After 2015 – the High Level Panel reports

The Secretary General’s High Level Panel has published its report (download here) on the post-2015 development agenda – here’s quick review of what it’s come up with.

The heart of the Panel’s recommendations are easy to grasp. First, it calls for an end to absolute poverty by 2030. This shift from poverty reduction to poverty eradication would be a big deal if taken seriously. It would set a global social floor – placing a powerful obligation on governments and the international community to ensure everyone gains basic rights and economic opportunities.

However, it also creates a huge strategic challenge. It’s already proving heart to get health, education, income etc. to the poorest of the poor, those live in the toughest environments and face the greatest obstacles to a better life for them and their families. Business-as-usual is not going to bring this group out of poverty – nor is the market magically going to ride to the rescue (although it can help).

Delivering zero-based poverty goals (and ones with a great emphasis on quality of outcome as well) requires a fundamental rethink of how development is delivered.

The Panel then adds three more sets of objectives, each of which is more ambitious and complex than the core poverty agenda that dominated the Millennium Development Goals.

It sets out a vision for an economic transformation that would deliver growth that is more widespread and, above all, delivers more and better jobs, especially in regions such as Africa where work forces are growing fastest, but also across a world that is gripped by an endemic jobs crisis.

Then it wants to change the direction of that growth to make it more sustainable – transforming the way we use energy, eat, travel etc. in order to stabilize the climate and protect other natural systems. This is the Rio+20 agenda revisited.

And finally it addresses the enablers needed to support prosperity, arguing that we need to do more to tackle the conflict and insecurity that makes development impossible, while building the robust institutions and governance capable of responding to the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

The nub of the report, however, is in the Panel’s fifth ‘transformative shift’ – building  a global partnership that can deliver change:

A renewed global partnership will require a new spirit from national leaders, but also – no less important – it will require many others to adopt new mind-sets and change their behaviour. These changes will not happen overnight. But we must move beyond business-as-usual – and we must start today.

The new global partnership should encourage everyone to alter their worldview, profoundly and dramatically. It should lead all countries to move willingly towards merging the environmental and development agendas, and tackling poverty’s symptoms and causes in a unified and universal way.

This is easier said than done, of course. On poverty, the way ahead is far from clear, but at least there is the beginning of a debate on what it will take to end poverty by 2030. It’s less clear that we know how to solve the global jobs crisis, that we want to shift to a green growth trajectory, or that outsiders can help build stronger institutions in the world’s weakest states.

The next couple of years will show whether there is political will to crack these conundrums – and what levers the international system has to drive change.

As you thumb through the report, there are two pages to look out for. On page 19, you’ll find the Panel’s estimate of the potential impact of full implementation. Some big numbers are thrown around:

1.2 billion fewer people hungry and in extreme poverty. 100 million more kids alive and 4.4 million women who survive pregnancy and childbirth. 470 million more good jobs. 1.2 billion more people with electricity to 2° C.  Governments more accountable for the $30 trillion they spend.

And then there’s the goals themselves, which can be found in a couple of fat appendices that start on page 29 onwards (yep the main report itself is commendably short). There was a big debate about how specific the Panel should be in proposing concrete goals and targets, and the result is compromise – we get illustrative goals (a dozen of them) and targets (nearly 60) that are intended to act as “as examples that can be used to promote continued deliberation and debate.”

I’d put the chances of anyone listening to that injunction at slightly less than zero, as constituencies howl about areas that have or haven’t been goaled. So here’s the list for you start arguing with:

(1) end poverty; (2) empower girls and women and achieve gender equality; (3) provide quality education and lifelong learning; (4) ensure healthy lives; (5) ensure food security and good nutrition; (6) achieve universal access to water and sanitation; (7) secure sustainable energy; (8) create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth; (9) manage natural resources and assets sustainably; (10) ensure good governance and effective institutions; (11) ensure stable and peaceful societies; (12) create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance.

More on the reaction to the report as it rolls in, but I think this is a good start: a clear and simple contribution to a debate that has been dominated by waffle and wishful thinking. Some vision there too.

But remember: this is just the opening shots in a debate that is going to take two years or more to unfold. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.

Are India & China really destined to rivalry?

China and India are the two giants of what are called the emerging powers – they are the ’I’ and ‘C’ in the BRICS  – but despite their membership of that grouping, relations between them have long been uneasy.

They fought a brief war in 1962 high in the Himalayas over their disputed border. It ended with India humiliated and to this day anti-Chinese rhetoric is commonly heard at demonstrations and in the Indian media. For their part, the Chinese resent that India has hosted the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan government in exile, since they fled after the failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959.

