A hornet’s nest has been stirred up by the leak of millions of financial files by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in collaboration with journalists around the world. The ICIJ says that its work reveals more than 120,000 offshore companies and trusts, exposing the hidden dealings involving politicians, businessmen and others. While authorities around the world are assessing the validity of these documents, the extent of the information emanating from the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and elsewhere is revealing in many ways. Importantly it is a rebuff to those who claim that there is no problem with the workings and transparency of the international financial system. Whatever the veracity of the allegations contained in the ICIJ report, they reveal the extent of highly complex and secret financial and corporate structures, and their cross-border nature. These revelations have already spurred some to call for more regulation by governments.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
The Washington Post
An incredible map of which countries e-mail each other, and why
“The Internet was supposed to let us bridge continents and cultures like never before. But after analyzing more than 10 million e-mails from Yahoo! mail, a team of computer researchers noticed an interesting phenomenon: E-mails tend to flow much more frequently between countries with certain economic and cultural similarities.
Among the factors that matter are GDP, trade, language, non-Commonwealth colonial relations, and a couple of academic-sounding cultural metrics, like power-distance, individualism, masculinity and uncertainty. (More on those later.)” READ MORE
Early this year, former Mayor of New Orleans (2002-2010), Ray Nagin was charged with using his office for personal gain, accepting more than $160,000 in bribes and gifts in exchange for city contract work after Hurricane Katrina, as well as other city benefits.1 In total, a federal grand jury charged Nagin with 21 counts of corruption, including bribery, conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud, and false tax returns. Nagin’s deputy mayor, Greg Meffert already pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and kickbacks for influencing city contracts in 2010. Nagin was Mayor of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, which makes the charges all the more damming. One of the worst natural disasters to hit the US, Katrina killed almost 2000 people across five states. FEMA’s estimated damage totaled $108 billion.2 New Orleans was especially hard hit, with the infamous levees and other infrastructure failing, and widespread socio-economic despair. Of course there were many factors, including the federal and state responses or lack thereof that made preparing for and rebuilding New Orleans challenging. But a strong mayor would have benefited New Orleans tremendously, and Nagin was not up to the task.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week
How to speed up change for women in the workplace
“The theme of International Women's Day 2013, on 8 March, is "The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum". There are many signs of this momentum in Africa - from female entrepreneurship, which is driving growth in the region, to the fact there are female government ministers or heads of state in South Africa, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi and Rwanda.
In fact, Rwanda, with 56% of seats in its House of Deputies held by women, is currently the only government in the world dominated by women, putting the East African country well ahead of the United States, United Kingdom and Japan, which all fall below the 25% mark.
So, there is momentum, but not enough of it. For instance, the global downturn appears to have worsened gender gaps in employment, according to the International Labour Organisation.” READ MORE
Right to Information (RTI) laws can be a useful instrument for improving transparency – if the political will for implementation is sustained, and if the broader governance environment provides the enabling conditions for the exercise of the law. A research project that studied the implementation of RTI laws in a number of countries showed that implementation has been very uneven across countries. In some countries, RTI laws had been leveraged effectively for extracting information in a number of important areas, ranging from public expenditures, to performance and procurement, and exposing instances of corruption. In other countries, the existence of an RTI law had little impact in any of these areas, and oversight and capacity building mechanisms had either not been set up, or not functioned effectively.
The findings of the study are not surprising. The implementation gap between de jure and de facto reforms in countries faced with capacity constraints and political economy challenges is well-known. Yet, international agencies have pushed policy reforms without adequate attention to the constraints and challenges of implementation. The pressure to win support and legitimacy with international aid agencies has been an important driver of the adoption of RTI laws. The right has also been recognized in international human rights conventions, and more recently has gained increasing international attention (for instance, the existence of a law is one of the considerations for membership in the Open Government Partnership). Further, pressure from domestic constituencies has also propelled political actors to champion the law. But, once passed, capacity limitations, the erosion of political will, and active resistance have been important impediments to realizing the potential of RTI.
