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"There is hope for this World"
by Thabo Mbeki
International Labour Organisation
Speech by the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the International Labour Conference.
It would seem right that I should start by introducing myself. I come from Africa. I am employed. I am certain the job I do qualifies for the description ''decent work''. Though I would not like to broadcast this matter too loudly, I would say I earn a living wage.
However, I owe the position I occupy to a decision taken by millions of our people, the majority of whom are poor. These poor masses elected the ministerial members of our delegation and I into government, in the knowledge that we would ensure that the new democratic order in our country does everything to extricate them out of their miserable condition of poverty and underdevelopment.
Many among these masses are unemployed, with no guarantee that they will get a decent job tomorrow. They fall among those about whom the esteemed Director-General of the ILO, Juan Somavia, has written in his outstanding Report, "Working out of Poverty".
As he says, for these fellow Africans, "poverty is a nightmare. It is a vicious circle of poor health, reduced working capacity, low productivity and shortened life expectancy. For (their) families, poverty is a trap. It leads to inadequate schooling, low skills, insecure income, early parenthood, ill health and early death. For (their) societies, poverty is a curse."
These masses expect of us that everyday, and wherever we may be, we should speak out and act against poverty. They expect that we will approach the challenge of poverty eradication honestly, without prevarication, and implement programmes that actually produce results.
They have the will to survive, of which Juan Somavia speaks, but need the support and possibilities to move up the ladder of opportunity, for which he calls. They expect that we will address the structural failures, the ineffective economic and social systems, the inadequate political responses, the bankrupt policy imagination and insufficient international support, that are the cause of their poverty, as the Director-General correctly points out.
The International Labour Conference and the International Labour Organisation occupy an important place among the global forces that have to join, and are part of, the war on poverty. Our people and the social partners of our country represented at this important Conference, as well as our community organisations, feel privileged that they have you as comrades-in-arms in the struggle to eradicate poverty in our country, in the rest of Africa and throughout the world.
It is also in the same spirit that I must thank you for the opportunity you have given us to address you. As our people and the distinguished delegates know and expect, we must, like yourselves, focus once more on the central and urgent challenge of the global war on poverty.
In the Parable of the Talents in the Biblical Gospel according to St Matthew, a money merchant, angry that one of his servants did not discharge his duties as a fund manager, by using the Talent given to him to trade in the money markets, said:
"Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed;
"Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. "And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Among the hundreds of millions of the African world from which we came, as we travelled to Europe, the outer darkness into which the money merchant cast his unprofitable servant, there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who do not hear and do not see the agony, have neither ears to hear nor eyes to see.
But I am certain that even they who do not see or hear the people, have seen the great volumes of literature that describe in the greatest statistical detail and graphic language, the extent of the poverty that afflicts billions in Africa and the rest of the developing world.
The poet has written: "If music be the food of love, play on. Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, the heart may sicken and so die." Since we speak here of neither music nor love, we cannot ask for excess of information about the incidence and human consequences of poverty, because we have enough of it. The simple fact is that we who sit in this room, and others like us who are not here, but constitute the global leadership of all humanity, know everything we need to know about poverty.
The surfeit of information available to all of us says that we live in a world defined by a deep economic and social structural fault that mirrors the angry outburst of the money merchant of the Parable of the Talents, when he uttered the ominous curse not just to his servant, but to the poor of the world: "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath".
The European Union has what it designates as European Structural Funds. These funds support social and economic development and modernisation among the members of the Union. These Structural Funds account for over a third of the EU budget.
From these Funds, for the period 2000 to 2006, the EU allocated a total of about 16.6 billion Euros to the United Kingdom for specific objectives. The specific Funds concerned are: The Regional Development Fund, which aims to improve the economic prosperity, social inclusion, development and diversification of industry in areas that are lagging behind relative to the rest of the Union; The Social Fund, which assists with human resource development and equal opportunity schemes, to end unemployment by, among other things, training workers in skills that match available jobs; The Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund to encourage the restructuring and diversification of rural areas; The Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance to modernise the fisheries sector and related industries; and, The Fund for Community Initiatives.
These Funds are available to all the countries of the European Union. As we know, most of these countries are highly developed.
Quite correctly, the EU made the determination that there are certain regions within the member countries of the Union that are so underdeveloped relative to the rest of the Union, that it would be incorrect to rely on the market to supply the resources to end such underdevelopment.
It therefore decided that the only way to address this problem would be to direct specifically targeted official funds to the affected areas, to ensure that they reach the necessary levels of development. Simply put, the Union decided that it had to engage in a deliberate process of resource transfers to ensure the even and balanced development of all communities within the Union.
