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Political fallout overcasts Padma bridge fiasco

Shahid Islam in Toronto
 
A thrashing political storm had subdued the profundity of a corruption scandal involving US$1.2 billion World Bank (WB) financing for the construction of Padma Bridge in Bangladesh. From Washington to Toronto, to Dhaka, the storm is leaving behind legacies of garish eye-washing, obfuscation, and miscarriage of investigation and justice in its devastating wakes.
The rejuvenation, valediction and the vindication being savoured by the incumbent AL regime in Bangladesh are also largely misplaced, according to the manner in which an Ontario court exonerated the three main accused of the Canadian SNC Lavalin Group from charges that the court said ‘couldn’t be proved.’
Full Story
Shahid Islam in Toronto
 
A thrashing political storm had subdued the profundity of a corruption scandal involving US$1.2 billion World Bank (WB) financing for the construction of Padma Bridge in Bangladesh. From Washington to Toronto, to Dhaka, the storm is leaving behind legacies of garish eye-washing, obfuscation, and miscarriage of investigation and justice in its devastating wakes.
The rejuvenation, valediction and the vindication being savoured by the incumbent AL regime in Bangladesh are also largely misplaced, according to the manner in which an Ontario court exonerated the three main accused of the Canadian SNC Lavalin Group from charges that the court said ‘couldn’t be proved.’
Allegations & burden of proof
It was a civil litigation in which the threshold for proving the guilt or innocence of the accused needed no ‘overwhelming’ evidencing. A mere finding of ‘more likely than not’ was the yardstick to suffice for the judges to terminate further proceedings due to the prosecution, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), not producing any witness to testify in support of the allegations brought before the court.  That, however, doesn’t diminish the gravity of the allegations. Nor does it penetrate deeper into the world of grafting and corruptions where cash transactions and diverted payments are the norms.
Since the signing of a deal between the WB and the GOB in February 2011 to finance US$ 1.2 billion to the project, estimated to cost $ 2.9 billion, flurries of suspicious activities began to shape the destiny of this mega venture, according to the WB. In September 21, 2011, the WB informed formally the Bangladesh Finance Minister that “communications minister Syed Abul Hossain and high officials of SAHCO had pressed for the appointment of SAHCO as a “commission agent” in the selection of contractors’ pre-qualification for the main bridge’s construction.”
 
Investigation and political pressure
The WB then moved to offer specific information to the RCMP to initiate investigation on bribing foreign officials by the Canadian conglomerate SNC Lavalin group; suspended the financing deal with Bangladesh; and requested Bangladesh government to terminate from authority those involved in the alleged scam. The concerned minister’s own business interest being at the centre of the allegation, the conflict of interest was too conspicuous to brush aside. The minister resigned and, a top bureaucrat disciplined.
In Canada, the allegations claimed of financial misconducts and bribery having occurred in granting a $50-million construction supervision contract (“CSC”)/consultancy to the SNC Lavalin Group, which was one of the five companies short-listed for the CSC component. The WB’s suspicion deepened further due to the SNC Lavalin Group being ranked second in the bidding process, triggering an investigator with the Bank’s integrity unit, which approached the RCMP “concerning allegations that had come to (their) attention regarding possible corruption involving SNC-Lavalin and the Padma Bridge project.”
Upon being charged, Kevin Wallace, former vice-president of energy and infrastructure at the SNC Lavalin Group, his subordinate Ramesh Shah, ex-VP of the international division, and Zulfiquar Ali Bhuiyan, a dual Bangladeshi-Canadian citizen, all pleaded not guilty to bribing foreign officials in order to secure a construction contract in Bangladesh. Ever since, a flurry of political pressure making followed beneath the surface, through diplomatic and other means, according to a reliable source at the WB who insisted on anonymity.
 
Why lack of evidence?
Evidence is in Bangladesh where the alleged acts of corruption occurred. As the government moved hurriedly to show a cleaner face, on February 2, 2012, the ACC hurriedly sent an investigation report to the WB saying that the ‘allegation was not proved by documentary evidence and other proof.’ The political lobbying and global parleying that followed had also led to the RCMP not pursuing the case aggressively. This was somewhat un-Canadian as Canada hardly caves into political deal-making.
Look how the RCMP pursued the case. Foremost, the Mounties, as they’re locally known, never bothered to talk to the all four “tipsters” who were the sources of the allegation. As if to perfunctorily stay active with the case’s progression, only one of the tipster’s testimony was recorded, that to over phone. The judge observed in the decision that, “the RCMP officer who swore what is known as an Information to obtain (ITO) in 2011 to secure a wiretap of the accused men’s private communications had failed to provide verifiable information.”
The court further observed, “As is apparent from a review of the ITO filed in support of the first authorization (for a wiretap), most, if not all, of the information provided by the three tipsters had, in turn, been received by the tipsters from other sources.”
 
