Join Hilary Benn and others for a public debate in Leeds!

On Saturday 4 December, Emma Hoddinott will be chairing a public debate in Leeds to discuss sereral areas of international development. Among the panel of speakers will be Hilary Benn MP, former International Development Secretary.

Saturday 4 December
Leeds Civic Hall
1:45pm for a 2pm start, until 4pm

Topics for the debate will include: Should our international aid budget rise by a third? Is Aid or Trade better? Can International Aid make a difference?

The event promises to be great, with a wide ranging discussion from several different speakers. It is free to attend and you can register online. If you’re in the area, please do come along!

Tax Havens, Conservatives and the Developing World

After the recent investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches programme that Conservative Ministers, Andrew Mitchell the International Development Secretary amongst them, store their wealth in off-shore bank accounts, the question of the harm done by these locations and their practices are now being asked.

The figure quoted in the Dispatches investigation is that for every £1 that goes into the developing world via aid and trade, £10 goes into off-shore tax havens. That is a staggering amount of money that is being re-directed away from where it could of use to world’s poorest. There has been a growing acceptance in the international community that more needs to be done to ensure that fair and accountable tax regimes become common practice. The G20 meeting in April 2009 set a clear set of targets to see these practices clamped down on, due in part to the damage they do to the developing world, stating that they aimed ‘to make it easier for developing countries to secure the benefits of a new cooperative tax environment.’

The OECD in late 2009 looked into the progress being made to achieve the aims set out by the G20 and found that 42 signatories had yet to implement the internationally agreed recommendations – one of these being the favoured tax haven of the now International Development Secretary, the British Virgin Islands (a British Overseas Territory).

Closer to home the House of Commons International Development Select Committee has stated that tax havens are a severe hindrance to the developing world. In its report in October 2009 ‘Aid under Pressure’ it had the following to say on tax havens;

“114. Tax evasion is a major problem faced by developing countries in attempting to raise tax revenue. Tax havens facilitate tax evasion by operating lax regulations; providing companies with anonymity through bank secrecy; and by failing to co-operate on tax matters with authorities from the country in which the funds originated.”

Given that the G20, the House of Commons and the OECD all agree that tax havens damage the developing world, its increasingly curious that the Development Secretary feels it is acceptable to benefit from using their services.

Furthermore, the question of fair taxation is not only a problem within developing nations, its also a problem within aid-giving states. If the money that wealthy UK citizens and companies stored overseas were repatriated to the UK not only would our GDP increase (and the amount of money that constitutes the target of 0.7% of GDP going into development would substantially increase) we would also have more taxable income that could be re-directed into DfID’s budget.

It is very simple economics, but economics that substantially harms the developing world. That the international community has already stated its clear aim of dealing with the problem of off-shore tax havens, it is therefore concerning that members of the UK government are indulging in these practices, particularly those whose remits are to tackle the very problems that tax havens are exacerbating.

The Secretary of State has said he has done nothing illegal, and that is true. But that does not exonerate him from the charge that he, and by extension his government, are unwilling or incapable of tackling the practices that are in part responsible for underdevelopment in many parts of the world. In fact, they are taking part in and enjoying the benefits of those practices. Whilst leaders in the developed world fail to understand why underdevelopment takes place, and whilst they are unwilling to seriously deal with these problems and lead by example, the depravity that those in the developing world face will continue to worsen.

Lee Butcher is a Parliamentary Researcher to a Labour MP – views expressed are done so in a personal capacity.

Great article on financial transactions tax

Very quick post to let you know about a great article on The Guardian website, in case you haven’t seen it.

Ben Phillips writes about the financial transaction tax and the discussions that are due to take place about it at the upcoming G20 summit. He also talks about the need for campaigners to keep pushing for the tax, in order to make it a reality.

You can read the article online: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/oct/25/g20-summit-seoul-financial-transaction-tax

Richard Howitt MEP hosts event this weekend on regulating banks

Bank job
This weekend, Richard Howitt, MEP for the East of England will be hosting an event on the future regulation of banks, after the financial crisis. There will be a speaker from the Robin Hood Tax campaign there.

