Saturday, April 29, 2006

Big nations driving Island’s corruption

Australian police and intelligence agencies are now involved in an investigation into vote buying in the Solomon’s that contributed to a wave of arson and looting linked to leadership manoeuvring following national elections on April 5.
Inquiries have revealed that Taiwan's vote buying in Honiara has been far more extensive than earlier thought. Finance industry sources say that the former prime minister Sir Allan Kemakeza operated a slush fund - of up to $10 million a year - to dispense political favours.
The fund has not been declared and it is understood central bank requests for an explanation have been ignored.
Witnesses have confirmed deliveries of cash in suitcases to the Taiwanese embassy in the first-floor office of a shopping arcade in the Solomons capital, Honiara.
Taiwanese ambassador, Antonio Chen, yesterday strongly denied Taipei was involved in money politics, saying it was up to officials of the Solomons Government to monitor how aid money was spent.
Money from the fund was apparently used to buy cars, boats and other equipment to secure electoral support for key pro-government election candidates.

China helping out
SENIOR political figures in the Solomon Islands have been involved in secret negotiations to shift diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to its arch rival, China.
The talks have taken place since September in Beijing and at the Chinese consulate in Brisbane this month.
This week Manasseh Sogavare, now the leading candidate for the prime ministership, said it was time to drop recognition of Taipei in favour of Beijing.
Another member of the new opposition leadership group, Gordon Lilo, said on Solomon Islands national radio yesterday that many economic benefits would come from recognising China, as it was now the country's biggest trading partner.
Also behind the move to Beijing is the former Prime Minister Francis Billy Hilly, who was forced out of office after allegations that MPs were bribed by Malaysian-Chinese logging companies.

According to reports:

- Beijing has allegedly agreed to pay an opposition party $200,000 to switch allegiance from Taiwan.

- The former prime minister Sir Allan Kemakeza allegedly ran a slush fund of up to $10 million a year paid for by Taiwan.

- Australian agencies are investigating how vote-buying contributed to arson and looting in the Solomons.

Iraq soldier homicide probe

The first Australian military death in Iraq has been totally bungled by the government and military.
The death of Private Kovko has set off an alarming series of events.

The latest is the announcement of a homicide investigation into his death.

THE NSW homicide squad has been called in to investigate the death of Private Jacob Kovco as the mystery surrounding Australia's first military fatality in Iraq deepens.

Private Kovco's body - at first misplaced to the anguish of the Kovco family and the great embarrassment of the Government and the military - was to arrive at 6.30am today in Sydney, where his grieving widow, Shelley, and family were waiting.

The latest military explanation: Private Kovco was typing on his laptop computer when it slipped off his lap, landing on the pistol and causing it to fire.

"He died in Iraq. He died as part of a military mission for which the Government and me - I in particular - accept full responsibility." Prime Minister Howard, lest he forgets!


In a revelation contradicting information released by the military and the Government, soldiers in Iraq claim Kovco was alone when he was shot.

The Defence Department and the Howard Government initially said Pte Kovco was in a room with two other soldiers at the time of his death.

A source close to the troops said: "His two mates were in the next room and found him after the shot went off."

The NSW Police State Crime Command has been ordered to conduct an investigation and the body be passed to the State Coroner John Abernethy when it arrives in Sydney today.

The coroner said: "The NSW coroner expects to assume jurisdiction in relation to any inquiry into his identity . . . and manner and cause of death."

Defence chiefs have been accused of pre-empting the inquiry by labelling the death a "tragic accident".

Doubts about the circumstances of Private Kovco's death continued to be aired yesterday when the former head of Australia's military, General Peter Cosgrove, was asked on radio whether, in his 40 years of military service, he had seen a pistol such as Private Kovco's self-detonate. He replied: "Weapons tend not to self-detonate."

Friday, April 28, 2006

How did this soldier die?

IT takes extraordinary effort for a Browning 9mm pistol to go off by itself. Just how Private Jacob Kovco's pistol discharged last Friday, killing him with a shot to the head, was shrouded in mystery last night.

The Australian Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, said in an earlier statement that Private Kovco was cleaning his weapon when it fired. The Defence Minister was also forced to conjure some sort of excuse for sending the wrong body home.

I’ve been sitting on my own thoughts on the first Australian military death in Iraq. There is something about the incident which just doesn’t ring true.

Kovco was a country kid who had been around guns all his life. He was an expert hunter and became the country’s foremost sniper in Iraq.

He has probably cleaned more guns than most of us have had hot breakfasts. But here he is, in a room with two other soldiers who heard, but did not see, the gun go off; Kovco accidently shoots himself in the head.

It turns out that he was not cleaning the gun, as first reported to the military, it was "near him in his vicinity". The story now is that some movement he made triggered the deadly shot.

The Federal Government and the military still maintain the two soldiers in the room with Private Kovco at the time did not see the weapon discharge.

Okay, my thoughts are mere speculation and I’m not really convinced that they deserve airing at this point. There will be a clamour for the real facts of this incident and one would hope truth, unsavoury or otherwise will come out. But one fact is clear, Kovko did not simply bump a gun and shoot himself in the head!


Kovco’s mother, Judy, fears that there would be a cover-up over her son's death. "I want the truth and it's not coming out and they will do one big cover-up because they want more boys to go over there and they don't want Australia's perfect record of no boys being killed in battle - of any boys being killed in battle. It doesn't take a lot to work out what's going down here."Mrs Kovco said the Australian Defence Force and the Minister for Defence, Brendan Nelson, had allowed a notion to gather momentum that her son - who grew up using guns - had managed to shoot himself accidentally while handling his pistol.

"You could have put a blindfold on him," Mrs Kovco said. "He could dismantle a gun and put it together again without even looking at it. We kept saying, 'There's no way. There's no way."'

Link Furious mother accuses army of cover-up on shooting

Downer seals Solomon’s fate

Few countries make the transition from colonial government to independent nation without pain. Colonial powers having spent many years stripping their holdings of resources, with little regard for the cultures they are trampling, inevitably leave a power vacuum and a legacy of corruption.

The resulting chaos has little to do with what is patronizingly regarded as cultural backwardness. It has a good deal more to do with pressures on these, generally, small economies to engage fully in a rapacious global economy.

Often denied power and proper preparation prior to gaining independence it is little wonder these societies often revert to the lowest common denominator of leadership, self interest.

The basic issues are then invariably worsened by the meddling of powerful countries, generally again for self interest rather than the interests of the developing country.

This scenario is being amply demonstrated in the political dynamics of the Solomon Islands. Taiwan has been responsible for a good measure of the racial tensions which form part of the Solomon’s problems. Many smaller Pacific nations have been targeted by Taiwan who are constantly seeking areas of International support for their disputed existence as a separate China. Resources like timber are also much sort after to feed Taiwan’s volume driven manufacturing sector.

It is a game involving bribery and manipulation of many of the leaderships of small Pacific nations. The fallout is for ethnic Chinese residents, who to a great extent are valuable and industrious citizens.

