Catching Fire: The odds are never in our favour

Roll up, roll up! For more bread and circuses. Everyone has been raving about The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire, released today, ever since the original film came out last year. The latest film fuses the reality-type show of Big Brother, the horror of Lord of the Flies, the sinister surveillance of Orwell’s 1984, and the glamour of Strictly Come Dancing, all in one.

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The cruelty of fighting to the death continues with more games; the victors of the first games, Katniss and Peeta, are warned by their mentor Haymitch: ‘From now on, your job is to be a distraction so that people forget what the real problems are.’ The Games and its victors-cum-celebrities are used as ‘entertainment’ to distract from the real problems of impoverished and starving people in the Districts outside the Capitol of Panem. Just as Roman emperors placated the masses with ‘bread (panem) and circuses’ or gladiators.

We might kid ourselves that this is just a film, set in a horrific future world, that doesn’t reflect our lives today. But, at some point, I’m sure that we’ve all chosen to watch some light-hearted entertainment on TV like I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here where we’re encouraged to laugh at other people’s uncomfortable experiences.

I already see signs of us living in a world of inequality, not far off The Hunger Games trilogy, and the ways in which we distract ourselves from the real problems, like the citizens of the Capitol do. We go shopping for clothes or stuff that we don’t really need and ignore a homeless person on the street. We buy more food than we need and throw away £60 worth every month, whilst more and more people rely on food banks to feed their families each week.

Foodbanks shouldn’t have to exist, but they are a last resort. A man in West Sussex, who received a food parcel while he was on probation until his benefits were sorted, was so grateful his local Foodbank in Chichester existed: ‘I had a difficult decision to make, do I pay the deposit on a flat and starve or eat and remain homeless? The foodbank has allowed me to pay my deposit and not go hungry.’

This kind of disparity is highlighted in Catching Fire as we see a flash of graffiti: ‘The odds are never in our favour’ as Katniss and Peeta go on a victory tour through the Districts. The citizens of the Capitol gorge themselves and wear ridiculously extravagant costumes, pursuing their own happiness. While those in the Districts starve and are oppressed; any sign of protest or discontent is beaten out of them.

This makes me ask myself, do we ensure that the odds are never in the favour of others? Could we be perpetuating the terrible living conditions of others and increasing the gap between the haves and have-nots by the way that we live and distracting ourselves from what’s really going on?

If the heroine in Catching Fire is Katniss, who becomes a beacon of hope and justice, inspiring rebellious uprisings in the Districts, then my hero in the real world of inequality is Claudio Oliver, an inspiring urban farmer, married to Katia, in Brazil, where the divide between the rich and poor is rising.

Claudio shared his vision with me: ‘I want to stop people from thinking of consumerism and poverty just in material terms and to start to understand a person living in poverty as someone who doesn’t have a friend, as someone who is lonely.’

‘And the best way to make friends is to start doing something communal.  A great way to start is in our own homes, our gardens, by starting to work the soil and sharing its fruits with our neighbours we can rebuild communities.

‘The practice of living in community with one another and being in touch with creation is being lost, as many people become increasingly busy, pressurised and isolated. People need meals, families, communities and laughing.  There is nothing like meals being at the centre of our life. Not a career. But the centre of the household.’

Claudio promotes community living, values relationships and an alternative way of life based on responsible consumption and recycling waste in Brazil.

I’m inspired by his approach to tackle the real problems of inequality head on so that we can prevent the extreme situation of ‘the odds are never in our favour’ in the film Catching Fire.

Why not respond to this article by doing this Rhythms’ action of connection?
Time for a sandwich: spend some time talking with a homeless person and while you’re at it, offer to buy them a sandwich. For more action ideas sign up to Rhythms today.

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Full steam ahead!

By Cath Candish

So it’s here. The long awaited Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit has finally arrived, and I am sitting in the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in London. There’s something of the cruise ship about this building.

Its grey angular body juts aggressively into the elegant Westminster landscape. But once inside, smooth lines, space and light make it the ideal place for a conference; not least one that could be about turning a ship around – or a fleet of ships – for that would seem the challenge of the OGP.  It’s the challenge of how to engineer the tough turn-around from a default compass setting of ‘information is power and closed government is the way forward’, to instead set sail and make for the fresh winds of public scrutiny, engagement and open government.