It began as a trickle but has turned into a flood. HSBC, Barclays, Wachovia, JP Morgan, and UBS have all been engulfed by waves of scandal involving, money laundering, fixing interest rates, risky trades, and rigging the money markets. The question now is – have the banks gone bad? The claim by senior bank executives they ‘we did not know’ rings hollow, and must not be allowed to stand if they are to regain their integrity.
The banks have long resisted greater hands-on supervision of their activities, but the recent rash of publicity surrounding their bad conduct proves that left to their own devices market discipline is not enough. Their involvement in dubious transactions, including in greasing the wheels of corruption through money laundering requires the full implementation of existing rules and regulation, and empowered supervision. The World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) along with Financial Market Integrity (FMI) have long pressed for the banks to do more to prevent money laundering and to fight corruption. As a rough estimate, it is believed that $20 – $40 billion is stolen from the coffers of developing countries every year. Much of it ends up being laundered through the banks, passing through financial capitals around the world en route to the beneficiaries. Mechanisms to detect illicit cash flows have long been in place, but the existing system is not working, and corruption is eating away at the foundations of the banking system.
Ibrahim Fanday, Chairman of Kono Youth Commission smiled proudly as he says ‘Kono is known as a trouble hot-spot – but at the end of the day, the elections were peaceful.’ Martha Lewis, a member of the local women’s network, agreed, saying ‘Hot spot? Cold spot!’
When Sierra Leone went to the polls in November last year, it followed months of speculation and fears that the hotly contested elections would be a flash-point for violence. And Kono, the state which saw the worst of the ten year civil war, and remains notorious chiefly for its diamond miles and its instability, was predicted to be at the centre of any trouble.
The elections passed without major disturbances and were pronounced free and fair by the EU observers following them. Ibrahim believes that the youth of Kono played a role in keeping the polling peaceful, by acting as ‘peace ambassadors’ in their communities. His pride is echoed by everyone I speak to - Sierra Leone seems to have passed some kind of test, in both national and international eyes, by holding an election where 87.3% of the population turned out to vote, and the peace held.
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by Readership in 2012
Originally published on July 19, 2012
Even as the language of ‘Open Government’ has picked up steam over the past couple of years – driven initially by the 'Obama Open Government Directive', and further boosted by the multi-lateral Open Government Partnership – the use of the term has tended to fairly broad, and mostly imprecise, lacking a shared, consistent definition. As Nathaniel Heller of Global Integrity, a key player in the OGP, cautioned in a recent blog: “The longer we allow ‘open government’ to mean any and everything to anyone, the risk increases that the term melts into a hollow nothingness of rhetoric.”
In a recent useful piece, Harlan Yu and David Robinson, draw a distinction between “the technologies of open data and the politics of open government,” suggesting that ‘open government data’ can be understood through two lenses – open ‘government data’ or ‘open government’ data. The first approach reflects an emphasis on deploying the functionality of new information technologies to put government datasets in the public space in a way that is amenable to re-use, and can be tied to a range of outcomes – among other things, improved delivery of services, innovation, or efficiency. The second approach prioritizes a mode of governance characterized by transparent decision-making - particularly on issues of public interest and critical for public welfare – and the release of government data (and information in other formats as well) as furthering this goals of transparency.
Jobs are central to our lives: after all, we spend most of our time at work, trying to make a living. And it’s not just about what we earn. As the 2013 World Development Report argues, our work fundamentally defines who we are as people with important implications for our social relations and psychological well-being.
Each year, there are one million new Kenyans. Unlike in the past, this rapid population growth is driven by people living longer instead of having more children. This means that an increasing share of the population is of working age. What does it mean for Kenya’s economy and social stability? How can these young adults find a job—ideally a good job—and what needs to be done to help them succeed?
Jiwo Damar Anarkie from Indonesia is a young co-founder of the Future Leaders for Anti-Corruption (FLAC) a local NGO, and he uses storytelling and hand puppets to teach integrity to elementary school students.
"They're very young, at the stage where character building is still possible. Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to do so," said Anarkie.
The organization did an initial road show in four schools in Jakarta, and later built partnerships with Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (KPK, Corruption Eradication Commission), allowing the team to reach more schools in more cities as well as to train more storytellers and purchase more hand puppets.