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Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

Cutting US foreign assistance bad for economy, Arab democracy

August 2, 2011 1 comment

Everyone knows US foreign assistance is slated for spending cuts, but recent aid authorization bills show the major differences already forming between the House and Senate. Never has there been a better opportunity and greater need for democracy promotion and US aid than the Arab Spring. But if the House gets its way, that will mean a sharply decreased US role abroad — and, as I will argue, to the detriment of the US economy.

First, let’s start with the facts. The foreign assistance fund — which includes food aid, supporting stable democratic institutions and the like — is not in any way related to the defense budget. Politicians usually lump the two together, whether intentionally or not, because our military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have undertaken the ostensible role of democracy promotion. But when you look at the numbers, foreign assistance accounts for a mere 1 percent of the US budget. That still hasn’t stopped people like Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., from suggesting cuts of 44 percent by 2016. By comparison defense budget — cuts to which the House has tried to avoid — is the largest spending item in the US budget, comprising 24 percent of total spending this fiscal year.

Many people believe the US should turn inward — some argue the nation cannot project itself abroad when it cannot take care of its economic issues at home. I don’t buy that argument. US-based nongovernmental organizations will continue to do a lot of the heavy lifting overseas when it comes to international aid, but they will need government grants to keep major operations going. Denying those funds could lead to job loss, so keeping foreign assistance at current funding levels will keep Americans at work.

Also, it is in US economic interests to promote healthy governments and citizens because it will lead to economic rewards in the future. Corrupt, undemocratic governments will generally operate at the expense of their own people largely by keeping growing wealth for the government elite. That means people have less money to spend on more expensive American goods, which in turn dampens US overseas profits.

Curbing corruption will also ensure future US investment is not wasted. Billions of dollars of US investment — both from the federal government and private citizens or corporations — get lost among red tape or swindling politicians in corrupt foreign nations. Some of those nations — such as Afghanistan, Mongolia and India — sit on treasures of natural resources the US lacks, so US business interests are more than happy to invest. Cleaning up those states would produce a greater return on that investment.

In terms of the hopeful new Arab democracies, US foreign assistance can help build trust between those governing in Arab nations and the US officials with whom they will be communicating. It’s no secret that Egyptians oppose US meddling, a fear the military there is exploiting. But it’s not the Arab street the US must win over — it’s the new, democratically-elected leaders with whom the US must curry favor. The US already is training potential political leaders in Libya, Syria and Egypt — certainly a good start. The US wants to be the nation those new leaders look toward for guidance, but cutting foreign assistance will imperil the US ability to help guide new Arab democracies through the troubles they will encounter during nascent stages. In turn, that will dampen the ability to do everything from strike bilateral trade agreements to establishing and supporting sound human rights protections.

On top of the general budget malaise, a Foreign Relations Authorization bill currently going through the motions on Capitol Hill makes it more difficult for the US to use international aid in corrupt nations:

The corruption indicator has a range of uncertainly (especially around the median) and can have time lags of up to two years.  Using the control of corruption indicator as a hard hurdle for all U.S. economic and development assistance without addressing the inherent problems in the indicator could prove highly challenging.

That bill, pushed by the House (there also is a less restrictive Senate version) is not likely to pass in the Senate. But the writing is on the wall for US foreign assistance. If this debt ceiling fiasco proved anything, it’s that the House and Senate are beholden to very different interests and views. The House will champion spending cuts abroad because, rhetorically, it sounds good. The House will stomach defense cuts, but it will not digest those cuts easily. Still, it’s the assault on foreign assistance that should induce gagging.

 

Jordan proposed reforms limit government control over municipalities

Jordan’s Lower House approved reforms Wednesday giving municipalities greater control at the expense of an increasingly corrupt federal government cabinet.

Municipalities will receive a greater piece of the tax pie, which will help balance local government checkbooks. Ethnically diverse communities could splinter into their own municipalities if they get 5,000 or more people, which might be appealing to Christian minorities. Shielding municipal personnel decisions from a corrupt cabinet will ensure stability and long-term planning at the municipal leadership levels. The reforms also promote women on municipal boards.

With protests amplifying in Amman, the nation’s capital, and across the rest of the country, the vote might have been intended to dampen civil unrest. However, protests continue unabated.

In all, the reforms are a positive. If approved, women must comprise 25 percent of municipal boards instead of 20 percent. Also, municipal affairs managers can no longer request the federal government to forcibly remove municipal board members or mayors — now, the courts will review claims against board members and mayors. The municipal councils themselves will now appoint “executive managers” rather than municipal affairs managers making that selection.

The proposed law contains several other provisions. From the Jordan Times:

Under the new law, municipalities will be given 8 per cent of the fuel tax revenues instead of the 6 per cent stipulated in the older version of the law.

Inhabitants of any district with a population of 5,000 or more can request the establishment of their own municipality or disengagement from a merger with a larger municipality.