WB’s non-cooperation
Moreover, in July 2015, the WB challenged an Ontario Superior Court decision that ordered it to produce documents related to its investigation of the bribery allegations in the Padma Bridge project, resulting in the Supreme Court of Canada announcing on May 02, 2016 that, “The individual respondents (the “accused”) are jointly charged with one count of bribing foreign public officials under the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act, S.C. 1998, c. 34, in relation to SNC-Lavalin’s bid for a construction supervision contract for the Padma Bridge in Bangladesh.
In the course of their criminal proceeding, the accused brought an application for an order requiring the appellant third party to produce certain documents. The appellant had received information from tipsters about possible corruption involving SNC-Lavalin, and had approached the RCMP, providing it with information concerning the allegations. Two of the appellant’s employees subpoenaed by the defense did not appear before the court and the appellant took the position that it was not required to attend given its immunity from court process as an international organization.
The defense’s application for an order requiring the production of documents by the appellant was granted in part by the Superior Court of Justice on the basis that the appellant had waived its immunity. The appellant was ordered to produce certain records for court review in accordance with R. v. O’Connor, [1995] 4 S.C.R” (Supreme Court of Canada: 36315: World Bank Group v. Kevin Wallace, et al.), which the appellant never did.
 
Virtual abandonment
The WB did a bad job in how it rolled out and pursued this case, as did the RCMP. “The RCMP did not contact any of the sources of the hearsay information relayed by the tipsters, even though some of those sources were identified by the tipsters,” according to case records.
Case’s records also reveal that the case was virtually abandoned by the prosecutions, which is anything but non-political. In 2016, after lawyers of the accused demanded that the WB hand over all of its files related to the case, including those the RCMP relied upon to secure its wiretaps, the Bank refused to participate in the court hearing, insisting that ‘its status as an international organization grants it immunity and that it could not be compelled to turn over any documents.’
The court felt furious. In a decision issued in December 2016, Ontario Superior Court Justice Ian Nordheimer sided with the accused, ruling that the ‘World Bank had waived the immunity it would have been afforded under Canadian law by actively participating in the RCMP’s criminal investigation.’
Alan Lenczner, a lawyer acting for the World Bank in its Supreme Court challenge, said: ‘The Bank is concerned about preserving the anonymity of informants in anti-corruption probes, particularly in countries where whistle-blowers are more likely to face reprisals.” Justice Nordheimer addressed this issue in his December ruling, saying that Canadian law already protects sensitive police sources. He also noted that two of the WB’s four tipsters had already been treated as confidential informants by the court.
 
Sleight of hand
The WB staying away from making depositions to the court and not providing evidence on ground of ‘immunity as an international organization,’ and the RCMP giving up any genuine effort to prove the case had resulted in the outcome of the court not finding enough probative evidence to convict the accused.
Meanwhile, the quest to find a conspiratorial nexus between the WB and the Nobel laureate Dr. Mohammed Yunus, the virtual combative postures of the incumbent AL regime to reap political harvest out of this Ontario Court decision, and the politicking that are poisoning the air do imply and point toward the consummation of a planned effort that’d deterred the WB and the RCMP not to move aggressively to prove the allegations in the first place.
It’s a disgrace destined to go down in the annals of history as something reprehensive, non-restitutive and inexcusable. It’s also another major instance of power of real politic and unseen sleight of hand circumventing rule of law.

 


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India to become hub for US Seventh Fleet

Keith Jones
WSWS.org
 
Under a deal announced earlier this week, India will become a major service and repair hub for the US Seventh Fleet—the armada that is at the center of US war preparations against China.
The deal gives flesh and blood to a recent Indo-US agreement giving US warplanes and battleships routine access to Indian bases and ports for rest, refuel, and resupply. Signed last August, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) also allows the US military to “forward” deploy war materiel at Indian bases.
Full Story
Keith Jones
WSWS.org
 
Under a deal announced earlier this week, India will become a major service and repair hub for the US Seventh Fleet—the armada that is at the center of US war preparations against China.
The deal gives flesh and blood to a recent Indo-US agreement giving US warplanes and battleships routine access to Indian bases and ports for rest, refuel, and resupply. Signed last August, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) also allows the US military to “forward” deploy war materiel at Indian bases.
India sucked into US war plan
Reliance Defence and Engineering announced last Monday that it has signed a “Master Ship Repair Agreement” with the Pentagon to service and repair Seventh Fleet warships and supply and patrol vessels at its shipyard at Pipavav, in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
According to a Reliance official, the shipyard stands to carry out as much as 100 billion rupees (US$1.3 billion) worth of work for the US Navy over the next five years. This is potentially a massive profit windfall for Reliance Defence, given that in 2014 the company’s total revenues were less than $50 million.
“Over 100 ships of US Navy operating in the Indian Ocean can now avail services at Pipavav shipyard,” crowed a company spokesman. He added that the US Navy “follows some of the most stringent standards, so we are hopeful that this deal would lead to us bagging similar projects in other countries as well.”
The Ship Repair Agreement comes close on the heels of the US Navy designating the Reliance shipyard an “approved contractor.”
The Seventh Fleet has responsibility for the western Pacific and the eastern stretches of the Indian Ocean up to the India-Pakistan border. As such it is at the center of US plans to wage war on China.  These plans includes imposing an economic blockade on China by seizing control of the Straits of Malacca and other Indian Ocean/South China Sea chokepoints and mounting a massive bombardment of Chinese military installations, cities and infrastructure—what the Pentagon calls its “Air Sea Battle” plan.
Hitherto, maintenance and repairs on the Seventh Fleet have been carried out in Japan and Singapore.
The repair deal is driven by geostrategic considerations.  Washington has long been seeking to harness New Delhi to its strategic agenda and make India the southwestern pillar of a quadrilateral anti-China alliance, led by the US and including its principal Asia-Pacific allies, Japan and Australia.
 
