Future of Our Planet Requires Deeper Cooperation, Long-term Thinking

Credit: Denis Onyodi – IFRC/DRK/Climate Centre

By Liu Zhenmin
UNITED NATIONS, May 2 2019 – For most of the 7 billion people on the planet, global institutions are remote, far removed from their day to day existence. Yet, our global institutions matter.

They shape the global systems – such as international trade rules – that will enable the more than 3 billion poor people worldwide, who live on less than about 20 yuan a day, to rise out of poverty.

In 2015, the world’s leaders agreed on the transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which laid out a path to shared prosperity and sustainability. But implementing the 2030 Agenda requires a fundamental shift toward sustainability in our financial systems.

The global financial architecture must enable trade and capital to flow across borders in a way that is stable and sustainable. This would help fund necessary investments, including in resilient infrastructure, and help put countries on sound financial footing. The architecture should also protect against shocks, but allow rapid responses to shocks when they do occur.

There is some progress to report. A joint assessment of financing global sustainable development, just completed by the United Nations – in collaboration with other international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and World Trade Organization – finds that private sector interest in sustainable finance is growing.

LIU Zhenmin

Investors gradually realize that the way corporations manage environmental and social risks can impact financial performance. Sustainable development is also increasingly incorporated in public budgets and development cooperation.

But these changes are not happening at nearly the required scale, nor with the necessary speed. For example, annual spending on education in the poorest countries alone would need to more than triple to achieve universal education aspired to under the 2030 Agenda.

The gap on infrastructure financing in developing countries remains on the order of hundreds of billions of dollars.

In today’s interconnected world, major challenges cannot be solved by countries acting alone. Rather than retreating from multilateralism, the international community must strengthen collective action.

International trade has made a significant contribution to economic growth and development. When we work together, we can achieve great things for the good of all people.

The Belt and Road Initiative is an example of how countries are working together to find new paths to prosperity. The resulting infrastructure will enhance connectivity between Asia and Europe, and expand connections with Africa and South America. It provides important opportunities for countries to deepen cooperation and deliver sustainable infrastructure.

Achieving sustainable development – particularly eradicating poverty, reducing inequality, and combatting climate change – requires a long-term perspective, with governments, the private sector, and civil society working together.

Yet most private capital markets are short-term oriented and put pressure on corporate executives to demonstrate profits on a quarterly basis. A more uncertain world begets even more short-term behaviour.

Private businesses hesitate to commit funds to long-term investment projects if economic prospects are unclear. During periods of financial insecurity, households often focus on their immediate needs.

If the Belt and Road Initiative could take a long-term perspective, it will help to build long-term, stable and sustainable financing into the multilateral system. It can be at the forefront of efforts to counter short-term behavior.

Aligning both private and public incentives with sustainable development, and better measuring the impacts of investments and policies on sustainability, will further our global efforts. Private financial markets in China, like those in many other middle-income countries, are growing in size and importance.

If markets are to become a tool that promotes sustainability, rather than short-term speculation, the policies need to be carefully designed. For example, governments can price externalities, such as the cost of environmental pollution, ensuring that the true costs of investments are recognized and considered.

Requiring more meaningful disclosure by corporations on social and environmental issues can help. According to a KPMG survey of about 5,000 companies from 49 countries conducted in 2017, 75 per cent now publish corporate responsibility reports and 60 per cent include some sustainability information in their financial filings.

Their efforts should be further encouraged so that some internationally recognized standards in sustainability reporting could be agreed in the future. Countries can also promote long-term investing by supporting efforts to build indices for stock markets that includes companies with sustainable business practices.

China also blazes the trail in green finance. The green credit guidelines, issued by the China Banking Regulatory Commission in 2012, is a pioneer example of standards that promote loans to more climate-friendly projects.

Moreover, China is a leader in green bond issuances. Lessons learned by China and others can be shared through international platforms, such as the United Nations, to find synergies and strengthen policy frameworks.

At this time when greater global cooperation is needed, the multilateral system is under stress because of a backlash against globalization in some parts of the world. Initiatives like Belt and Road can and should demonstrate the positive power of global cooperation.

It can help reshape both national and international financial systems in line with sustainable development. If we fail to do so, we will fail to deliver sustainable development for all. The very future of our planet is at stake.

On World Press Freedom Day, Let us Ask: #WhereIsAzory?

By Muthoki Mumo
NAIROBI, May 2 2019 (IPS)

Speaking in parliament recently, Tanzania’s information minister, Harrison Mwakyembe, wondered why people were still concerned about the whereabouts of Azory Gwanda, a freelance journalist who went missing in November 2017 in the country’s Coast Region.

After all, he was reported saying, many other people, some of them government officials, have gone missing in the same region of Tanzania. So why should Gwanda be the “golden” one about whom people ask?