Australian meddling has, until recently, been seen as relatively efficacious. With the recent election crisis Australia’s role is starting to be seen in a less positive light.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) were cited as partly responsible for triggering the riots after Australia’s preferred candidate won the Prime minister’s seat against the wishes of most of the electorate.

AFP officers are said to have over-reacted to a noisy demonstration, sparking all out rioting and looting. But resentment over Australia’s role has been long simmering.

According to allegations, Taiwan might have paid the bribes which secured Snyder Rini’s prime ministership, but it was official Australian support which sought to keep him in the position in the face of enormous local opposition.

Snyder Rini was Australia’s man, they new him and knew they could work him. Having failed that attempt, in a display close to sour grapes, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer simply declared the Solomon’s future ‘doomed’.

To be exact, Downer said,

“Corruption is endemic in the Solomon Islands, it's an enormous problem. Regardless of who they appoint as prime minister, I don't think you can say that that's going to overcome the instability. The instability is also pretty entrenched, this whole story goes back decades and decades."

I wonder who helped create that situation Alex? As Australia’s Foreign Minister for the past decade, Downer must take a share of the blame. He has happily used that instability and corruption to advance his government’s interests over the interests of the Solomon’s.

Australia, and Downer himself, are increasingly embroiled in other displays of ‘acceptable’ corruption. Acceptable because the ‘ends’ favour the country’s international trade imperatives. It is business at any cost and too bad for anyone who gets in the way.

Downer’s impetuous little outburst over Solomon Island’s corruption is no doubt a response to increasing pressure on the usually urbanely detached minister. After years of walking blithely through various scandal allegations, Alex is finding things mounting up on him just now, particularly with his tangled dealings in the Oil for Food scandal.

Typically, if the Howard government sees no benefit flowing from involvement in the Solomon Islands they will happily walk away. Although it is a big ask for the Australia to turn their back on any potential benefits deriving from their involvement.

But if they did, excluding Australia , while it won’t help the Solomon’s crisis, would take at least one unnecessary complication out of the equation. Taiwan should also be warned off, and allow other less avaricious Pacific nations give the Solomon’s the help they need to attain a stable society.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Australia's first casualty in Iraq

A 25-year-old father of two is Australia’s first fatal casualty in the Iraq conflict. And the government stuff-up the return home of his body!

The Defence Minister has blamed a "stuff-up" in a Kuwaiti mortuary for a blunder that brought the wrong body back in place of a dead Australian soldier.

Dr Nelson and Chief of Army Lieutenant-General Peter Leahy flew to Sale near the Kovko family hometown in south-eastern Victoria to tell Mr Kovko's family of the mixup.

Private Kovco, 25, was member of the elite 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), Australia's only parachute infantry battalion,

He was deployed in Iraq as a member of the 110-strong security detachment in Baghdad protecting Australian officials.
On April 21 Kovco was shot dead when his gun accidentally discharges in his room.
April 23 Kovco's body flown from Baghdad to a private mortuary in Kuwait, draped in an Australian flag with a paratrooper's beret on his chest.

Mine Disaster

This story, as far as I’m aware, has nothing to do with corruption, it is simply about a strange and tragic event near my old home town of Launceston Tasmania.

A body of one of the three miners trapped in the gold mine in Beaconsfield in Tasmania has been found.

An earthquake blamed for Tasmania's mine accident appears to have struck almost directly below the shaft, but was so small its shock waves were not even detected in Melbourne.

A private seismology company, Environmental Systems and Services, which operates a network of Tasmanian monitoring stations, detected the 2.2 magnitude quake at 9.26pm on Tuesday, about 40 kilometres north-west of Launceston.

Spare a thought for the people of this far corner of the Earth.

Earmarking the entitlements

GOP split over earmarks in ethics bill
What a surprise that is. Set to write their own ethics reform, Republican congressmen can’t quite come to reducing their access to those special perks of the job. Earmarking, for slow learners, means “elected officials using their positions on appropriations committees to push through pet projects, many of which are not disclosed to the Members voting on them.”
It’s closely related to pork barreling, but as Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham amply demonstrated, can just as easily be diverted for private gain.
The lobbying bill, which requires lobbyists to report more frequently on their work to influence lawmakers and temporarily bans privately sponsored travel by House members, allows lawmakers to raise points of order against appropriations, or spending bills that do not properly identify earmarks.
But Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis (Republican California) said it was unfair that the crackdown on earmarks was limited to spending bills, and did not apply to tax and authorization, or policy, bills.
A reform bill that "does not touch on the 'Bridge to Nowhere' is not really reform," Lewis said.

The whole issue could be solved satisfactorily, without angst or rancor, by appointing an independent commission, composed of people with no vested interest in appropriations and their dubious rewards. As hard as they might try, congress will never overcome the pecuniary and electoral self interest tied into their role as lawmakers.
At best they will the obvious perks, but notions of entitlement will pull many members up short on reforms which reflect an unambiguous service to their country, free of perks and advantages.

Prisoner Abuse Shame

MORE than 600 US military and civilian personnel have been implicated in abuse of "war on terror" detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the Guantanamo detention camp, US rights groups said.

The rights groups' report came as a US Army colonel was reportedly going to be charged in connection with the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, becoming the most senior officer facing legal action in the case.

The Abu Ghraib ‘aberrations’ sure have spiraled out in the past couple of years. It creates an impression, now, of a systematic culture of abuse.

Is this really what those supporting a ‘war on terrorism’ really wanted?

Rather than confronting terrorism, this behaviour is clearly counterproductive and yet another of the Bush failures.

Blair Woes Blow for Bush

When the wheels start to fall off the political machine they tend to do it with a vengeance. Bush is fending off growing scandals pressures, but his close ally, Britain’s Tony Blair might not be so lucky.

A string of scandals are numbering the days for Blair, and the effect will be to take another key player off Bush’s global chess board.

The impact this has on Bush’s is in limiting his options for overseas diversions from his worsening domestic position.

An Iran adventure might have been just the trick to stall a drifting support base and leverage the seeing imperative of standing behind a ‘war administration’ regardless of other consequences.

Bush doesn’t need the domestic nod to engineer and launch an attack on Iran, but he does need balancing voices internationally, and particularly in Europe.

As to former golden boy, Tony Blair, the issues now are all domestic. His experiment of reinventing the British Labor Party into a Bush Republican style party was always fraught with problems.

To be sure, he succeeded in winning middle and even a measure of the Conservative’s base support. In the process he has systematically alienated the party’s traditional base.

Sordid scandal is nothing new to Britain’s political scene, but when a sex scandal takes on the destructive power unleashed by his Deputy PM, John Prescott’s revelations; it says a lot about a government on the mat.

That the rough hewn Prescott should be caught out bedding a secretary shouldn’t even register beyond the screaming tabloids. Ministers might be expected to keep their trousers on, but in the end it should only be an issue to those at the epicenter, even if it does display poor judgment.

In a double whammy, less salacious but of a greater social concern, are revelations that Home Secretary Charles Clarke oversaw the release of more than 1,000 foreign criminals, including murderers and rapists, who were set free in Britain instead of being deported.

