17th July, 2005  Volume 12, Issue 1

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    


'Making poverty history' or pious rhetoric?

Leaders of the World's richest nations met week Before last in a plush golf club and hotel at Gleneagles Scotland with the noblest of intentions of 'Making Poverty History', Some skeptics however doubted whether these Christian leaders were challenging the biblical saying of 'The poor shall inherit the earth', The counter argument could be.......


More Focus

> Kadi's frolics and reborn Ranil (....Thelma)

> Ranil gaining mammoth political momentum (....Serendipity)

'Making poverty history'
or pious rhetoric?

Leaders of the World's richest nations met week Before last in a plush golf club and hotel at Gleneagles Scotland with the noblest of intentions of 'Making Poverty History', Some skeptics however doubted whether these Christian leaders were challenging the biblical saying of 'The poor shall inherit the earth', The counter argument could be that what was attempted at Gleneagles was precisely how the biblical prediction, 'The poor shall inherit the earth' could be put into practice.

Whatever said and done, the effort to wipe out poverty, particularly in the African continent comprising 54 of the poorest countries of the world was unique and a landmark in world history. Some will of course question why the  G- 8 nations,  all of which were colonial powers  and exploited their colonies in Africa - save Russia  -  could have been complacent to the sufferings of the  entire populace of Africa till very recent years.

May be, it is a wrong question and has not been asked loudly in the international media. Nonetheless, it is better late than never in that the successors to the  former colonial masters have taken cognisance of the human tragedy that is Africa today and is prepared to make massive financial contributions to alleviate the poverty and the living conditions of the African people.

Blair's initiative

Whatever cynics say  most African leaders have expressed their deep appreciation of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's initiative.

Some of the highlights of the Gleneagles summit quoted by analysts were:

The G8 agreed on a $50bn boost to aid and EU members pledge to reach a collective aid target of 0.56% of GDP by 2010, and 0.7% by 2015

 Stalemate on climate change as US position barely budges

 G8 nations agree to full debt cancellation for the poorest 18 countries, while African countries call for debt relief for all of Africa

 A "signal" for a new deal on trade

 Universal access to anti-HIV drugs in Africa by 2010

 More money for addressing malaria

 Intending to help improve education for all in Africa

Much of this sounds very promising. But behind these advantages lie details that could seriously undermine such a rosy view.

UK-based development organisation, Action Aid, summarises the G8 meeting's outcome as follows:

Bad news:

No progress on trade, a disaster for a continent where 60% of employment comes from small scale farming.

The aid increase is too little too late, condemning 50 million children to death over the next five years. And the G8 will do little to improve the effectiveness of their aid.

The aid announced is insufficient to meet the G8's AIDS treatment target.

The debt deal offers only 10% of what is needed and comes with harmful conditions.

What we have is only promises, on past record it is far from certain how much will actually be delivered.

Good news:

Millions of people came together in a global campaign to put an end to poverty, wearing white bands, watching Live 8 concerts, sending personal messages to world leaders, and joining the largest-ever march in Scotland.

The UK government responded to campaigners and southern leaders by putting poverty and Africa at the center of the Gleneagles agenda.

Current practice

The G8 has taken some steps: canceling some debts of some poor countries, providing small amounts of extra aid and recognising that countries must be free to determine their own economic policies - tantamount to recognition that the current practice of attaching strings to aid must be radically altered.

The campaign does not end here. The spotlight will remain on G8 leaders as people around the world scrutinise their policies and actions. Momentum behind the call for justice is growing and pressure for the World Trade talks, World Bank's conditionality review, and the UN's Millennium Review Summit to deliver before the year is out is now intense.

There are others who unabashedly call the G-8 Gleneagles Summit 'a fraud and a circus', John Pilger writing to the  New  Statesman says:

''The front page of the Observer (London) announced, '$55bn Africa debt deal 'a victory for millions."' The "victory for millions" is a quotation of Bob Geldof, who said, "Tomorrow 280 million Africans will wake up for the first time in their lives without owing you or me a penny . . ." The nonsense of this would be breathtaking if the reader's breath had not already been extracted by the unrelenting sophistry of Bob Geldof, Bono, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and the Observer.


"Africa's imperial plunder and tragedy have been turned into a circus for the benefit of the so-called G8 leaders and those of us willing to be distracted by the barkers of the circus: the establishment media and their 'celebrities'. The illusion of an anti-establishment crusade led by pop stars - a cultivated, controlling image of rebellion - serves to dilute a great political movement of anger. In summit after summit, not one significant "promise" of the G8 has been kept, and the "victory for millions" is no different. It is a fraud - actually a setback to reducing poverty in Africa. Entirely conditional on vicious, discredited economic programmes imposed by the World Bank and the IMF, the "package" will ensure that the "chosen" countries slip deeper into poverty.

