Delivering the insufficient?

September 11, 2009

G20 finance ministers issue another bland statement

Bretton Woods Project, 10 September 2009

Despite spin doctoring that called it a triumph for cracking down on banking bonuses, the G20 finance ministers’ statement in early September produced an accounting for how the G20 met or did not meet existing promises and little new agreement. Once again the UK government excluded critical civil society from the discussions.

The summit, held in London in order to prepare the ground for the G20 leaders meeting scheduled for 24-5 September in Pittsburgh USA, was billed as a battle over bank bonuses, but the final communiqué was mostly a bland repetition of existing statements with plenty of escape clauses and pushing issues to other forums. On the fiscal stimulus and loose monetary policy that have been the mainstay of rich country responses to the financial crisis, it committed countries to continue “necessary financial support measures” but also “agreed the need for a transparent and credible process for withdrawing our extraordinary … support.”

The communiqué was short, with only seven paragraphs. It final two points served to report on the commitments made to strengthen the IMF and World Bank. The G20 hailed the “significant progress in strengthening the IFIs” but also said “more needs to be done”. For the pedantic, the change in language on IMF governance may look like a positive step forward. In April the G20 said “emerging and developing economies, including the poorest, should have greater voice and representation”, whereas in September it read “the voice and representation of emerging and developing economies, including the poorest, must be significantly increased.” A searching look at the accompanying “progress report on the actions of the London and Washington G20 summits” highlights the areas left vague.

SDRs go ahead at the IMF

The report confirms that the $500 billion promised to the IMF has yet to be delivered as it references only the “commitments of more than $250 billion”. Actually delivery has only come from Japan, Norway, France, Canada, China and the United Kingdom, totalling about $195 billion. The US commitment of $100 billion has been agreed through the New Arrangements to Borrow, which requires additional measures to activate. The IMF has committed about $173 billion overall (including loans made before the crisis), but it had about $250 billion in available capital before the agreement to boost its resources. Thus, the boost in resources has not yet been used to support any developing countries.

And while the London Summit called for a “doubling of the IMF’s concessional lending capacity for low-income countries”, this has been reinterpreted to be a simple doubling of concessional lending year-on-year rather than the overall pot of resources available for such lending. The Fund announced in late July an increase in expected concessional lending to $4 billion a year in 2009 and 2010 from about $1.2 billion on 2008.

The commitments on issuing special drawing rights (SDRs, see Update 65), the IMF-created reserve asset, were the most tangible and successful, with full allocation of SDRs as per the G20 communiqué. This included the final ratification of the fourth amendment to the IMF Articles of Agreement, which provides for an extraordinary allocation of SDRs to countries that joined the IMF between 1981 and 2009. Still most of the new SDRs go to rich countries and no progress was made on a method of re-allocation.

Some World Bank changes left vague

While the Bank did raise lending from about $30 billion to $60 billion in the last fiscal year, there was no quantitative reporting on the take up of programmes oriented at social protection and low-income countries. The communiqué indicates that the Rapid Social Response Fund (see Update 65) was agreed, but fails to say how much was provided, likely due to very low take up of the facility.

A paper on increasing the financial capacity of the Bank through a capital increase is promised for the annual meetings, while the Bank is still “developing an approach” to let some low-income IDA-eligible countries borrow more money on IBRD terms usually reserved for middle-income countries. The progress report said that the IMF and World Bank boards were both reviewing the debt sustainability framework, though the IMF board had actually met on 31 August, prior to the G20 meeting. The IMF’s agreed changes were announced on 9 September.

On the promise of increasing trade finance by $250 billion, the G20 produces an unreferenced figure of $65 billion having been taken up, though the only actual programme cited is the one by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC), which received commitments of just $7.75 billion (see Update 66).

The promised G20-chair review of the IFI’s role and responsibilities, which was supposed to be personally handled by British prime minister Gordon Brown, is reported to be in “consultation with the G20, external academics and LICs.” There was little to no discussion on the matter with civil society, despite repeated questioning of the prime minsters’ office by NGOs about how a consultation would be run. In the end the exercise was contracted out to London-based think-tank the Overseas Development Institute, which placed a limited discussion note on its website and failed to alert more than its database of researchers about the online discussion forum.

