Eurogroup will decide today whether to approve aid tranches for Greece and Cyprus
Haulage firm arm bids for controversial contracts to provide lawyers in criminal trials amid protests from legal profession
A subsidiary of the haulage firm Eddie Stobart has emerged as a leading contender in bidding for a new generation of criminal legal aid contracts that would deprive defendants of the right to choose their own solicitor.
Lawyers are planning protests outside parliament in opposition to the Ministry of Justice’s proposals, which aim to cut fees, reduce funding of judicial reviews and save a further £220m out of the legal aid budget.
The row within the legal profession over the plans is intensifying. The head of Stobart Barristers has described traditional law firms who rely on legal aid as “‘wounded animals waiting to die” and accused rival lawyers of sending his firm messages urging it to “Truck Off”.
The MoJ’s most controversial proposal is the introduction of competitive tendering in contracts to provide lawyers for defendants in criminal trials.
In order to guarantee winning firms receive a sufficient number of cases each year, the MoJ is proposing to remove the right of defendants funded by legal aid to select their own solicitor.
The arrival of Stobart Barristers last year has reinforced fears among the wider legal profession. Stobart operates by connecting clients directly to barristers, cutting out the need for solicitors.
Trevor Howarth, its legal director, said the firm would be bidding for the new criminal defence contracts. “We can deliver the service at a cost that’s palatable for the taxpayer,” he said. “Our business model was developed with this in mind.
“We at Stobart are well known for taking out the waste and the waste here is the duplication of solicitors going to the courtroom. At the moment there are 1,600 legal aid firms; in future there will be 400. At Stobart, we wouldn’t use 10 trucks to deliver one product.”
Howarth said he had received emails from solicitors with the heading “Truck Off”. He added: “I have already taken calls from barristers [on our panels] who say they have been contacted by solicitors telling them they won’t use them again if they take instructions from us.”
On removing a defendant’s right to choose their solicitor, Howarth said: “I don’t think the lack of choice is damaging. [People are not] entitled to access justice with an open cheque. No one is stopping them paying for their own choice of solicitor.”
Barristers and solicitors held a protest meeting in Manchester last month. Another protest meeting by lawyers is being organised for 22 May outside parliament.
Under the plans, defendants on legal aid will no longer be able to choose which lawyer represents them in a police station or a magistrate’s court. They will still be able to choose which barrister represents them at crown court.
Paul Harris, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, warned that the quality of legal representation would decline. “How is anyone facing serious criminal allegations going to feel being represented by a haulage company?” he asked. “The individual will have no choice. The state will prosecute you and then choose your lawyer. By removing choice, providers will have less incentive to compete on quality. We will end up with far more miscarriages of justice.”
The Bar Council, which represents barristers, has launched an online petition under the slogan “Say No to Cut Price Justice”. Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: “It is against the public interest to introduce a system where legal services are provided on cost alone, by the lowest bidder, and not on quality … where you have no choice of who represents you.”
Sadiq Khan MP, Labour’s justice spokesman, told the Law Society Gazette: “No one wants a second-rate system where you are forced to accept whatever representation you are given regardless of quality.”
An MoJ spokesperson said: “Quality-assured lawyers will still be available. Quality standards will be assessed as part of the tender process and we will ensure they are maintained by the lawyers who win contracts. We will continue to uphold everyone’s right to a fair trial, but with £1bn a year spent on criminal legal aid we have to look again at how to deliver better value for every penny of taxpayers’ money spent.”
Aim is to reduce reliance on overseas funds while ministers hope to distract from lack of aid commitment
The government is to help Ethiopia and Tanzania to build their tax-raising powers and so reduce their dependency on overseas aid to run an effective government.
David Gauke, the Treasury minister, will announce the initiative on Tuesday in a public interparty debate on tax transparency and aid organised by the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign. Ministers hope the move will mollify aid agencies over the absence of legislation entrenching an aid commitment in the Queen’s speech.
HMRC claims there has been a 40% increase in tax revenue collection in Ethiopia since 2010, when the British government became involved. Nearly 78% of Ethiopia’s tax revenue came from fewer than 1,000 individuals in 2012, the Ethiopian customs and revenue department recently reported.
Tanzania’s tax revenues to central government were equivalent to 15.7% of GDP in 2011-12, with the gap between tax revenues and public spending averaging about 12% of GDP over the past three years. The shortfall is covered by aid and government borrowing. Three-quarters of tax revenues are raised in the region of the capital, Dar es Salaam.
Gauke will say HMRC will work with both Ethiopian and Tanzanian tax authorities to undertake a health check to look at the structure of their revenue authorities, their potential to raise tax, and the degree of corruption or evasion either by individuals or companies. The authorities will be focusing on tax inspector training, a complaints handling process and a risk management system.