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‘Transparency is an idea whose time has come’, was Francis Maude’s much quoted phrase today at the OGP, but even though transparency is increasingly protected in law, there is nothing inexorable about its progress. The OGP aims to help governments inspire one another through the tough process of reform. Turning those government ships around is going to take time and commitment.

Now is the time, but is there the commitment, especially as the G20 looms on next year’s horizon?

Britain, the host of this year’s summit, can be seen as Admiral of the fleet. This morning David Cameron announced to us that a central register of company beneficial ownership will be made open and accessible to the public. This is real progress, that if properly implemented, forces shell company beneficiaries out of the shadows. But as the British Government knows well, the work doesn’t end here.

One of the first places to start is the budget. Tearfund would like to see OGP member countries join the fiscal transparency working group, to agree together on how to make year on year progress towards greater fiscal openness.  Because, Tearfund has found that once the process of fiscal transparency begins, people develop an expectation that goes beyond budgets. They want to know more information and have more say about more policies, how they are made and implemented. 

I care about all this because I have seen with my own eyes that corruption is indeed a deadly disease that breeds poverty: the desperate ingrained kind; conflict: the protracted complex kind; and hopelessness: breeding the ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ approach. But this disease is preventable: ‘Transparency’, as one Mexican participant famously said, ‘is like a vaccination against corruption’.

What does it say to the rest of the world, that the OGP was started by a handful of countries, including US and UK? Some say they prefer to seek African solutions to African problems. But corruption is not an African problem as much as it is a global one; the globalisation process has deepened, entrenched, and tossed it around into ever more complex international waters.

It will take a global solution, and a host of local ones, to turn these ships around. The question remains as to whether the UK will lead the fleet on to the G20 next year, encouraging other members to follow our example. Will we continue the momentum of progress made this year into the next, or will we cast adrift on a raft of our own complacency? Full steam ahead!

 

We’re all in it together – but not in the way you might think

I went on my first demonstration when I was seven.

It was 1992 and John Major’s government had announced yet more education cuts. I lived in a small town where no-one had very much really and this was yet another thing in a long line of off-the-cuff policies that restricted potential and kept us in our place.

So we took to the streets. I clutched my mother’s hand as we huddled in the shadow of the war memorial in the centre of town, others holding lanterns and homemade banners. We sang hymns and clapped our hands. My memory of my first foray into activism is fairly foggy, but I can quite imagine that the local policeman stopped by to have a chat and a cup of weak tea. Beyond tame, particularly when you consider the far more impressive story told by one of my schoolfriends of being held aloft during the poll tax riots.

My point here, other than indulging my own memories of a precocious childhood, is that while the bobble-hat wearing, banner-toting group of locals in that small Somerset town didn’t even come close to stopping the tide of cuts which crashed over us so forcefully in the weeks and months that followed, we had stood up for what we believed in. Everyone wrote letters to the Education Secretary, (including me, receiving a broadly sympathetic but generally patronising response a month later) and spoke to the local MP.

Why had we taken the time to protest? Because education was, and still is, one of a number of hugely important political issues which quite rightly define the outcomes of elections. After all, democracy is about being free to question and speak out on the issues that concern you, whether you agree with the Government of the day or not.

Last week, MPs voted to plough on with the ‘Transparency, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration’ Bill, or the Lobbying Bill. It was introduced a couple of days before the summer parliamentary recess and aims to crack down on illicit influencing of politicians by introducing a ‘Register of Lobbyists’. This all sounds pretty positive – as a lobbyist myself, I’m frankly disgusted that so-called corporate ‘in-house lobbyists’ can lay on the hospitality, tip those in power the wink and pave the way for big business to get what it wants.

The thing is, it would be perfectly understandable if illegal lobbying by corporates was the main focus of the Bill – although incidentally, the Register of Lobbyists bit doesn’t go far enough as it only deals with the lobbying of Government Ministers and their Permanent Secretaries by lobbying consultants, whereas MPs, Peers and Special Advisers are still fair game – but it isn’t. The Bill has two other parts, dealing with ‘non-party campaigning etc’ and trade unions respectively, which is when things start to get slightly sinister.