Financial and tax regulation still pending

Despite the hype on bonuses, the communiqué merely asked for “global standards on pay structure” and called on the Financial Stability Board (FSB) “to report to the Pittsburgh summit with detailed specific proposals for developing this framework.” FSB standards are not legally binding and there is no mention in the communiqué of the idea that there should be a cap on the total bonus pool. As the FSB in basically a forum for discussion among the G20 and other governments, countries that have opposed strong regulation on financial sector remuneration such as the UK, will work hard to water down any proposals.

On the fight against tax evasion, there was recognition of the need for “developing countries [to] benefit from the new tax transparency, possibly including through a multilateral instrument.” However the use of the word “multilateral” was left vague. The OECD which has been the lead analytical body on tax matters often uses ‘multilateral’ to mean merely a series of bilateral agreements.

The G20 had previously agreed that all systemically important financial institutions should be regulated, but had left the definition of systemically important to the IMF, Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and the FSB. They promised to do it “by the next meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors.” However they failed to produce the guidelines on the definition by this early September finance ministers’ meeting. They have now promised to do it by November when the G20 finance ministers meet again.

Civil society exclusion

UK-based NGOs, the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Bretton Woods Project, had their accreditation for the G20 finance ministers’ meeting revoked by the UK Treasury just days before the summit. Representatives of both organisations had received notification of accreditation on Friday, 28 August. Both received emails late on 2 September saying “Unfortunately your accreditation has been withdrawn by HM Treasury. Please be aware that you will not be permitted access to the meeting venue or any of the press facilities.” No further information or reason was given for the withdrawal of accreditation for the NGOs.

The UK government also barred NGOs War on Want and the World Development Movement from attending the G20 London Summit in April. Nick Dearden, director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, said “It is outrageous that NGOs such as ours have again been banned again from attending G20 summits. The UK seems to be setting a precedent that it is acceptable to silence voices of dissent and prevent debate from being aired.” Both Bretton Woods Project and Jubilee Debt Campaign had been involved in a 4 September London action calling on the G20 to stop letting money rule the world on the day the summit commenced. UK NGOs Oxfam and ONE, which had not been listed as organisers of the action, were accredited and allowed into the summit venue.


Police action against marchers

September 3, 2009

Editorial, The Daily Star, 4 September 2009

Peaceful protests must not be subject to such brutality

IT is unquestionably bad practice to prevent people from asserting their democratic right to protest. And the practice gets worse when, in order to quell such protests, the law enforcers resort to a baton charge of the protestors. That precisely is what happened on Wednesday when a procession organized by the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports was pounced upon by the police. As so often happens in such instances of harshness demonstrated by policemen, no fewer than thirty people were left with various degrees of injuries on their persons. Among these thirty were ten policemen. It has been given out that the marchers, who were trying to reach the head offices of Petrobangla in Karwan Bazar to register their disapproval of the lease of three offshore gas fields to foreign companies, ended up vandalizing quite a few vehicles as a result of the police action. Vandalism, of course, is always to be condemned. If some of these protestors resorted to violent action, we cannot but unambiguously tell them they did themselves no service.

That said, though, we must go back to the thought of why peaceful marchers must be impeded by the law enforcers every time they seek to draw attention to some grievances they might wish to voice in the national interest. Over the years, even during the period of some elected governments, it has been observed that the police have demonstrated a degree of vehemence and force while dealing with protestors that has left us all wondering about the responsibilities of the state to those who voice a contrary opinion. In the recent past, we have witnessed the police taking, on some crude and indefensible instructions from the powers that be, nearly everyone on the streets into custody on the assumption that everyone is an agitator. Now, even if there are reasons to feel that law and order could be threatened by a protest march, there are sophisticated ways of handling it rather than adopting a knee-jerk position. A fundamental point about the police handling protests is for them to remain absolutely cool in the face of any provocation. Unfortunately, what they did on Wednesday was anything but cool. Besides, the fact that the anti-lease march was peaceful and was led by a number of prominent citizens should have made the police think twice before taking such action.

The point here is not whether the stand of the marchers regarding the lease of the gas fields is right or wrong. It is one of the law enforcers, in these days of enhanced political and democratic sensibilities, needlessly wielding their truncheons on people who only have a point of view to be conveyed to the government. At a time when an elected government is in office, the sight of citizens beaten to the ground by policemen is nothing less than a scandal. We are then all left feeling ashamed


PROTEST AGAINST OFFSHORE BLOCK DEAL 50 injured as police charge into demo

September 3, 2009

Countrywide protests today, march towards PMO Sept 10

NewAge, 3 September, 2009

More than 50 people, including the member-secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, Anu Muhammad, were injured when police charged into marchers heading for Petrobangla headquarters in the capital midday Wednesday in protest against the government’s decision to award three offshore blocks to international oil companies.