So not only does the Jordanian government give up control by shifting responsibility for determining whether mayors and city council members should be removed to the courts, it also gives Jordanians a greater right to self-determination and increases fuel tax revenues 33 percent for municipalities.

In all, these reforms promote stability by taking power over municipal decisions from the cabinet’s hands. However worthwhile, the reforms still might have come too late to squelch Jordanian protests.

 

Moroccan reforms go far, but “all or nothing” approach may be best

June 22, 2011 2 comments

Moroccan King Mohammad VI offered the most sweeping reforms of any Arab nation during this revolutionary period. But when you have a progressive nation and a leader willing to go this far, it’s hard for activists to accept big changes when they would still be leaving plenty on the table.

Reformers have acknowledged the King has gone far, but in doing so he may have sacrificed some bargaining leverage. With a few more tweaks limiting the King’s powers, the proposed Moroccan constitution could be a benchmark for the rest of the region — and it would be wise for reformers to push for that rather than accept the tempting constitution being dangled in front of them.

While other nations in the Arab world might have to settle for incremental improvement in governance because rulers are strongly resistant to change — using force in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen — King Mohammad appears benevolent. And while that is certainly honorable in what has been a dishonorable era of Arab leadership, King Mohammad’s willingness to bend but not break may ultimately spell his downfall.

Notably, many of the King’s most important powers do not change and will help keep corruption and greed institutionalized. He would still be the unquestioned commander of the military. He still would have wide authority over religious issues. He would appoint all ambassadors and diplomats, effectively putting him in charge of foreign policy and keeping cronyism intact. He also could dissolve parliament after discussions with a new constitutional court — half of which he would have appointed.

So while there are greater guarantees of a representative democracy and power sharing (see below), the King would still have broad power to appoint confidants and friends to powerful positions. Still, the proposed changes seem to be made in good faith.

By offering so much but failing to offer a wholesale reform of his own powers, King Mohammad has given demonstrators a solid starting point. What he failed to realize is these protests in the Arab world are as much negotiation as they are a showing of solidarity and resentment. By acquiescing so much but still retaining a bulk of his powers, the King has shown he is reasonable and that he understands what a functional and fair government should look like.

But that is not the type of government he is proposing. Yet the King has shown his hand, that he indeed understands how a parliamentary monarchy should work. He has thus set in motion a movement that will ask for nothing more than an honest government with a limited monarch.

A brief rundown on some of the changes, as reported by CNN.com:

The reform movement has called for the creation of a parliamentary monarchy, an end to the influence of the king’s inner circle and for a crackdown on corrupt officials. Spain and Britain are examples of a parliamentary monarchy.

If the draft is ratified in a referendum set for July 1, its most radical change would be empowering voters to select a prime minister, thereby ending the longstanding practice in which the king has selected his own man for the job. The prime minister has tended to take his lead from the sovereign on key matters of state.

If Moroccans back the draft, then the new prime minister would have new powers in decision-making and in day-to-day management — relieving the king of a number of duties and aligning the style of management along the lines followed by some European Union countries.

In an example of power sharing, the draft constitution empowers the prime minister to dissolve the House of Representatives, and stresses that the king shall consult him before announcing the dissolution of parliament.

 

More on Bahrain’s Formula 1 decision

I know Formula 1 is hardly NASCAR — where event attendees makes you wonder why things like human rights even exist — but the racing league’s decision to reschedule the Bahrain Grand Prix for October sends a strong signal to the protesters that profits reigns over all.

As I noted yesterday, Bahrain gets a lot of money from its tourism industry. And when your economy is in a standstill because your army is in a standoff with civilian protesters, well, I guess you’ll do just about anything to get a kickstart.

Formula 1’s former president put it best:

Max Mosley, the former president of the FIA, who was involved in a major sex scandal after videos of him were released on a British newspaper web site in 2008, was quoted on ESPN F1 as saying: “If I was president today, F1 would go to Bahrain over my dead body (…)They will be attempting to use the grand prix to support what they are doing, almost using F1 as an instrument of repression (…) To go will be a public relations disaster, and sponsors will want their liveries removed.”

Oh, but wait! The World Council of the International Automobile Federation did its homework in regard to human rights abuses because it called Tariq Al Saffar at the National Institute of Human Rights in Bahrain. Of course, this is the same Tariq Al Saffar who was appointed to that position by the current king, who, maybe you’re aware, is the guy authorizing all those tanks to kill all those unarmed protesters. Al Saffar is also the owner of Bahrain Financial Harbour, a 380,000 square meter real estate development that is a linchpin in the country’s highly important banking and financial industry. Oh, and the company has some pretty close and lucrative ties to the government.

Let’s keep in mind here that despite lifting its state of emergency, Bahrain is still cracking down on protesters and continues prohibiting human rights organizations from operating. F1 racing is kowtowing to a government that desperately needs to sell its loyalists on something — which is of course cars that can go really, really fast. Because, you know, Bahrainis need to be able to forget their troubles for a day, too, and this revolution thing must be getting a little tiring.

 

 

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