Delhi follows US lead
The Indian bourgeoisie, for its part, has tilted ever more sharply toward Washington, in the hopes of drawing on US support in pursuing its own predatory great power ambitions.
Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government have not only unabashedly declared the US to be India’s most important ally. Since coming to office in 2014, they have effectively transformed India into a “frontline” state in the US confrontation with China.
New Delhi has adopted Washington’s provocative stance on the South China Sea dispute that paints China as an aggressor and has enormously expanded bilateral and trilateral strategic ties with the US, Japan, and Australia.
Recently, the head of the US Pacific Command, Harry Harris, revealed that the US and Indian militaries are sharing intelligence on Chinese submarine and ship movements in the Indian Ocean.
 
Although this is all but unknown to the Indian people, under the LEMOA the US could use Indian military bases to wage war if New Delhi gives its consent.
Getting India to agree to a LEMOA type-agreement was a major foreign political goal of Washington ever since India and the US formed a “global strategic partnership” in 2005.
No doubt both Washington and New Delhi though it politic that the Pentagon’s first publicly proclaimed use of the LEMOA should bring, or at least appear to bring, significant economic rewards to India.
 
Reliance’s enormous gain
To help Reliance clinch its deal with the Pentagon, the BJP state government in Gujarat is giving the company tens of millions of dollars in aid to upgrade its shipyard. Modi was himself Gujarat’s chief minister until he became India’s prime minister in May 2014, and he continues to dominant the state BJP.
Reliance Defence and Engineering is owned by the multibillionaire Amil Ambani. Mukesh Ambani, his brother, is India’s richest man with a fortune of more than US$23 billion. Both Ambani brothers are strong supporters of Modi and helped spearhead corporate India’s push for him to become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 elections.
India’s corporate media is staunchly in favor of the Indo-US alliance. Yet even it recalled that Washington used the Seventh Fleet to threaten India during the December 1971 Indo-Pakistani war. At the time, Pakistan was a major Cold War ally of the US, whereas India, spooked by Washington’s recent overtures to China, had just signed a Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union.

 


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Bully for Trump

Mumtaz Iqbal
 
A bully is a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Whatever US President Trump may or may not be—his governance style like sliced cheese is being revealed in chaotic instalments to the boundless delight of comedians and cartoonists—two of his executive orders have shown him to be a bit of a bully.
Full Story
Mumtaz Iqbal
 
A bully is a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Whatever US President Trump may or may not be—his governance style like sliced cheese is being revealed in chaotic instalments to the boundless delight of comedians and cartoonists—two of his executive orders have shown him to be a bit of a bully.
The first is banning Muslims from seven Muslim countries from entering the US. This thoughtless order, taken on the sly and on the hoof and executed ineptly, caused huge dislocation, harassment and anxiety to hundreds of travellers from these countries and chaos at the airports. After spurring widespread protests in various US cities, a federal district court judge in Seattle granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) upon application by the attorney general of Washington state. This order was upheld by the state’s three-member appeals court, a serious setback to the Trump administration that had sought the TRO’s vacation.
 
Trump’s draconian dragnet
Not one to fail to rise to the occasion, Trump tweeted: “See you in Court.” So far, he has not yet filed a court action. Presumably, his law officers are still debating on how best to do this. Amongst the choices: appeal before the full bench of the Washington state’s appellate court, before the Supreme Court or before a new federal circuit judge. Another choice is to issue a new executive order. Good thing that Trump’s taking his time. His credibility would be further damaged if he flopped gain. It boggles the mind how Trump, a self-proclaimed meticulous manager of projects and men, could be so sloppy. This experience would not be in vain if Trump learns that running a superpower is not like running hotels, casinos or golf courses. The US public would also benefit from this lesson learnt.
The second instance of bullying is getting his immigration police (ICE or Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to round-up illegal Mexican immigrants in the US. The difference between this and Obama round-ups is that the Trumpian dragnet, ostensible targeting criminal illegals, is draconian and cast extremely widely, picking up anybody with any sort of conviction e.g. driving violation, as opposed to those with more robust  criminal records. The US Mexican community naturally is in utter panic, especially as one Mexican mother of two children born in the US and residing there for 23 years was deported for using a false social security number. There will be similar such cases of family splits. This is unlikely to deter Trump, especially as these round-ups find positive resonance with his white working class base.
 