For our part, we are convinced that this was and is a correct decision and practice. I would like to believe that all of us here share this view and applaud the European Union for not falling victim to what the financier, George Soros, has described as "market fundamentalism", which would have led the EU to conclude that the underdevelopment we have spoken of, would be addressed through reliance on market forces.
I am certain that the distinguished delegates here are all familiar with what is known as the Washington Consensus, developed in the early 1990''s. This was a list of policy prescriptions that were said to be necessary to stimulate economic growth, especially in developing countries, ensuring, among other things, the necessary capital flows into countries that respected these prescriptions.
The prescriptions included trade liberalisation, fiscal discipline and ''sound'' macro-economic policy, privatisation, deregulation, tax reform, absence of civil strife, democracy, promotion of inward investment, secure property rights, avoidance of ''crony capitalism'', adherence to all manner of standards relating to banking and the financial markets, and others.
The rules that have been set tell the poor that unless they can reassure those that have, that more will be given to them, they must not expect that the haves will have any concern about the fate of those who have not.
Many developing countries, eager to secure much-needed investments to pull their peoples our of the morass of underdevelopment, embraced the Washington Consensus policy conditions for growth, and used whatever capacity they had to implement them.
A weekly newsletter dated 12th April 2000, titled ''Sand in the Wheels'', addresses the question of capital flows in the context of the issue of the debt burden of poor countries. It said:
"Nobody today contests the fact that the public debt is an intolerable burden for many countries and peoples of the South. Even the international financial institutions admit that this is so. Not that debt is the only reason for poverty, or for the widening gap between rich and poor, or for the blockage on development - but it sums up and amplifies these problems."
The newsletter says further that: "Too often, payments on debt take precedence over vital needs of the populations. Take sub-Saharan Africa, which paid out $14.5 billion to service the debt - four times the total sum spent on public health. Take Latin America, where the service of the debt represents annually 35.6% of the subcontinent''s exports of goods and services. Take Mozambique, so recently hit by terrible floods, and where in 1995, 33% of the budget went to servicing the debt, against only 3% for health, and 7% for education. Examples are legion".
The Washington Consensus urged the countries that bear this debt burden to implement its policy options as a necessary requirement for the creation of the conditions that would result in the solution of their problems of poverty and underdevelopment through the market mechanism. These countries had to make themselves as beautiful and alluring as the best mythical maiden, so that they attract the rich suitors with investment funds, who populate the global capital markets.
On the other hand, and quite correctly, a developed and prosperous country, the United Kingdom, has been allocated 16.6 billion Euros by the EU, to address development challenges that are relatively minor, compared to those confronting the developing world. In the instance of the UK, as with other relevant regions within the EU, no call is made that these regions should beautify themselves for the benefit of the market, and depend on this market to supply the resources to pull them out of their relative backwardness.
Bear in mind that even as it tried to prepare itself for the suitors, Sub-Saharan Africa was transferring to the rich countries of the North, including those of the European Union, $14.5 billion to service its debts. As a result, and as we all know, these African countries could not provide jobs, adequate health services and nutrition, education, housing, clean water and sanitation and other basic necessities to their citizens.
"Debt (also tells a story about) the state of relations between North and South. Structural adjustment programmes were imposed on countries of the South to restore their capacity for debt repayment, and caused further deterioration in the living conditions of the most fragile classes of the population. The financial transfers from South to North in service of the debt set a mortgage on all chances of development, representing as they do four times the OECD budget for public aid to development."
The money merchant in the Gospel according to St Matthew had said that "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath".
Indeed, we have seen how in the last decade, as globalisation brought faster growth and better living conditions to some parts of the world, the majority of poor countries have become increasingly marginalised, sinking more and more into poverty.
Unfortunately, however, these rich countries use their enormous resources to entice and recruit some of these skilled workers and professionals away from their poor homelands, to work in the developed countries. To those that have... Much the same thing can be said about other matters, such as commodities, terms of trade, market access, access to affordable drugs and medicines, and others.
Accordingly, the poor citizens of the world are right to pose the question to all of us at this conference and in other global forums - what can we do together to end the intolerable situation.
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Lula, Vajpayee make demands of Wealthy G8
by Gustavo Capdevila
Inter Press Service
GENEVA, Jun 2.2003 (IPS) - One should never squander an opportunity, especially when one can make the truth be heard, said Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, defending his participation and that of other developing nation leaders in this year's summit of the Group of Eight (G8) most powerful nations.
When the invitation arrived to attend the summit, which runs through Tuesday in the French alpine city of Evian, many wondered what the Brazilian president would have to do there, where ”in the end it is a meeting of the world's eight richest countries,” he commented.
