Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fiscal Politics & Corruption: The Mood Music For Human Suffering

Some aspects of fiscal politics are transparent. For example, the fact that Indonesia is a net recipient of direct and indirect UN funding for the so-called 'war on drugs' and related crime. Not that the source of this inward investment is just the UN: far from it. But that's for another post on another day. We will stick with the UN for now.

It is important to understand that this is BIG money. Billions of dollars are swilling around. One agency alone, the UNODC (UN Office on Drugs and Crime), had an annual official budget of US$332 million last year (http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/donors/index.html). That's a nice pot of course: but let's continue to state the obvious... recipient nations seek the biggest cut of this that they can possibly attract.

It is also important to understand at this juncture that it isn't just a matter of cash donations. Investment is often allocated via 'projects'. A nation and its regime will benefit fiscally by the very presence of a project office and staff in their territory. It is a complex mix of funding, but it is funding on a truly massive scale.

Naturally, nations and regimes compete vigorously in this lucrative 'market'. And surprise surprise, the UNODC does indeed have a project and project staff in Indonesia.

Of course, the obvious question is: how do the UN (and the other sources) determine where the investment/money goes? Clearly, they don't just stick a pin in a map and pour money in at random. No: it is applied for... in theory it has to be justified. Recipients will have to show that there is a major drug production, import, or export issue. The stakes are high.

Yes, we are finally there: high profile cases like Schapelle Corby's are therefore extremely valuable indeed. This is not rocket science, it is obvious, but it frames the backdrop to the whole show trial. Think about it.

Then there is corruption. Of course, the UN always makes sure that before allocating any investment at all, the recipient regime has a robust and corrupt free judicial system in place. No, wait... that's not true... they don't.

I know: it isn't an issue for flippancy, however deserving the UN may be of some scorn here. They SHOULD make sure that there is no scope for corruption BEFORE allocating investments, as should ALL inward investors to regimes like this one. But they don't. Indeed, in June 2008, even one of the UN's own agencies (UNDP) published a report describing a new initiative in this area: http://www.undp.or.id/factsheets/CorruptionFS-June2008-small.pdf. Good work! But what about pre-2008?

The implication of all this, of course, is that it isn't only the regime/system/police/etc who may benefit from the investment and funding obtained. Individuals too may benefit from a bigger pot to feed from. Yes, it just gets worse and worse.

The above are mere surface scratches and generalities: but I intend to dig deeper and will publish what I find. So far though, all direct approaches to the UN have been completely ignored. I understand that this is not an area which they will be anxious to discuss, but they should understand that they too are accountable. To retain credibility, they must not hide information, including outward investment and donation details. They should also understand that I am not going to go away anytime soon, and that there are plenty of others asking exactly the same questions as I am.

When a single individual, like Schapelle Corby, finds herself in the middle of all this motivational and high finance mire.... let's just say that it is clearly a matter upon which governments should be acting. Perhaps the Australian government might care to get off its idle backside and actually DO something, rather than play pander politics with those who abuse their citizens.

The UN might also ask itself how it squares creating a drug/crime investment model which simultaneously provides motivation for the wholesale breaching of their own conventions on human rights.

Would you care to comment, Mr Costa (UNODC exec director and spokesman)? Please use the form below, sir.

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