Part Two of the Bill introduces new, strict rules which will very likely impose significant restrictions on the campaigning of organisations like Tearfund, as well as much smaller organisations and community groups, such as churches, for the twelve months leading up to a General Election. Our expenditure on awareness-raising activities like media and events would now be covered, as well as logistical things like transport and the costs of employing our staff.  The Bill also lowers how much organisations can spend on these activities by 60%-70% – if we spend more, we could face prosecution if these activities are deemed to be ‘for election purposes’. A little will now have to go a very long way. On top of that, the Government plans to aggregate the spending of campaigning coalitions (like the IF campaign), so every involved organisation or agency will likely have to account for the spending of the whole. The upshot? It’s not just the big organisations that will be affected, grassroots campaigners might also feel the force of the Bill’s bile too. In fact you could say (if this goes ahead), we’ll all be in it together. Ironic, really.

Let’s be clear, there are existing rules on non-party campaigning, namely the ‘Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000’ (PPERA). This means that UK charities, NGOs and other voluntary organisations can’t engage in election-bending activities like the so-called US super-PACs. Thanks to the new legislation, in-house corporate lobbyists will still be able to have their quiet dinners and behind-closed-door chats in those all-important pre-election months, while civil society will be restricted by how much we can call the Government up about it. In short, as it stands, the Bill won’t clean up politics or properly right the wrongs we’d hoped it would.

21 years after my first demonstration, I’ve lost count of the number of campaign cards I’ve signed, events I’ve organised, protests I’ve attended. I’ve seen ground-breaking policy change (the Arms Trade Treaty anyone, 0.7, debt cancellation?) and I’m only one person. What would it mean if we all stopped taking legitimate action because we were worried about breaking the rules or getting the organisations we support into trouble?

Today, MPs will be taking part in the first of three days of Committee Stage of the Bill. This will be heard as a Committee of the Whole House in the Main Chamber, rather than in a Public Bill Committee of a few MPs poring over the Bill line-for-line. With the Prime Minister’s G20 statement and a tribute debate to Prince George on the agenda preceding it, the opportunity for discussion during day one of Committee Stage looks like it’ll be limited. Right now, from where I’m standing, it all seems pretty bleak.

Want to take action? Click here for a Tearfund Nudge.

A briefing on the Lobbying Bill is here.

Because it Works – why the Lobbying Bill mustn’t stop charities campaigning

Jubilee 2000 making their point

Jubilee 2000 making their point

Next time Justin Welby wants to have a go at Wonga, it looks like he’ll need a permit from the Electoral Commission first. I’m worried the Lobbying Bill – or Gagging Bill – will stop charities, churches, and civil society speaking out about things that matter.

Campaigning’s a vital part of a living democracy. I remember the Sun ran a ‘Bash the Bishop’ campaign a few years ago, inviting people to tell off the Archbishop of Canterbury after he said something they didn’t like. I liked the headline, I loathed the campaign. But I want to live in a country where newspapers, archbishops, charities and all of us are free to hold different views and say so, loudly if we want to, and whether I agree with them or not.

And I want charities and churches to be free to be controversial when the people we serve need us to. Syria, fracking, food banks, disability rights, fostering – there are many reasons for voluntary groups to speak up and represent people. Charities have a purpose, serving people in poverty around the world in Tearfund’s case, and campaigning’s often a useful way to do what we exist to do.

But the government’s draft Lobbying Bill looks likely to shut us up. When both Conservative Home http://t.co/zWOcBD6UFp and Polly Toynbee http://t.co/eRJRPeGo6p oppose something, I sit up and take notice.

I’m not sure if it’s a deliberate attack on civil liberties or a mess made in a hurry, and Tearfund supports more lobbying transparency (through the Open Government Partnership here for example), but at the moment the bill’s set to stop any group that’s not a political party from talking about anything that might feature in any election campaign – local, Europe, national, referendum or any other kind – and tie us up with vague, expensive and complex regulation. As the NCVO – the voluntary sector’s umbrella group – explains

Jubilee 2000 was a great campaign that worked – the kind of campaign this bill would jeopardise. Party politically, it was neutral, but it changed what politicians did. Tearfund and many others spoke out asking governments to cancel the unpayable debts of the world’s poorest countries. We knew that countries which couldn’t afford it were struggling to make interest payments to countries with far more money. Partly we just thought it was wrong, and partly we could see a chance to use that money to reduce poverty instead.