When law and order rides high on the political agenda, that sort of news cuts off one of the few lines of attack as Blair tries to resurrect an ailing government.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Baker’s Return

Here is something my North American blogging associates might chew on for me. An article in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, speculates on the return to influence of James A Baker; and by extension George Bush I.

THE Bush family's faithful fixer is, with little fanfare, slipping back into the key role of finding a "way forward" - if not a way out - for the US in Iraq.

The move seems to confirm my gut feeling that Iran is no longer on the agenda.

Challenging the paradigm

WE have been conditioned by our governments to perceive all Middle Eastern peoples, all Muslim people, as one homogenous, barbarous mass. George Bush found out just how well conditioned when he promoted the US ports sale the Mid-East financiers.

Politicians understand the first rule of their art; don’t confuse the punters with detail, keep it simple.

For the most part a compliant media compound the ignorance, rather than divert readers with the complexities of truth.

The public are, to a great extent, equally compliant. While blaming ‘life’s pressures’ for robbing them of time and energy to engage with issues, they will happily turn to escapist media to fill an actual void.

All cats are gray, in the dark. The question is; is there any compelling reason to switch on the light and determine the real colour of the cat?

It would seem, for most anyway, until a political or social crisis becomes unavoidable there is no compelling reason to know the truth.

Keeping it as simple as possible, just dealing with one point in this complex argument: The Middle East is not one cozy, homogenous, tight knit culture. First of all, let’s take Israel out of the discussion; we sort of understand that anomaly, even if we don’t trouble to make the make the distinction.

The Middle East, and even Islam, are as riddled with splits and divisions as are Western Societies. For one thing, the Middle East is dominantly Islamic, but not universally. Some of the oldest surviving forms of Christianity, not to mention pre-Christian/Judaic religions, make up significant pockets of populations.

Islam, in and of itself, is no more prone to violence than Christianity is. Let’s remember that Bush himself referred to his ‘Christian God’ while arguing for the need for his failed ‘crusade’ against the Moslems.

Terrorism is not the preserve of Moslem adherents. In fact the US has a long history of home grown terrorism, from the fight for independence to the likes of the Oklahoma bomber.

Does bin Laden care about Palestinian liberation?
One recent commentary by Australia’s Richard King, argues that he doesn’t:

“When it comes to discussion of Islamic politics, all roads lead to Palestine. But to say that Islamic fundamentalism can be traced to US support for Israel, or that al-Qa'ida would disappear if only the Palestinians were free, is to play directly into bin Laden's hands. Bin Laden does not want a free Palestine but a Palestine under sharia law.”

He goes on to argue that: “There is a war within the Muslim world. As yesterday's terror attacks on the Sinai peninsula remind us, the principal enemy of fundamentalist Islam is moderate Islam, not the West.”

The truth is that we, the people, have every right to bury ourselves in the mushroom compost, heaped on us by our political masters. But in doing so we must abandon the right to self righteous indignation when the truth is forced on us.

When we refuse to scratch the surface and look for the truth we become accomplices to those who set the social and political agenda. If we know that many politicians will abuse their position of trust, but fail to monitor and question their words and actions, we must share their guilt.

The guilt, in this instance, is one of accepting blanket labels which serve to dehumanize many fine people, simply because we are too weary to make the effort to find out who they really are.

PM answers Congress critics

PRIME Minister John Howard has put the fate of himself and his two ministers embroiled in the oil-for-food scandal in the hands of AWB inquiry commissioner Terence Cole.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Howard said there would be "serious consequences" for any minister identified as knowing about the payments to the regime of Saddam Hussein and who had failed to act. "This includes me," he said.

This is yet another attempt by the Australian government to head of any serious investigation, by the US Congress, into this sordid scandal.

In the past Howard has relied on his diplomats and the Bush administration to save his arse from exposure to the congressional attack dogs.

To date Australia has played a ‘good cop – bad cop – dumb cop – whining cop’ game to deflect US attention. It is just surprising, given blame slated back to the US as a defence by Howard’s key ministers, that the issue is still largely ignored.

Whatever back room deals were made by the two governments were better kept out of the sunshine.

With Bush steadily losing his influence, and Republican congressmen looking to save their own positions of privilege, we can assume that the Washington beltway is closing in on the Aussies.

I guess, with their own positions under threat and the party generally on the nose, there will be little lost by exposing the Role of the Bush administration in a scandal which saw Australia’s monopoly wheat exporter hand over $300 million to Saddam’s war machine.

After all, it is just one more brick in a growing wall of lies a deceit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Playing the numbers on Iran

When George Bush started rattling sabers, nuclear sabers, at Iran a torrent of discussion was unleashed. For the most part it was not if, but when. After all, we had been conditioned to a reliably unimpressionable regime whose majority gave license to act at will.
Certainly they still have the majority, but with popularity dropping away as rapidly as midterm elections approach, the bravado is not so certain.
Yet it was this very point, the potential to firm up the numbers by a potentially ‘provoked’ action, which should have the effect of locking in the status quo. It is a risky tactic, not to mention bloody minded, but then we are talking about politics and politicians.
In the old days, before the Republican majority, there were well know strategies employed to gauge to viability, political viability, of proposed policies. One such maneuver was called, variously, balloon floating or running the flag up the pole.
The idea is simple enough, a statement of intent is made, usually by a minion, then reaction is monitored to determine the level of expected support, or otherwise.
Now I’m not sure that George was running the flag up the pole on this one, but I’m pretty sure it had the same inadvertent result.
Success is about timing and anticipation and he failed this one on both scores. On the international scene he had not anticipated his mainland European ally, Berlusconi, being dumped from office. The timing could not have been worse, especially as his other great European ally, Tony Blair, reacted badly to his friends defeat. True Blair has domestic issue to occupy him, but he manages them as well his allies, Bush and Australia’s Howard. Confronted with the Iran plan Blair did not so much refuse to engage as run a mile from the concept.
On the home front Bush and his team are facing an increasingly weary and wary electorate. For one thing, even for a fairly hawkish society, war is supposed to be short and sharp. Long drawn out engagements do nothing for government popularity and majorities can and do crumble.
In the end Bush must find himself isolated in his plan for an attack on Iran. He is isolated from his own domestic base and his once reliable foreign allies.
Surely, even without the comfort of allies and domestic numbers, Bush could still execute his inane plan. He still has the numbers, the time and dare I suggest the motivation. But will he?
If I were a betting man my wager would be on the whole idea being quietly forgotten. In fact I’m inclined to tg think that Bush’s administration and their close corporate friends will be far too busy manning the shredders to worry about Iran.


Now you can get your daily dose of pure corruption from NewsHound, the site dedicated to tracking political and corporate scandals, around the world.

It has been quite an ordeal upgrading to a new, interactive system, which lets us concentrate on delivering news rather than building web pages.

We hope readers and contributors will also take advantage of the new structure, which allows you to comment or submit articles and links.

The name has changed from the Daily Juice, but content is still daily, and juicy. Come and check it out, and leave your comments.

Shit or get off the pot

Sooner or later the most vivid expressions in our language make it into the political realm. I was thinking here of ‘shit or get off the pot’, famously uttered by that American paragon of political finesse, Richard M Nixon.