He makes America grate again!
Various interim conclusions can be drawn. The stay of the Muslim travel ban shows that the judiciary in the US is alive and well, and has acted as a check to executive authority, as it was meant to do under the US constitutional system of the separation of powers. So, bully for the judges! But Trump, apparently more out of pique or petulance than rational consideration, has floated the untenable claim that his executive powers are unreviewable since his travel ban executive order was done to protect the American people. Trump’s claiming like Lous XIV “L’etat c’est moi” (I am the State) extra-judicial divine status reminds one of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s pragmatic pronouncements that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel! We’ll just have to wait and see how the Trumpian challenge to the judiciary unfolds. But this initial action and reaction hardly inspire confidence in Trump’s judiciousness or wisdom.
As regards the raids against Mexicans, this will cause the already troubled US-Mexican relations to sink lower. These may temporarily stop the flow of humans and drugs. But not for long. The movement of these commodities into the USA is driven by American demand. This is unlikely to waver or decline any time soon. The agriculture of the world’s sixth largest economy California will be adversely affected without the inflow of legal or illegal Mexicans.  White Americans don’t want to pick cauliflowers or grapes. Expect resistance sooner than later to Trump’s immigration crackdown from the US west coast agribusiness sector, and mounting protests from an uneasy public likely to be increasingly appalled at the crackdown’s spiralling humanitarian costs.
One badly crafted and implemented executive order, and another constructed legally but executed pitilessly are calculated to make America grate, not great, again. The land of liberty is defining itself to be a reservation primarily for white Anglo-Saxons. Bully for me, as Trump might tweet!
 
The author is a free lancer.

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WB facing backlash on Padma Bridge conspiracy case

Faruque Ahmed
 
The acquittal of three SNC Lavaline employees by an Ontario court in Canada  who were facing trial on charge of attempt to bribe some policy makers and officials to get an engineering project related to Padma Bridge has generated renewed anger in government circle blaming World Bank (WB) for bringing unjustified allegations of corruption in the Bridge project.
It has tarnished the image of the government and the nation and WB has been asked to seek apology and also make compensation to affected persons. It is not clear whether it is legally possible to realize compensation, but there is no doubt that the allegation has dented the image of Bangladesh in the scandal.
Full Story
Faruque Ahmed
 
The acquittal of three SNC Lavaline employees by an Ontario court in Canada  who were facing trial on charge of attempt to bribe some policy makers and officials to get an engineering project related to Padma Bridge has generated renewed anger in government circle blaming World Bank (WB) for bringing unjustified allegations of corruption in the Bridge project.
It has tarnished the image of the government and the nation and WB has been asked to seek apology and also make compensation to affected persons. It is not clear whether it is legally possible to realize compensation, but there is no doubt that the allegation has dented the image of Bangladesh in the scandal.
Alleged conspiracy
In early 2011 it was widely alleged that international companies vying for any construction contracts for Padma Bridge must go through a well known business house SAHCO – a private firm owned by the then Communication Minister Syad Abul Hossain – which was said to be acting as lobbyist.
The allegations presented to Prime Minister’s office contained narratives of about a dozen witnesses who were reportedly reeling under pressures. The cancellation of the SNC Lavaline case in Canada has now raised a bigger question whether or not the allegations of bribing conspiracy for contracts of the main Bridge projects were also true.
The case in Canada involved five employees of SNC Lavaline who were charged with the conspiracy to bribe the minister and some officials to win the $50 million engineering project. The engineering project was a small component of the $2.8 billion project at that time.
Prior to this WB said they have credible evidence corroborated by a variety of sources which points to a high-level corruption conspiracy involving Bangladesh government officials which also include SNC-Lavalin executives and a few private individuals in connection with the Padma Bridge Project.
There were three officials of SNC-Lavalin and six others in Bangladesh including the Communication Minister and private individuals. Padma Bridge bribing conspiracy led the World Bank to urge Canadian authority to investigate about two former SNC-Lavalin executives.  In November 2012 the WB in a report to the ACC in Bangladesh said Ramesh Shah’s notebook had names of individuals who would receive “percentages” for ensuring the consultancy job.
Now with the acquittal of the three SNC Lavaline employees by Canadian Court on last Friday based on the fact that e-mails and wiretaps of conversation of the company’s employees was not enough to prosecute them, the matter has created sharp reaction against WB in Bangladesh as the case is being construed to being a false case.
 
Who is responsible?
Earlier the Canadian government refused request of the World Bank to share materials on their Padma conspiracy case files. Since the WB declined to comply with the court’s request for more information on the ground of its policy not to expose their sources of information in Bangladesh, they were dragged in to Canadian Supreme Court to hand over such documents. But it refused as being immune to comply with such request because of being a global organisation.
So the case has been dropped and accused have been acquitted.  But why SNC Lavaline agreed to a 10-year suspension of WB funded projects to save other subsidiaries of the Group raises question notwithstanding the Court acquittal, which was based on legal point.
In Bangladesh, the government refused to act on WB advice for a joint investigation with ACC which aimed at clearing the allegations about conspiracy with the main Bridge projects. The present law minister Mr Anisul Haque was Chief Legal Adviser to ACC at that time and when a three-member WB team came to Dhaka to open the investigation, he turned down the move saying legal option does not permit local investigative agency to work with any foreign agency.  Consequently, the WB cancelled the $1.2 billion loan it had committed to the Bridge project. The government immediately decided to build the bridge with its own resources. The construction of the Bridge has so far progressed around 40 percent and the government expects to complete it soon.
Now with the acquittal of the SNC Lavaline employees, the government leaders in Bangladesh claiming that such conspiracy plan was an attempt to malign the government. They also claim local and outside forces including the US administration had influenced WB to harass the government by creating the conspiracy plan centering the Bridge project.
 
