• Just the way it's always been

    Posted by Amanda

    31 October, 2011

    Leaders of the biggest economies in the world will meet in France later this week to discuss (and try to resolve) some big financial issues. The G20 will bring together leaders from 19 nations (plus the EU) who together represent 90% of the world’s GDP, 80% of the world’s trade and 66% of the world’s population. Fears about the health of the U.S. and European economies will inevitably be at the top of the political and media agenda.

    Of course, private meetings between bureaucrats and Ministers have been going on for months now to decide what the leaders will agree when they jet into Cannes. And in that lengthy process of negotiation and compromise, ideals inevitably get watered down – it’s a matter of what can be achieved much more than what should be achieved.

    In the 2005 film, “The Girl in the Café”, about an imaginary G20-type meeting, Lawrence, a consummate bureaucrat confesses, “We get into the habit of compromising and therefore we are always compromised.”

    President Sarkozy, who will host the G20, appears to have become less ambitious in his agenda since economic crises have accumulated. He said recently, "Our first objective is to consolidate the recovery of the global economy.” But then he did go on to say, “Growth is indispensable to create jobs, get billions of human beings out of poverty and reduce deficits and debts."

    Is his formula for recovery a sustainable one or just the way it’s always been?

    The Preliminary Report on the G20 Action Plan on Development which was released three weeks ago seems to have watered down its objectives on tax havens and regulations for extractive industries, two areas that could have a real impact on the poor. Tax havens deprive developing countries of US$160 billion a year - more than all the aid given by DAC nations, which totalled $129 billion last year. Extractive industries (Oil/Gas and Mining) could contribute enormously to economic development in resource rich nations but too often, benefits fail to reach ordinary people and bribery is a huge part of that failure: mining and oil/gas companies get the 2nd and 3rd worse scores for private payments to public officials, according to Transparency International.

    Many civil society groups dismiss the meeting even before it’s begun because commitments made last year at Seoul about greater business transparency have not produced real change on bribery. Even where business and government projects seem a good idea, e.g. to provide much needed infrastructure, the G20 does not seem concerned enough to make sure the projects deliver on time and on budget. As for international aid promises made in Scotland during the heady days of Live Aid, nations in the G8 (all of whom belong to the G20) have slipped $19 billion behind in their commitments.

    Should we sink into hopelessness about this meeting in Cannes (the very location conjures ideas of privilege)? Do we have any way of speaking up for the 90% of nations not represented at the meeting, most of which are poor? And can we have any influence on the habit of compromise and empty rhetoric?

    We should remember that the G20 is charged with addressing growth that is “sustainable and balanced”, with ensuring better international financial regulation and with “strengthening support for the most vulnerable”.
    And G20 members reiterated in their latest action plan that development will remain at the heart of their discussions. The French government has stated that more effective regulation, anti-corruption measures and the involvement of the private sector remain priorities for the summit. The Gates Foundation will bring a recommendation to raise new money for aid to developing nations, including some form of financial transaction tax, such as a 'Robin Hood' tax.

    So maybe we should be advocating that the worthy ideas and promises to do better are not pushed aside by realpolitik.

    If we encourage, cajole, remind and niggle, leaders will have reason to act.

    Micah Challenge is encouraging all our campaigns to send letters to their French Embassy, encouraging them to keep anti-corruption measures on the agenda. There is also a letter for individuals to send to their French Embassy, asking that the G20:
    1) Follow the lead of the US to introduce a requirement for mining companies listed on their stock exchanges to publish all payments they make to foreign governments.
    This will help deliver the wealth of oil, gas and minerals extracted in developing countries to its citizens, especially those living in poverty.
    2) Improve the fight against tax havens that allow considerable sums of money to by-pass national taxation and deprive the country of substantial financial resources for their development.
     
    The letter can be found on the Micah Challenge International website, and only takes 10 minutes to complete.

    Meetings like the G20 bring out the best and worst in leadership. As Christians we can encourage the best – not because we are naïve fools – but because we choose to hope and choose to work for good.
     
    Successful advocacy starts with a person or a nation prepared to stand up even if they stand alone. We can encourage France to stand up for sustainable practices, integrity in business and responsible growth so that it doesn’t have to be just the way it’s always been.

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    Amanda Jackson is the Campaigns Coordinator for Micah Challenge International and the former National Coordinator of Micah Challenge Australia.