So far $130 billion of debt has been cancelled. Uganda used the money they saved on debt payments to abolish primary school fees – so children who couldn’t afford to go to school could now start their education. Mozambique have immunised over a million children against deadly diseases. The list goes on. I reckon it would take Tearfund roughly 1,000 years to raise the kind of money our campaigning unlocked – I think we’d spend it even better, but campaigning to get governments to do things on a scale we could only dream of has been a great investment of our time and money. This video follows the story https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg6yXYIYG08

As Christians, we liked the idea of Jubilee – a special year every 50 years for setting slaves free, forgiving debts, and restoring equality. It’s set out in the bible in Leviticus 25, and mentioned again in Isaiah 61, which Jesus quoted at the start of his ministry. Justice is part of our faith, and campaigning’s one way we live it.

Campaigning doesn’t always work – for example the Jubilee Debt Campaign hasn’t yet won a system for countries to go bankrupt and start again in the way companies and people can. But it often works well for charities, churches, and civil society more generally, as Martin Luther King told us.

Do pray for the government to amend the Lobbying Bill so it doesn’t gag churches, charities and civil society, and do ask your MP to push for the changes it needs. Tweeting @david_cameron and @nick_clegg wouldn’t go amiss either.

Ben Niblett (Head of Campaigns)

“Ray Bans and the rest of it” – why aid works

This morning I woke up in what appeared to be the eighties. In those first blurry moments, I wondered how long I’d been asleep. Not only was the ‘racist van’ topping the headlines again, but UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was instructing Radio 4 listeners on why he believes it is a travesty that UK taxpayers fund aid to ‘Bongo Bongo land’. Coupled with the link sent to me by a friend to the band ‘Scott and Charlene’s Wedding’ (who married in 1987 fact fans), I honestly did feel like I’d somehow managed to sleepwalk my way into the DeLorean.

While I’m writing this, I’m clicking through as many online atlases as I can, trying to locate ‘Bongo Bongo’ land. Maybe I’ve got the spelling wrong but I’m not having much luck finding it really, maybe because I failed to secure a GCSE in geography, or (as Mr Bloom might contend), as a lady of ‘baby-making age’, I should be at home cleaning behind my fridge and not worrying about such matters.

I’m not going to launch into a detailed, worthy defence of aid here, mainly because people like Godfrey Bloom will stick like glue to their misinformed and frankly offensive opinions, regardless of how much evidence exists to the contrary. And judging by Jim Naughtie’s fairly resigned response to Mr Bloom’s tirade, coupled with the reaction on Twitter, I’m guessing most people are aware that his appraisal of international aid is up there with the Harry Potter series.

However, what I did find mildly interesting was how convicted Mr Bloom was that aid somehow goes on “ray ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it”.

Every time aid gets mentioned, I count under my breath until the cries of ‘corruption!’ rise up. It’s a bit like bingo really – charity begins at home (tick), all the money goes to dictators (tick), they blow it all on space programmes (tick), HOUSE! – but what people like Godfrey Bloom have failed to notice is how much work has been done and is still being undertaken, to ensure that aid goes where it’s most needed and to support citizens in developing countries in building their capacity to hold their own governments to account for its expenditure.

Back in June, the EU passed unprecedented legislation to ensure that multinationals publish what they pay for developing countries’ natural resources, which for some, amounts to seven times what they receive in aid. A significant breakthrough, which will have a serious impact for people living in some of the world’s poorest countries. The next step will be to ensure greater budget transparency, so that citizens all over the world can access information about how their governments are spending their taxes and investments. We hope that this will be considered by countries attending the Open Government Partnership annual meeting in the Autumn, currently chaired by the UK.

But going back to the EU Accounting and Transparency Directives. Eighteen MEPs voted against the groundbreaking transparency legislation in June and Godfrey Bloom was one of them. I’m honestly baffled that someone who opposes UK overseas development assistance on the grounds of corruption, would also openly counter legislation which not only paves the way for far greater transparency in our international and business relations, but might also one day end the need for aid entirely.

