Collective adrenaline ran high as the World Social Forum opened on March 24 in Tunis. It had not yet been five years since a peaceful revolution brought a dictatorship long backed by Western political superpowers to its knees and ignited the fire of the Arab Spring that burns to this day. And it had not yet been a week since shooters stormed the Bardo Museum, killing 22, and retesting the resolve of a delicately budding democracy.
Tens of thousands of delegates from across the globe converged in Tunis not only to show support for Tunisian sovereignty, but also to share their own local struggles and solutions while advocating change in the face of interlinked systemic injustices. The opening march easily demonstrated the diversity of the constituency--bands of Tunisian students in perfect stride with Latin American labor organizers and Sub-Saharan African small-scale food producers, knit together by the unraveling food, climate, energy, and financial crises.
Amidst this vibrant mix of social actors, it was no coincidence that Via Campesina, the world's largest--and arguably best organized--movement showed up in full force with a delegation from five continents. "It is on us to do something," said Elizabeth Mpofu, the Zimbabwean farmer and organizational powerhouse who leads Via Campesina's 250+ million peasant, pastoralist, fisher and indigenous members. "We know we are poor, but we are also very intelligent, and we know what we want," she added.
The South Centre is very appreciative of the wonderful initiative and great efforts by the government and people of Indonesia for hosting this Asian-African Summit in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Asian-African Conference held in Bandung, and for inviting the South Centre to attend this extraordinary and important gathering of countries of the South.
I bring the warm greetings from our Chair, H.E. Benjamin Mkapa, former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, the members of the Board, and the Secretariat of the South Centre.
This year’s Asian-African Summit is a fitting follow-up to the 1955 Bandung Asian-African Conference, which marked the first attempt at multilateral cooperation between developing countries “on the basis of mutual interest and respect for national sovereignty”. The Bandung Conference brought together the generation of gifted and courageous Asian and African leaders who had won or were in the middle of winning their battles of independence. The final communiqué from Bandung in 1955 contained the 10 principles of the “Bandung Spirit”, containing the basic principles for South-South cooperation in the South’s efforts to promote peace and cooperation in the world. These principles remain as valid as ever in today’s world which is in economic and political turmoil.
In February, Greece agreed a four-month extension to its loan from the European Central Bank (ECB) and European Commission (EC), which along with the IMF comprise the Troika of lenders to eurozone states since 2010. The loan is subject to a review of the reforms the government commits to undertake during the extension. The IMF, however, is not part of the new agreement.
Greece currently owes €245 billion ($260 billion) to the three creditors. Conditionalities required for the financing include measures such as privatisations, looser labour laws and pension cuts (see Observer Winter 2015). The Greek government was elected on a platform repudiating the legitimacy and economic value of the loan conditionalities, and demanding an overall reduction in its debts. This democratic mandate is now threatened because Greece faces a number of payments to the IMF and bondholders while negotiating with its European partners. During negotiations prime minister Alexis Tsipras has repeatedly stated that further financial support is necessary so that Greece can make urgent payments.
I had the opportunity to listen to Paul Krugman last week. He gave the keynote speech in a conference on inequality in Brussels. Theme of the conference: No prosperity for all in Europe if we do not tackle inequality. Underlying message: inequality is hindering growth and the distribution of wealth.
Krugman was there to debunk some of the myths. No, there is no shred of evidence that inequality promotes growth, as some neoliberals continue to say. But there is only little evidence that inequality hinders growth. What it is all about is the political economy, the concentration of wealth. We have a lot of evidence that there is a close link between inequality and politics.
The wealthy have become very powerful, they are the ones who promoted financial deregulation, they are the ones promoting so-called free trade agreements, they are the ones blocking all reasonable legislation that could help to improve the social situation in this world.
Our thoughts are with the thousands of victims that continue to perish in the Mediterranean, year after year. The only dream these people had was to reach the shores of the European Union with the promise of a better life and a future for themselves and their children.
However, the ‘European values’ do not cross borders. They are strictly reserved for European populations and are denied to people coming from elsewhere. Basic human rights, as if they could be different in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe…
‘Fortress Europe’ is killing people. But let us not forget that ‘Fortress Europe’ is made by the governments of the European Union’s member-states. And let us not forget that these governments have always refused to define a common European policy on immigration and asylum.
This is the tragedy. In the same way as the Greek people are forced to pay for the debts made by their banks and governments, African people pay the price for the lack of political courage of 28 national governments.
ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow stated: “The IFIs should use the opportunity of lower world oil prices to encourage the adoption of carbon taxes whose revenue could finance energy-efficient infrastructures and essential public services. This would help reduce the jobs deficit and also set the global economy on a more environmentally sustainable footing.” The recommendation is included in a statement for the IFI meetings produced by the ITUC and its Global Unions partners.
More than four years have passed since an overwhelming majority of the membership of the International Monetary Fund agreed to a package of reforms that would double the organization’s resources and reorganize its governing structure in favor of developing countries. But adopting the reforms requires approval by the IMF’s member countries; and, though the United States was among those that voted in favor of the measure, President Barack Obama has been unable to secure Congressional approval. The time has come to consider alternative methods for moving the reforms forward.
The delay by the US represents a huge setback for the IMF. It stands in the way of a restructuring of its decision-making process that would better reflect developing countries’ growing importance and dynamism. Furthermore, with the reforms in limbo, the IMF has been forced to depend largely on loans from its members, rather than the permanent resources called for by the new measures. These loans, meant as a temporary bridge before the reforms entered into effect, need to be reaffirmed every six months.
A sluggish global economy, the Greek debt crisis and continuing fallout of the Ebola epidemic will take focus beginning Thursday when top finance officials gather for the World Bank and IMF Spring meetings.
With high unemployment festering in advanced economies, and emerging countries entering their fifth straight year of slowing growth, how to fire up output and demand is the primary order of business for the world's central bankers and finance ministers in Washington.
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Getting the right balance between public and private sector roles and responsibilities in the Financing for Development and Post-2015 process will be fundamental to prospects for sustainable, inclusive development. Yet early evidence suggests this balance is already awry, skewed far in favour of private interests. Are we seeing a process of outsourcing the international agenda?
There’s no question that businesses around the world are sources of growth and employment. But they are also the source of the most serious threats to sustainable development—from pollution to illicit financial flows that undermine prospects for public resources.
It is clear that traditional official development assistance will not be enough to finance the SDGs. It will continue to play a key role in the poorest countries and in countries destabilized by strife and conflicts. Alliance Sud is therefore calling for at least half the development budgets of donor countries to go towards the poorest countries. Should development aid budgets remain just as big – or small – as hitherto, greater concentration on the poorest countries would nonetheless create big losers as well. In middle-income countries, current development assistance programmes and projects would have to be abandoned. Total expenditure would need to be increased substantially if this is to be avoided. The old demand for 0.7 per cent of gross national income to be allocated to development aid has therefore lost none of its urgency.
Below is a statement presented by Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, during the 2015 Social Forum of the United Nations Human Rights Council which took place from 18 to 20 February 2015 in the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.
The 2015 Social Forum was held in accordance with paragraph 6 of Human Rights Council resolution 26/28 entitled “The Social Forum”. It focused on "access to medicines in the context of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including best practices in this regard ".
Access to medicines, even if a person is too poor to afford it, is a cornerstone to the realization of the right to health and life. There has been significant progress in new and better medicines. However prices of the medicines are often priced so high so as to be out of reach of the poor or even the middle classes in many countries, not only in developing but also in developed countries.