Conspirators to be nabbed
The ACC in its own investigation later found none in Bangladesh was involved in the conspiracy and the allegations against them were dropped. The ruling party leaders are now demanding remedial measures including punitive action against people who had joined the campaign to falsely implicate Bangladesh. The High Court on Wednesday on a suo moto asked the concerned authorities why it should not constitute an enquiry commission to identify the conspirators who fabricated stories about corruption conspiracy in Padma Bridge project.
Meanwhile, the ruling Awami League has demanded $1.0 billion in compensation for the damage WB has caused to Bangladesh economy. They said if the Bridge project had gone on as planned, the country’s GDP would have grown further by 1.2 percentage point. The WB has caused the damage to the nation.
But Law Minister Anisul Haque said WB is enjoying impunity against any law suits in any court.  But he also suggested that WB can’t be above law and individuals who suffered image and other losses can consult lawyer for advice to file compensation case against WB. It is not clear if the government can’t file any law suit against the World Bank how individuals can do it.
Many believe that the present law minister could save the entire situation by agreeing to a joint investigation into the conspiracy for corruption in Padma Bridge project. It could both end the crisis and save WB funding to the project.
Since there was no corruption conspiracy as the government is insisting, the joint investigation by the ACC and WB could have ended the crisis. The WB move was turned down which ended with termination of the loan.

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Demonetization and Indian budget 2017: A few thoughts

Dr. Abdul Ruff
 
The BJP government in India has unveiled annual budget on February 01, trying for recovery after the deadly cash crunch, unleashed by Prime Minister Modi by his shock therapy, making people feel badly stranded at crossroads without cash and not really knowing where exactly to go for getting their own money deposited in banks.
Full Story
Dr. Abdul Ruff
 
The BJP government in India has unveiled annual budget on February 01, trying for recovery after the deadly cash crunch, unleashed by Prime Minister Modi by his shock therapy, making people feel badly stranded at crossroads without cash and not really knowing where exactly to go for getting their own money deposited in banks.
Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented his budget as five states are going to assembly polls later this month the outcomes of which could decide the future politics of India as well as political alliances and equation. “We are seen as an engine of global growth,” Jaitley said as he delivered the opening remarks of his fourth budget.
 
Tax rebates favour tycoons
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise decision last November on a night as the results of US presidency poll were pouring in, to scrap high-value banknotes worth 86 percent of India’s cash in circulation has hit consumer demand, disrupted supply chains and hurt capital investments. PM Modi did find some space in international news but he could not equal or outsmart Trump’s grand victory defeating the “official candidate” Hillary Clinton.  As Gujarat Chief Minister, Modi had promised a vibrant economy during his 2014 maiden elections to parliament from Varanasi in UP, but India’s economy has mare survived - let alone becoming a strong one.
Demonetization in the name of tracking black money has only further complicated the life of common people and has not succeeded in India because basically almost every politician and official dealing with economic affairs is corrupt and make wealth illegally that the state defends. Black money drive also has not made any headway in real terms because there is no visible evidence that black money is disappearing from Indian scene.        Without sincere intention by officials and politicians nothing can be set right in the country- the rulers since 1947 have only added rot to the Indian systems which is now defunct, promoting corruption. Importantly, no political party seems to be sincere about abolishing corruption and black money as that could negatively affect the funding of politics and polls by the rich and corporate lords that shamelessly thrive thanks to state protection and policies in their favour.
Generally the budgets remain unfulfilled promises and project proposals as a lot of resources are being wasted, diverted and siphoned off by many “important” persons for their personal and private purposes, thereby making corruption inevitable at the source.  Taxes are the major revenues for the governments but the Modi government is eager to be sympathetic to big business houses with tax rebates.
 
Law against financial crime
The Union Budget has announced a few new laws to address financial crime – one for confiscation of property of economic offenders and another to deal with illicit deposit schemes. India will start exchanging information with other countries, and receive information regarding Indian citizens’ assets abroad starting September 2017, on an automatic and periodic basis. Still, economists are penciling in a federal fiscal deficit of 3.3 percent of GDP for 2017/18. That would be higher than the 3 percent pledged earlier but lower than 3.5 percent that the government has budgeted for the year soon to end.
Jaitley’s chief economic adviser advocated slashing personal income tax and accelerating cuts in corporate tax rates. He cautioned, however, against pursuing debt-fuelled fiscal expansion.
The BJP budget has been in consistent with the government’s focus over the last two years on “fundamental” growth, rather than subsidies and loan waivers. It focused on increasing rural incomes and boosting infrastructure, besides ushering in long-pending reforms in the financial sector.  India acclaimed to be a “bright spot” in the world economy, and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley repeated the same as he unveiled his annual budget, adding that the impact on growth from the government’s cash crackdown would wear off soon. The rollout of a nationwide Goods and Services tax (GST), expected in July after years of delays, could also weigh on economic growth.
The 2017 budget makes clear the intention of the Government to fight black money and digitize the economy. Limiting the amount of cash per transaction to Rs. 3 lakh, reducing the limit of cash donations to trusts/political parties to Rs. 2,000 per person, and coming up with an innovative way of funding political parties (electoral bonds) are all excellent initiatives. The implementation, though, needs to be watched.
 