Aid works. It really does. In the last ten years, more than 50 million children have started going to school in sub-Saharan Africa, while deaths from measles have fallen by nearly 75%. I could quote and quote and quote statistics. And yet 2.3 million children still die every year from malnutrition. I’m not sure I want to know what Mr Bloom thinks about that, or what he’d say to the 2.3 million mothers who will mourn the desperate loss of their children this year, all because they didn’t have enough food to eat. But I hope that the Great British public drowns out his racist ramblings with furious compassion for those who are worse off than us, because it’s what we do best.

The Open Government Partnership – a success story in how the UK makes policy decisions?

Last week the G8 delivered some real encouragements on transparency – from natural resource transparency, ownership of companies, to an Open Data Charter.

As part of this, the UK is committing to enhance transparency at home as well as abroad – and is a founding member of the Open Government Partnership – an international initiative whereby governments commit to make progress on becoming more ‘open’.  The UK’s draft revised OGP National Action Plan, as published today, outlines how the UK will strive to work towards this agenda.[1]

Ok, so this may not sound particularly ‘sexy’ but it does deserve some thought-time (or at least a blog).  The drafting of this National Action Plan (NAP) has been a test-case in how the UK does open policy-making.  And the content of the draft published today will, for many, be a measure of the success of the process.

So what have the successes been so far?

The process:  Through the action plan drafting process (which involved civil society policy officers meeting weekly with civil servants), there has been greater dialogue between Government and civil society – allowing for both sides to have frank conversations and to better understand the concerns and challenges of the other.  This participation has allowed NGOs to increase the prominence of key issues such as beneficial ownership and extractive industry transparency – key features of the G8 discussions.

The content:  There has been some progress.  The revision has taken the action plan beyond open data to look at open government i.e. not only looking at publishing government data, but ensuring that there is citizen participation that generates accountability, a key thing that civil society has pushed for.  There has been movement on specific areas, for example the draft NAP recognises the need to have strong enforcement of anti-corruption legislation in order to truly have ‘open government’.

And the draft action plan doesn’t avoid some of the difficult areas – such as the UK needing to work with the UK’s Overseas Territories (OT’s) and Crown Dependencies (CDs) to take action on bribery – a previous ‘no-go’ area due to constitutional challenges.  Perhaps particularly interesting in light of the Prime Minister’s successful efforts to get all the UK’s OTs and CDs to sign-up to the multilateral convention on information exchange.

But there have been some challenges.

The drafting process has proved lengthy.  The Government originally intended for the draft to be published in April, but with the high number of Government departments involved and needing to agree the content, it has been delayed until now.

The draft plan omits some essential areas of open government. These need to be addressed and included in the text rather than the ‘civil society-asks annexe’. Specifically, the plan omits commitments to:

–          Strengthen OGP’s eligibility criteria on budget transparency.  Budget transparency is a fundamental part of open government – without extensive, accessible and understandable budget information citizens are unable to hold leaders to account for public expenditure.  Although the UK has made an individual commitment to this area, as current Co-Chair, the UK should prioritise strengthening OGP’s budget transparency eligibility and reporting requirements.  This should be discussed and agreed at the OGP steering group meeting in July, and included as a UK commitment.

–          An anti-corruption strategy or plan.  There have been positive steps with the UK beginning to bring greater coordination to its anti-corruption efforts.  But efforts need to be crystallised and a transparent action plan put in place so that UK citizens know what actions the Government is taking to tackle corruption at home and abroad.

–          Strengthen international accountability initiatives.  Information is useful in so much that it leads to accountability (by citizens, parliament and civil society) and the UK should not shy away from supporting initiatives that build this capacity internationally e.g. Making All Voices Count.

The OGP open policy making process is fascinating in the light of the resurgence of concerns about lobbying. Whilst there is the desire on both sides to engage the public directly in policymaking, it is clear that engaging intelligently is much easier for those who have time and expertise through private, not-for-profit and charitable employment.

The real test of OGP national action plans and this open policy making pilot will be what happens next.  Will NGO’s continue to engage in this process or will they think that the government has been unresponsive?  Will ‘ordinary people’ participate directly in the public consultation (ongoing until 19th September), not just through supporting NGO policy officers to invest time? Ultimately, will policy reflect the will of the people, or the will of the politicians?

A success story?  We will have to wait and see.