Useful facade

"Is it any surprise that this is backed by Blair and Brown, and Bush; even the White House calls it a "milestone"? For them, it is a useful facade, held up by the famous and the naive and the inane. Having effused about Blair, Geldof describes Bush as "passionate and sincere" about ending poverty. Bono has called Blair and Brown "the John and Paul of the global development stage". Behind this front, rapacious power can "reorder" the lives of millions in favour of totalitarian corporations and their control of the world's resources.

"There is no conspiracy; the goal is no secret. Gordon Brown spells it out in speech after speech, which liberal journalists choose to ignore, preferring the Treasury spun version. The G8 communiqu announcing the "victory for millions" is unequivocal. Under the section headline "G8 proposals for HIPC (Highly Impoverished Countries) debt cancellation", it says that debt relief will be granted to poor countries only if they are shown to be "adjusting their gross assistance flows by the amount given": in other words, their aid will be reduced by the same amount as the debt relief. So they gain nothing. Paragraph two states that "it is essential" that poor countries "boost private sector development" and ensure "the elimination of impediments to private investment, both domestic and foreign".

"The "$55bn" claimed by the Observer comes down, at most, to 1bn spread over 18 countries. This will almost certainly be halved - providing less than six days' worth of debt payments - because Blair and Brown want the IMF to pay its share of the "relief" by revaluing its vast stock of gold, and passionate and sincere Bush has said no. The first unmentionable is that the gold was plundered originally from Africa. The second unmentionable is that debt payments are due to rise sharply from next year, more than doubling by 2015. This will mean not "victory for millions", but death for millions.

One in, three out

"At present, for every $1 of "aid" to Africa, $3 are taken out by Western banks, institutions and governments, and that does not include the repatriated profit of transnational corporations. Take the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thirty-two corporations, all of them based in G8 countries, dominate the exploitation of this deeply impoverished, minerals-rich country where millions have died in the "cause" of 200 years of imperialism. In Cote d'Ivoire, three G8 companies control 95 per cent of the processing and export of cocoa, the main resource. The profits of Unilever, a British company long in Africa, are a third larger than Mozambique's GDP. One American company, Monsanto - of genetic engineering notoriety - controls 52 per cent of South Africa's maize seed, that country's staple food."

Foreign aid beneficial?

The debate on whether  foreign aid is beneficial to Third World Countries has been raging fast and furious for many decades and we refrain from making  judgments on it  and instead present  diverse opinions. For long years a section of Third World economists have held the view that aid makes governments dependent on donors of the rich world and not on tax payers and citizens of poor countries. What better example of it is there today than the situation in Sri Lanka where donors dictate foreign, military and even domestic policies?

But it is undeniable that foreign aid has come to the rescue of millions of the poor of the world particularly in Africa. Diseases such as River Blindness have been eliminated in vast regions of Africa.  Billions of dollars are being expended in various forms of assistance to control AIDS which is ravaging the continent. There are many more examples of the beneficial effects of foreign aid in alleviating the suffering of the poor.

However, it is being very correctly pointed out poverty eradication in the Third World has been successful not so much because of the generosity of rich nations that resulted in vast sums being contributed as aid. Nations that have risen from abject squalor to become powerful nations in the past half century such as South Korea, China, India, Vietnam and most ASEAN countries  through development of their economies on their own and benefiting from international trade.

That should be the way to 'Make poverty history'.

Kadi's frolics and reborn Ranil

My darling Satty,

That chap Will dear, no not the Prince of Belair, I mean the one who lived somewhere in the 16th century in what was it now..

Oh yes, Stratford on Oriflame was it? Ponds.. Dove. Yes,.. I remember now, Avon, that's it. Stratford on Avon, that's the feller I mean. Well he was to once say darling, that the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.

Not that you would ever believe it dear, hooked as you are on astrology and what not. And neither I may as well tell you would Mahinda or Kadi. Thellie however has never been quite convinced of the malefic impact of Saturn in the tenth house, because if you know the type of bloated, self obsessed, ill-advised baasunnehe who comes in to repair my house. I will tell you darling, I'd rather have Saturn.