Capitalist oriented budget
The budget, as well as the government, has not taken into account the suicides of farmers in rural areas, although the budget also provided for an additional Rs.20,000 crores for the long-term irrigation fund under NABARD.
Reportedly, assets worth $7.6 trillion are stashed in tax havens across the globe. Jurisdictions known as ‘tax havens’ across the world offer powerful MNCs and rich individuals banking secrecy and the ability to sidestep financial regulations that apply to ordinary people. However, this secrecy sure hurts the public, as profits and wealth go untaxed, countries lose revenue and allocations in budgets shrink.
A private manufacturing survey showed business is slowly returning to normal after the cash crunch. Still, the finance ministry forecasts that growth could dip to as low as 6.5 percent in the current fiscal year to March, before picking up slightly next fiscal  to between 6.75 and 7.5 percent. That is below the target rate of 8 percent or more and PM Modi needs to create enough jobs for a nation of 1.3 billion where half the population is below the age of 25.
Apparently, the budget statements are just the usual gimmicks to fool the poor voters. The BJP budget this year was the usual one and as former finance minister Chidambaram said there are no real high lights. Now, despite Modi’s sudden demonetization, it is clear that black money is here to stay no matter what measures the government adopts because the corporate lords who control the government want it to stay for making more profits.
The BJP which, like the Congress party, promotes the rich and corporate lords to sponsor cricket and IPL type joint sports exercise to keep the people under illusions, pursues the same policies of World Bank and IMF, denying subsides and freebies to poor and under privileged and increase the wealth of the rich. That is the basis of capitalism.
 
Railways’ merger with national budget
Perhaps, the intentions of the government to guide the country onto the path of inclusive growth are clear though there will always be some hits and misses in the budget. The BJP government’s budget has kept in pace with the economic policy of India for the last many years since the large scale privatization cum divestment program initiated during the Congress reign with Manmohan Singh as finance minister.  Apparently this was to promote WB and IMF polices, releasing funds from the state to the private sectors and global multinational magnets to fuel their growth by starving the welfare programs for the poor.
In a difficult year, represented by growing global uncertainties, lower economic growth at home and increasing oil and commodity prices, what the finance minister has done is to sticking to the fundamentals and doing what is good for the economy, rather than for the vote bank.  While avoiding populist measures and focusing on investment activities that have a multiplier effect, Arun has also tried to garner additional resources through higher tax compliance, rather than higher tax rates.
The impetus given to affordable housing by according it the status of an ‘Infrastructure Industry’ and increasing the area eligible for affordable housing are steps in the right direction, which would ensure that more people in the country can afford to buy their own homes.
The merging of the Railway Budget with the general budget was done seamlessly and was touted as a historic move, ridding of the colonial legacy. However, the rationale for its merger with general budget this year has caused confusion as a separate budget for railway steadily raised the facilities and working of the sector by increasingly making available more resources year by year for the railway system. Unlike other transport sectors, railways have achieved great strides over years and the system today is not what it was a decade back. It is not only the largest employer, it is also the cheapest mode of transport in India.
 
The writer is an educationist, author, investigative journalist, columnist for many  newspapers and journals on world politics; Mideast affairs expert;  Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA);  Editor: International Opinion, Foreign Policy;
Palestine Times: website: http://abdulruff. wordpress.com/ email abdulruff_ jnu@yahoo.com; Phone: 91-7293435028

 


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India’s role in Sikkim and Nepal

Shamsuddin Ahmed
 
Communist Party of Nepal UML leader Madhav Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) had refused the Indian offer of Arms in 1989 when the movement against the monarchy was at its height. The proposal for accepting the Indian arms was intended to end the institution of Monarchy. The history was revealed in a book that was released last Saturday.
Full Story
Shamsuddin Ahmed
 
Communist Party of Nepal UML leader Madhav Nepal (Marxist-Leninist) had refused the Indian offer of Arms in 1989 when the movement against the monarchy was at its height. The proposal for accepting the Indian arms was intended to end the institution of Monarchy. The history was revealed in a book that was released last Saturday.
The proposal was put forward at the party meeting. The party supremo questioned Madan Bhandary even if they give arms who were going to operate them. India said they are going to operate them. The Marxists had been informed that India was going to send those army personnel in the Indian Gorkha Regiment on leave and they would fight on behalf of the party and declare Nepal a republic.
 