Image Photo: gov.uk


[1] Draft, because this is for wider consultation before the final plan is launched in the Autumn, revised, as the first action plan was published in 2010.

Lifting the veil of secrecy on land deals

As the British Prime Minister hosts a pre-G8 Summit on Saturday, Open for Growth, and G8 leaders meet in Northern Ireland next Monday, they should shine a light on land deals to give people in developing countries more control over their land and protect poor small-scale farmers from land grabs.

In the run up to the events, the UK has recognised that lack of transparency around land deals can both create a barrier to responsible investment, and weaken livelihoods and ignore rights of local communities.

ImageMeanwhile, Tearfund’s local partner in Peru, Paz y Esperanza (Peace and Hope), has been working on issues related to land tenure and use, and their latest research shows why urgent action is needed globally (summary report in Spanish).

Their report shows that environmental damage, social conflicts and loss of food security are security are some of the worrying consequences of the way that land deals or concessions are happening. However, the main concern is that indigenous groups lose control over their land, as they often play no part in negotiations about concessions and have little access to usable information.

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Concentration of land in the hands of large companies is proceeding at a rapid pace, as shown in the full report. For example, in some departments in Peru, mining concessions cover nearly two thirds of the land, as shown in this graph.

This has contributed to a number of worrying impacts in Peru:

  • Reduced food security as land is turned over to agricultural exports. This can be seen in the increasing amount of food being imported into the country, the value of which rose from US$ 510 million in 1991 to US$ 2,429 million in 2008.
  • Social conflicts:  230 social conflicts were reported in Peru as of the end of 2012. Conflicts related to environmental issues, including loss of access to water for small-scale agriculture, as it was diverted to large scale agriculture and mining activities, was a particular issue that accounted for nearly two-thirds (150) of all cases.
  • Environmental damage.  The pressure placed on land, by the extractive industry and large scale agricultural activities, often creates environmental liabilities, as well as effects on the health of the population. The mono-cropping of vast areas of the Amazon for pine nut or sugar cane for biofuel has also led to similar damage.
  • Loss of control over indigenous peoples’ territories.  Despite the existence of many so-called “dialogue” processes that take place between the mining companies and communities, the report shows that these have often ended up being unfair because the indigenous people’s leaders have little or no technical or legal information on which to base their negotiations. Related to this is the lack of official information on the actual amount of land that has been granted in concessions.

One case that illustrates this is of a Korean company ECOAMERICA, which was sold 72,000 hectares of supposedly uninhabited land for agricultural development for less than 50 pence a hectare.  The communities found out about the deal months later, took legal action and won the first court case, which was then overturned by a higher court. Last year, the Constitutional Court finally ruled in favour of the communities, although they claim that activities are still continuing on their lands.

Tearfund’s partner, Peace and Hope, strongly recommends the following, based on their report:

  1. Consultation – for any process in which communities may be affected by natural resource exploration or development activities, ensuring that the consultations are conducted in good faith and in the language of the population, with legal and technical assistance and true and fair intercultural dialogue.
  2. Indigenous land titles – the state must prioritise the titling of land for native and rural communities. This requires coordinated efforts between the Ministry of Agriculture and the regional governments, and must include contributions from civil society.
  3. Transparency – of commercial transactions affecting indigenous people e.g. the websites of state bodies, such as the ministries, should provide up-to-date information.

Tearfund is part of the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, which is calling for G8 leaders to establish a global platform called a Land Transparency Initiative, which would help improve land rights in poorer countries and support the UN’s Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure. This initiative should also require land investors to share details of both their investments (which can be responsible) and engagement with affected communities. The G8 must also get its own house in order by regulating all G8-based companies investing in land so the details of all deals are shared and affected communities are involved and heard in the negotiations.

Lobbying: let’s get our House in order

My name is Rosanne, and I’m a lobbyist.

In the coming days and weeks, I fear that like the many bank workers before me who were entirely blameless for the financial crash, I’m going to be tarred with the same gnarly brush of sleaze and corruption whenever I happen to mention what I do for a living. Like religion and politics, it’ll be another thing not to mention during dinner, particularly ironic when you notice that I’m a parliamentary officer working for a Christian organisation.