I would like to divest myself of some of that perilous stuff that weighs so heavily upon the heart dear. It's about Kadi and his Sugee dearest. I mean to say doll, why is he getting us, the public, to pay a daily wage to Sugee every time he takes her abroad on one of his numerous roving diplomutt jaunts? That's my question. Just because he wants to gambol barefoot with Sugee on the grass verges of Piccadilly Circus on a moonlit night, wy should we pay? It's not as if we ate a large share of his wedding cake or that he distributed bonboneries to the public like some medieval Sultan straight out of Arabian Nights.

Whether he gambols in Hyde Park or frolics at St. James' is really no skin off our nose, but it certainly is a bally goodish swipe out of our pockets when we are compelled to pay for it. Not that the milk of human kindness does not slosh freely about in the bosoms of most Paradisians but those are possibly the Paradisians who don't pay any taxes. You know dear, some 99.9 percent of the bally populace. In any case Sugee is not a quantity in the Democratic Socialist Republic that seems to come under any Foreign Ministry regulation, circular or programme. May be a case does not come under a Foreign Ministry circular but it sure comes under the Foreign Ministry circus - now showing at an airport near you.

Another thing m'dear. If Kadi insists on bad mouthing P. Tom Silva, Mister Tom Silva is going to be none too pleased. Not to say anything about Miss Satty.  And to gossip like an old woman with no lesser a person than Margie Wall. Wallie. Waltrom.  About poor Tom, especially when even you say that the cyanides were innocent of last week's upheavel in the east and were in fact provoked by extremist kavun and thambi  elements, ill becomes Kadi. I ask you dear. Is this the time to be throwing grenades about like bally footballs in any case.

But you are like this bally rag dear. You get all the news. No sooner had Kadi opened his big gab, there was Marg marching over to a PI.. MP. no. no. PA MP and spilling the beans who in turn naturally whispered the whole sordid tale in your flapping ear lobe. And if we know you darling, sooner or later, it is Kadi who will get beans. Shiver.  Shiver.

But back to horoscopes and what lies ahead. For Paradisians darling, it is always the President who lies. If you get my drift.

Anyway my anjanang eliya confided in me that July is a bad month and that fortunes of some are changing. Nonetheless fortune favours the brave. And there is none braver than our very Pee Em Mahinder. Ever since the tsunami he has been having dream after dream like some feverish Abhou Ben Adam of being a big bad tsunami himself. No wonder he decided to emulate the effect if not the appearance and sweep away a goodish bit of money from the Prime Ministerial office into a private account. Everyone is entitled to some privacy eh?  Can't always be keeping money in the public domain no?

And what of your own flagging fortunes dear. Is the star guiding you alright? Thellie feels dear that this presidential election must be held with haste. It is as the wise man says. If 't were done 't were well 't were done quickly.

Meanwhile there lies Mallo standing in the middle of the highway with his mouth hanging open looking for all the world as if he is going to be run over by the very next 138 omnibus.

Meanwhile the Jay Vee Pee  types are still crouching like leopards in the jungle waiting to spring at you. Not that they haven't learnt a bitter lesson from trying to be too smart.

In the meantime did you notice how Ranil's JBM went off like a bally house on fire dear?  Never before have I seen such a large sea of heads belonging to the bally proletariat. Its fair made my aristocratic bones shudder.

For a girl who thought she was the bally bees knees and the ants pants this type of reception from the down and out Ranil would have hit you to the core as much as it hit me, your greatest fan and confidante.

I mean to say only the other day I was thinking the chap though agreeable, was never more dynamic than a fried egg. But suddenly he had sprung into action and there he was. His eye a combination of a gimlet and a searchlight.

Coleridge's ancient mariner may have been somewhat similarly equipped in the eyeball area but you will recall that the ancient Mariner was only able to stop a wedding guest on his way to a wedding.

This new and energised Ranil gave me the impression that he could stop the Mahaweli  river on its way to Trincomalee.

Tara for now.

Ranil gaining mammoth political momentum

The mammoth of Sri Lankan politics has awoken from a long slumber and is charging ahead, causing trepidation to those who had rested comfortably thinking that jumbos were an extinct species.

The tens of thousands who marched along the seaboard from Dondra to Colombo for 11 days and rallied around the precincts of Colombo's Town Hall sent a clear message - the jumbos were reclaiming their lost domain.

The United National Party - like it or not - has been the most formidable political force in the country in its post- independence history. Even when it suffered its worst defeats under the first-past-the-post system of elections, it was not far behind the winning coalitions. Hard as the red, and blue and red shirts proclaimed that the last nail had been driven into the jumbo's coffin, it arose menacingly.

