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Archive for October, 1997

The Lima Declaration, Corruption, the Third World and Pakistan

From 7 to 11 Sept this year, delegates from 93 countries assembled at Lima, Peru for the 8th International Conference Against Corruption. After a searching discussion of the means to contain corruption in all its manifestation around the globe and united in their vision of an era of international and national cooperation in the 21st century in which the evil of corruption is to be suppressed, the conference adopted a Declaration, to quote, “Convinced that corruption erodes the moral fabric of every society, violates the social and economic rights of the poor and the vulnerable, undermines democracy, subverts the rule of law which is the basis of every civilized society, retards development and denies societies and particularly the poor, the benefits of full and open competition. BELIEVING that fighting corruption is the business of everyone throughout every society, the fight involves the defence and strengthening of the ethical values in all societies, it is essential that coalition be formed between government, civil society and the private sector, that a willingness to enter such a coalition is a true test of an individual government’s commitment to the elimination of corruption, the role of civil society being of special importance to overcome the resistance of those with a stake in status quo and to mobilize people generally behind meaningful reforms, there must be a sustained campaign against corruption within the private sector as with greater privatization and deregulation, it assumes a greater role in activities traditionally performed by the State and top leadership sets the tone in all societies, as “You can clean a staircase by starting at the top”. The Declaration then called upon governments, international, regional agencies and citizens around the world to mobilize their efforts and energies to join in achieving their goals at various levels”, unquote.

There were 20 actions recommended by THE LIMA DECLARATION at the international and regional levels and 17 actions at the national and local levels. Among the actions proposed at the highest tier were that viz (1) the World Bank and IMF should accelerate implementation of their new policies against corruption initiated by President James Wolfensohn and Managing Director Camdessus (respectively), and particularly the suspension of lending to governments who do not adequately address the corruption issue (2) all multilateral and bilateral aid agencies, together with their development partners, must find practical ways of overcoming corruption in their development programmes and (3) International institutions must realize that their international procurement practices are not yet fully satisfactory, and that they should further develop imaginative and new approaches to procurement in partnership with individual governments and the private sector including the use of anti-bribing and integrity pacts. Bidders who bribe should be blacklisted. Among the important personalities who held a Video-Conference with the delegates at LIMA was activist World Bank (WB) President James Wolfensohn. It may be noted that it is only after his induction as President that the World Bank has been engaged in a sustained exercise to prevent corruption in all the sectors that it can be engaged in. In the Third World mired in corruption, James Wolfensohn is like a breath of fresh air, a glimmer of hope for the teeming poverty-stricken millions of the world that the succour and aid meant for them will be used for their benefit and not end up in the deep pockets of the unscrupulous. The WB head being engaged thus is very symbolic to the rest of the world in their fight against corruption. It is very important that some exemplary cases be taken up and investigated thoroughly to determine the whole gamut of corruption, since it extends from the portals of donor WB itself to various agencies and individuals within the recipient country.

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The PM’s tussle with the Chief Justice Loses if he wins, wins if he loses

As the only nation in the world capable of turning victory into defeat on matters of no consequence, we are constantly searching for dragons to slay and when unable to find them, we manage to invent some, convincing ourselves that every occasional windmill is that mythical monster and the gentle wind turning over the arms of the windmill is an eminent storm. The person who wrote Don Quixote had Pakistan in mind, unfortunately we are now upto our necks in a Sancho Panza-type syndrome. For those who think that the confrontation is between the executive and judiciary I have news, it is not so ! The real battle lines are drawn between two gifted but stubborn men, both with a potential to give a lot to this nation and potentially to lose more than they can give. Unfortunately, what they have put at stake are the institutions they should protect, not use them as bargaining chips in high stakes gambling with loaded dice. The institutions that the PM and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court head, respectively the executive and the judiciary, are responsibilities that they shoulder on behalf of the people of Pakistan as a trust. The believing masses are increasingly losing faith in the institutions they look upto for leading an orderly life in a world increasingly short of socio-economic facilities and long on misery and privation.

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World bank and the Corruption Stakes

President James Wolfensohn is visiting Pakistan, his mission is to evaluate personally the whole gamut of Pakistan’s economic situation as well as examine WB assistance and cooperation in the health, education and other sectors.

In a recent report WB has noted with satisfaction the progress made in Pakistan’s power sector “where private investment of $5 billion has been committed.” On the other hand, the report simultaneously identifies areas of corruption, inefficiency, bureaucracy and politicization, with the Government and public sector organizations as the major hurdles. While James Wolfensohn is a welcome activist against corruption, the question one would like to ask is what has been the role of World Bank in the recent past in this regard? Or to be put more bluntly, have they effectively played a somewhat similar role as have the Pakistani functionaries engaged in lining their pockets or even being supportive of the acts of some of the so-called investors/contractors?