Delhi’s generosity to Nepali Marxist
Sensing an evil motive UML rejected the Indian offer saying even if China comes up with similar proposal will not be accepted.  The party viewed India’s motive aimed at ending centuries old Nepali monarchy.
Noted Communist leader Radha Krishna (RK) Mainali of Nepal, in his memoire “Nalekheka Itihas” (Unwritten History), has claimed that during the 1989 people’s movement, Madhav Nepal had brought a proposal from India for accepting the Indian military support to end the institution of monarchy.
In the book released on Saturday, writer RK Mainali has stated that at the then UCPN Marxist-Leninist Party’s central committee meeting, at a time when the people’s movement 1989 was gathering momentum, Madhab Nepal had brought the Indian proposal of active military support for the party to end the institution of monarchy.
When the then party supremo Madan Bhandary questioned even if they supply arms, who were going to operate them, Madhab Nepal had informed them that India was going to send those army personnel in the Indian Gorkha Regiment on leave and they would fight on behalf of the party to declare Nepal a republic.
However, Bhandary rejected to military support from India and said the party should not accept such offer. Such an offer was considered to be a big insult for the party.
Besides, the independence was of Bangladesh was fresh in the mind of the UML leaders. India’s involvement in Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi offered full support of her government to the Bangladeshi struggle for independence. The Bangladesh-India border was opened to allow the Bangladeshi refugees safe shelter in India. This was seen in Nepal as a motive of breaking up Pakistan.
 
Sikkim’s annexation
On February 10, 2017 the state-owned Rising Nepal in its’50 Years Ago’ column carried a RSS-AFP news item datelined Gangtok reminding that the Maharaja (Chogyal) of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal, at his monthly press conference, made public his intention of proceeding to New Delhi to meet with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Foreign Minister Swaran Singh to raise the issue of revising the Indo-Sikkim Treaty of 1950. That, of course, was in February 1967.  It is to remind the readers (a) that the aforementioned Treaty confirmed Sikkim’s status as a protectorate of India in an embrace tighter than the one between India and Bhutan, whose relationship was defined, at the time, by the Indo-Bhutan Treaty of 1949; and (b) that the Chogyal, who married American socialite Hope Cooke shortly after meeting her in Darjeeling in 1959, was keen on acquiring for Sikkim a status similar to Bhutan’s vis-à-vis India.
While the geopolitical machinations that led to Sikkim’s ‘merger’ with India [or to India’s accession] have been densely documented, including in Sundanda K. Dutta-Ray’s riveting ‘Smash and Grab’ opus.  Here we focus on facts/insights surrounding that climactic development that may not be equally well known to the people in this country.
Let us attention to this fact: that, despite the Chogyal’s bluster or naive optimism, Sikkim’s distinct identity was obliterated, a mere eight years later, following a sham or hurriedly organised referendum, sans international observers, and with Sikkim bristling with 70-80,000 Indian troops on the ground. One can only wonder what made the Chogyal believe he could successfully push for a separate political status outside Indira Gandhi’s India.
 
What awaits Nepal?
One would be remiss if one were not to recall the anti-India demonstrations that broke out in Kathmandu and elsewhere following the remote-controlled 1973 ‘uprising’ against the Chogyal, pitting the Nepali segment of the population against their Bhutia-Lepchas cousins in a cynical but effective execution of the ‘divide and rule’ dictum by India’s plenipotentiaries who had experienced its cold efficacy during the heyday of the British Raj.
There appears to be no doubt that Sikkim’s merger led to King Birendra’s enunciation of his Peace Zone proposal that by the year 1990 had secured the endorsement of 116 sovereign states but which was opposed, tooth and nail, by ‘peace-loving’ India. People are painfully aware that India not only never accepted it but sought through her Nepali surrogates to jettison it when drawing up their blueprints for a ‘naya’ republican Nepal. One can only speculate whether it contributed, if at all, to the enactment of the gory Narayanhitti Palace massacre of 2001.
Let us now share an interesting personal insight offered by a friend, a retired high-ranking Nepali official, who spent a few weeks in Sikkim, a couple of months ago. As he narrated, he was constantly reminded of how Sikkim’s ‘merger’ was orchestrated by external forces and cautioned against a similar fate for Nepal, setting the people of the hills against those of the Tarai. A sobering thought indeed!

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Erdogan’s lust for power destroying Turkey’s democracy

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
 
During the past few months I interviewed scores of Turkish citizens who escaped from Turkey following the unsuccessful military coup, fearing for their lives. Many of them left their families behind, terrified of what to expect next. Although it has the potential of becoming a major player on the global stage, Turkey’s brilliant prospects are being squandered because of President Erdogan’s insatiable lust for power. He has used an iron fist to take whatever measure, however corrupt, to manipulate the rules and undermine the basic tenets of Turkey’s democracy—freedom and human rights.
Full Story
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
 
During the past few months I interviewed scores of Turkish citizens who escaped from Turkey following the unsuccessful military coup, fearing for their lives. Many of them left their families behind, terrified of what to expect next. Although it has the potential of becoming a major player on the global stage, Turkey’s brilliant prospects are being squandered because of President Erdogan’s insatiable lust for power. He has used an iron fist to take whatever measure, however corrupt, to manipulate the rules and undermine the basic tenets of Turkey’s democracy—freedom and human rights.
I have been puzzled for some time as to why Erdogan decided a few years ago to go on a rampage to systematically reverse the huge social, political, and judiciary progress he himself successfully championed. Had he guarded these reforms and protected human rights, he would have realized his dream of rising to the stature of Turkey’s revered founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
 