The details of the event are:

Saturday 16 October
10am for a 10:30am start – 1pm finish
Alex Wood Hall
75 Norfolk Street
Cambridge
CB1 2LD

Lunch will be provided. If you would like to know more, you can download the flyer (Euro_flyer). If you would like to attend, please email carl_morris@newlabour.org.uk.

As you will know, LCID supports the Robin Hood Tax and will be campaigning for its inclusion as part of an equitable restructuring of international finance. We are encouraged that leading members of the Labour Party also support it.

LCID also asked the Labour Leadership candidates what they thought about the Robin Hood Tax. You can watch the videos online.

The other conference. The one about global poverty.

by Steve Cockburn. First published for Progress Online.

Last week 100+ heads of state (and Nick Clegg) gathered for the UN Millennium Development Goals summit, to set out what they would do over the next five years to meet criticalpromises on poverty they made ten years ago, such as cutting by two-thirds the number of children dying before their fifth birthday.

Being there was not inspiring stuff. A 32-page ‘action plan’ agreed by over 190 states included pretty much no measurable actions. The resistance to incorporating human rights principles into poverty targets won out, and this time it wasn’t just rich countries to blame. And I think I spotted some people so bored they were tuning into the Lib Dem conference.

More prevalent than action was doublespeak. Ireland, for example, launched a new global strategy to tackle child malnutrition, receiving applause for announcing it was to increase the share of its aid budget for fighting hunger to 20 per cent. Everyone seemed to forget Ireland has slashed its aid budget by 25 per cent, meaning serious cuts in funding for everything else children rely on.

Similarly, the big news of the summit was the launch of a new Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health – much needed to improve efforts to end the preventable deaths of eight million children every year, as well 350,000 women in childbirth. A great plan that takes a broad and progressive approach to health, but funding announcements to implement it have so far flattered to deceive.

The UN did some sums to claim $40 billion was committed for the next five years by governments, NGOs and possibly your granny. Even if true it’d be a fraction of what’s needed to meet their promises, but in any case few people are in any doubt that this is largely recycled from funds already being spent or planned in this or other areas. If the National Audit Office wants to have a look at this before it perishes in the quango bonfire, it could keep itself in business for a while.

From a British lens, Nick Clegg’s first big moment on the international stage, and Andrew Mitchell’s at a major UN event, were neither disastrous nor remarkable. Their speeches were fine, and the financial commitments made commendable in comparison to others, but not particularly balanced. Taking a headline-driven approach to funding healthcare – ie. investing in programmes to prevent children dying from malaria, but not from malnutrition or diarrhoea – has delivered only patchy progress so far, and needs to stop.

Ultimately they went about their business but failed to decisively lead. No shocking leaders with pictures of Zimbabwean torture victims, nor getting into trouble for haranguing their US counterparts too strongly, like dear old Gordon. Nor the all-night sessions in Copenhagen, like our newly-anointed Ed.

Most significantly, they ignored the plea at the summit from Sarkozy and Zapatero to back a global tax on financial transactions to raise funds for poverty reduction – the Robin Hood Tax – something that could begin to make meetings like this a thing of the past, and something supported by Labour’s new leader, as shown in this video.

The offer was made, but Britain stayed silent. If the next big summit is to be more than speeches and canapés, we’ll need a lot more from our boys in blue (and yellow).

An Obama blockbuster, a Remastered Brown, and a Clegg B-Movie

First published on Left Foot Forward, the UK’s top left wing blog, where LCID is a regular contributor.

It is difficult to get excited about a United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals. Difficult when we know, before a single delegate set foot off the plane in New York, that the goals are massively off-track. Difficult when we know that, aside from the UK, the G8 is not meeting its commitments, and indeed dropped them altogether earlier this year.

Difficult when the only goal likely to be met – Goal 1 to halve extreme poverty – will be met on the back of China’s own development, not because of any help from, and often despite, the West. And difficult when the new promises look like old money repackaged, with the health strategy announced by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is – according to Oxfam – only 23 per cent of what is needed to reach the three goals on health, women and children by 2015.