TV and press coverage of the Town Hall meeting would certainly help in the resurrection of the UNP much to the detriment of its opponents. Privately owned TV, the creators of the JVP idols - who are indeed good entertainers - destroyed one of their favourites, Wimal Weerawansa, on Tuesday. A TV station had him scoffing at the Jana Bala Meheyuma at another meeting saying it was a TV creation with only a few followers. Immediately after that they ran pictures of the mass UNP hordes at Lipton Circus. Comrade Weerawansa will take a long time to recover from that.

Will momentum be maintained?

The last time the UNP demonstrated its political muscle in this style was when Ranil Wickremesinghe returned from the United States after Chandrika Kumaratunga had staged a constitutional coup. The near seven-hour demonstration UNPers staged in bringing him to Colombo from the airport could have been a resounding take off for the UNP to challenge the Kumaratunga presidency. But that was not to be. Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP mammoth went to sleep. President Kumaratunga, however went through a series of political stunts and finally recaptured power with the assistance of the JVP which even political neophytes knew was an extremely fragile coalition.

The question now being asked is: Will Ranil Wickremesinghe use the momentum gained from his long march to drive Chandrika Kumaratunga out of President's House as he vowed to do at the mammoth meeting? Certainly, there are valid legal grounds to end her six-year term of office for which she was elected in the year 2000, but the wily woman President's Legal Calculus appears to omit one year of her six-year-old presidency.

Sri Lankan women have the frailty of counting their age one year less, particularly after their 49th birthday, but can such whimsicalities be extended to the term of office of presidency of a nation?

Chandrika Kumaratunga's greatest blessing during her 10-year old stint as President has been Ranil Wickremesinghe. Unlike previous opposition leaders, he has been mild, least resistant and not resorted to demagoguery.

Least resistance

In 1994 when she commenced negotiating with the LTTE, contrary to normal traditions and expectations, he did not raise the communal bogey nor did he do so after the LTTE recommenced their Eelam War, placing President Kumaratunga in a very embarrassing position.

When the PA government with Chandrika as President, Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces suffered military defeat after defeat, with the once ragged terrorist outfit driving the Sri Lankan armed forces - around 50,000 troops to the edge of the Jaffna peninsula, Ranil did not or could not do anything to throw her out. Right through her term of office as President he did not embarrass her with her relations with the LTTE, although she clobbered him at every given opportunity.

But when the Ceasefire Agreement was signed by Ranil as prime minister, she raised alarm and finally made use of the accommodation provided to the LTTE under this agreement to take over the Ministry of Defence and topple the UNP government.

Chandrika Kumaratunga is a political street fighter. This columnist some time ago, writing to another journal, described her as 'a Premadasa in sari.'

She asks for no quarter and gives no quarter.  The UNP Leader, has a more leisurely approach towards politics but has no other option now than to adopt a much more toughened stand - although it is not his style.

One of his challenges will be to unite the many factions that have broken away from the UNP. The Late J. R. Jayewardene was able to bring together disparate forces in 1977. Ranil has been in control of the party for a considerable period of time to do what his uncle did.

Reality check

The UNP Leader also has to face the reality that he is being bitterly opposed by a section of Sinhala-Buddhist activists, particularly because of his accommodation of the LTTE during the time of the UNF government.

Even before that he had in his election manifesto that he was for an interim government for the north and east. While his candid attitude will be appreciated by some liberals and most Tamils, it certainly does not go well with a large section of the Sinhala Buddhist people. Opposition to Wickremesinghe comes not for his accommodation of the Tamils, but his tolerance towards the LTTE.  This is a vital issue that he will have to face in the coming months. However, these Sinhala-Buddhists too are no admirers of President Kumaratunga. Wickremesinghe will have to exhibit a great deal of political savvy on this issue, if he hopes to be in power.

President Kumaratunga is now certainly under siege. The UNP, JVP, TNA, factions of smaller parties and those even in her own ranks are revolting against her. This happens often when political leaders are in power for too long a period. Two outstanding examples in recent times are Britain's Margaret Thatcher and Germany's Helmut Kohl who became legends in their time for their accomplishments, but stayed too long and fell from grace.

Even the late Sirima Bandaranaike at the tail end of her reign in the '70s was under such siege having extended her term of office for two years through questionable constitutional amendments. The only exception of going on in power forever and ever appears to be Fidel Castro but he is a dictator and brooks no opposition. In modern democracies a two-term period lasting, at the most six years, appears to be the best.

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