Minister of Bhutan at TED

We in Malaysia can learn a thing or two from a landlocked nation like Bhutan about good governance and global citizenship. We have a corrupt leadership and a mismanaged economy, whereas Bhutan has a democracy which  was imposed upon its people  by its revered King and a government which cares for its citizens, manages its affairs in an exemplary manner, and protects the environment. Pristine Bhutan is not just a carbon neutral nation; it is a carbon negative one.

Let us protect our environment, fight climate change and, as  the Prime Minister of Bhutan, H.E. Tshering Tobgay said, let us do it together.–Din Merican