Yet again, lobbying has come under the spotlight as an ignoble profession, attractive to those in search of power and a route into government, or those exiting the Whitehall scrum for a quieter office and final salary pension. As The Times undercover journalists clearly demonstrated this weekend, even at the epicentre of our democracy, there’s a lucrative market for the opportunistic.

Lobbying is about democracy. The thing that people forget is that MPs spend their time either on Westminster turf (in the House, in their office, in meetings, in the tea-room), or back in their constituency. If their constituency is outside of London, then they spend a lot of time on the train, possibly delayed and working their way through piles of casework queries from those people who elected them. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to bear the burden of countless people’s real dilemmas, homelessness, payday loans gone wrong, the threat of deportation. I can quite imagine lying awake at night, worrying and worrying and worrying. On top of that, MPs have to have an opinion on absolutely everything, from animal welfare to acute heart problems to energy policy and if they can’t answer immediately, are derided for being ‘out-of-touch’. Good MPs, and I maintain there are very many, literally carry the weight of the world around on their shoulders every single day.

Without meaning to appear sycophantic in my portrayal of the average MP’s life, the point I am making is that whatever you think of them, MPs are awfully busy and cannot, (however much we would like them to), keep up to date with absolutely every issue that concerns civil society, both nationally and globally. Which is where lobbyists come in. Put very simply, we keep MPs and peers in touch with civil society. We discuss the issues with them and provide the policy and research that they need to make a fuss in parliament, to ensure that they are standing up for the people who they were elected to represent. Yes they might ask parliamentary questions and yes they might decide to take action on an issue, but that’s because they believe it to be right, not because they are going to get paid. And we call them out too – lobbying is not about cosying up to power but more about challenging those who have the influence to use it in a way that can benefit civil society, whether it’s addressing poverty in the UK, or tackling global hunger, or fighting for greater equality for women.

For this reason, I am in favour of a statutory register for lobbyists. I have nothing to hide, after all. The European Parliament already has one and the political world hasn’t imploded. I’d find it interesting to know how many other interest groups are spinning through the doors of Portcullis House every day, if only as a demonstration of our bright and vibrant political culture. Transparency is a key issue on the UK Government’s agenda for the upcoming G8 summit and revisiting the issue of aggressive corporate lobbying is one of the ways we can show that we’re getting our house in order, perhaps a challenge for the Government’s Anti-Corruption Champion, Ken Clarke MP.

Clearly, the British political system is still cracked in places that require a full overhaul, and a spotlight on those bad apples, both parliamentarian and lobbyist, is no bad thing. But it’s far too easy, and lazy, to demonise us all.

The G8 can help put hunger in a museum

“…Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can.

No need for greed or hunger.

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people sharing all the world.

 

You, you may say

I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

I hope, some day, you’ll join us,

And the world will live as one…”

These lyrics from John Lennon come to mind as I dream of a future world. Can you imagine a world without hunger? Imagine IF…

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I’m passionate about seeing a world in 2050 where future generations won’t have any recollection of people being hungry.  Children of future generations will be able to enjoy and experience this kind of world

So is Maxwell, a 41 year old chief of his village in Malawi, near Blantyre.

“I would like to see every person be able to feed their family,” he says.

This is my dream.  Throughout a world of 9bn people, everyone has enough food to eat.  They eat healthy meals together, as families and communities.  Children go to school on a full stomach.  Some grow their own on farms, allotments or urban rooftops.

Food is produced and consumed sustainably and efficiently.  People and economies all over the world are resilient to rare food price spikes.  Farmers, agribusinesses, cooperatives, governments, unions and civil society have established standards for sustainability and they are accountable for them.

Babies all over the world have nutritious food and children have a varied diet, rich in micro-nutrients, so that their brains and bodies develop fully.

Government leaders all over the world prioritise food security high on their agenda and in their national budgets.

Consumers eat more sustainably as they are more connected to people who produce the food and understand the impact on people’s livelihoods and resources. People buy more fair trade products.  They buy food that reflects the true cost of producing it, including the impact on the environment.

Many economies have diversified out of agriculture, but farmers across Africa, Asia and Latin America earn enough to feed their families and get a good price for their own produce.  They withstand droughts and floods.  Another 1bn people in rural areas buy all of their food.  Most food that is produced, stored and processed reaches the consumer. Many use organic methods and limited chemical fertilisers to ensure that nutrients stay in the soil.

