In late February I went to Oslo for a meeting of the EITI Board. Oslo was very beautiful, there was still snow across the landscape, and the light and sunsets were spectacular (though it was slippy if you walked on the road). March was a month of family events, my sister came to visit from Cape Town and we all met together to commemorate the death of my father. We worked out that if he was still alive he would be 99, and as he had a bad chest,that would be impossible. But we will have to give an extra edge to our commemoration next year.
The other big event of the month was the shocking death at the age of 62 of my dear friend Father Tom Heneghan. I had arranged to meet him, as we did from time to time, so when the phone call came through showing his name I was pleased to receive it. The news was that he had had a sudden heart attack. I went to the funeral along with hundreds and hundreds of others. Many were turned away. It was raining and lots of people stood outside the church. The turnout was a tribute to his loveability. He was a completely unpretentious man who communicated with all kinds of people, out of his goodness. If the Catholic church was led by people like Father Tom, it would be thriving, instead it is in deep trouble.
Another significant event of my month was a visit to Addis Ababa for a meeting of the Cities Alliance, to develop our strategy for work across the African continent. It was a productive meeting and we also made a short tour of developments in Addis. The progress in Ethiopian is very impressive; it is a country remembered across the world for famines and Live Aid, but it has achieved significant economic growth over the last 10 years and has not allowed inequality to grow, as is so common elsewhere. There are visible improvements in the life of the people and the structures of society that are really impressive.
I have chaired the Board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) for the past two years, and have just agreed to serve a second term. The Publish What You Pay coalition argued 10 years ago that oil and mining companies should publish what they paid to governments so that the people could see what their countries were getting from these extractive industries. The belief was that transparency would prevent corruption. Over the last 10 years, an organisation has been built with a secretariat based in Oslo, a trust fund providing technical assistance in the World Bank, 37 countries in membership and a set of rules supervised by an international Board made up of representatives of civil society, countries and companies. However, there is little evidence so far that reports listing payments made and received has led to the improvements in accountability that was hoped for. We are therefore reviewing our rules to encourage reporting that remains accurate but also provides more detail and is set in context so that it is more useful to the citizens of the country.
We are in the midst of a massive commodity boom, with oil and mineral prices having increased greatly. This is largely because of the enormous growth in China as well as the other BRICS. This has led to new mineral and oil discoveries across Africa, Latin America, the Caspian region and elsewhere; it has also led to an enormous growth of profits for the companies concerned and a big growth in inequality in the countries concerned. If only these resources can be well-managed and the proceeds used for the benefit of the people, hundreds of millions of the poor of the world would have a better future. That is the purpose of the EITI; some progress has been made over the past 10 years but there is a lot more to do.
On Saturday 23 March I attended the annual meeting of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) UK. It is an Israeli organisation led by the indomitable Jeff Halper. It seeks to resist the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands by civil disobedience, in particular rebuilding houses that the Israeli state has demolished. (Volunteers are invited to a camp each summer to rebuild a house.)
The conference was interesting because Jeff was feeling pessimistic and I was much more hopeful, not for the immediate future, but for a just settlement giving the Palestinians their proper rights, most likely in one state with entrenched rights for all its people. It is clear that world opinion is increasingly in sympathy for the oppression suffered by the Palestinians and that support for the Boycott Divestments and Sanctions movement, modelled on the South African example, is growing and strengthening. My speech at the conference and some photographs will be on this Web site soon.
I do call on everyone who supports justice and international law to join the BDS movement and help to bring Palestinian suffering to an end as soon as possible…
- There are at least 800 distinct languages in Papua New Guinea, representing about 15% of the world’s total (New Scientist 8 December 2012)
- In 2007, according to the IMF, UK net debt at 38% of GDP was the second lowest in the G7. These levels were also exceptionally low by UK historical standards. In the March 2008 budget, the Treasury estimated the structural cyclicaly adjusted deficit on the current budget at minus 7% in 2007/ 8 and minus 0 .5% in 2008/ 9. The collapse in output has caused the explosion in deficits and debt.
- The US spent at least $138 billion on private security, logistics and reconstruction contractors in the 10 years after the invasion of Iraq. The biggest beneficiary was KBR, the former subsidiary of Halliburton, once run by Dick Cheney. It was awarded at least $39.5 billion in federal contracts related to the Iraq war over the past decade (FT 19 March 2013)
- Britain has invaded all but 22 countries in the world (although the current names and borders of those countries may not have applied at the time) (Telegraph 4 November 2012)
- In 1890s New York it was thought the city might drown under a tide of horse manure. Rapid expansion, coupled with increasing dependence on actual horsepower to move goods, meant there were too many animals in a restricted space. At predicted rates of growth the city would be buried in manure by the middle of the 20th century. And then someone invented the motorcar! (David Runciman LRB 21 March 2013)