February 20, 2007

International Bureaucracies

Hey, here's a great idea. Let's put the lunatics in charge of the madhouse:

Zimbabwe may gain the vice-presidency of the World Food Programme (WFP) — despite the collapse of its own agricultural sector.

All seven African countries presently on the WFP's 36-strong executive board are believed to support the bid of Robert Mugabe's regime.

If successful, Zimbabwe will be in line to become the president of the world's largest supplier of humanitarian aid next year.

Don't you just love what they're doing with your tax money?

February 20, 2007 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 22, 2005

Sorting Out the Aid Business.

Differing views on the validity of using the UN to sort out the obvious problems in the disaster aid business.

The new fund, which is being negotiated at the UN and is due to become operational in February, has been supported by Britain, which became the largest single donor to the fund with a pledge of £40 million a year.

"When a crisis comes, it is to the United Nations that we look," said Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary.

"The United Nations presses the fire alarm but to get the engine out of the station it has to pass round the hat to put petrol in the tank and water in the hoses."

Not everyone is as convinced as Mr Benn, however. Pledges have barely topped £100 million, a little more than a third of the target, as several leading nations, including America, Canada and France, have yet to contribute.

There is also disagreement among international aid organisations. Oxfam is convinced that the scheme will save lives but Save the Children has "serious concerns" that ploughing more money into the United Nations bureaucracy may make disaster response times slower not faster.

A Save the Children paper said that the emergency fund risked "duplicating the current inadequacies of the [UN] appeal process" and leaving any aid effort bogged down in "internal UN politicking".

One of those unfortunate truths. While it may be clear and obvious that hundreds of different organisations rushing to provide aid  causes problems, waste and duplication, it’s not necessarily so that having one central and overarching authority is better. That could cause even more and other problems.

Despite my well known insistence that markets are always better than bureaucracies the truth is a little more nuanced.  There are times when the centralized authority is indeed the best solution (a legal system, armed forces as two obvious examples) and times when it obviously is not (planning an economy for example).

Your view of disaster aid will probably depend on your view of the UN.  Mine is coloured by the time they asked me if I’d like to work for them, giving speeches at conferences. No pay, just expenses. It would take their bureaucracy 14 months to get me onto the approved list. I’m just not quite capable of believing that such an organisation will provide a better solution than the current admittedly not very good one.

December 22, 2005 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 10, 2005

Typical Guardian Leader.

Prime piece of Guardian think here. Absolutely perfect.

But as each disaster unfolds it becomes increasingly clear that what is needed is a rapidly responding international unit coordinating the activities of the charities as well as channelling government support, and ready to spring into action at a moment's notice.

We’ve already got one. Called the United Nations. And they’re bloody useless. Why would any other "ïnternational unit"  be any damn different? Thus the prime  example of Planet Guardian thinking. International bureaucracies do not work to solve the problem so we must have an international bureaucracy.

October 10, 2005 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 10, 2005

The Human Development Index.

Slugger O’Toole has noted something interesting in the recent UNDP Human Development Report.

When all factors were taken into account Ireland rose two places to eighth in the Human Development Index, leapfrogging the US, Japan, Belgium and the Netherlands but falling behind Luxembourg and Switzerland.

As the New Economist points out, there’s some major problems with the numbers used to reach that conclusion. (GDP v GNP for those who want the details.)

There’s a simpler way of looking at it however. The UN, in its wisdom, is stating that the second best place in the world to live is one where it pisses with rain each and every day, a pint costs a fortune,  you can’t smoke a fag while you have one  and each and every pub is infested with indiginous musicians screaming tiddly-i-o in a distinctive high tenor while banging the native drums, a sound to which the local nubile females are forced to stamp their feet.

While it also does have the best breakfast cuisine on the planet the UN and I obviously have different ideas about what makes a decent and livable land.

September 10, 2005 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 19, 2005

Big Surprise.

The least surprising story of the day? Zimbabwe needs food aid. Perhaps a tiny bit surprising as they seem to have finally admitted it. I did note two things about the UN.

1)Yet Mr Mugabe still refused to ask for food aid. It took a personal intervention from Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, before he agreed to yesterday's U-turn.

2)Mr Mugabe's request for help comes very late. The WFP has already planned its food distribution in southern Africa for 2005, having been assured by Mr Mugabe that Zimbabwe did not need help.

Perhaps I’m being unkind (what, Tim? Unkind? Never!) but it does seem a little odd that an organisation whose head is insisting that a country needs food aid does not actually incorporate that food aid into its plans. Further, even a blind man could see that Zimbabwe would need such aid but they simply took Mugabe’s word for it?


May 19, 2005 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 03, 2005

Monbiot on BP

I think Old Georges is being a bit harsh on BP here. West Papua (Irian Jaya to Indonesians) was indeed sold down the river, is indeed a land occupied, is indeed suffering from the violent imposition of that occupation. However, there’s one huge sticking point here, at least for all of those who think that international law exists or has any validity.

However disgusting the original occupation was, under that very international law it was legal. Indonesia is the de jure sovereign government of West Papua. It may not be de facto, it may not be morally correct that it is de jure, it may not be acting morally as that government, but according to international law, it is the government. And we are supposed to obey international law, yes?

Or, do we only obey it when it already agrees with what we want to do? Which rather opens a can of worms, doesn’t it?

May 3, 2005 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 01, 2005

What’s Wrong With the UN Development Agencies.

Robin Cook is surprisingly perspicacious today, managing in just a few words to detail exactly what is wrong with much of the UN:

....but it does not seem unreasonable to demand stronger coordination at the centre to stop the World Bank pursuing neo-liberal policies that are in flat conflict with the development agendas of other UN agencies.