That said, there were undoubtedly positives to take from the summit. The calls by President Sarkozy of France and Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero for a tax on the financial sector to raise money for development were a ray of hope to Robin Hood Tax campaigners, who called on Germany and the UK to also back it.

President-Obama-UN-speech

Then there was President Obama’s barnstorming speech outlining the US’s new Global Development Strategy with a focus on sustainable economic growth, good governance, and mutual accountability on the part of wealthy and developing nations alike. After so much criticism of the US – the ‘Washington Consensus’ of neo-liberal ecnomics being forced on developing countries – this change in course by the US is truly welcome.

You can read the new strategy in full here, and for fans of Obama’s mastery of the spoken word it’s well worth a watch. Here are some of the best excerpts:

Put simply, the United States is changing the way we do business… For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines we delivered. But aid alone is not development… Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty.

“So we will seek partners who want to build their own capacity to provide for their people… Because the days when your development was dictated in foreign capitals must come to an end.”

He also highlighted the US’s new oil and mining transparency law – requiring all extractive industries registered in the US to reveal all the payments they make to governments around the world – and urged the G20 to “put corruption on its agenda and make it harder for corrupt officials to steal from their people and stifle their development”.

Gordon Brown was also in attendance in his new role as co-convener of the Global Campaign for Education, to “press, inspire and push” world leaders to take action, as he has done at so many summits in the past. The former prime minister told the BBC of his “anger” at the failure of rich nations to honour pledges to combat global poverty, and ensure every child has access to primary education.

He also told the Financial Times:

“As well as boosting jobs and gross domestic product, the evidence is clear that education combats malnutrition, maternal and infant mortality and HIV/Aids.”

In addition, Mr Brown attended the UN’s Broadband Commission, as part of the work he is developing with the founder of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, to explore how broadband internet can transform development in Africa. The Commission is comprised of leaders such as Rwanda’s President Paul Kagme, leading businessmen such as Carlos Slim Helu, Mo Ibrahim (who is behind much of the roll out of mobile phones in Africa) and Richard Branson, economists including Jeffrey Sachs and experts in IT.

The commission released a report outlining the potential for broadband for development and to meet the MDGs, from its ability to generate jobs and drive economic growth, to pro-poor benefits such as helping farmers access market information and thus get a better price for their crop, to educational and health advantages as well. The Guardian criticism of the Commission – “when so many essential things are lacking” – misses the point; as Mr Brown outlined in his speech to the African Union in Uganda, support for broadband should be part of a new strategy for pro-growth, pro-infrastructure aid that is additional to aid to provide essential services.

Sarah Brown was also here on behalf of her White Ribbon Alliance organisation campaigning for maternal health. In addition to her advocacy at the summit, Mrs Brown also co-hosted a ‘Women: Inspiration and Enterprise’ symposium with Arianna Huffington and Donna Karan, where women from film, fashion, business and philanthropy will meet young women from the US, Africa and Asia to raise money and awareness for the campaign.

She told The Guardian:

“Women are at the heart of every family, every nation. It is mostly mothers who make sure children are loved, fed, vaccinated, educated. You just can’t build healthy, peaceful, prosperous societies without making life better for girls and women.”

The leadership of Team Brown of this, and at summits past, contrasts sharply with deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, who only attended for one day. We have previously reported our concerns that the Coalition would arrive lacking ambition, and sadly this proved to be the case. Of course, the coalition’s pledge to tackle malaria is welcome, but it is nothing new. It appears to be merely a re-announcement of longstanding Conservative policy announced three-years ago in a speech by George Osbourne in Uganda (read it here on the Conservative Party’s own website).

There were also question marks over where the money to pay for it would come from. As shadow international development Douglas Alexander told Left Foot Forward:

“[Clegg is] yet to explain how this input pledge of £500 million a year will not result in a diversion of funds from the fight against other diseases like HIV/AIDS, or from helping to make healthcare free for the poorest people in countries like Sierra Leone.”

Could the Government be about to destroy the International Development Act?