It’s the sort of message politicians like to utter, crudely or otherwise, to press their particular agenda. But it not a dictum they tend to follow when it comes down to effective governance.

We have a couple of major (depending on perspective I guess) issue, where words are increasingly beat up in place of reality. It’s crazy; either a short term gloss or a decidedly delinquent approach to very serious issues.

The first reflect the inability of the Bush administration to control events it unleashed in Iraq. We were greeted with enthusiastic comment, over the weekend, regarding breaking Iraq’s political impasse.

No doubt the rush of enthusiasm has emboldened Prime minister elect, Jawad al-Maliki, but it is folly to, prematurely, tout this as the end of the problem.

“THE death squads did not wait long to welcome Iraq's prime minister-designate as they launched a series of attacks to demonstrate that the armed militias would not easily surrender their weapons.” The Australian

THREE car bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing at least six people and wounding nearly 50, as politicians met to try to form a new cabinet. Sydney Morning Herald

As my old grandmother used to say: ‘kind words butter no parsnips…’

In the South Seas version of the Middle East democratization program, the taming of the Solomons, Canberra is showing no greater skill than their Washington counterparts. Send in the troops, supported with words of assurance about supporting democracy and the need to fight corruption which is undermining the institution in that tiny Pacific Island State.

But what is the point when the troops are merely there to shore up a corrupt government who are doing their best to jail opponents?

THE Solomon Islands were plunged into crisis last night when the opposition threatened to boycott the newly elected parliament after two MPs were charged with serious offences relating to last week's riots. Sydney Morning Herald

The outbreak of violence following this month's general elections in the tiny South Pacific country of the Solomon Islands has dealt a setback to Australia's efforts to establish a viable democracy there. Christian Scientist Monitor

The Solomon Islands parliament was sworn in under heavy security, as foreign peacekeepers arrested another opposition politician after violent protests against the election of Prime Minister Snyder Rini. Stuff

Clearly the overlords of democracy are confusing ambition with ability when they head out to solve other peoples political problems. Both the USA and Australia have a poor record on their domestic ‘democracy’ fronts.

It is interesting, after the incredible disaster they visited on Vietnam, just how that evil regime, left to its own devices, is doing very well indeed. Their meddling in other societies has led to a string of disasters and grief.

It’s time both concentrated on getting their own houses in order. Domestically ‘shit or get off the pot’, before going out to fix up the problems of others.

Scandal not sexy enough

Site stats, media coverage and now former Deputy Secretary of State, Armitage, have all confirmed it: the Australian investigation into funding Saddam’s war machine to the tune of $300 million is a non starter, a fizz; boring as bat shit.

It’s got a bunch of big players, global and downunder (if the latter is not an oxymoron) but it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Armitage said so, and he is SOLID! Well, built like a brick shithouse anyway, and too big for me to argue with.

I guess he’s right in some ways, $300 million is just chump change when it comes to congressional scandals. And the US has enough homegrown ‘Bush suckholes’ without looking for them somewhere in the back of ‘middle-earth’.

So why the hell do I still get excited by the constant stream of revelations and sidegames from this saga? Beats me, but seeing asw I do, I’d better tell myself about the latest.

It’s been a great week for the veteran Oil for Food scandal watcher. First was aforementioned Dickie Armitage’s little eye opener to the Australian media - US not interested in AWB scandal - along the lines of: “well I’ve noticed it of course, but no-one anywhere else in the world really gives a rats arse.”

But Dickie, you are wrong! Don’t hit me, let me prove it to you. Somewhere, in his voluminous musings on the State of things US, Washington scribe Alan Bjerga has snuck the story into the US media. Link: Kansas farmers get break in Iraq market

Don’t ask me how he did it, but there it is, in at least two Kansas media outlets. Don’t email me to find out where Kansas is, email Bjerga directly. But I’m sure you will find it is poking about somewhere among the fifty states.

Ok, Dickie, point taken, Bjerga hasn’t exactly struck a match under the story either, but at least you know there is someone out there besides you and Colin Powell who know about this story.

Turning to things antipodean; (Which is English for “you Americans can go back to watching Family Guy now while we investigate the slimy toads of the Australian government.)

In a remarkably upbeat TV interview, recent star witness at the Cole Inquiry into the affair, Foreign Minister and Pacific Head Prefect, Alex Downer put the country straight on the state of play.

Alex was saying he is not surprised by polls showing the AWB scandal was hurting the Government. "We set up the Cole commission ourselves to get to the heart of this matter.

"People are making all sorts of claims against the Government. Most of them have, as time's gone by, been dismissed.

Downer said it had been a very sophisticated act of deception by AWB.

"If the public servants had known about it they would have acted to stop it ... there is not a scintilla of evidence that public servants turned a blind eye."

Funny, I must be reading a different transcript to Alex. Seems to me more than one public servant has said they had seen and then dismissed those flashing warning signals. It sound like the FM is trying to craft a silk purse out of the pig’s arse hole to match his fishnet stockings.

Then Alex’s boss, none other than Honest John Howard, after fronting the Inquiry, broke his own rules of this game – not to mention a few legal niceties – by delivering his very own verdict on the outcome of the inquiry.

Terrence Cole might as well pack up now, because the government already appears to have his final report drafted and printed. Ain’t the law and the democratic process a wonderful beast?

The most interesting aspect of this sordid saga, to a self confessed scandal junkie, is that after many months of publicity, the AWB affair is starting to bite politically. Prior to the three amigos; Howard, Downer and Deputy PM Vaile appearing at the Inquiry the Australian public was as disinterested as their American counterparts.

Which just goes to show, it rally does pay for pollies to keep a low profile. While they don’t see them voters tend to be quite content. It’s only when they come out from cover the underlying contempt and animosity surfaces.

It surfaces in a wonderfully democratic way too; because it’s not just the government who suffer at the polls but politicians as a class. Oh how we love to hate them, and how they manage to confirm our prejudices so consistently.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Bush is lying about Iran

I’ve been plugging the establishment of a truly independent television news service, Real News, for sometime now. The idea is a great one; but have a look at the reality in the interview with journalist, Eric Margolis. After seeing this I’m convinced the concept is of an independent service is long overdue.

In the interview Margolis says: "Anybody who says Iran is a threat to the world -- loudmouthed and aggressive as Iran has been -- is lying or they don't know what they're talking about."

Another quotable quote: "President Bush is calling for global Jihad against Iran, Afghanistan, and God knows who is next.

He's fulminating to his Bible Belt constituents in the States, saying things that outrage people around the world..."

No interest in US

Former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has put Australians straight about the US response to the wheat cheats scandal: "This is very exciting to you in Sydney and Canberra; it's not exciting anywhere else in the world that I can see.

"I might know something about it because I am interested in Australia, but as a general matter this is not something that has caught the imagination of three other Americans in the whole city."

As a regular commentator on the issue, I can testify to the truth of his statement, the US really doesn’t give a rat’s arse about an Australian company funding Saddam’s regime while war planning was underway.

Let’s face it, the home grown post war profiteering by US military personnel and contractors in Iraq barely raises a ripple.