Those who opposed Lula's trip warned that the summit would give way to major protests, as in fact occurred with the massive and at times violent demonstrations in the nearby Swiss cities of Lausanne and Geneva, and in France's Annemasse. Security forces have kept Evian off-limits to activists.
The critics said the Brazilian president runs the risk of ”being confused” for a head of state or of government of one of the G8 members: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
But the visit to Evian produced positive results, said Lula, a former metalworker and union leader, and a founder of his Workers Party (PT), in a speech Monday at the headquarters of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva.
”When I was sworn in I said that I would not waste any opportunity that presented itself. Life is made of opportunities,” said Lula.
And he made the most of the Evian opportunity. To the leaders of the G8 and of 11 developing countries gathered there he communicated his concern about the discrimination that poor nations face in gaining access to the markets of rich nations.
In direct language, aimed at the industrialised countries, Lula complained about the subsidies war and about other protectionist mechanisms that create trade exclusion.
A similar tack was taken by India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in his presentation to the summit, but with a concentration on development and environmental issues.
In terms of development, the concerns of the Indian government are focused on the fate of the round of international trade negotiations launched by the ministerial conference of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Doha, Qatar, in November 2001.
That process of talks is running behind schedule due to failure to comply with the established deadlines, and requires new points of reference for the follow-up of the application of decisions taken in the Doha Declaration, said Vajpayee.
Those points must include the matters of tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, agreements on the trans-border movement of persons, and poor countries' access to vital medicines, he said.
Speaking before the leaders of the G8 countries, nearly all of which maintain protectionist policies for farm trade, India's prime minister demanded the elimination of agricultural subsidies, which he said have distorting effects on trade.
But Vajpayee stressed that the position of his country is to protect the interests of the farmers in developing countries.
He called for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the only international instrument aimed at regulating emissions of greenhouse gases, the implementation of which has been delayed by the withdrawal of the United States and the reticence of other industrialised countries.
Vajpayee, Lula and the heads of state from other developing nations were limited to participating only in the Sunday inauguration of the Evian summit.
European Commission President Romano Prodi acknowledged that in the initial portion of the meet the presence of so many leaders from the developing South contributed towards ”changing the atmosphere” of the summit, which was expected to be bogged down in controversy due the tensions that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq created between Washington and the European governments.
But the subsequent resolutions of the G8 served as an indicator that the internal discord had attenuated.
The bloc of wealthy nations approved decisions on aid policies for Africa, corporate responsibility, international trade, and contributions of resources to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
In regards to the G8 resolution on trade, activist Barry Coats, of the London-based World Development Movement, predicts that the eight will once again press developing countries to open their markets.
Meanwhile, said Coats, the G8 countries refuse to eliminate their massive farm subsidies and the barriers for value-added products and textiles.
Lula also alluded to those points in his speech at the ILO, when he called for the introduction of ”true changes” in areas like international trade.
The Brazilian government says it is unacceptable that the sectors in which developing countries are competitive -- such as agro-industry, textiles and metalworks -- are subject to the protectionist trade policies of the industrialised nations.
Lula outlined his ”Zero Hunger” plan to the G8 members, the policy launched in January, just after he took office, and which he championed at the World Social Forum, in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The resources for ”giving food to those who are hungry” could come from a tax on international weapons trade and from a mechanism that encourages rich countries to invest in a fund a portion of the interests they receive from indebted countries.
Vajpayee also made mention in Evian of creating a global development fund that could be financed with resources collected in a tax on international financial flows. Dubbed the ”Tobin Tax”, after the Nobel economist, James Tobin, who first proposed it, this is a measure demanded by non-governmental organisations specialising in development and debt issues.
In Geneva, Lula, a former union leader, also spoke his truths about the role of labour organisation in society today.
”The workers' movement needs to be less corporatist and more political. Many of the things that happen in the labour world are decided outside of that world,” said the Brazilian president.
”That is where we often have to get ahead of ourselves. If the union movement doesn't adopt this stance, many non-union organisations will step in to occupy the space that should be of the union,” he said.
G8 Leaders Challenged To Fulfil Commitments by Nilla Ahmed
ANNEMASSE, France May 31 (IPS) - African leaders have joined non governmental organisations in calling on the Group of Eight countries to deliver on previous commitments, in particular on the Africa Plan of Action that was launched at last year's G8 Summit in Canada.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the seventh summit of the Heads of State and Government Implementation Committee of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) held in Abuja, Nigeria, this week, the leaders further urged the international community to ensure that issues concerning Africa remained firmly on the global agenda.