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Bangladesh in transition

A year or so ago Bangladesh was a booming economy, relatively speaking. The stock market was up-way, way up. The country’s reliance on raw jute, jute products and tea had been replaced by a burgeoning garment industry, diversification was taking place across the broad spectrum of the body economic. By drawing a fairly large segment of the female population into productivity, additionally was very apparent in economic activity, the concept of the Grameen Bank being successful beyond its own expectations. With the induction of the Hasina Wajed Government, the electoral freeze that had paralyzed governance had given way to hope for political peace, at least for some time. Since the Awami League (AL) Government certainly has better relations with neighbour India than the Ershad and Khalida Zia regimes that preceded her, one assumed that a marked change in foreign policy would take place (and that expectation seems to have become a fact of life), at least as much as the population of Bangladesh, anti-Indian at the best of times, will permit any of their governments to do so. On the other hand, the much-publicized sop given by the Indian Government, the release of extra waters from the Farakha Barrage, has actually resulted in less-waters than previously available to the parched northern districts of Bangladesh. Though the borders are not as aflame as they were when India was actively supporting the “Shanti Bahini” movement in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the Bangladesh Army still does not show any real signs of rolling over and playing dead as much as their immediate neighbour would like them to do so.

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Mahathir the magnificent

The western media is up in arms against the Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir bin Mohammad, baying like a pack of wolves after his blood. NEWSWEEK went to the extent of asking for his replacement, TIME featured that possibility, Anwer Ebrahim, Mahathir’s Deputy, on the Front Cover. Not only a very pointed suggestion but a rather subtle way of causing a problem between the two and a rift in the ruling party. The latest imbroglio came about because of the domino effect caused by the collapsing Thai Baht and the resultant pressure on the Malaysia Ringgit. By intervening to arrest the slide and save Malaysian stock market players from bankruptcy, Mahathir unfortunately gave an opportunity for western speculators to cut Malaysia, and Dr Mahathir, to size. Actually the Asian Tiger economies are caught up in the vise between China’s emerging economies and the Japanese colossus, something had to give and soon. With heavy loans buoying up actual growth, Asian economies had no ready answer to the falling value of their currencies. To put it bluntly, years of living beyond their means took a heavy toll once foreign speculators started to make windfall profits by pulling out of the markets. However the focus of all the west’s anger is the person of Mahathir, the 71-year-old PM who has taken Malaysia pell-mell into the 21st century. While making life difficult for Malaysia economically, the west is trying to stoke anger against Mahathir within Malaysia. As one knows, nothing succeeds more simultaneously, than economic discontent.

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Making Philanthropy Work

US Billionaire Ted Turner, best known for (1) creating CNN (2) winning the America Cup and (3) marrying actress-turned peace-activist Jane Fonda, went one better the other day. On a visit to the United Nations (UN), he announced a personal donation of US$ 1 billion (US$ 100 million for 10 years) for UN sponsored socio-economic projects. Having increased his approximate wealth from US$ 2.2 billion to US$ 3.2 billion, mainly because of the rise of Time-Warner stock, the multimedia company of which he is now Vice Chairman, Turner felt an urgent need to do something constructive for the world’s poor. By this dramatic initiative he put the world’s rich on notice that they have a moral and social obligation towards the “not so fortunate”. By channelling his largesse through the UN, he has tried to instil a modicum of fairness in its distribution since the UN’s socio-economic agencies generally allocate their resources in an equitable manner to alleviate the sufferings of the poverty-stricken population of the poorer nations i.e. if they are not throwing money at special projects of no real relevance.

While we in Pakistan have the least percentage of population in South Asia below the poverty line, a significant number still do not have proper housing, potable drinking water, electricity, sewerage, education, transportation, health, hygiene and sanitation, etc. On the other hand, a significant number of our population have been blessed with enough material wealth that they should seriously contemplate the sharing of that largesse, particularly in the near vicinity of their immediate communities, so that a direct relationship remains between philanthropy and achievement. The “adequately rich” can be classified as “urban” and “rural” residents. As the projected census in October will probably show, the urban population has taken over in numbers from the rural. In Pakistan we have a tendency not to pay our taxes and yet expect the government to provide all the socio-economic facilities that people living in western countries accept as a matter of routine but third world-ers arriving in the 21st century perceive it as a bonus to their living.

There are distinct ways to alleviate the suffering for the poor viz (1) to give them money directly and thus the means thereof to look after themselves (2) deliver the required items in kind (3) create the institutions needed to care for their needs i.e. schools, water treatment plants, sewerage schemes, etc and (4) create jobs, thus allowing them to earn their own living. Experience has shown that even during emergencies such as disaster relief, etc, cash money should rarely be an option, since most likely this will not be used for disaster alleviation but for other purposes. Rations and necessary commodities delivered in kind are much more useful, though it is a fact that the distribution agencies mainly government, manage to skim off a significant part. Invariably, philanthropy has focused on delivering items in kind such as dry-rations, drinking water, tents, blankets, medicine, etc. However, it is far better to create institutions and jobs. The creation of institution requires money, very few individuals can spare that kind of money but more than money, it requires constant monitoring and active management. Similarly job creation is the highest level of philanthropy, by opening up employment opportunities you add a force-multiplier to the ability of the individual to look after his/her own family and making both direct/indirect contribution to the economy.

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