Separately, campaigners are concerned about the lack of information on tax co-operation by international companies operating in Africa.
Potential revenues lost to developing countries through tax avoidance and evasion amount to three times the sum that they receive in international aid, it has been estimated.
The hugely complex world of tax transparency is high on the agenda for David Cameron at the G8 meeting of industrialised leaders this summer. George Osborne has already announced a deal to increase tax transparency in overseas territories, but campaigners have been seeking greater detail to evaluate its true impact.
In addition, the IF campaign has been pressing for a requirement in the finance bill for UK companies and wealthy individuals to report their use of tax schemes that have an impact on developing countries.
When such tax schemes are identified, the UK should use its current powers to notify the tax authorities of developing countries and assist in the recovery of the money they are owed.
IF also wants the UK to use its presidency of the G8 to launch a convention on tax transparency. Under such a convention, countries would commit to preventing individuals and companies from hiding wealth so that it is untraceable; tax havens would be required to share with developing countries any important information on hidden wealth and assets; and developing countries would receive assistance in recovering taxes due to
By criticising the UN expert report, the former British prime minister is hampering the peace process in the eastern Congo
When a UN Group of Experts report found that Rwanda was supporting rebels fighting a deadly conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a number of countries including the US and Britain cut or suspended foreign aid in protest.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame steadfastly denied supporting the Congo militias that have been wreaking havoc along the Rwanda-Congo border, but the evidence was strong enough to convince even some of Kagame’s biggest supporters that the western powers needed to send a message of disapproval.
That didn’t include Howard Buffett, Warren Buffett’s son, or Tony Blair. Buffett and Blair argued against the move, contending that reducing aid to Rwanda would just cause more harm than good to the unstable Great Lakes region of central Africa.
“Cutting aid does nothing to address the underlying issues driving conflict in the region, it only ensures that the Rwandan people will suffer — and risks further destabilizing an already troubled region,” Blair and Buffett wrote in a recent Foreign Policy article
This was followed by a report from the Howard G Buffett Foundation echoing the same points. The report went further by questioning the reliability of the UN experts – the group that originally reported evidence that the Rwandan government was supporting rebels in the eastern DRC.
It’s worth noting that the Buffett Foundation report was written by unknown authors and using unnamed sources. It attacks the UN experts and then makes the case that pointing fingers is counterproductive. Says the report; “Our Foundation is not interested in apportioning blame for what we view is a fundamental failure in the GoE process in 2012….”
Lake Partners Strategy Consultants and the Crumpton Group LLC are listed as organisations that worked on the report, but they too were unwilling to talk about the report or how they reached their conclusions.
So, I spoke to regional experts about the report both on and off the record and a consensus emerged. The Buffett Foundation report is simply inaccurate, they said. Despite its imperfections, the UN expert report provides sufficient evidence to prove Rwanda’s connection to the armed rebels in the DRC. Since the US and British governments have long been big supporters of Paul Kagame’s Rwanda, it’s reasonable to conclude it would have taken convincing evidence to prompt a suspension of foreign aid.
Many east Africa experts say Rwanda continues to destabilise the region and sap resources for reform. The actions by the international community and the ongoing UN peace talks and framework provide an opportunity to engage in meaningful change for the DRC, many say. Ensuring its success means preventing rebellion and holding all supporters accountable, these experts told me.
Meddling in the DRC
Accusations have been leveled at Rwanda in the past for its meddling in the region. Former Rwandan ambassador to Washington, Theogene Rudasingwa, explained to Newsweek in a January article how the Rwandan government extracted money out of the DRC:
In 2012, the anonymous group of UN experts found evidence that the M23 rebels benefited from coordination with and support from the Rwandan military. Further, the report cited that the level of support went all the way up to the Rwandan defence minister. The UK reacted promptly by withholding £16 million in aid promised to Rwanda. International development secretary Justine Greening announced the suspension of £21m in planned budget support for Rwanda at the end of November.
Military aid totaling $200,000 was withheld by the United States when the information first emerged in July, but sanctions stopped there. Human Rights groups joined members of Congress in December imploring the Obama Administration to put pressure on Rwanda. Germany held back €21 million in planned aid and the EU suspended €70 million in planned budgetary support.
“This is not a matter of aid stopping because of advocacy efforts, explained Aaron Hall, associate director of Research for the Enough Project. “Aid stopped because there was credible information from state intelligence reports that showed these connections are real and that Rwanda was in violation of the UN Arms Embargo on Congo and implicated in destabilising a neighboring state.”
A reliance on aid likely affords Rwanda the opportunity to spend money on arming and supporting the M23 rebellion, said academic Laura Seay in a blog post responding to Blair and Buffett’s FP article.