Women, who rely on small-scale farming, rearing livestock and fishing, have their own seeds, livestock, land, tools and technical advice to feed their families, and produce more nutritious food.  Good roads mean that they can earn money on open, fair and well-functioning markets.

Young people, farmers’ organizations and indigenous people are empowered with more rights.  Land, fisheries and forests are governed more responsibly and transparently.  Plans are in place, which mean that most people, governments and businesses use energy, land and water efficiently and sustainably.  Investments in agriculture and value chains are responsible and are held accountable.

We can achieve this world in 2050, but only collectively.  

Tearfund’s local partner organisation in Malawi, called Eagles, helps farmers to learn about conservation farming, which produces high yields of drought-resistant crops, and pass on the learning to others.

Conservation farming techniques, together with projects to help people diversify their incomes like savings and loans clubs, help Maxwell and his neighbours to face the future.

And with a chief like Maxwell, who is proud of his village and wants to lead his neighbours away from dependency to lives of self-sufficiency, there is hope

‘My hope for this village is that I want to see that every household member has enough food for his household,’ he says.

So how do we get there?

Here’s one we prepared earlier, at Tearfund!  This smart video animation shows how the G8 can help put hunger in a Museum.  A family finds out how hunger was eradicated.  Starting with a meeting of G8 world leaders in June 2013, it spells out some of the actions required and significant turning points from 2013 to see a world free of hunger now in 2050.

On Saturday 8 June, thousands of supporters will gather at a Big IF rally in Hyde Park to call on the British Prime Minister to lead the G8 to act now on ending global hunger. After repeated calls from the IF campaign, the Prime Minister will hold a “Hunger Summit” on the same day to address this silent scandal.

Transparency is on the move – the revised EITI standard

This week the EITI biennial conference is being held in Sydney – an opportunity for extractives companies, governments and civil society to strengthen their efforts to enhance transparency and tackle the ‘resource curse’.

Currently it feels like each day we are taking steps towards transparency –  on Tuesday the French and British development Ministers called for transparency to become the norm rather than the exception, and only yesterday Prime Minister David Cameron and President Hollande announced that the UK and France will be joining the EITI.

For those involved in the EITI, this week is momentousThe revised EITI standard, as being agreed in Sydney, will be implemented in the 39 member countries.  ‘The revised standard encourages more relevant, reliable and usable information, as well as better linkages to wider reforms’.

Tearfund has been calling for these changes, drawing upon the findings from our research in Peru.  The Peru case (see previous blog) shows that these revisions are essential in order to make EITI information useful to communities.  In particular:

  • Project-by-project reporting:  The research found that this is critical in order that communities have information that is relevant for their lives – this revision is therefore supported.
  • Contract transparency:  The research in Peru highlighted that the main other demand from communities is to know the terms and conditions of contracts – with concerns that many of the contracts have not been negotiated in the interests of the country but the result of underhand political deals.  Therefore the ‘encouragement’ on contract transparency is welcome, but doesn’t go far enough.
  • Presenting the contextIn Peru, the lack of contextual analysis and lack of links with other initiatives severely undermines the potential impact of the EITI reports.  The revision is therefore crucial, but in time must go further so that EITI reports also link to other kinds of information in order for the full picture to be seen (e.g. on local government budgets and environmental laws).
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Women in vinchos community. Credit Graham Gordon

But the EITI itself isn’t enough – voluntary initiatives can only go so far.  The UK has been actively involved in working through the European legislation which complements the US Dodd-Frank law, meaning these laws cover about two-thirds of the world’s oil, gas and mining companies.  But we need a global mandatory reporting standard for extractive industries.

The movement in the direction of transparency can’t be allowed to stall.   The G8 this year provides a perfect opportunity to continue to build on the progress made.  G8 countries need to commit to a global mandatory reporting standard for extractive firms – and to implement the necessary domestic legislation.

The Prime Minister has outlined that this will be on the agenda of the G8.  But the question remains to be seen whether the G8 outcomes are ambitious and whether other G8 countries agree to a global reporting standard.

Our work is far from done.  We need to keep moving forward in order to make a difference to the millions of people living in resource-rich countries, but who live in abject poverty.