About 1,000 leaders and activists of the committee gathered at Muktangan where they held a rally in the morning before marching towards the Petrobangla office at Karwan Bazar where the protesters were to lay siege.

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Policemen charge at economist Professor Anu Muhammd with truncheons as he fell on the road during a police attack on a peaceful procession of the national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and port which was marching to lay siege to the Petrobangla head office in Dhaka on Wednesday.New Age photo

The national committee announced the programme in protest at the government’s decision to award three blocks to two IOCs with a provision allowing them to export up to 80 per cent of gas. The committee feared such a move would threaten the country’s energy security.

Police swooped on the protesters and clubbed them indiscriminately after they broke through the barricades set up by the lawmen at Paltan crossing at around noon and tried to march towards the Petrobangla office.

Angry protesters fought pitched battles with police at Bijoynagar for about half an hour before dispersing. They attacked vehicles during the clash forcing traffic to make a detour.

Both legs of Anu Muhammad, also a professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University, were badly fractured in the police attack while a number of other left-leaning political leaders and activists, including Saiful Huq, Mushrefa Mishu, Jannatul Marium Tania, Montu Biswas, Srikant Samaddar, Biplab Mandal, Gazi Shafiullah and Sumi Akhtar sustained injuries.

Anu Muhammad interview from hospital. Interview by Shahidul AlamDrik

The injured were taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital and most of them were released after first aid. Professor Anu Muhammad was shifted to Square Hospital from DMCH.

Journalists trying to visit Anu Muhammad at Square Hospital were refused permission to see him. When contacted, the hospital management said it might have been done at the advice of the attending doctors.

Condemning the police action Anu Muhammad told reporters that their campaigns were aimed at protecting the natural resources of the country. ‘We are not against the government; we are against the move to export our natural resources. It is the government’s responsibility to protect the lives and property of the citizens. I don’t understand why the police pounced on us,’ he said.

Later, the committee held a meeting at the office of the Communist Party of Bangladesh at Paltan.

The committee convener Sheikh Mohammad Shaheedullah at a press conference said that the police had charged baton on their peaceful demonstration because the government was desperate to protect the interest of international oil companies instead of national interest.

‘We strongly condemn the unprovoked attack. This has exposed the fascist attitude of the government,’ he said demanding immediate action against the police officers involved in the attack.

Shaheedullah warned that the government would not be able to foil their movement by resorting to repression. He vowed to continue the movement until the decision to allow gas export was scrapped.

The committee announced fresh programmes protesting at Wednesday’s police action. The programmes include countrywide demonstrations and a protest rally at Muktangan in the capital this afternoon. The committee will march towards the Prime Minister’s Office from Muktangan at 11:00am on September 10. Besides, it will hold rallies and processions in different thanas of Dhaka city and elsewhere in the country.

The committee will announce further action programmes, including hartal and siege, if the government does not refrain from leasing the offshore gas blocks, he said.

Shaheedullah, justice Golam Rabbani, Syed Abul Maksud, CPB general secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim, Workers Party general secretary Bimal Biswas, Workers Party (reconstituted) convener, Haider Akber Khan Rano, Gana Front leader Tipu Biswas, CPB leaders Ruhin Hossain Prince and AN Rasheda, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal leader Bazlur Rashid Firoz and professors MM Akash, Shamsul Alam, Mesbah Kamal, Pias Karim, ethnic minority leader Rabindranath Soren and former state minister for power and energy Anwarul Kabir Talukder attended the Muktangan rally.

The speakers said that the prime minister’s approval of offshore oil and gas exploration deals in the Bay of Bengal with two international companies, ConocoPhillips and Tullow Oil plc, ran counter to her poll campaign pledges.

The cabinet committee on economic affairs, headed by the finance minister, on August 24 approved offshore oil and gas exploration deals with the two companies in three sea blocks in the resource-rich Bay, on condition that they would not operate in the disputed areas in the blocks.

At the rally, Shaheedullah said they demanded cancellation of the Model Production Sharing Contract 2008, approved by the last interim government, saying pressure from ‘colonialists’ had been behind it.