These statements were not as shocking as they should have been. They fit an unfortunate pattern of non-answers and dismissals from Tanzanian government officials when confronted with the question: Where is Azory Gwanda?

But this question is urgent, because Gwanda’s story reflects how drastically press conditions have deteriorated in Tanzania under the presidency of John Pombe Magufuli. This World Press Freedom Day, Tanzanian journalists have less to celebrate and more to fear.

Muthoki Mumo, Sub-Saharan Africa representative, Committee to Protect Journalists

One of the last people to see Gwanda, whose work appeared in the sister newspapers Mwananchi and The Citizen, was his wife Anna Pinoni. She described the suspicious circumstances in which he disappeared, saying that he came to their farm in the company of unknown men in a white landcruiser.

Gwanda asked her where she had left the keys to their home and said he was taking an emergency trip, and would be back within a day. She later found their home ransacked and on November 23, 2017, she reported him missing to police.

Despite these obviously suspicious circumstances; pleas for answers from the local Tanzanian media community and international civil society; and even a July 2018 letter from UN Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups, there have been no demonstrably credible investigations  into this case. Initial promises to investigate have not been fulfilled.

When asked about Gwanda in July 2018, Home Affairs Minister Kangi Lugola told journalists that authorities “don’t interfere in the freedom of an individual that gets lost while at his home.” After backlash he later walked back his comments but suggested Gwanda may have run away.

Lugola’s predecessor at the Home Affairs ministry, Mwigulu Nchemba, had in January 2018 warned that members of the public should “shut up” about disappearances unless they had evidence to offer police.

Before his disappearance Gwanda chronicled mysterious killings and abductions in his community, including of police and local government officials. Pinoni in 2017 told Mwananchi that she thought his reporting might be linked to his disappearance.

Gwanda’s reporting asked precisely the questions that Mwakyembe, in parliament in April, claimed we all ought to be asking. His disappearance denied the public crucial information about these incidents.

The failure to investigate this case sends a grave message about how much the government values the safety of Tanzanians who now ask themselves if they will face a similar fate by asking the “wrong” questions.

Magufuli, who styled himself as an enemy of corruption and government excess when he took over in 2015, has since also proven himself an enemy of the press and of free expression.

Last year CPJ documented the case of journalist Sitta Tumma, who was arrested while reporting an opposition demonstration and held overnight. Authorities later claimed, ludicrously, that they did not know he was a journalist because he was not wearing the appropriate uniform.

Since 2017, at least five newspapers have been banned, on specious allegations, from false news, to inciting violence and sedition. Almost always such bans are targeted at outlets that challenge the official narrative of a government that seems keen to set itself as arbiter of truth.

The Citizen newspaper was this year banned for a week, after it reported the weakening of the local currency and the state of Tanzanian democracy, without deferring to official sources. Five television stations were in January 2018 fined for covering a report by a non-governmental organisation on alleged human rights abuses during 2017 by-elections.

In 2016 popular live parliamentary broadcasts were halted, ostensibly due to cost cuts. The impact is that citizens can no longer as easily observe the processes of their democracy.

The repression has been codified into law.

The Statistics Act checks the extent to which journalists, academics, and even private citizens can question official government data. The Cyber Crime Act has been used to legally harass and exert pressure on one media outlet to reveal whistleblowers. Blogging has become an unreasonably expensive affair ever since the government imposed new content regulations last year.

Azory Gwanda’s story reflects how drastically press conditions have deteriorated in Tanzania under the presidency of John Pombe Magufuli. This World Press Freedom Day, Tanzanian journalists have less to celebrate and more to fear.
Credit: Erick Kabendera/IPS

The Media Services Act of 2016 restricts the content of news on vague and imprecise grounds and also seeks to license journalists. The East Africa Court of Justice (EACJ) in March directed Tanzania’s government to amend the law. In meetings with the International Press Institute (IPI) and the Tanzania Editors’ Forum (TEF)  in April, Mwakyembe, the information minister, said the government was open to reconsidering the law— a glimmer of hope.

Local elections are planned in Tanzania later this year and presidential elections are slated for next year. If there is anything to learn from recent elections in  other countries, it is that elections tend to be periods of heightened risk and repression for journalists.

Therefore now is the time to ask after the wellbeing of not just Azory Gwanda, but all Tanzanian journalists. This is why we at the Committee to Protect Journalists recently launched a #WhereIsAzory? campaign to tell his story and call for answers.

The power of such international solidarity should not be underestimated.

I and a colleague of mine, Angela Quintal, experienced this power first hand last year when we were detained overnight in the country by government agents and interrogated about why we were there, including our interest in Azory Gwanda. The outpouring of support from within Tanzania and beyond, we believe, was instrumental in our safe release. 

*Muthoki Mumo is the Sub-Saharan Africa representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists