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WORLD'S MOST RESPECTED PERSONS

Forget politicians like Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for the world's most respected persons today must surely be Bill and Melinda Gates. Together in 2000 they set up the Gates Foundation which focuses on improving people's health and wellbeing, expanding educational opportunities and helping individuals lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty in the developing world. Together and separately for the last decade they have travelled the world talking to HIV positive prostitutes, trying to eradicate diseases such as polio and tuberculosis, chivvying leaders of rich countries to increase their overseas aid budgets whilst encouraging governments in developing countries to start to get their act together especially on health matters. The largest area for investment has always been health with large sums given over to control infectious diseases, malaria and TB. Massive sums have also been made available to supply condoms to women so that they should not be forced to get pregnant over and over again. In this way women gain control over their bodies and they will make different choices that will effect not only their families but their communities and, in time, their countries. Organisations receiving the most funding from the Gates Foundation are GAVI Alliance, the public-private global health partnership committed to increasing access to immunisation in poor countries; World Health Organisation and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. To date Bill Gates has donated over US$30bn to the foundation. Few people have ever been in the position to change the world but in the case of Bill Gates he has not only done it once (with Microsoft) but twice. And Africa and the developing world owe him and his wife a huge debt of gratitude.

UNEXPLAINED WEALTH ORDER BILL PASSES IN UK

On 27 April, 2017 the UK government passed into law Unexplained Wealth Orders, a provision of the Criminal Finances Bill, in what is deemed by Transparency International (TI) as a significant step in the global fight against corruption. Research over the years by TI has exposed the role of the UK as a safe haven for corrupt money laundered from all over the world, harming ordinary citizens abroad. This Unexplained Wealth Orders will empower UK law enforcement agencies to target corrupt money flowing into the UK and more easily return it to those from whom it has been stolen.

In March TI research identified London properties worth a total of £4.2bn that were bought by individuals with suspicious wealth which some commentators say is only the tip of the iceberg. The anti-corruption watchdog is now calling on the next government to ensure these powers are effectively used to target all suspicious wealth being brought into the UK.

OVERSEAS DEVELOPMENT AID REACHES RECORD LEVELS IN 2016

According to the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) development aid reached a new peak of US$142.6bn in 2016, an increase of 8.9% from 2015 after adjusting for exchange rates. A rise in aid spent on refugees in donor countries boosted the total. Official Development Assistance (ODA) from the 29 DAC member countries averaged 0.32% of Gross National Income (GNI), up from 0.30% in 2015, as aid volumes rose in most donor countries. Measured in real terms - correcting for inflation and currency fluctuations - ODA has doubled (up 102%) since 2000.

ODA spent on hosting refugees inside donor countries jumped by 27.5% from 2015 to reach US$15.4bn. That equates to 10.8% of total net ODA, up from 9.2% in 2015 and 4.8% in 2014. Many donor countries have seen unprecedented inflows of refugees in the last 2 years, and DAC is working to clarify its ODA reporting rules to ensure that refugees costs do not eat into funding for development. Humanitarian aid rose by 85 in 2016 to US$14.4bn.

A 1988 rule allows donor countries to count certain refugee expenses as ODA for the first year after their arrival. Austria, Germany, Greece and Italy used over 20% of ODA budgets on refugee costs. Australia, Japan, South Korea and Luxembourg spent nothing.

Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and UK all met or exceeded the 1970 UN target of spending 0.70%GNI on overseas aid.

TIME for ACTION I

Nelson Mandela once said that the African National Congress (ANC) would work tirelessly for the heart and soul of the people. But that seems a pipedream today as President Zuma and his ANC government are accused of greed, impotence, inefficiency and cowardice. Hugely inflated contracts are awarded for inadequate roads, houses and water systems leaving millions of people struggling to trade whilst living in shacks without access to safe water; criminals pay policemen to drop cases against them whilst pupils fail exams because the education department has stolen the funds allocated for textbooks. And the sacking of the incorruptible Pravin Gordham will only underline this profligacy as South African government bonds receive a junk rating. Meanwhile President Zuma and his cronies fiddle whilst the economy burns. For the sake of the country President Zuma needs to be replaced.

TIME for ACTION II

According to the UK Disasters Emergency Committee 16 million people in East Africa are on the brink of starvation and urgently need food, water and medical treatment. This is not just down to civil war in South Sudan and Somalia but also to three consecutive years without rain causing rivers to dry up. In turn this means that animals have died, herds have become depleted and families have lost their store of wealth. With no food security people are forced to scramble around looking for food and searching for safe water. Record numbers of children and older people could be at risk of an early death unless help is given at once. So the international community needs to act now before it is too late. But sadly the world seems to be coming immune to disasters, especially in Africa. The last time Somalia experienced famine was in 2011 when a quarter of a million people died.

AFRICAN LEADERS ON CRUISE CONTROL

Where are the people at the top in Africa today with dynamism and drive and a determination to see things through to completion? For many projects are started on the continent but then there is often no follow through. Governments have constructed roads but have failed to create an economy round them; hundreds of thousands of classrooms have been built in a surge of primary education expansion, and millions more African children go to school, but the quality of education has declined. Health centres have been erected in record numbers, but they have not enough doctors and nurses and lack medicines; the continent still has a huge energy deficit and even though a record number of dams have been built in the last 15 years power cannot be distributed because the infrastructure is antiquated. Meanwhile there is the scourge of corruption. According to the findings of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa chaired by Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, African countries lose between US$50bn and US$60bn per year through illicit financial flows. Then throw in nepotism. This locks the most talented people out of public life whilst appallingly poor leadership compounds the problem. And too many countries still have dictators for life. It is said that hope springs eternal but after 60 years of independence in Africa this rare commodity is still wanting. No wonder, therefore, that so many people are prepared to risk life and limb in an attempt to leave.

AFRICA IN 2017

With the continuing weakness in commodity prices African economies have again been exposed to the hard facts of economic survival. And after the tag of 'Africa Rising' perhaps the soubriquet 'Africa Reeling' should now apply with national budgets under pressure. But Africa is perhaps reeling from other issues too. Over the last 10 years although the Ibrahim Index of African Governance highlighted progress in areas like health, education gender rights and infrastructure, governance has markedly declined when it comes to safety, the rule of law and welfare provision. Indeed a World Bank report in March, 2016 claimed that there are more poor people today on the continent than in 1990.

Until recently strong economic growth may have been a camouflage for good governance. But now the harsh reality is beginning to expose a grim and unforgiving year for the continent. The headlines tell a story of death and destruction in places like South Sudan and D R C, of backward steps in governance in Burundi and Ethiopia and of greedy and incompetent rulers who are prepared to sacrifice their country's future to enrich themselves like in Angola and South Africa.

Above all Africans are crying out for good governance, for able people with integrity who are prepared to launch their countries on to a staircase to progress. But sadly this is still wanting in so many countries. And things may well have to get worse before they get better. Once again then for Africans it is still a case of paradise postponed.

WORSE THAN APARTHEID

In a recent speech, Jackson Mthembu, ANC chief whip, said 'the party leadership of Jacob Zuma had become worse than its apartheid predecessors and the time had come to make changes'. Murky corruption charges and gross mismanagement of the economy are piling up on this president's watch.

TIME TO HOLD FECKLESS GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD TO ACCOUNT?

In the UK all schools are inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and a failing school can be placed in special measures if it is judged inadequate by inspectors. With additional support from local authorities the school is then re-appraised from time to time until it is no longer deemed to be failing. In pursuit of this goal sometimes the head and members of the teaching staff can be dismissed if they are deemed not to be up to the job. Perhaps in 2017 it is time to bring this discipline in for failing governments across the globe. For why should so many wayward leaders in developing countries be allowed to gorge themselves on state funds whilst failing to lay the foundations for their people to advance? And the next secretary-general of the UN, former prime minister of Portugal Antonio Guterres, should consider such an idea when he takes office in the new year.

For the UN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS 2030 see GLOBALISATION and scroll down. Seems there should have been 18 instead of 17.

TOWARDS A MORE DYNAMIC UNITED NATIONS

According to Dag Hammarskjold, the second United Nations (UN) secretary-general, the UN was not set up to take the world to heaven but to save it from hell. And in the 70 year since 1945, with just a few worrying moments, this has certainly been the case. However, although no third world war has broken out in the intervening years there have been numerous occasions when countries have turned in on themselves leading, in many instances, to mass genocide. And the UN has stood by unable or unwilling to intervene. This cannot any longer be acceptable for civil war all too often is calamitous leading to mass destruction and killings which push peoples over borders into neighbouring countries which then have to deal with the problem.

Syria is a case in point. When the Arab Spring was unleashed in 2011 opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad mounted and the country soon found itself with a dictator who would stop at nothing to stay in power. Since then many towns and cities have become devastated battlegrounds where innocent men, women and children have had to withstand cluster bombs, chemical weapons, massacres and rape on an apocalyptic scale with an estimated 300,000 losing their lives. At the same time, out of a population of 20,000,000, 4,800,000 have fled to neighbouring countries whilst 8,000,000 have been internally displaced creating the worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. And now Russia has entered the mix and with its air power bombs indiscriminately creating nothing short of Armageddon in cities like Aleppo.

Civil wars like this cannot be tolerated any longer and a solution needs to be urgently sought.

Although the UN has created some solid institutions like the International Court of Justice it has now become dated and dysfunctional. This can be seen in the use of the veto by Russia which all too often stifles moves towards peace in countries like Syria where the UN should be able to step in as an arbiter of conflict. This also undermines the the UN's credibility. So it is now time for change.

This is easier said than done, of course, in an organisation where, in matters regarding peace and security in nations, the veto in the UN Security Council by any of the Permanent Members (China, Russia, US, UK, France) means that intervention is difficult if at all. So a way round this situation needs to be found. One way to do this would be to continue to allow Security Council members the use the veto but, if any do and then the UN General Assembly votes by a 2/3rds majority to null that veto, then the UN can intervene in the affairs of a country enduring civil war.

If this had been in place in 2011 a sizeable UN force calling on both sides to lay down their arms may have made a difference in Syria. And in the intervening ceasefire a government of national unity could have been set up at the insistence of the UN. And any party unwilling to accept such a proposal would have been isolated and forced out.

NO WINNER AGAIN OF MO IBRAHIM PRIZE FOR AFRICAN LEADERSHIP

Since its launch in 2006 there has only ever been 5 recipients of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. And again in 2016 there is no former African leader deemed to be deserving enough. The award recognises and celebrates African executive leaders who have developed their countries and strengthened democracy and human rights for the shared benefit of their people, paving the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity. In order to win this coveted prize a former African executive head of state or government must have left office in the last three years, have been democratically elected, served the constitutional mandated term and demonstrated exceptional leadership. The Prize is US$5,000,000 over 10 years with US$200,000 per year for life thereafter. Previous winners of the Prize - 2007 Joaquim Chissano (Mozambique); 2008 Festus Mogae (Botswana), Pedro Pires (Cape Verde Islands) and Hiflkepunye Pohamba (Namibia). Nelson Mandela was an honorary winner in 2007.

PANAMA PAPERS

The leaked papers made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in early April, 2016 connects thousands of prominent figures to secretive offshore companies in 21 tax havens around the world, and reveal the opaque workings of the offshore finance industry. The documents focus on the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, with its 210,000 clients, and has led to allegations that the firm aided public officials and multinational corporations to avoid taxes. Mossack Fonseca deny this.
According to Craig Fagan, Senior Policy Co-ordinator at Transparency International, 'this is just the tip of the iceberg and you can be certain that there are many other law firms in places like even London, Hong Kong, Miami and New York that are operating similar structures.'
At the same time Oxfam claims there is at least US$18 trillion hidden in tax havens across the globe with two-thirds of this offshore wealth hidden in European Union related tax havens. The charity also suggests that between US$100bn - US$160bn is lost to developing countries every year through tax dodging by multinationals.
In a timely exercise the UK government is due to hold an anti-corruption summit on May 12 which will bring together world leaders, business and civil society to try to agree a package of measures to expose and tackle corruption.

 
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