”World peace and security can only be sustained if all nations, developed and developing, fulfil commitments and pledges they made voluntarily,” said the communiqué, which will be presented to G8 leaders when they meet in Evian, France Sunday.
At the counter summit in Annemasse, France, the humanitarian relief organisation, Oxfam International has also called on leaders of the world's richest countries not to turn their back on Africa and to launch an all-out war against poverty.
”In just three days the G8 faces a major test of global credibility. African leaders have called on the G8 to deliver on aid and promises and to take steps to reduce agricultural subsidies and reform unjust trade rules,” Irungu Houghton, Oxfam's African Policy Advisor said.
”If this does not happen the water that flows from the Evian summit will be undrinkable for many of us in Africa,” Houghton said.
Situated in the French Alps, Evian is renowned for its mineral water.
According to Oxfam, more than half of sub-Saharan Africa's 600 million people still live on less than one dollar a day.
”We are on the brink of another G8 failure. More than ever we need real action against poverty. Across Africa millions of people are fighting their own war against poverty everyday. The danger is that the G8 leaders will fail to play their part because they are distracted by the continuing diplomatic fall-out from the war against Iraq,” says Oxfam.
According to Oxfam spokesperson Caroline Sande Mukulira, the Iraq crisis has demonstrated that vast financial resources can be rapidly mobilised when rich countries believe they have a strategic interest at stake.
Around 70 billion dollars was mobilised by the coalition in a matter of weeks to fight the war, she says.
”This is more than five times the aid provided to Africa last year, and more than twice the annual amount of aid Africa needs to meet the Millennium Development Goals, the internationally agreed targets aimed at halving global poverty by 2015. World leaders have shown that when they really want to make something happen, they can and do,” she told IPS.
British development charity, ActionAid says Africa has been let down once again by the G8 nations. In its report titled ‘Wishful Thinking' which examines what each G8 country has done for Africa since the launch of last year's African Action Plan, ActionAid concludes that there has been less action since the plan appeared than there was before.
The most astonishing failure, says the report, has been in the area of trade negotiations. ”The United States has blocked negotiations which would have given poor people access to cheap drugs for AIDS. European states, most visibly France and Germany, have refused to dismantle agricultural subsidies which undermine the livelihood of farmers in the developing world.”
Charles Abani, director of ActionAid Nigeria told IPS, ”It is no good the G8 nations telling us they will get round to Africa's problems someday. Children cannot wait for their education. People with AIDS cannot wait for their drugs. Our message to the G8 leaders is 'Don't keep Africa waiting,'” he said.
Helen Wangusa, co-ordinator of AWEPON, a women's network based in 16 African countries told IPS; ”The promissory notes issued at the Monterrey conference and the G8 summit place the G8 before a global jury. Will they be honoured? African people and particularly African women will watch the summit for signs that the G8 is serous about fighting the poverty caused by debt and conditionality,” she said.
Adding his voice is Nobel Peace Prize winner South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He has called on the G8 leaders to stop protecting their markets and to allow poor countries to benefit rather than being punished by unfair trade. - If the poor were allowed to feed themselves the impact of huge cuts in international aid and the ravages of conflict over scarce resources would vastly diminished. The poor have the right to be heard and the rich have the moral obligation to make this happen,” he said.
Professor Adebayo Olukushi, Secretary General of CODESRIA, Africa's leading research institute based in Dakar, Senegal, told IPS; ”We are on the brink of another G8 failure. We do not need new plans, we need the G8 to deliver on the promises made. The starting point should not be NEPAD but we should go back to the obligations made by the G8 and hold them accountable,” he said.
In a report titled 'Evian G8 - A Time To Declare A War on Poverty in Africa', Oxfam says the summit must address the enormous harm being done by the subsidies rich Western countries pay their farmers to produce a glut of cheap food which is dumped on world markets, undercutting African farmers and robbing millions of their livelihoods.
It calls on the G8 leaders to deliver on the promise made at last year's summit to devote an additional 6 billion dollars a year in aid to Africa, and agree on a timetable towards reaching the 25-35 billion a year, which the United Nations estimates Africa will need if it is to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
This, says Oxfam, should include delivering five billion dollars annually for basic education, and fully backing the 10 billion dollar Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
It also calls on the G8 to cancel all the debts of African countries struggling to make repayments at the expense of health and education.
G8 member nations include Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Since 1996 G8 members have stepped up their dialogue with countries outside their group and this year's invitees include Presidents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Abdelaziz Bouteflicka of Algeria, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal as well as UN Secretay General Kofi Annan.
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