But we’ve had this argument about development, even Oxfam, Bono and Bob Geldof are onside, it is trade not aid, it is precisely the neo-liberal agenda that has been shown to be correct. So that’s exactly what is wrong with the UN development agencies, that they are pursuing the policies that we know to be wrong, the ones that, at best, we can only describe as less efficient than the ones they reject.

April 1, 2005 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 30, 2005

Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

Good Lord, I might actually have to change my opinion of the United Nations. Far from all of them being the bunch of useless wankers that we have come to know and love they’ve actually brought out a report that makes some sense. You’ll have seen it splashed across all of the papers today as this quick roundup from Euractive shows:

Now I’ve only skimmed a few of those reports and they all concentrate on how bad things are, how we’re all going to die tomorrow (or yesterday for some of them). The actual report can be downloaded from the same Euractive page and I’m going to have a quick skip through that as well. But much the most interesting thing I’ve seen so far is the brief on the paper by Greenfacts.org. This little piece on what should actually be done, on what the report is stating could and should happen to prevent disaster actually makes a great deal of sense.

Once you’ve got through the listing of disasters unfolding, you might note that almost all of them involve Garret Hardin’s old point about The Tragedy of the Commons. Where use of a resource is being strained by an increase in demand under a Marxist system of access, some systems managing that access have to be imposed. They can be social (socialist) or private (capitalist) [please note that those descriptions are from Hardin himself] but systems of management there must be.

Again, look at what Greenfacts is actually stating is the solution:

Economic and financial interventions provide powerful instruments               to regulate the use of ecosystem goods and services

Market mechanisms can only work if supporting               institutions are in place, and thus there is a need to build institutional               capacity to enable more widespread use of these mechanisms

Elimination of subsidies that promote excessive use of ecosystem               services

Greater use of economic instruments and market-based approaches                 in the management of ecosystem services

Taxes or user fees for activities with “external”               costs

Creation of markets, including through cap-and-trade systems

Mechanisms to enable consumer preferences to be expressed               through markets.

There’s even a part of the report where they call for a ban on all trade subsidies and distortions....yes, really, the point that free trade leads to the most efficient allocation of resources seems to have got through.

This is marvellous, a real step forward. We can now all agree with the tree huggers, indeed, the planet is in bad shape, so let’s go and do what the report tells us we should. Abolish subsidies, create markets where they currently do not exist, provide the legal and institutional framework for such markets to work (that is, private property ownership),  drag the poor up out of their destitution by incorporating them into the globalized system. In short, the report is telling us two important things. One, that there are problems, and the eco-weenies will of course agree with this. Two, that the solution is more markets, properly structured, so that externalities are properly reflected in the prices paid, something that the greenies will not like, but if they accept the first part of the report they need to accept the second.

What’s not to like?

March 30, 2005 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 20, 2005

What’s Wrong at the UN.

So Kofi is going to relaunch the UN, taking account of America’s security concerns:

The security of America and other wealthy countries will for the first time be declared a key priority for the United Nations under reforms designed to restore confidence in the crisis-ridden international body.

The reforms, to be announced tomorrow by Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, will be seen as a concession to Washington after repeated clashes with President George W Bush over US foreign policy, including the war in Iraq.

In the same article we get this:

Chidyan Siku, Zimbabwe's ambassador to the UN, gave the proposals a cool reception. "My feeling, and the feeling of colleagues from developing countries, is that the Secretariat is trying to please America by slanting towards the strategic agenda of the North. That will not find favour with us," he said.

And that is the problem with the UN. The appointee of a murderous thug, of a despot and fool, is accorded equal weight with the representatives of free and democratic lands. Until there is an entry qualification, perhaps based upon observance of the UN’s own Charter of Fundamental Human Rights, the organisation has no legitimacy.

March 20, 2005 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

Norm Coleman, Benon Sevan and Diplomatic Immunity.

Senator Norm Coleman is on the warpath about Benon Sevan and his role in UNScam:

The scandal surrounding the UN's oil-for-food programme took a new and dramatic turn for the worse last night after a US Senate investigation accused its head of committing criminal acts by accepting oil contracts from Iraq, and demanded the lifting of his diplomatic immunity.

"I believe Mr Sevan's misconduct goes well beyond a mere conflict of interest," Mr Coleman told a packed room in a Senate annex. "Instead these documents, when combined with the evidence in the [UN] report, certainly establish probable cause that Mr Sevan's actions rose to the level of criminal liability.

"Accordingly I call upon [UN] Secretary-General Kofi Annan to strip Mr Sevan of his diplomatic immunity."

Well, that’s OK as far as it goes, but it does, I fear, miss a part of the reality, avoid some of the nuances of the situation. As I pointed out before, Benon Sevan should not actually have diplomatic immunity at present anyway:

So the interim report is out from the Volcker Commission and Benon Sevan gets named and shamed. At this late date I’m not sure that anyone is really all that surprised by this. One teensy little detail I think worth mentioning, as I did right at the beginning of this saga:

And he's even going to do it for a nominal $ 1 a year. Amazing! What could actually prompt such self denial, such devotion to the public cause ?

In the deal struck with Mr Annan, Mr Sevan will continue for the next three months and be paid a token $1 (55p) a year as a consultant, while continuing to enjoy diplomatic immunity.

Gosh children, can you say " cover up "? Diplomatic Immunity means that he does not have to answer questions, cannot be forced to take an oath or into a court room, can leave whenever he wishes, and cannot, even if found later to be lying, be prosecuted.
So, um, Kofi, just why did you extend his immunity ?

The only reason he has immunity now is because at the beginning of the investigation Kofi Annan deliberately set up a system whereby he would maintain his immunity. Just one more piece of scandalous behaviour at the heart of the UN.


February 16, 2005 in United Nations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack