The charismatic prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, elevated her country’s status in the world with her stinging speech at Cop26 in Glasgow last month. This speech resonated throughout the West Indies, a region that has largely been devoid of a strong leader to give these vulnerable small island developing states (SIDS) a voice in the climate crisis debate. The survival of SIDS such as Barbados depends on the finance to invest in measures to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C, which was the Paris agreement’s main objective.
Mottley called on all leaders of developed countries to step up their efforts as she outlined a solution embodied in flexible development finance. First, create a loss and damage fund made up of 1% of revenues from fossil fuels (which she estimated would amount to about $70bn, or £50bn, a year), accessible only to countries that have suffered a climate disaster and loss of 5% of their economy.
In addition, Mottley demanded special drawing rights (SDR) of $500bn a year over the next two decades, to accompany the proposed $50bn IMF resilience and sustainability trust targeted at the most vulnerable countries. SDRs – funds from the IMF to supplement countries’ reserves – are allocated to countries according to the size of their economy. Sadly, and counterintuitively, richer nations receive most of the support. However, G20 members have graciously agreed to reallocate some of this money to nations with lesser resources.
A few weeks later, Mottley, a strong advocate for reparations for slavery and colonisation, was again in the news as Barbados instituted significant constitutional change to become a republic. By removing Queen Elizabeth as their head of state, and replacing her with President Sandra Mason, Barbados, an island with a population of about 290,000, joined Dominica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, all of which became republics in the 1970s. However, like the other Caribbean nations, Barbados remains part of the Commonwealth.
A significant but often overlooked fact is that Barbados performs well on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index (CPI) and its global corruption barometer. In the 2020 CPI, Barbados scored 64 and was ranked 24th out of 179 countries, leading the Caribbean. The worst-performing country in the region was Trinidad and Tobago, which scored 40 and ranked 86th.
Trinidad and Tobago, one of the world’s oldest oil-producing countries, a republic since 1976 and a high-incomedeveloping country, is today suffering from the real long-term effects of the “resource curse”, corruption and decades of poor and myopic leadership. The main avenue that facilitates corruption in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as most other Caribbean islands, is through government procurement by ministries and state-owned enterprises, rewarding party financiers, friends and family members with inflated contracts. Poor procurement legislation and an absence of laws on party funding are hallmarks of corrupt nations.
Why has Barbados done better than other Caribbean countries in alleviating corruption? In other British territories, there have been allegations of significant political corruption, major governance issues and even claims of criminal gangs infiltrating the elected and administrative branches of government.
The answer may be that Barbados has had stronger institutions, more transparent public procurement and better anti-corruption policies and legislation. It has also had good governance and visionary leadership since Mottley took office in 2018. It could also be that the island’s financial mainstay lies in tourism and not in the venal oil and gas industry, with its huge windfalls providing incentives for corruption.
Regardless, Barbados can learn a lot from the mistakes of Trinidad and Tobago, which has not just had several corruption allegations surrounding politicians over the years but has also seen much public resentment towards the presidential office, which is seen as a drain on the country’s resources and an ineffective, neo-colonial mantle.
Barbados can be a beacon in making the president’s role more meaningful and relevant, ensuring strong institutions, and overseeing the fight against corruption. With presidential oversight, an independent, forthright, anti-corruption agency, supported by effective legislation, and a diligent and expert financial intelligence unit, can remove incentives for bribery and kickbacks within public services, police, parliamentarians and the office of the prime minister.
When political corruption does occur, a process of financial investigation, thorough tracing of assets and their recovery complement the anti-corruption toolkit. This will be fundamental in the fight but will also ensure that any perception of corruption diminishes in Barbados as the nation moves higher up the ranking towards a developed nation score.
The president must not be simply a figurehead but must proactively remove any anachronistic duties and establish a role that is relevant and modern in creating a society of integrity among its public officials.
Corruption is a cancer that creates inequality by harming development and economic growth. Aid to alleviate poverty, disease or climate disaster can easily be siphoned away by corrupt officials, unless measures are installed to prevent this.
Both Barbados’s new president, Sandra Mason, and Mia Mottley, the prime minister, need to present a united front of integrity in ensuring transparency and accountability in all matters of government expenditure, including the allocation of climate change funding outlined at Cop26.
Mason and the rest of the Caribbean’s presidents and prime ministers must follow the inspirational example of Mottley in being outspoken, courageous and irreproachable. The region desperately needs it.
Kenneth Mohammed is a senior adviser at Intelligent Sanctuary.
Vulnerable Malians could ‘pay the price’ of heavy sanctions, warn aid groups | Global development
More than a dozen aid organisations have called for humanitarian exemptions to heavy sanctions imposed on Mali after the military leadership postponed planned February elections.
But this week, 13 international groups working in Mali warned of devastating consequences for the population, a third of whom rely on aid.
Humanitarian access is hindered by the Malian interim authorities’ decision to reciprocate border closures with Ecowas member states, except Guinea.
Thousands of people demonstrated against the sanctions last week in the capital Bamako, carrying placards saying “down with Ecowas” and “down with France”.
The country is in the grip of the worst food insecurity in 10 years.
A joint letter signed by the NGOs, including the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Care and the Norwegian Refugee Council, said: “To continue their work effectively, humanitarian actors must have unfettered access for the transportation of life-saving goods including food and medicine, as well as guarantees that they can transfer funds into the country without violating the sanctions.”
Mali’s current insecurity dates back to early 2012 when northern separatists rebelled against the government. Islamist militants that initially allied with the separatists, including Ansar Dine, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, ultimately hijacked the rebellion.
France, the former colonial ruler, made a military intervention in 2013 on the government’s side against the militants. The UN has also deployed an estimated 18,000 peacekeeping staff, in what was called its most dangerous mission.
The Malian military, led by Col Assimi Goïta, has conducted two coups in two years and reneged on promises to hold new elections. The junta’s most recent power grab, in May 2021, was the fifth coup since Mali’s independence in 1960 and it has been unwilling to commit to transition to civilian rule, despite international pressures.
Postponement of elections has been blamed on Islamist insecurity, an impasse that has deepened with the arrival of private military contractors belonging to the Russian mercenary firm Wagner Group. European states have condemned Wagner’s presence, concerned it will enable the military to hold on to power.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said this month that EU sanctions on Mali were in part in response to the involvement of Russian contractors. France is withdrawing troops, but 14 other EU members, led by Sweden, had established a taskforce to replace them in a three-year mandate. As tensions intensified over the Wagner Group, Sweden said last week that it had decided to withdraw its troops.
France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has been vociferous in its support of sanctions but Russia and China have blocked the UN security council’s move to follow suit.
Ecowas has frozen financial aid and Malian assets at the Central Bank of West African States.
Elena Vicario, director for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Mali, said: “Malians are already bearing the brunt of the humanitarian catastrophe, punctuated by horrifying attacks against civilians. Sanctions must not hold us back from delivering essential assistance in a country where drought, rising insecurity, and the economic impacts of Covid-19 are already pushing millions of Malians over the edge.”
Franck Vannetelle, the IRC’s country director in Mali, echoed Vicario, saying: “Despite more than a third of the country’s population being dependent on humanitarian aid, organisations working in Mali already face severe access constraints. It’s imperative that the international community keeps responding to people’s urgent needs, and that any new sanctions have concrete humanitarian exemptions. These must be monitored and implemented, or the most vulnerable people in Mali will pay the price.”
Lawyers threaten action over new EU gas and nuclear rules
Environmental lawyers are threatening to take legal action against the European Commission if gas is included in the new EU guidelines for sustainable energy investment.
The draft proposal, controversially released late on 31 December, would see certain investments in gas and nuclear included in the so-called EU taxonomy, under the category of “transitional economic activities”.
But a legal analysis carried out by ClientEarth found that such a move would clash with several EU laws — the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EU Climate Law and the Taxonomy Regulation itself — and international commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“Failing to take these legal obligations into account puts the commission at serious risk of legal challenge,” environmental lawyer Marta Toporek from ClientEarth warned on Friday (21 January).
The London-based NGO said that they are exploring all legal avenues, including an internal review request.
Under the Aarhus regulation, NGOs have the right to ask EU institutions to assess their own decisions — with a right to appeal before the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The commission must respond to such requests within 22 weeks.
“While it is a lengthy process, it is an important right for environmental NGOs, and in very limited cases individuals, to ensure that EU institutions and bodies comply with EU laws that are meant to protect the environment and human health,” ClientEarth told EUobserver.
The draft taxonomy has triggered discontent not only among environmentalists but also among some EU member states, MEPs and some financial institutions.
Spain, Austria, Denmark and Luxembourg united to reject the draft proposal, ahead of an informal meeting with EU environment ministers taking place on Friday (21 January) and Saturday — where EU countries can tell the commission what they think about including gas and nuclear into the EU taxonomy.
“This draft sends the wrong message to financial markets and seriously risks being rejected by investors. It jeopardises the purpose of the taxonomy to create a common language,” the group of four countries said in a statement earlier this week.
They argue that natural gas and nuclear power do not meet the legal and scientific requirements to be qualified as sustainable activities.
Vienna previously said it would sue the EU executive if it goes with its plans to include gas and nuclear in the EU taxonomy.
And the Dutch parliament said this week that it will not accept the inclusion of gas, because “‘green’ should really be green”, as Dutch Green MP Suzanne Kröger put it.
No impact assessment, no public consultation
Similarly, centre-right MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen and Green MEP Bas Eickhout, who lead the European Parliament’s work on this file, have said that the draft proposal fails to live up to the co-legislators expectations.
They see the selection criteria used for gas power plants, co-generation and district hearing as being in breach of the “principle of technological neutrality”.
Scientists from the EU Commission expert group concluded that for gas power plants a threshold of 100g CO2e/kWh of electricity should be applied to be compatible with a 1.5°C pathway under the Paris Agreement.
But under the draft proposal, instead, gas power plants would be taxonomy-compliant if their emissions are lower than 270g CO2e/kWh of electricity.
“We see no legal ground for the commission to create an exemption to this principle of technological neutrality,” the two MEPs said in a letter, regretting the lack of an impact assessment.
Earlier this week, MEPs Irene Tinagli and Pascal Canfin, chairs of the parliament committees for economy and environment, also deplored the lack of public consultation “in the light of the controversial nature of the subject”.
Meanwhile, civil society organisations and academia have warned the commission that the EU taxonomy, as it stands, would damage Europe’s reputation and ambitions to climate leadership.
Last year was marked by “a string of intense political rows, backroom deals and manoeuvring over how to bypass scientific evidence and classify fossil gas and nuclear energy as sustainable,” said Tsvetelina Kuzmanova from NGO E3G.
Experts had until Friday to provide feedback on the EU taxonomy. The EU executive will now analyse their contributions and it is expected to formally adopt the proposal before the end of the month.
A majority of EU countries, or the European Parliament, could still object and revoke the decision, after four months of scrutiny.
Taliban launch raids on homes of Afghan women’s rights activists | Women’s rights and gender equality
Taliban gunmen have raided the homes of women’s rights activists in Kabul, beating and arresting female campaigners in a string of actions apparently triggered by recent demonstrations.
Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parawana Ibrahimkhel, who participated in a series of protests held in Kabul over the last few months, were seized on Wednesday night by armed men claiming to be from the Taliban intelligence department.
Shortly before Paryani and her sisters were detained, footage was posted on social media showing her screaming for help, saying the Taliban were banging on her door.
“Help, please, the Taliban have come to our home … Only my sisters are home,” she says in the clip.
Associated Press footage from the scene on Thursday showed the apartment’s dented metal front door sitting slightly ajar. A witness said the armed men went up to Paryani’s third-floor apartment and began banging on the front door ordering her to open it.
The spokesman for the Taliban-appointed police in Kabul, Gen Mobin Khan, tweeted that Paryani’s social video post was a manufactured drama. A spokesman for the Taliban intelligence, Khalid Hamraz, would neither confirm nor deny the arrest.
He tweeted that “insulting the religious and national values of the Afghan people is not tolerated any more”, a reference to Sunday’s rally during which the protesters appeared to burn a white burqa, the head-to-toe garment that only leaves a mesh opening for the eyes.
Hamraz accused rights activists of maligning Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers and their security forces to gain asylum in the west.
Similar raids were reported across homes of female protesters in Kabul. In another case, an Afghan protester whose name has been concealed to protect her, said she was physically assaulted and injured. She told the Guardian that the Taliban visited her house and “attacked” and “severely beat” her. Her whereabouts are now unknown.
“The Taliban had been patrolling near our homes since [Wednesday] afternoon. I talked to Tamana in the evening and then around 9pm I saw the video of her asking for help. We tried calling her from our burner phones, but her phone was switched off,” said Wahida Amiri, 33-year-old librarian and a fellow demonstrator, who is also on the run. “When we realised that they were raiding our homes one by one, the rest of us decided to go into hiding,” she added.
Since sweeping to power in mid-August, the Taliban have imposed widespread restrictions, many of them against women. They have been banned from many jobs outside the health and education field, their access to education has been restricted beyond sixth grade and they have been ordered to wear the hijab. The Taliban have, however, stopped short of imposing the burqa, which was compulsory when they ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.
At Sunday’s demonstration, women carried placards demanding equal rights and shouted: “Justice!” They said they could be forced to wear the hijab. Organisers of the demonstration said Paryani attended the protest, which was dispersed after the Taliban fired pepper spray at the crowd.
Paryani belongs to a rights group called Seekers of Justice, which has organised several demonstrations in Kabul, including Sunday’s. Members have not spoken publicly of Paryani’s arrest but have been sharing the video of her.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch said that since taking over, the Taliban “have rolled back the rights of women and girls, including blocking access to education and employment for many”.
“Women’s rights activists have staged a series of protests; the Taliban have responded by banning unauthorized protests,” HRW said in a statement after Sunday’s protest.
The Taliban have increasingly targeted Afghanistan’s rights groups, and local and international journalists covering demonstrations have often been detained and sometimes beaten.
“It is obvious the Taliban are intensifying their attacks on the civic space, and more specifically on women who are pioneers of the civic space,” said Shaharzad Akbar, chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
“For over a month, we have seen the Taliban stifling dissent and intensifying their attacks on protesters across Afghanistan,” added Akbar. “Earlier we heard reports of protesters in Mazar being detained. There were also allegation of them being tortured, assaulted and harassed while in detention.”
Heather Barr, associate director of the women’s division at Human Rights Watch, said the Taliban’s reaction was a sign of fear. “It might seem hard to understand why the Taliban would have such a violent reaction to 25 women standing on the sidewalk, protesting peacefully. But their fears make sense when you see how powerful and brave these women are, to be stepping out again and again even in the face of escalating violence by the Taliban,” she said.
She urged the international community to step up in support of Afghan women. “The Taliban seem to be struggling on how to respond to this, and seem to have decided now that increased brutality is the answer, and that is a very frightening moment. The international community has to stand by these women.”
Associated Press contributed reporting
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