It is incredibly, that a country staggering under a debt burden and forking out nearly $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one seems particularly put out by crooks skimming their share off the top.

If there was a real concern about who was helping themselves to US funds we would have seen more of the big fish caught in the corruption net. As it is the minnows are being scooped up one at a time while the major corporate crooks continue push the average American deeper into debt.

A similar situation exists with the post Katrina feeding frenzy, which resulted in enormous sums being diverted to further enrich some corporations.

Halliburton’s subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root keep coming up for mention in the un-tendered contracts and corruption stakes, but still seem to glide through unscathed. No doubt proximity of many suspect corporations to the Bush administration saves them from the burden of close scrutiny.

I don't like the visuals

Richard Armitage also says the delay in posting to Australia the new US ambassador is unconscionable. I’m starting to think it has more to do with keeping Americans insulated from the import of the Aussie shenanigans.

If there was a US ambassador in Canberra he would have a clear responsibility to follow and comment on the evidence which shows how the corrupt monopoly wheat exporter was impacting on the US.

Bush appointed Robert McCallum to the post but Armitage says Senate approval was withheld after a deputy Democrat leader in the US Senate, Dick Durbin, acted to delay the nomination.

I suspect there will be no ambassador appointed until the Cole Inquiry into the Oil for Food scandal has completed its investigation.

No point in the Administration having to turn around later and deny knowledge of diplomatic cables intended to alert them to the issues.

Armitage says; "I don't like the visuals of not having an ambassador there [in Canberra]." I’m sure Bush and co can do without the visuals if one were in place.

Wolf guarding the sheep?

"Corporate corruption, who can we thank? The IMF and the World Bank," that was the chant which greeted Wolfowitz during his briefing to kick off the bank's spring meeting.
As creatures of the monetarist global economy, the bar will always be high for the former deputy defence secretary and the bank.
Both the man and the organisation have a long history of advancing a conservative, pro corporate agenda.
Wolfowitz has targeted graft as a major impediment to development and called for greater transparency in countries that receive aid.
"The best check against corruption is strengthening governance and regular monitoring, transparent information, rewarding success and penalizing failure," Wolfowitz said.
Wolfowitz ‘s anti-corruption plan includes training civil servants, judicial reform and freedom of information as well as a new system to curb the risk of corruption on World Bank projects.
A statement issued by more than 70 NGOs charges that Wolfowitz's campaign ignores the corruption that routinely impacts countries that are dependent on World Bank loans.
Since taking over last June, Wolfowitz has halted lending to Chad when that government made a grab for oil profits in violation of an agreement with the World Bank and also halted projects in India and Kenya over corruption concerns.

Naming and shaming big companies
"The new corruption drive is all well and fine but we have to deal with the supply side. Where the bank can really deliver is by naming and shaming big companies that pay bribes," said Max Lawson, policy advisor at Oxfam International.
Lawson pointed to the Republic of Congo, where Wolfowitz recently pushed for more transparency in the oil sector when the country applied for debt relief, which saw an oil trading scandal erupt after vulture funds that bought cheap debt hired private detectives to track down investors."This is the kind of investigating the World Bank should be doing, not vulture funds," he said, estimating Africa alone loses around $70-billion to tax havens and other shelters.
NGOs criticized the World Bank for ignoring fundamental causes of corruption and dragging its feet in responding to allegations of corruption in Bank-funded projects.
"The World Bank has financed many projects riddled with corruption such as the Enron power plant in Guatemala, the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline and Shell in Nigeria," said Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch, "Many of these corporations are engaged in highly questionable activities, financed by the World Bank, that involve influence payments, human rights abuses, and projects with damaging social and environmental impacts.

Reward corrupt behaviour?
Who holds the World Bank accountable for continuing to reward corrupt behaviour?"
Critics also responded to Wolfowitz's recent anti-corruption programs, pointing to the World Bank's corrupting influence in client countries.
"Corruption also occurs when democratic processes are bypassed to influence legislation for private gain - similar to Jack Abramoff's crimes in the U.S.," said Sameer Dossani of the 50 Years Is Enough Network.
"Economic policies for countries around the world are effectively written by the World Bank and the IMF, disrupting what should be a democratic process, and making governments accountable to foreign entities rather than their own people. Worse, most World Bank- and IMF-imposed policies benefit transnational corporations and local political elites."

Even putting the best spin on Wolfowitz's anti corruption campaign, doubts persist over his and the bank’s ability to overcome entrenched tendencies to protect the corporations. Corruption is not solely the preserve of functionaries and crooked or inept governments.
The fear is that the man and the organisation are blinkered by their past. The hope is that a real wolf has not been set to guard the sheep.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Self preservation or stupidity?

THERE are fears that the secretive swearing-in of the Solomon Islands' new Prime Minister, Snyder Rini, will further inflame political tensions and spark more violence.

There was an unambiguous intention in the recent election in the troubled Solomon Islands; to rid the islands of a government widely seen as corrupt. Voters managed to dislodge the former PM, Allan Kemakeza then parliament chose his former deputy, Snyder Rini to take over the top job.
According to local sources (radio clip note, before the interview there is a brief intro to the program.) including the speaker of parliament, a noisy protest turned violent when ‘peace keeping’ forces launched a tear gas attack on the crowd.
There is little doubt that poor judgment on the part of Australian police who are there as part of the Regional Mission To Solomon Island (RAMSI). But the anger which led to the riots in Honiara must be slated home to the political leadership.
Mobs that left Honiara's once vibrant Chinatown a smouldering ruin demanded Rini step down, claiming he used money from the Taiwanese Government and local Chinese businessmen to buy the support of MPs following the April 5 elections. Taiwan's Government has denied any involvement, but they have a history of buying support of Pacific nations to garner International prestige.
Edward Huniehui, a spokesman for the new Solomons Government, said evidence of corruption should be handed to police. He accused opposition parties of being behind the violence.
Opposition politicians repeated their accusations yesterday that large sums of cash changed hands before Rini's claimed the Prime Ministership.
Australia reacted in a suitably patronizing way. The Prime Minister, John Howard, said deployment of 110 troops and 80 extra police had a "sobering effect" on Honiara, but he warned: "We're not out of the woods and it doesn't mean the situation won't get bad again."
No Johnny, you are not. The people of the Solomon Islands wanted change and Australia is simply backing the status quo.
Why did the parliament turn to the tainted Rini when it was obviously a highly unpopular choice? Money it seems; money freely spread around in the parliament to buy support. Rini, more than anyone, should be in a position to understand the ramifications of his desperate bid for power. So why go there?
Desperation itself? Self-perseveration, given the potential for a damaging inquiry into the activities of the former government, of which he was deputy leader? Or was it simply an idiotic lust for power, and the ability to keep the nose planted firmly in the feed trough?
So Australia, getting a buzz out of playing ‘big boys’ of the Pacific will, according to Howard, “ be prepared for a decades-long leadership role in supporting potentially failing states such as Solomon Islands.
"Australia is by far and away the biggest, wealthiest and the strongest country in the region and we have to be prepared to shoulder the major part of the burden." How wonderfully patronizing, and how bloody destructive for an emerging nation trying to find it’s way out of the chaos inevitably left by colonist nations.