I wrote last week that China’s maritime borders remain tense and a possible flashpoint. But this week, there is potentially better news from China’s south western border where Beijing has taken a significant step to improving relations with India with a visit to Delhi by the new Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang.

The visit followed a month when tensions had been running high after soldiers from the two sides moved into an area on the disputed border and faced off. This ended when ahead of Mr Li’s scheduled visit, senior officials from both sides picked up the phone and agreed to pull their troops back.

There had been pressure on the Indian government not to back down with anti-Chinese protests in several parts of the country and expressions of outrage in mainstream and social media. In China, there was little public and media reaction as the incident went largely unreported, although past studies of how India is viewed on Chinese social media suggest a none too flattering opinion – more condescending than hostile.

So why did both governments decide compromise was better than confrontation?

You won’t be surprised to hear that part of the answer is economics. As both countries have grown rapidly over the past decade, trade between them has shot up from $2 billion to $75 billion a year and China is now India’s largest trading partner. Although, there are concerns in Delhi about the size of the trade deficit, both sides are keen to see this grow further and during this week’s talks Li Keqiang told his counterpart, Manmohan Singh, that Beijing would address the trade deficit.

China has clearly decided that better relations with India are a priority. The official media made much of the fact this was Mr Li’s first official trip abroad since taking office in March and has talked  up the visit. On arriving in Delhi, Li said the fact it was his first foreign trip showed “the great importance Beijing attaches to its relations with Delhi”.

What he didn’t explicitly say was why. And, in addition to trade, the answer there seems to be the United States.

Washington has made a huge effort to improve its relations with India over the past few years, even going as far as to sign an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation in 2008 despite the fact India never signed the nuclear non-proliferation  treaty and has developed its own nuclear weapons arsenal.

Many in Beijing have interpreted this as part of an American attempt to contain China.  The Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia”, which has seen the US boost its military and diplomatic focus on China’s neighbourhood, has intensified Beijing’s concerns. Some China-watchers have dubbed this the “go west” strategy – facing containment on its eastern seaboard where it is ringed with allies and friends of the US like Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines, Beijing has decided to give itself options to its west.

This may lead to better relations between China and India which makes for a more stable world, but not everyone gets to benefit.

This week, my programme, The World Tonight, heard from some of the people who are losing out in a rare report from Nepal. Traditionally, India has had the greatest influence over Kathmandu, but in recent years China has become more influential. Many Tibetans fleeing Chinese rule of their homeland end up in neighbouring Nepal, but the Nepalese government, allegedly out of deference to China, is restricting their entry and making life difficult for those who get across the border.

A reminder of the human cost of great power politics which remains as much a factor of today’s world as it has throughout history.


Steve Richards:

For all the specific reasons that explain the destabilising crises that unnerve Prime Ministers, there is one constant factor. No 10 is under-powered. This townhouse, with its tiny units of advisers and officials, cannot cope with the modern demands of leadership. When the then Prime Minister of France Lionel Jospin visited London, he was introduced to Blair’s economic adviser. Jospin asked Blair where the rest of the adviser’s department was. He was told that he had only one economic adviser. Jospin thought he was joking.

There needs to be a big, well-resourced highly political Prime Ministerial department to reflect the responsibilities of a modern Prime Minister. Precisely because of all the weekly crises, Prime Ministers quickly become too weak to establish a proper department, fearful they will look too arrogant. The move can be made only at the beginning, when Prime Ministerial popularity is fleetingly high. The next Prime Minister should announce his plans to appoint political advisers, top officials, and party-based people in a big new department on Day One – before the crises erupt.

“We’ll stop hurting our brothers and sisters” – What success at the G8 would look like


Protesters in London call on G8 leaders to beat hunger

It has become to fashionable to say that G8 meetings never achieve anything. It is also incorrect. Civil society campaigners have made use of G8 meetings in the past to achieve major steps forward on debt, on access to HIV/AIDS treatment, and on maternal and child health. But whereas, in the past, campaigners have tended to focus on urging leaders getting out their cheque books, and though money can and does save lives, this year campaigners are much more focused on calling on the G8 to rewrite their rule book, to address the causes of hunger and not only the symptoms. 

The G8’s role is not to decide for the world, only to agree what they will do themselves. And so it is right that the UK hosts have described the meeting as about “Putting our own house in order”. And the UK, to their credit, have taken on serious core issues in putting the problems of land grabs and tax dodging at the heart of the discussions, and highlighting transparency as key to the solution. But to actually help poor people the leaders will need to take bold action. And what is on the table at present is not ambitious enough to offer real hope to the millions of people whom land grabs and tax dodging leave impoverished and hungry.