By Margaret Dantas Araujo

Some of the UK’s biggest charities, Oxfam, CAFOD, and Save the Children, have publically raised concerns about the growing threat of securitisation of the aid budget. The use of aid for political reasons would be in direct contravention of the International Development Act 2002.  The act,  explicitly states,

(1)The Secretary of State may provide any person or body with development assistance if he is satisfied that the provision of the assistance is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.
(2)In this Act “development assistance” means assistance provided for the purpose of—
(a)furthering sustainable development in one or more countries outside the United Kingdom, or
(b)improving the welfare of the population of one or more such countries.
(3)For the purposes of subsection (2)(a) “sustainable development” includes any development that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, prudent having regard to the likelihood of its generating lasting benefits for the population of the country or countries in relation to which it is provided.

On DFID’s website an explanation is provided of the act which states, “The 2002 Act is drafted in such a way that a policy such as “tied aid” (and the Aid and Trade Provision), in which assistance is given for the purpose of promoting UK trade or for other commercial or political reasons, would now be challengeable in the courts.”

The International Development Act was drafted following consultations with the NGO community.  Now fears are being raised by the NGO community that the government is freezing them out of crucial decisions.   In a public letter to the Guardian they stated,

“Last week the secretary of state, Andrew Mitchell, gave assurances that there would be comprehensive consultation about the future direction of development policy. These documents seem to suggest to some extent this direction has already been set. We urge him to immediately clarify the purpose of these documents and reassure the public that aid will continue to be used to reduce poverty where the needs are greatest. Reducing global poverty will contribute more to long-term stability than focusing on short-term security interests.”

DfID has a stellar international reputation and brings the UK considerable soft power.  Moving away from the International Development Act would have serious repercussions on how the UK is viewed by international community..  There is increasing pressure on Andrew Mitchell and the Tory government to divulge publically their plans for DfID and to open discussion up to the wider public and NGO community.

Is economic success masking political fault lines in Rwanda?

By Lee Butcher

Lee Butcher is a Researcher in the House of Commons for a Labour MP – all points expressed are done so in a personal capacity. In this post, Lee explores whether economic reform is outpacing political reform in Rwanda.

The concerns raised by the recent re-election of President Kagame in Rwanda and the report by the UN that Rwanda’s national army may have committed acts of genocide across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) highlights the problem of economic development outpacing political development in the country.

The administration of Paul Kagame, formerly military leader of the Tutsi Rwandans People’s Front (RPF), has been held up since 1994 has an African development success story. Economic development in Rwanda has indeed far outstripped many of its neighbours, and Rwandans can legitimately claim to live in one of the more prosperous Sub-Saharan Africa countries.

However, all is not so rosy in the post-genocide nation. Reports of harassment of political rivals, oppression of opposition voices from within Kagame’s own party and the media have lead to growing concerns about the direction Rwanda is heading in. President Paul Kagame was re-elected three weeks ago, with over 90% of the vote, in an election where the only opposition allowed were candidates that belonged to his own party, the RPF.

The international community takes the view that so long as Kagame continues to produce economic results, the rest remains an internal issue for the Rwandans. However, the troubles that have plagued Rwanda since the end of the genocide has crossed borders and have since then caused a bloody and disastrous war and that has feed into the chronic underdevelopment of the DRC.

What has gone on in the Eastern DRC since 1994 is directly the result of what occurred immediately after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda; to understand the fate of the Eastern DRC, one must understand the fate of Rwanda.

The victims of the potential genocide in the DRC are ethnic Hutus living in the Eastern provinces that border Rwanda. The end of the 1994 genocide, which saw the Tutsi RPF rebel group occupying the capital Kigali, lead to the flight of thousands of Rwanda’s Hutus, including leading fighters of the Intrahamwe – the Hutu foot-soldiers of the genocide. Setting up camp in the Eastern provinces of the DRC the Rwandan military gave chase, and have since been involved in a damaging and bloody conflict across the border. It is the ethnic Hutus of the DRC, innocent of the crimes of their ethnic kin in Rwanda, who have faced the brunt of this fighting.

This conflict and the resulting human rights abuses are indicative of a problem that exists within Rwandan society; reconciliation and national repair that been a secondary objective compared to economic development. This may not have been an unreasonable policy for Kigali to follow, but by ignoring the wounds of genocide, the government and society are storing up problems that have plagued the DRC and threaten to damage the progress made within Rwanda since 1994.

Whilst fear of the Hutus, discrimination and violence persist, the extent that development can reach will be limited, and what has already been achieved could be put at risk.

The wise option for the Rwandan government would be to seek political reconciliation with the Hutu majority; the crimes of the genocide are for many unforgivable, and a real fear exists that if Hutu domination were to return so to would the killing. This needs addressing before Rwanda can move on to long term, sustainable, prosperity and a better relationship with its neighbours.

Economic development, checking the HIV/AIDs infection rate, building schools and hospitals could all be put at risk by further conflict; a new political ‘game’ must be established where each side knows the rules and knows that whatever an election result, harsh sacrifices will not have to be made, whether in economic terms, or in lives. Trust must be rebuilt if development is to lead to long term success for Rwanda, and a less bloody relationship with its neighbours.


Conservatives plan foreign office raid on DfID

By Margaret Dantas Araujo

Poverty reduction in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries is best achieved when DfID is directing the deployment of our aid budget. However, yet another leaked memo has shed light on Tory intentions to bring Dfid cash under the control of the Foreign Office by requesting that UK security be considered in all aid proposals.

The National Security Council, which now overseas all foreign policy, urges that overseas aid be used to maximise UK security, a ruling that may be in direct breach of the International Development Act of 2002.  The memo sent to staff responsible for drawing up aid proposals states, “the ODA budget should make the maximum possible contribution to national security consistent with ODA rules.  Although the NSC will not in most cases direct DfID spend in country, we need to be able to make the case for how our work contributes to national security.”  The document goes on to state, “We need to explain how DfID’s work in fragile states contributes to national security through ‘upstream’ prevention that helps to stop potential threats to the UK developing (including work to improve health and education, provide water build roads, improve governance and security).”

NGOs argue that the use of aid as an arm of foreign policy will divert aid from humanitarian goals focused on improving health and education to defence projects and tying aid to the purchase of British products.
The shadow international development minister, Gareth Thomas, agrees stating, “This document is deeply worrying, as it confirms the fears of many in the international development and humanitarian community that the government plans to securitise the aid budget, and weaken its focus in prioritising resources on the poorest people and countries.”

A previous leaked document showed DfID cutting 80% of its budget commitments including free healthcare. Thomas said: “It is now becoming clearer why the Tories have abandoned over 80 of our key international commitments – including the pledge to put millions more children into school – as less resources will be available, with money being diverted to security priorities.”  It will also allow Tories to continue to claim DfID is ring fenced by shifting funding from the Ministry of Defence and DECC (for climate change adaptation and mitigation) to DfID.

The UN has recently criticised countries for spending the bulk of their aid on post-conflict states.  “The distribution of development assistance remains highly skewed. Although the share of ODA flows allocated to the poorer countries increased somewhat between 2000 and 2007 … most of the increase in ODA since 2000 has been limited to a few post-conflict countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, these two countries received about a sixth of country allocations from DAC [Development Assistance Committee of OECD] countries, even though they account for less than 2 per cent of the total population of the developing countries. African aid lags far behind commitments and far behind needs.”

The use of aid for geopolitical and commercial interests is in-step with the previous Thatcher/Major Governments which saw aid drop to its lowest levels and oversaw the infamous Pergau Dam scandal.  The Cameron administration looks set to follow suit.  It is now vital to make the case to the Coalition Government that aid should be used for poverty reduction is the world’s poorest countries and not for own selfish motives.

All the leadership videos, here, in one place…

Over the past few days, we’ve released videos of each of the Labour leadership candidates answering your questions.

Here are the videos again, in one article. Don’t forget to comment at the bottom of the page and tell us what you think of their answers. Could they be better? Do you think the candidates have it right? Let us know.

If you want to put more questions to the candidates in person, sign up for our hustings in Bristol.

To vote in the Leadership election, don’t forget to join the Labour Party for a £1 before 08 September!

Ed Miliband

David Miliband

Andy Burnham

Ed Balls

Diane Abbott

We apologise for the sound quality in the interview with Diane Abbott – a full transcript can be found here.