Other nations reacted to the report by withholding or delaying portions of aid to Rwanda. For a country that relies on foreign aid to account for over 40% of its budget, the cuts were a significant action by the international community. According to experts that I spoke with, the disruption in aid flows to Rwanda are working to the extent that Rwanda is no longer supporting the M23 rebels and is participating in the regional peace framework.
The aid cuts are having a direct economic impact. The Rwandan finance ministry revised its GDP growth expectation down from 7.8% to 6.3%, reported the Economist.
Too Much Finger Pointing?
The Buffett Foundation report makes it clear that it does not have interest in assigning blame.
“Our Foundation is not interested in apportioning blame for what we view is a fundamental failure in the GoE process in 2012; we will leave the point-counterpoint on questions of fact to others,” says the only bold section in the report’s introduction.
It calls for the cooperation between regional, state and international actors in order to resolve the many problems that exist in the DRC. Kagame has taken a similar tactic when asked about the issue of Rwanda’s involvement in the M23 rebellion.
“The blame game doesn’t help anyone,” said Kagame to Christiane Amanpour when she confronted him about Rwanda’s involvement. “It’s not just an issue of M23 or one other problem. It’s a number of problems that are together that we need to sort out.”
Former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs Jendayi Frazer made the same case to Al Jazeera saying, “I think the key issue here is to look forward and see how to resolve this. The pointing of fingers has never helped to resolve the crisis in the Great Lakes region.”
According to the Buffett Foundation report, the UN experts place too much attention on the role of Rwanda and not enough on the systemic problems in the region. Hall refuted this, saying that the mandate of the UN experts is to track illegal arms trafficking and trade to rebel groups.
Jason Stearns, director of the Rift Valley Institute’s Usalama Project, agreed with Hall, adding: “The (report) does place most weight on the M23, but I think that is fair, given that this rebellion was the largest source of instability in the region in 2012. But the GoE does spill a lot of ink discussing criminal networks within the Congolese army, as well as support to other armed groups.”
Stearns added that there are questions to be raised about the lack of collaboration with the UN peacekeeping mission and the governments of Uganda and Rwanda. However, the Buffett Foundation does nothing to carry out a “serious” evaluation of the UN report. There is room for improvement in the report, he says, but the broad conclusions are basically sound.
The Buffett report also points to the breakdown of the relationship between the UN experts and the governments of Rwanda and Uganda. “It is not significant who was first to withdraw cooperation,” it says. “The failure in process undermines the credibility of the findings, limiting potential policy prescriptions that could reduce violence in the Great Lakes region.”
Stearns refuted this, saying that the breakdown of the relationship may have been tied to the fact that the experts uncovered information that Rwanda and Uganda did not like. Journalist David Aronson took a stronger tone in accusing Rwanda for the breakdown in its relationship with the group:
“[T]here’s zero doubt about who broke off the relationship between the GoE and the Rwandan government. The Rwandans did,” wrote Aronson in his blog.
The Way Forward
The attempt to discredit the experts’ report and shift the conversation away from Rwanda’s involvement in the DRC has worked to some extent. Donors are responding by channeling aid through non-government actors. Greening announced at the start of March that £16 million in UK aid money will make its way to humanitarian groups working in Rwanda rather than the government. Germany also reversed course and unblocked the $26 million it suspended in 2012.
Critics of the Buffett Foundation report agree that the causes of instability in the DRC are multifaceted and require a host of solutions. “The Congolese government has certainly played a very negative role in the conflict, often arming armed groups and failing to crack down on criminal networks within its own security forces,” explained Stearns.
That means that any lasting peace deal will require engagement from a diverse sets of interests with the Congolese government. “It appears as if the government in the first line is not interested in reforms. The non-existence of any meaningful security sector reform approaches tells the tale,” said Christoph Vogel, Mercator Fellow on international affairs.
“I have not witnessed any peace effort in DRC so far, that has tried to – either by carrots or sticks – seriously embrace political elites that have been engaging in incitement, funding, or protection of illegal and armed activity in the DRC.”
Congolese experts argue that the continued rebellions make it difficult for such reforms. “[I]gnoring Rwanda’s role in the Kivus as a source of conflict will make the situation worse, not better. And continuing to fund a government that spends its own resources on rebels who rape women and conscript child soldiers is unconscionable for most taxpayers in donor states,” said Seay.
A UN led regional framework was signed in Addis Ababa by 11 African countries, including the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, in February. Despite the challenges, there is a feeling of optimism in response to the UN framework. With neighbouring countries participating and the global community engaged, it appears that now is the time to take permanent steps towards peace.
“There is a unique opportunity given the engagement locally, regionally and internationally to change the security situation in the DR Congo through the UN framework,” says Hall.
A consultation on plans to save £220m from the criminal legal aid bill – including cutting funding for prisoners to make complaints – is launched.