Of course, it’s easy for NGOs to call for more ambition. As a British Government official once joked to me, “even when we deliver a massive result, Oxfam say we need to achieve 10% more.” (To which my initial reaction was to think: “Oh no! Only 10%?”) So rather than just call out “Higher, Higher!” it’s only fair that we campaigners say what success would look like.  Here then is a sketch of what I think success would mean on two of the big issues, land grabbing and tax dodging. By this I don’t mean what is needed to fix these challenges – I mean only what the G8 meeting would need to do to start to fix them.

On land, success at the G8 would include a land transparency initiative, and regulatory guidance to G8 companies and investors, so that the G8 is not complicit in land grabbing. As French Development Minister Pascal Canfin said this week, “Without transparency and without protections, land investment can end up as looting. Where the Voluntary Guidelines are not being followed, land investment shouldn’t follow.”

On tax, success at the G8 would include a public registry of the ultimate owners of offshore assets, a deal on sharing of tax information not only between rich countries but with the poorest countries too, and – as they hold one third of the offshore wealth – these agreements must include, in full, all the British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. If the British Prime Minister and other G8 leaders deliver on this they will have sided with tax justice.

At the kids’ group I teach in church, I asked everyone what they could do to help other people. “I’ll share my stuff,” said one; “I’ll help with the cooking,” said another. Then one boy said, “I’ll stop hurting my brothers and sisters.” It wasn’t the answer we’d expected, but reflecting on it, it was an excellent one. And, on land grabbing and tax dodging, an appropriate ambition for the world’s richest countries, one that will need a step up in the negotiations to achieve. “Primum non nocere.” First, do no harm.


Nuclear war called off in Korea – time to relax?

Something quite significant happened this week– though you may have missed it.

It seems the US military doesn’t think there will be nuclear war with North Korea.

A few weeks ago, you could have been forgiven for thinking we were on the brink of something similar to the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962. Pyongyang was threatening a nuclear strike on America and the US – in an unusual move – publicly announced nuclear-capable stealth bombers were taking part in joint military exercises with South Korea.

But then this Monday, unreported by most media, the US Army commander in the Pacific, Lt. Gen. Francis Wiercinski, said he thought ‘the current cycle of provocation (by the North) has come to its end point’.

Things have probably quietened down because the joint exercises are over and the leadership in the North feel they’ve achieved whatever it is they set out to do.

For instance, also this week, the North Korean Defence Minister was replaced . Although we don’t know for sure why he was given the push, there‘s speculation it’s part of efforts by the isolated communist state’s young leader, Kim Jong-Un, to consolidate his hold on power.  Kim is the grandson of the North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung; but at only 30 he’d had very little time to build a power base of his own when he inherited the leadership on the sudden death of his father, Kim Jong Il, 18 months ago. Indeed, many North Korea watchers attribute the recent nuclear sabre-rattling to Kim’s attempt to build support inside the corridors of power in Pyongyang by appearing strong and martial.

Whatever the reason, the North has also removed missiles it had deployed on its east coast near the border with the South.

So we can breathe a sigh of relief then? Continue reading

Obama – inevitable lame duck

Tweet on election night:

It took a few months but the Guardian is finally on it today:

Obama lame duck

It is not a comparison that many people thought would ever get much traction.

But, assailed this week by multiple scandals and at the mercy of a furious press, President Obama has endured a legion of pundits wondering if he is the 21st-century Richard Nixon – and whether his second term is already a lame-duck disaster.

The worst corporate scandal you never heard of

Like many people, I have grown blasé about the successive waves of corporate scandal that have broken since the financial meltdown of 2008, but Fortune’s account of the crimes of Indian generic drug maker, Ranbaxy, is quite astonishing.

Ranbaxy boasts that it “is a research based international pharmaceutical company serving customers in over 150 countries… providing high quality, affordable medicines trusted by healthcare professionals and patients across geographies.” Its business is conducted with the “highest standards of professional integrity and ethical behavior,” it says.

What a joke.

According to Fortune, Ranbaxy deliberately and systematically faked quality tests in order to gets its products licensed across the world. Here’s what a new Ranbaxy employee, Dinesh Thakur, found when he investigated his employer’s fraudulent behaviour:

The company manipulated almost every aspect of its manufacturing process to quickly produce impressive-looking data that would bolster its bottom line. “This was not something that was concealed,” Thakur says. It was “common knowledge among senior managers of the company, heads of research and development, people responsible for formulation to the clinical people.”