Lessons from Vietnam

Imagine this; George W Bush stands at the microphone in front of the Republican National Conference and delivers the toughest speech of his life.
He blasts the ‘top to bottom’ corruption in the party. He goes on to detail one after scandal, some public, others are fresh revelations. He lists cases of official’s corruption including "kickbacks among parties involved in investment or construction projects, land clearance, procurement of materials, bidding, false tax claims, capital disbursement and corruption during investigations, prosecutions and trials.
Okay, it is not likely to happen any time soon, at least not in the US. But in communist Vietnam this is exactly what has happened at the party's national congress, currently underway in Hanoi.
It is a bold move, not only to salvage the party from ruin, but to keep Vietnam’s drive into world markets, their international trade rating moving up the scale.
It is a brave move, because doubtless heads will roll as party members go about the job of selecting the leadership to keep their development program on track.
Of course it would be naïve to believe this was a spontaneous expression of outrage, a knee jerk reaction to increasing revelations of corruption. It has all the hallmarks of a sophisticated and well planned agenda.
It would not seem too cynical to suggest that among the heads set to roll will be some carefully planned ‘sacrificial lambs’. It would be a pointless exercise if only functionaries were to take the fall, and the leadership left intact.
While there is an effort to show the congress is not a totally scripted affair, each participant will understand their limits. But then the renegade would be no more welcome at a Republican conference.
The issues I will be looking for, in the wash up from this congress, will be the effects of such a bold and seemingly transparent to the problems of corruption. While we are well used to the opposite, denial and mitigation, this openness is not so familiar.
The old ‘domino theory’ which was used to support the war in Vietnam is well discredited now. It is tempting to muse on the potential of a new domino theory; one which leads to greater transparency by governments and a willingness to openly attack the evils of public corruption.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Odd Perspectives

For all that the US and Australia are firm allies, their really is a vast difference in perspective. It’s a concept that has been on my mind for some time, and was brought to the fore by an article - Down Under, Oil for Food Scandal Spins the Other Way.

Cute headline aside (I really hate it when they think them up first) Washington Post columnist, Jefferson Morley was spot on describing the anomaly, at least in relation to the Oil for Food scandal.

“In Australia, the politics of the United Nations Oil for Food scandal have been reversed.
In the United States and Europe, conservative commentators have played up the scandal, noting that French, Russian and British officials who opposed the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 had privately benefited from dealings with Saddam Hussein's regime.

But in Australia, the oil for food story is spinning the other way. Revelations that the Australian Wheat Board (AWB), a government-sanctioned cartel, paid $300 million in kickbacks to the government of Saddam Hussein has pro-war officials on the defensive and critics calling for a wider investigation.”

Although I should point out that India, which must not be underrated, tends to the Australia line on this and other issues.

Morley, it seems, is a media watcher and in that capacity refers to America’s own (well Australia had to get rid of him somehow) Rupert Murdoch. “The Australian …Usually supportive of Howard, the paper rejected his government's explanations and said it was "time for answers."

Strange doings, Jefferson, strange indeed. But it really goes much deeper than that. It could be that Australia simply has a more robust media environment, or perhaps a wider education base. I’ve noted comments from Americans bemoaning their narrow educational experience which limits historical perspectives, for instance.

But I’m not fully convinced on the education tack, the average Australian is no more engaged in the process than their US counterpart.

I believe it really does come back to the media. Murdoch’s empire wouldn’t survive in Australia if he insisted they toe the line like his US properties. There is too many competitive sources who actually work on the principal the “reporting is just that. It is not creating news or rewriting events, it is reporting what happened!” Well, it was something like that when my first editor gave me the lecture.

Even those appalling commercial news segments, composed solely of headline grabs, still reflect the basic truth of the story, even if somewhat hyped up. If Iran says they have ‘enriched uranium’ it is not rendered as the having ‘the bomb.’

The newspapers, including Murdoch’s Australian, are perverse in other ways by US standards. The conservative papers have their ranting conservative columnists, like the noisy Peirs Akerman in the Murdoch stable, but they also run what Americans like to refer to as ‘liberal’ commentators. The luminaries of the loony left are represented, in part, in the Australian by my old cobber Phillip Adams.

Equally the ‘liberal’ rags tend to balance their content with right wing viewpoints. Well, perhaps not so much balance their content as ensure they don’t completely turn off half their potential readership.

As for India, I’ve not really worked out whether their media is split in some partisan sort of way or there is just a tendency to attack authority at every opportunity.

But there is one thing certain; media is business pure and simple. In Australia and India the media respond to their readership (or viewers and listeners), it is about gaining readership and selling advertising.

I really don’t believe the motive of US media owners is any different, which suggests the US media consumers are getting exactly what they want. Well, most of them anyway. Personally I will stick with news sources which report first and clearly differentiate opinion and comment from news.

Solomon Islands - another disaster

From Rupert Murdoch's THE AUSTRALIAN

Cops incite post election violence

Australian police, in the Solomon Islands to help quell ethnic and political violence have been accused of overreacting to protesters at the opening of parliament earlier this week.

Protests became noisy, outside the parliament, when the crowd heard that former deputy Prime Minister, Snyder Rini, was chosen to be the new prime minister.

Seventeen federal police were injured in the rioting on Tuesday, two seriously. The two will be sent back to Australia, while the other 15 were released from hospital.

Officers from the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, which includes police from Australia and other pacific nations, fired tear gas on demonstrators who were blocking a driveway at the Parliament to prevent Rini's escape.

One witness, an aid worker Luke Johnston, said: "It appears that that's when things got out of hand, when there were some more aggressive approach to the crowd while they were still negotiating through their own local representatives. When they brought a riot squad in and a lot of riot gear there was a noticeable change in tone."

"In Melanesian culture, you can shout as much as you want, but once you start shoving somebody... physical confrontation is a whole new level," he said.

Johnston said, "A lot of officers were fairly young, and seemed quite nervous... many of the officers that I asked claimed that they weren't sure of the command and control procedure for the day,"

Full coverage: Melbourne Age

A bit of Background on the Solomons, an arc of more than 1000 islands stretching east of Papua New Guinea.

Population: 524,000. Most are involved in subsistence, cash-crop agriculture. The economy is reliant on unsustainable levels of logging.

World War II: Occupied by Japanese forces, the islands experienced some of the bloodiest battles of the war. British rule was restored by war’s end. New economic development attracted an influx of villagers seeking work from other islands, sowing the seeds of future discord.
Inedependence: Britain cast the territory loose in 1978, but it was ill-prepared for self-government. Tension grew, with men from two islands, Guadalcanal and Malaita, forming militias, and local police split along ethnic lines.

Pacific Peace Force: In April 2000, the Solomons Government asked Australia to send police or troops to help restore order. Australia refused. A coup followed on June 5 when militants from the Malaita Eagle Force and disaffected police seized control of the capital and took prime minister Bartholomew Ulufa’alu hostage. Ulufa’alu formally resigned a week later and his finance minister, Manassah Sogavare, was elected PM.

Peace Talks: There followed talks on HMAS Tobruk in July 2000 and the brokering of the Townsville Peace Agreement in October. Sir Allan Kemakeza was elected Prime Minister in December 2001 in alliance with the Association of Independent Members led by former finance minister Snyder Rini, who became his deputy.

Chaos: Then followed a gradual increase in gang violence, not helped by senior police links to criminal gangs, official corruption or economic collapse. Further afield, thousands of villagers fled into the jungles of the main island, Guadalcanal, as warlord Harold Keke and his gang rampaged down the remote Weather Coast.

Intervention: In July, Australia led Operation Helpem Fren (pidgin for Helping Friend). The force local people came to know as RAMSI (the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands) moved in to disarm the militants.

You can keep track of events at NewsHound

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rumsfeld offers ultimate sacrifice

Conceding in the face of trenchant criticism of his personal abilities, as Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld offered himself as the ultimate sacrifice.

Rumsfeld said, "The president knows, as I know, that there are no indispensable men. Graveyards of the world are filled with 'indispensable people.'"

The comment is seen as Rumsfeld’s acceptance of the president’s preferred solution to the increasingly vocal critics.

Rumsfeld, who has said he twice offered Bush his resignation in 2004 amid the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, but the President has rejected the ‘easy way out’. President Bush, speaking publicly on the fate of his beleaguered Defence Secretary:

"I'm the decider and I decide what's best," Bush told reporters. “I hear the voices,” the President added.

"He knows that I serve at his pleasure and that's that," Rumsfeld said.

The new White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, told officials Monday that anyone considering leaving this year should go now.

We can blame Kvach for my abnormal lapse into ‘news rewriting’.

For a ‘reasoned’ balance…

Would Someone Explain to Rumsfeld the Difference Between a Bowel Movement and Utter Failure?

"Rumsfeld Says of Latest Flap, 'This Too Will Pass.'"
Message to Mr. Master of the Universe: We are not talking about a bowel movement here. We are talking about thousands upon thousands of lives lost, thousands more wounded, billions of dollars of our money spent wastefully, and a military that thinks you don't know what the Hell you are doing -- along with the blessed ignorance of Bush and Cheney.

And the ‘They were worse’ defense trotted out by Republican apologists:

I know that most of my readers will be tickled pink that the bemedalled boys in crew cuts are finally ready to kick Rummy in the rump, in public. But to me, it just shows me that these boys still can't shoot straight.
It wasn't Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who stood up in front of the UN and identified two mobile latrines as biological weapons labs, was it, General Powell?

Vietnam Revisited

It is over 30 years since the end of the Vietnam War. Looking at the way the country has developed, without the enforced assistance of ‘liberators’, any logical explanation for the grief visited on all parties in the attempt to stop self determination is further away than ever.

Of course there were lessons to be learned, but that is proving to be a forlorn hope as the same ‘liberators’ race off to free another culture from the latest evil grip.

At the time the justification was the ‘domino effect’. That is, if Vietnam fell to the communists then other countries throughout South East Asia would fall one by one.

History has proved that concept nonsense. Along with China, Cuba, North Korea and Laos, Vietnam is just one of five communist states left. Like china, the country has successfully transformed to a market economy, even to the extent of negotiating trade deals with the US and looking to become a member of the World Trade Organisation.

To be sure, under the communist banner, Vietnam does not have free and fair, democratic elections – one is tempted to add – unlike the US presidential elections.

But their one party congress, which selects the leadership, is not beyond scrutiny and criticism.

The tenth congress of the Vietnam Communist Party

The party congress, underway this week and held under a cloud of corruption scandal, is set to challenge the current leadership.

In good old political speak: “the congress will discuss the building and rectification of the party in order to enhance the capacity and strength of the party; the making of the party pragmatically transparent and strong in political, ideological, and organisational terms; and the tightening of the party’s ties with people.”

In reality the current leadership, regardless of the strides the country has made in recent years, know their days are numbered.

CPV Secretary-General Nong Duc Manh has been quoted as saying: "degradation in the political ideology, ethics, and lifestyle, opportunism, individualism, bureaucracy, corruption and waste of a segment of officials and functionaries have been serious." Serious enough to undermine the future of the party itself.

The most serious of recent corruption scandals, raging through the country’s transport ministry and leading to the resignation of its minister, has become a profound trigger for change.

The revelation of the weaknesses of the current system has emboldened those ready to push for democratization.

Earlier this month a group of Vietnamese inside the country put their names to a document calling for an end to the CPV's grip on power and for political and civil rights to be respected and upheld.

The 116 signatories, including teachers, engineers and priests, said all of Vietnam's problems; a long list included corruption, abuse, backwardness, authoritarianism, hopelessness among youth and manipulation of religion, stemmed from "the same origin," the communist party's monopoly on power.

No doubt it is a fallacy to hold democracy up as a sure cure for any or all those ills. Any western democracy could produce a similar list of failings.

Still, the very success of the modified ‘communist’ agenda must eventually lead to a more open and pluralistic political system. Paternalistic government might have had a sound place in building the fortunes of Vietnam, but the cost of that is surely a more confident and self aware population.

Communism, like so called democracy, cannot be an end in itself. Political leadership should be a continual process of renewal and revision, and not just in Vietnam but in our Western democracies as well.

Have a look at the Communist Party of Vietnam on the web.

Naming corrupt lawmakers

Last week Republican senator Tom Coburn said six members of the House of Representatives and at least one fellow senator to go to jail on corruption charges related to the scandal involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The coy senator didn’t name names, but suggested that anyone following the saga would know. Then, today I came across an article in the Billings Gazette - Time magazine names Burns one of the worst senators
I recalled covering a similar issue last September, so we dug down into the Scandal Files site and there it was. And sure enough, among the number was good old Conrad Burns, senator.
The original news release has gone but the source of the story is still there, relating details of corrupt lawmakers.
Beyond DeLay: The thirteen most corrupt members of congress
* Executive Summary of the Report
* Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
* Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-CA)
* Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL)
* Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA)
* Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO)
* Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH)
* Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA)
* Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ)
* Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC)
* Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)
* Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT)
* Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN)
* Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

Okay, so we now know for sure that Randy "Duke" was on the take. Frist has somehow dodged the bullets, but time will tell. You can just conjure with the rest.

But back to the BG - Time magazine has named Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., one of the five worst Senate members, criticizing him for his ties to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and calling his legislative record "meager."
Burns was joined on the list by Hawaii Democrat Daniel Akaka, Colorado Republican Wayne Allard, Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning and Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Bush’s Iraqi democracy

AT least 17 bullet-riddled bodies of men killed in apparent sectarian bloodshed surfaced across Baghdad today as Iraq was thrown into political turmoil after leaders cancelled a much-awaited parliament session.

So despite Bush’s dream of instituting some kind of democracy in the country, there is still no workable government four months after landmark elections for the first full-term post-Saddam Hussein Parliament. Just the spectre of Iraqi leaders squabbling over key posts.

Sunni and Kurdish groups have rejected the choice for Prime Minister of the powerful Shiite majority, outgoing Premier Ibrahim Jaafari, while the Shiites are opposing Sunni candidates for other posts.