View original post here: Plan to slash legal aid spending
Pressure is mounting on chancellor to keep his military-minded MPs on a short leash and top up the aid budget
Pressure is mounting on George Osborne to keep his military-minded MPs on a short leash and top up the aid budget. It needs to rise from £8.6bn in 2011 to £11.3bn next year to fulfil Britain’s pledge to the UN to donate 0.7% of Gross National Income.
More than 100 economists followed up a letter last week from leaders of the UK’s biggest companies urging the chancellor to stay the course. There are also 170 charities pushing the benefits of aid, especially its potential to build self-sufficiency through agriculture and infrastructure investment.
It must be welcomed that the chancellor appears ready to stick to his guns and not siphon money away to spend on various armaments – as many Tory supporters wish – but he should heed the warnings of those who argue that civil servants in the department for international development, forced to rush to meet spending targets, could invest unwisely.
…International Development and Aid Organizations
The “As We See It” Photo Exhibit is an event to visually engage the public through photography and through stories that highlight and encourage discussion of issues happening in the developing world. This is a free public exhibit held April 4 – 28, 2013.
Go here to read the rest: The Fig Tree Foundation is Hosting the "As We See It" Photo Exhibit to Showcase Photography of Issues, People and Communities in the Developing World and Images and Stories from…
The administrators of HMV sell its six shops in Hong Kong and two in Singapore to private equity firm Aid Partners.
The rest is here: HMV administrators sell Asia shops
Critics say UK aid invested in public-private partnerships could tighten massive agriculture firms’ control over the food chain
Chancellor George Osborne confirmed in his autumn statement last week that the UK overseas aid budget would take a hit as the economy contracts. The prime minister, David Cameron, has pledged he will keep the promise made to raise UK aid to 0.7% of gross national income by 2013, to meet UN targets.
With growth forecasts cut, the amount of money going to overseas development will be less than planned but will still represent a substantial increase on previous years. How that extra money should be best spent to alleviate poverty is likely to be the subject of increasing debate, as NGOs work to keep the British public on side.
War on Want, one of the more radical agencies, is highly critical of funding by the Department for International Development for public-private partnerships that may increase the control of agribusiness over the food chain. It points to two projects that have received significant support from DfID. In Tanzania, a public-private partnership called the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (Sagcot) aims to bring 350,000 hectares (865,000 acres) of land under agricultural production and generate $2.1bn (£1.3bn) of private-sector investment. Partners include Unilever, drinks companies Diageo and SABMiller, agrochemical companies Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont, and fertiliser corporation Yara. DfID and other international donors are paying to upgrade the road infrastructure.
The project documents make clear Sagcot will lobby for tax breaks for investors and expects small-scale farmers to benefit by enabling them to be outgrowers for large agribusinesses. This model, War on Want argues, favours large industrial development, and leaves smallholder farmers and small businesses at the mercy of big corporates. It also, in effect, subsidises highly profitable multinational companies that have become very good at stripping profits out of businesses onshore.
DfID counters that Africa cannot develop out of poverty without large-scale investment, and that much will have to come from the private sector and projects such as these. Investment in schemes that give smallholders access to markets and training in how to use modern farming techniques enables them to increase productivity and sell their surplus, generating income.
In Mozambique, DfID has granted £6.5m to a catalytic fund that aims to bring private investors in to convert unused land for agricultural production. The documents for the project talk of “large tracts of unutilised land” for foreign investors that can be leased for 99 years at a rate of $1 a hectare. Smallholders are meant to benefit as outgrowers for the corporations. One of the investments made by the catalytic fund this year has been in a marketing company part owned by smallholder farmers so that it could supply maize for beer production to SABMiller factories in Mozambique.Other corporate investors in the corridor include Nestlé, Rio Tinto mining, Sun biofuels and private equity fund Phatisa.
In Cameroon, DfID has supported Diageo in a project to replace imported barley with locally grown sorghum in its beer brewing operations. It gave match funding of $250,000 through the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund, a private-sector fund supported by DfID and other foreign government aid programmes.
In Sudan, SABMiller won nearly $1m funding from the fund to introduce local sourcing for cassava through a local subsidiary for its brewing operations.
The rationale, according to DfID, is that it enabled Diageo to assist smallholder farmers to increase their yields and sell their crops to Guinness as a commercial buyer. The grant enabled Diageo to collaborate with a not-for-profit agricultural specialist organisation to train small-scale farmers. The SABMiller collaborations similarly offer smallholders a chance to produce and sell more, boosting their incomes, DfID says.
One in six UK charities questioned for a survey say they fear they may have to close in 2013 due to public spending cuts and falling donations, the Charities Aid Foundation has said.
Continued here: VIDEO: Charities ‘fear new year closure’