A Coalition For Asian Development

Following the introduction of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in 2014 many questioned how such ambitious goals could be met by 2030. The SDGs address, among other developmental issues, the eradication of poverty, hunger and income inequality. In Asia, civil society demonstrates that it can bridge the gap between these lofty goals and their eventual success. According to Nicholas Booth and Beniam Gebrezghi, it is “Precisely because of civil society’s role in representing the interests of the poorest, most marginalized and excluded groups, [that it] seems more urgent than ever before in every aspect of a new agenda which seeks to ensure no one is left behind.”

Over the last 30 years there has been dramatic growth in Asian civil society. Today, the United Nations Development Programme works closely with local civil society organizations on a variety of development projects. In the wake of Japan’s triple disaster in March of 2011 (the earthquake, along with the resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster) for example, civil society organizations played a crucial role in reconstruction and community development efforts. Nicholas Booth and Beniam Gebrezghi again point out: “These civil society groups worked side-by-side with local communities, educators, businesses, local governments, and national governments to help the victims and to get Japan back on its feet.”

More recently, civil society helped rebuild Nepal after the country was devastated by an earthquake in April 2015. With the Nepalese government unable to conduct proper disaster relief, the people of Nepal turned to one another. In June, our blog focused on Nepal and its efforts to rebuild with the aid of international philanthropy. Using Twitter and Facebook, Nepalese citizens were able to arrange rescues, deliver supplies and provide shelter. According to Christian Science Monitor, “Nepal’s response to the [earthquake] was helped by an increase in the number of civil society groups since the introduction of multiparty democracy in the 1990s.” In response, Google has brought back “Person Finder,” a system used after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake to check social media for possible updates on missing persons. Locally based initiatives including Tomnod, a program designed to crowdsource images of structural damage, provided first responders with valuable information.

While civil society is filling the gaps left by other sectors, there is still much that Asian governments can do to encourage third sector growth. China, Nepal and Japan have seen an increase in civil society registrations, but CSOs in other Asian countries are combating increasingly restrictive policies. In Laos, the Ministry of Home Affairs has amended the decree on nonprofit associations (NPAs) and foundations by adding the requirement that groups must notify or obtain permission from the government for funding that they receive from foreign sources. This new policy, which echoes Russia’s infamous “Foreign Agent Law,” can lead to funding delays of up to 18 months and pose significant operational difficulties for programs funded by international philanthropy. The Laotian government’s crackdown on civil society has been downright hostile. John Sifton, Asia Advocacy director of the Human Rights Watch explained the situation, “If a human rights defender like Aung Sang Suu Kyi were to stand up in Laos and speak out against authoritarian rule, she would be immediately arrested.”

These restrictions are, unfortunately, not limited to Laos. In Singapore’s recent elections, the People’s Action Party (PAP) retained its majority in parliament, a position that it is held since 1959. The PAP, positioned as a center right party, has a reputation for restricting the actions of free speech within the city. In March 2015 Amos Yee, a teenager responsible for a video that criticized a former Singapore leader was arrested. Yee was sentenced to 18 months of “reformative training.” Amnesty International was quick to respond: “According to the Office of the UN Commissioner on Human Rights, reformative training is ‘akin to detention and usually applied to juvenile offenders involved in serious crimes’ and was referred to in a recent Singapore district court decision as ‘incarcerative in nature and should be imposed cautiously’.” Limits on free speech have a direct and negative impact on many civil organizations whose intrinsic goals of aiding society often conflict with official government policy.

Without the assistance of civil society organizations, the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the UN cannot be met by 2030. If Asia’s leaders want to see these goals met, the restrictions on civil society organizations must be eliminated. Asian countries have both the organizational capacity and financial resources to help combat poverty, hunger and inequality, but will they be able to step up to the challenge?

Using Philanthropy and Partnerships to Drive Global Prosperity

by Charlene Chan and Michael French

During a time in which development aid is drastically changing, three experts in the development field convened to discuss the shift of aid away from official government channels to private giving. On April 2nd, the Hudson Institute’s Center for Global Prosperity (CGP), in conjunction with Georgetown University, held an event featuring Dr. Carol Adelman of CGP, Dr. Caroline Anstey of the World Bank, and Dr. Carol Lancaster of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. The esteemed panel discussed how philanthropy, remittances, and private capital flows have greatly outstripped official government aid, as well as the implications of these findings for the future of development. Besides being a lively discussion of a noteworthy and important topic, the event also marked the release of CGP’s 2012 Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances.  Continue reading

Beating the Resource Curse with Oil to Cash Transfers, Part 2

A joint post by Michael French and Laura Esposito

Oil in Libya | Source: The Africa Report and Reuters

The resource curse plagues many nations, partially because it’s difficult to hold leaders accountable for the millions of dollars of oil revenue. However, some countries are making progress. For example, Libya’s new government wants more transparency around the oil sector, suggesting that government contracts will be published online. This, the new government hopes, will encourage Libyans to play a role in the process and potentially benefit from that nation’s large oil reserves. Another option is encouraging the government to use oil revenue for cash transfers to its people, increasing accountability and providing citizens with income to address their needs.