I guess they missed George W’s real message when he called for a US style democracy. George might have expected some effective ballot rigging, after his own style. He still would have been disappointed at the reluctance of the Iraqis to accept a result.

Blowing the Whistle

There is a curious debate raging, in anti corruption circles, as to the value of whistle blowers and associated ‘protective’ legislation; curious, because most legal jurisdictions specifically require witnesses to report illegal activities.

Opponents of strong whistle blower protective legislation argue that whistle blowing can be abused for personal reasons, and no doubt the process is, but that is hardly reason to throw the baby with the bathwater.

We are not talking third world economies here either, this applies to all bureaucracies, public and corporate, everywhere.

A recent report from Australia’s NSW Police highlights the issue in an organisation which has been turning itself inside out to conquer a long culture of corruption in its ranks.

A Confidential research into internal witnesses [whistle blowers] in the NSW police force found officers who complained about corruption were harassed by senior police.

The report, prepared for NSW Police, shows officers who complain about corruption are being denied promotional opportunities, transferred against their wishes and given menial jobs.

This is despite specific provisions, above other legal provisions, requiring NSW police to report corrupt activities on the force.

But the situation is by no means limited to Australia or to the police. Protective legislation can only work if there is a genuine will to root out corruption. That is a difficult objective when many of those in positions to oversee protection are also in positions of privilege and potential gain from corrupt activities.

However, even if there is no involvement in actual corruption, there is still the tendency to for managers to protect their colleagues and the overall reputation of their areas of responsibility.

Managers, public and corporate, are not going to go out looking for ‘damaging’ issues; either are they going to welcome revelations of corruption.

While lawmakers continue to debate whistle blower legislation they might also consider these realities.

  • Whistle blowing, legally, is not simply a personal choice, it is a requirement.
  • The law, on its own, will not protect whistle blowers.
  • Lawmakers must lead the way by being fully transparent themselves.
  • The ‘organisation’ must be distanced from the behaviour of its associated individuals in corruption cases.
  • Perhaps the term whistle blower should be ditched (along with all the other negative epithets) and the legal reality of informing on illegal activity be properly recognised.

Above all, it is time we really learned that there is no value in shooting the messenger. If we are to make inroads against corruption, it is time to be mature about the way allegations are dealt with.

War on Terrorism mockery

Australian monopoly wheat exporter, AWB, has been shown by the Cole Inquiry to have seriously abused its privileged position.
This former government instrumentality, now a listed company, systematically abused the UN’s oil for food Programme and fed nearly $300 million to Saddam’s regime in kickbacks.
To do this AWB had, at the very least, the tacit support of senior politicians and public servants in Australia and abroad. It should be remembered that AWB was feeding funds to Iraq as the USA and it’s partner Australia were planning to war against Saddam.
The whole affair makes a mockery of government and corporate integrity. But worse, it makes a mockery of the ‘war on terrorism’, which is chocking our societies.
Now, the junior partner in the Australian government, the National Party which seeks to represent the rural sector, has a plan for AWB. Not only do they want to retain the monopoly export market for Australian wheat, they want AWB to retain their control of the market.
In an incredulous effort to make their plan palatable the Nationals propose the appointment of a “senior bureaucrat or government MP to be appointed to the board of AWB if the wheat exporter is allowed to keep its monopoly.”
With National’s leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaile, already under a cloud for his role in the AWB fiasco their sought after "moral conscience" on the board of AWB seems a joke.
From the Prime Minister down through the ranks of MPs and of relevant senior bureaucrats this affair has given little confidence in the ability to manage the ethical affairs of any institution.
Even if there was a trustworthy and acceptable "moral conscience" among the National’s target group, AWB is a private listed company. How do they propose a/ inserting this special director? and b/ what kind of clout do they expect this superman/woman to carry on a commercial board?
The whole proposal is a desperate nonsense. If the monopoly export desk is to be retained it must be managed through an independent government authority charged specifically with an ethics watchdog role. Even that will hardly ensure a satisfactory performance, but it at least takes the greed motive out of the equation for the appointed board.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Not that we meddle

Italy still hangs in a sort of political purgatory, following last week’s election. That Silvio Berlusconi’s party lost is beyond doubt now, even if it was a narrow loss. But old Silvio isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.
As for those staunch upholders of democratic principles the magnificent three, George Bush, Tony Blair and Johnny Howard, not a word of congratulations to the real winners. They, it seems, are holding back until Berlusconi finally concedes defeat.
Not that they would meddle in another country’s democratic rights, (we note with heavy irony). The problem for the magnificent three is that they had a true ally in Berlusconi.
In particular, the change of guard in Italy asserts special pressures on Blair’s position, domestically and abroad.
The probable new Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, has openly criticized the Iraq conflict and Blair's attitude to the European Union and said he intends to put Europe's interests ahead of those of Washington.
The former head of the European commission who prides himself on having overseen Italy’s adoption of the euro said his priority was to forge an alliance of what he called "the countries most determined to push for a common European policy".
Adding, "We need a strong relationship not just with France and Germany but also with the so-called group of six, countries like Belgium and Luxembourg.
"I believe it is difficult to include it [Britain] among countries which are pushing for more integration. Britain has decided not to hold a referendum on Europe so it has not approved the European position. Evidently it believes in a policy which is more independent of the EU."
But the signals from Berlusconi’s defeat run deeper than the EU alone. Blair faces more isolation in Europe over Iraq after the defeat of his political ally. Of the three European leaders who unreservedly joined the U.S.-led invasion defying domestic public opinion, Mr. Blair is the only one who stills remains in power amid growing calls for him to quit
The first to go was the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar after he was defeated in the wake of the Madrid bombings in 2004 which were seen as a consequence of his support for the Iraq invasion.
The Trans-Atlantic Bagman
Blair, Aznar and Berlusconi forged a political alliance that proved highly divisive for Europe during the Iraq war which was strongly opposed by France and Germany. Americans used the divisions to dismiss France and Germany as "Old'' Europe and embrace the so-called "new'' Europe represented by leaders like Aznar and Berlusconi, with Mr. Blair acting as a bridge in trans-Atlantic relations.
One British newspaper, the Daily Mail, has referred to the Berlusconi-isation of Britain; the insidious corruption of state institutions.
The report goes on breathlessly; "The tide is lapping very close indeed to Mr Blair's door.
For here is a Prime Minister who, from the moment he took a £1million gift from Bernie Ecclestone in return for a shift in policy, has been systematically corrupting public life in this country.
It is the destruction of civil service impartiality, the emasculating of the Second Chamber [House of Lords] and the politicisation of the police that have been so damaging."
Domino Theory
The term domino theory was discredited back in the days of Vietnam, where it was used as the justification for that war. But the images it conjures seem to suit the current coalition of the willing partners. The magnificent three are all under various degrees of electoral pressure.
Is Berlusconi perhaps the first domino in their eyes? Certainly the Prodi win has rattled more than just the reluctant former Prime Minister. But as much as they would like to meddle, the magnificent three will be quickly out gunned by the experienced Prodi. There is no turning back the clock now.