Anu Muhammad said the present government was not working as the true representatives of the people. ‘The energy ministry and Petrobangla are working for multinational companies,’ he said. ‘Till now three of 28 blocks have been allocated to international companies and gradually the rest will be given to them,’ he said.

Mujahidul Islam Selim said that Sheikh Hasina during her first stint as prime minister had told the then US president Bill Clinton in 2000 that Bangladesh would not export gas without ensuring a 50-year domestic supply. ‘After such a promise, this latest agreement is extremely treacherous,’ he said.

Different left-leaning political parties and organisations, meanwhile, condemned the police attack on the ‘peaceful’ march of the national committee.

The Communist Party of Bangladesh president Manzurul Ahsan Khan and general secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim in a press statement termed the police attack fascist and contrary to democracy and basic rights of the people.

Workers Party president Rashed Khan Menon and general secretary Bimal Biswas, condemned the police attack and called on the government to drop the plan to lease out the three offshore gas blocks to international companies.

Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal convener Khalequzzaman, Ganatantri Party president Mohammad Afzal, general secretary Nurur Rahman Selim, Democratic Revolutionary Party president Nirmal Sen, general secretary Mushrefa Mishu, Revolutionary Workers Party president Khandaker Ali Abbas, general secretary Saiful Huq, Workers Party (reconstituted) convener Haider Akbar Khan Rano, Ganasanghati coordinator Zonayed Saki, Jatiya Mukti Council president Badruddin Umar and secretary Foizul Hakim, Garments Workers Unity Forum, Anti-imperialist Students Unity, Nayaganatantrik Gana Morcha, Chhatra Oikya Forum, Bangladesh Khetmajur Samiti, Green Voice and Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan leaders also condemned the police attack.


Phulbari Day Today

August 26, 2009

Staff Correspondent, NewAge, August 26, 2009

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Photo: Zakir Kibria

Different socio-political organisations will observe Phulbari Day today in remembrance of the demonstrations against Asia Energy’s planned open-pit mining at Phulbari in Dinajpur on August 26, 2006.

Three people were killed and many were injured when lawmen into protests against at the Phulbari coal field in August 2006.

Four days after the demonstrations, the then BNP-led government on August 30 signed a six-point agreement with protesters, spearheaded by the national committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and port to expel Asia Energy from Bangladesh and ban open-pit mining.

The committee, however, expressed its dismay at the non-implementation of the agreement as Asia Energy is still active in the country. The national committee and different left-leaning political organisations have chalked up programmes to mark August 26 as Phulbari Day.

The committee will place flowers at Shaheed Smritistambha at Phulbari and hold a rally there. The committee will also place flowers at the Central Shaheed Minar and observe the day in other places.

Jatiya Gana Front will hold a rally and bring out a procession in Muktangon to mark the day. The organisation in a statement said any move for open-pit mining in Bangladesh would be stopped. Samajtantrik Chhatra Front will also bring out a procession on the Dhaka University campus on the occasion demanding expulsion of Asia Energy from Bangladesh.

Further information:

Phulbari Resistance

Phulbari Resistance on Facebook


Michael Moore’s ‘Capitalism: A Love Story’

August 22, 2009

‘CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY‘ – In Theaters October 2nd

“It’s a crime story. But it’s also a war story about class warfare. And a vampire movie, with the upper 1 percent feeding off the rest of us. And, of course, it’s also a love story. Only it’s about an abusive relationship.

“It’s not about an individual, like Roger Smith, or a corporation, or even an issue, like health care. This is the big enchilada. This is about the thing that dominates all our lives — the economy. I made this movie as if it was going to be the last movie I was allowed to make.

“It’s a comedy.” — Michael Moore


G-20 or G-192: Fear of the South

July 20, 2009

The Real News, July 13, 2009

Western governments shutting UN out of global crisis response, as Southern governments question pillars of the world economy.


Developing nations’ appeals unheard at UN Summit on Global Economic Crisis

June 27, 2009

AlJazeera, June 26, 2009

More than 140 countries have agreed on a blueprint to respond to the global economic crisis.

The paper calls for the inclusion of developing countries in finding solutions to the financial meltdown.

But some say the 15-page document is short on specifics, and has been undercut by indifference from the world’s largest economies.

Al Jazeera’s Cath Turner reports from the United Nations.