Lying to regulators and backdating and forgery were commonplace, he says. The company even forged its own standard operating procedures, which FDA inspectors rely on to assess whether a company is following its own policies. Thakur’s team was told of one instance in which company officials forged and backdated a standard operating procedure related to how patient data are stored, then aged the document in a “steam room” overnight to fool regulators.

Company scientists told Thakur’s staff that they were directed to substitute cheaper, lower-quality ingredients in place of better ingredients, to manipulate test parameters to accommodate higher impurities, and even to substitute brand-name drugs in lieu of their own generics in bioequivalence tests to produce better results.

Thakur reported his findings to the company’s bosses, who took no action. Another executive – Kathy Spreen – found that Ranbaxy was submitting patented drugs – the ones it was copying – for testing, not its own. She too reported her concerns:

In a conference call with a dozen company executives, one brushed aside her fears about the quality of the AIDS medicine Ranbaxy was supplying for Africa. “Who cares?” he said, according to Spreen. “It’s just blacks dying.”

Both ended up resigning.

In recent years, USA regulators have made some attempts to pursue Ranbaxy and while no individual has yet been prosecuted (how can that be?), the company recently agreed to pay a huge fine ($500m or so), with Thakur receiving in excess of $48m as a whistle-blower. Ranbaxy is still in business, however, and is strengthening its position in drugs markets around the world.

Why hasn’t this been a bigger story? The BBC gave it a couple of hundred words. I think the Guardian may have briefly carried the wire story but, if so, it’s now gone from its website. The FT managed a blog post which focused mainly on whether the settlement would be good for the company’s share price. In the grand scheme of things, that’s diddly-squat.

Two reasons for the radio silence, I think. The current media narrative focuses heavily on the myriad of sins of Western companies – if this had been GlaxoSmithKline, you can be sure it would have dominated the front pages. There’s much less interest in how lax regulation elsewhere in the world is corrupting globalisation.

Second, many – me included – are heavily invested in generic drugs as a vital weapon in the battle to improve health standards in the poorest countries. In 2004, the Guardian carried an interview with Dr Brian Tempest, a Brit who was then Ranbaxy’s CEO (and who Fortune puts at the heart of the company’s reckless cover-up). For the generics industry, AIDS drugs were a route to respectability, with Ranbaxy swiftly becoming an aid industry favourite.

“We don’t make a lot of money out of selling our Aids treatments cheaply. I tell all the analysts that this is really out of social responsibility because we are based in the developing world and have all its issues on our doorstep.”

We can’t be sure that Tempest knew his company’s drugs were dirty when he gave the Guardian that quote, but later that year, Fortune reports that he attended a meeting of its scientific committee and heard that “the company had simply not tested the drugs and had invented all the data” for entire markets, including Brazil, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Egypt,  and Thailand.

Perhaps it is time for Randeep Ramesh, the Guardian’s social affairs editor, who talked to Tempest in 2004, to follow up on his story. After all:

  1. Ranbaxy’s drugs continue to be consumed by British patients – in just twelve months, the NHS saved £350m by using a generic cholesterol-reducing drug it buys from the Indian firm. Last year, it was forced to admit that it had shipped batches of the drug contaminated by fragments of glass.
  2. The British regulator seems to have taken barely any action against Ranbaxy when compared to its American counterpart. Parliament has also ignored the scandal, although ministers have met regularly with Ranbaxy both in the UK and in India.
  3. The American investigation tells us nothing about the standard of drugs sent to Africa and other developing countries, including those funded by the British taxpayer. In 2011, for example, DFID lauded Ranbaxy for its “leadership and foresight” in driving down the price of anti-AIDS drugs for the poor. Can we be sure the generic drugs it is now buying are safe?
  4. We also don’t know whether this is a one-off or other generic manufacturers have indulged in similar behaviour. The pattern in banking and other industries, however, suggests that if one company can evade regulation, then others will also have been up to the same tricks. That’s extremely worrying, given that the generic drug industry is expected to be worth $169bn in 2014.
  5. It would be good to hear more about Tempest – dubbed the ‘benign buccaneer’ in the Guardian profile. He was with Ranbaxy until 2008 and now holds a string of non-executive directorships. He is still involved with Ranbaxy’s founding family, serving on the board of Fortis Healthcare, which is chaired by Malvinder Mohan Singh, one of India’s richest men, who sold out his Ranbaxy shareholding to a Japanese drug-maker as scandal engulfed the company. He also chairs the advisory board of Lancaster University Management School. Tempest was too busy to speak to Fortune’s reporter.

Maybe the Fortune story is overblown. I hope it is. But eight Food and Drug Administration inspectors went to look at Ranbaxy factories in India. All of them came back saying they would never, ever, take a Ranbaxy drug.

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