Erdogan’s doctrine
He has been serving first as prime minister and now president for 15 years. Nevertheless, his hunger for absolute power seems to have no limits, prompting him to take extraordinary and systematic measures to neutralize any source that challenges him, including the judiciary, press, opposition parties, military, and academia. He uses scare tactics to silence his detractors, and provides economic assistance and other incentives to his cronies to ensure their continuing support while playing his political opponents against one another to reap every ounce of advantage. Most recently, he pressed the parliament to amend the constitution to codify his dictatorial powers, which will allow him to serve two more terms ending in 2029.
Following the unsuccessful June 2016 coup, 3,228 prosecutors in the civil and administrative jurisdiction (including 518 judges) were relocated, reshuffled, or demoted from their positions. Furthermore, 88,000 policemen, journalists, educators, and other officials have been detained, and 43,000 arrested. In July 2016, the parliament approved a bill allowing Erdogan to appoint a quarter of the judges at the Council of State, and new judicial appointments will be carried out by the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK), which is under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry and by extension his own control.
Many attorneys were charged with belonging to the Gulen movement, which is deemed to be the sworn enemy of Erdogan, either through direct association or by having the most tenuous of ties. A lawyer who had an 18-year career in Kayseri had to flee Turkey because he and his law partners were representing schools connected to the Gulen movement. Due to that association, they were deemed suspicious by state authorities, despite the fact that the lawyers themselves were unaffiliated in any way with Gulen. Scores of lawyers were arrested and labeled as Gulenist just for having a common encrypted messaging app (i.e. WhatsApp) on their phones.
 
A ‘gift from God’?
For Erdogan, the coup attempt was a “gift from God” that gave him the license to purge any individual or organization perceived to be his foe, particularly when his popularity was waning.
The thousands of officials who were arbitrarily removed have not been replaced, leading to obstructions in the legal process. Moreover, attorneys who have been arrested have been unable to obtain legal representation, as any potential lawyer would subsequently be accused of association with the Gulen movement, thus opposing the state itself.
Given the history of military coups, Erdogan decided to emasculate the military by discharging nearly 3,000 officers and issuing a decree that enabled his government to issue direct orders to the heads of all military branches over the head of the chief of the general staff. In addition, in August 2016 he appointed the deputy prime ministers and the ministers of justice, interior, and foreign affairs to participate in the Supreme Military Council (SMC), which decides on promotions of generals and other issues related to the Turkish military.
Immediately following the military coup he enacted a state of emergency that allows the government to rule by decree and fire public employees at will. Security officials, terrorism suspects, and other alleged ‘enemies of the state’ can be detained for up to 30 days without charge, and the state is under no obligation to put them on trial. There are also allegations of torture and abuse of prisoners.  In January 2017, the emergency law was extended again for three months.
To stifle his political opponents, in May 2016 he pressed the Turkish parliament to approve a bill stripping MPs of immunity from prosecution. This was widely perceived as an assault against minority Kurdish MPs who could be linked by the government to ‘terror activities’ and subjected to prosecution.
 
‘One-man rule’
To codify the president’s absolute powers, Erdogan moved (with the support of his AK party) to change the president from a primarily ceremonial role to the sole executive head of state, and eliminate the Prime Minister position. The new constitution will also give the president power to enact some laws by decree, appoint judges and ministers, create at least one vice-president post, and increase the number of MPs to 600 from 550. In addition, it lowers the minimum age for lawmakers from 25 to 18, which will secure the political support of the next generation.
This is a move that constitutional law professor Ergun Özbudun, who was asked by Erdogan in 2007 to draw up a constitution, criticized, saying: “A democratic presidential system has checks and balances –this would be one-man rule.”
Most importantly, as a devout Muslim he skillfully uses Islam as a tool to further promote his political ambition without the need to produce any evidence for the correctness of his political agenda. When Erdogan became mayor of Istanbul in 1994, he stood as a candidate for the pro-Islamist Welfare Party. He went to jail for 4 months in 1999 for religious incitement after he publicly read a nationalist poem including the lines: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers.”
The number of mosques has grown from 60,000 in 1987 to more than 85,000 in 2015. Recently, a slew of government initiatives has pushed Islam deeper into Turkey’s secular education system. Examples include a plan to build mosques in 80 different state universities and convert one Istanbul University into an Islamic studies center. In December 2015, “a government-backed education council recommended extending compulsory religious classes to all primary school pupils, as well as adding an extra hour of obligatory religious classes for all high school students.”
 
Total censorship
The climate in Turkey is such that even an insolent reference to Erdogan is grounds for criminal charges; over 2,000 have been indicted under such laws. Widespread phone tapping is no longer a secret, leading to fears of expressing oneself truthfully in phone conversations. To be sure, ordinary Turks do not discuss politics in public and refrain from criticizing government officials, fearing that a secret agent may be listening to the conversation. There is only one opposition television station left operating and one such newspaper (Cumhuriyet), but almost half of the newspaper’s reporters, columnists, and executives have nonetheless been jailed.
I have tremendous admiration for the Turkish peoples’ creativity, resourcefulness, and determination to make Turkey a thriving democracy, but they are polarized between the secular and Islamic worlds—conditions in which Erdogan can further capitalize on his authoritarian political agenda.
Perhaps it’s time for the Turkish people to rise and demand the restoration of the country’s democratic principles—the same principles that made Erdogan the most revered leader during his first 10 years in power and that could have made him the new Atatürk of the Turkish people.
 
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.TRANSCONFLICT

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