Using oil to cash transfers, championed by the Center for Global Development, the program would essentially take the revenue gained from the oil and put it in the hands of the people. The oil to cash transfer initiative divides a large portion of oil revenue and distributes it to the people evenly. These cash transfers are then treated as income and subsequently taxed by the government, with the taxes creating a stronger link between the people and government activity. Continue reading

Oil’s Slippery Slope, Part 1

A joint post by Laura Esposito and Michael French

Oil is arguably the most important natural resource in the global arena. It brings wealth and poverty, endorses governments and private companies, causes wars and land disputes. Until clean energy takes the stage entirely, oil may as well run the world. And run it does. With oil-centric political decisions made by Uganda, Brazil, and Nigeria, among several others, the race is on for developing countries to capitalize on this black treasure before it becomes obsolete.

What of oil’s role in the development process? With the world’s huge reliance on and consumption of oil, it makes intuitive sense to think that a discovery of oil would be extremely beneficial to a country. For example, the United Arab Emirates and Norway have benefited from oil. After all, oil pays the bills in the short term and also allows countries to invest in long-term projects and more easily transition to other sources of energy. Additionally, oil attracts foreign direct investment because countries without oil need to get it from somewhere. In certain circumstances, especially when solid economic infrastructure already exists, this holds true. But oil often harms less established, developing countries. Continue reading

The Ring, Ring Heard ‘Round the World

A joint post by Elizabeth Eckard and Laura Esposito

Cellphone store in Accra, Ghana | Source: Shaul Schwarz/Reportage for the New York Times

Mobile phones, heralded as a developed country luxury, have changed their (ring)tone.

Mobile phone sales have dominated in recent years: according to the UN, more than 5 billion people have cellular subscriptions worldwide, with 57% of people in developing nations subscribing. More important than the sales, however, are the variety of ways that consumers are benefiting from mobile technology. With entertainment “apps” abounding, those in developing countries have more practical uses for their phone apps. For example, mobile banking (m-banking) has integrated more people into their country’s economies and created new opportunities for disaster-relief cash transfers. Moreover, rural populations are profiting from less time spent traveling to and from markets and urban centers.

In an event at the Center for Global Development, Zap It to Me: Impacts of a Mobile Phone-Based Cash Transfer Program in Niger, Jenny Aker discussed her recent paper on the effects of a mobile cash transfer compared to both a manual cash transfer and a cash transfer where a phone is provided and Zap-enabled. The paper illustrates that the mobile cash transfer, provided to combat the drought in Niger, reduced travel time and costs. In addition, mobile transfers reduce labor costs associated with distributing the transfer and prevent recipients from losing income as a result of picking up their money. Continue reading

What is Counted May Not Count for Much

By Jeremiah Norris – Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute

On January 24, the AP carried an ominous headline: “Fraud plagues global health fund”. The article went on to claim in its lead-in sentence that the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria (the GF) newly enforced Inspector General’s office found that “as much as two-thirds of some grant eaten up by corruption”.

In April, the GF published its official response (see “Results with Integrity”), transparently communicating to the world any finding related “to irregular expenditures at the country level – publicize[ed] to date [at] US $44 million in fraudulent, unsupported or ineligible expenditures by [its] Principal and sub-recipients.”

The report goes on to detail the steps being taken by GF to reinforce its fraud detection and risk-management processes, with particular attention to the role of Local Fund Agents and fraud-prone activities at the country level. The GF’s April response is much more fulsome in its sense of institutional accountability than were the public explanations issued by some of its senior managers and blot advocates in January. A Fund spokesman, Jon Liden, commented that “the messenger is being shot … we would contend that we do not have any corruption problems that are significantly different in scale or nature to any other international financing institution.”  A blog supported stated: “Wall Street would be envious of such low levels of fraud and abuse.Continue reading

PIP: Gateway to Funding Universal Coverage by an Extraterritorial Tax Authority

By Jeremiah Norris – Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute

WHO is promoting a Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) plan. It estimates that $2.283 billion over a ten year period, mainly for interventions in 52 of the poorest countries in the world, would be required. The two major sources recommended for financing PIP are through a ‘subscription fee’ on manufacturers’ sales–in addition to their in-kind donations, and governments. In the World Health Report for 2010, subtitled “The Path to Universal Coverage”, WHO recommended similar financing methods, including: tax private enterprises and individuals for global health assistance programs.

The Millennium Declaration on Access to Medicines was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September 2000. The Secretary-General stated that it was to be conducted “in cooperation with pharmaceutical companies”.  Subsequently, responsibility for policy development was delegated to WHO. In 2002, it recommended that “pharmaceutical companies should set aside 1% of their major market promotional and advertising budgets. If companies were unwilling to participate voluntarily, legislative or regulatory approaches could be explored”. WHO went on to recommend: “reduction/elimination of pharmaceutical companies’ advertising practices which are aimed at maximizing profits”.

WHO’s recommendations did not come to pass. In the interim, U. S. pharmaceutical companies donated during the period 2004-2009 a total of $33 billion in medical supplies and drugs, which expanded poor patients’ access to medicines, while at the same time providing ministries of finance a windfall of income from taxes, duties and tariffs. Continue reading