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'Arbitary rule by whim' alive in #Turkmenistan

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Government officials finding themselves in post one day and indefinitely imprisoned the next is the sort of thing one imagines happening in the days of the Iron Curtain, or in a failed South American state. But capricious and arbitrary rule by whim is alive and well in the shadowy and underexposed Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan.

Last week Turkmen Trade Minister Amandurdy Ishanov was led off in handcuffs to one of the regime’s notoriously abusive prisons alongside numerous other condemned men after publicly “confessing” to a corruption charge launched by the country’s unpredictable ruler, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. The dubious admission before a Turkmen court took place with all the theatrics of a show trial, with anonymous witnesses claiming that the authorities were motivated by the desire to look proactive in tackling corruption. Doubtless some personal scores within the regime were being settled, too.

Turkmenistan’s president, who took over from independence-era dictator Sapurmarat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov in 2006, is known for his surreal public stunts. These performances would be amusing were they not the actions of a very real modern dictator, and include lifting a barbell before applauding ministers for broadcast on state media, starring in a video in which he fires rifles and throws knives while donning action-hero combats, and appearing with obviously-dubbed vocals in a musical Christmas holiday special. Given this is a man who also spends his impoverished citizens’ money on gilded equestrian statues of himself, one is not filled with confidence as to his propensity for judicial objectivity.

If Ishanov is in fact guilty, his crimes represent a drop in the ocean for this backward and corrupt state.  A recent report by the respected UK think tank The Foreign Policy Centre describes corruption as “an endemic feature of Turkmenistan’s economic life”, with Transparency International ranking it 161st out of 180 countries surveyed. Berdymukhammedov’s relatives reportedly benefit from the state’s coffers, with public funds being funnelled through state-affiliated companies run by the president’s family members as a matter of routine.

When the denounced Ishanov commences his time as a guest of the government he will face a bleak future. Not only has he been jailed for an indeterminate and undisclosed period, he will also likely face torture and unsanitary conditions. Turkmenistan has an appalling human rights record, with the Bertelsmann Transformation Index rating it 119th out of 129, and a ranking of 204th of 2010 in the Freedom House Freedom in the World Index. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office lists Turkmenistan as a Human Rights Priority Country, and the regime has been criticised by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe for lacking any of the prerequisites of a democratic process.

Critics of the government can find themselves imprisoned without proper trial for indefinite periods, with relatives kept entirely in the dark as to their loves ones’ fate. Some dissidents simply disappear altogether, in the manner in which anyone daring to criticize the Soviet regime could find themselves “unpersoned” in the 20th century. Inmates have no access to legal representation, external medical professionals or to contact with international monitoring organisations. The 'Prove They Are Alive Campaign' has also documented prison beatings and other inhumane practices within the system.

The sudden sacking of a trade minister feels like the action of a desperate regime. The government is clutching at straws to find some breakthrough for the flagging economy as it seeks foreign investment. Its systematic failure to do so, and Berdymukhammedov’s repeated failure to accept responsibility, combine to give the strong impression that Ishanov may have been an all too convenient scapegoat.

Without serious domestic reform it is unlikely that Turkmenistan’s image as an investment prospect is ever likely to improve. Its investment landscape is fraught with inherent risk, both financial and reputational. Procurement is conducted on the basis of personal and political connections with regime officials, and poor public finances and lack of currency have repeatedly led to non-payment of contracts. There is not only a lack of liquidity; there is outright government impecuniosity.

There is serial abuse of investor rights; the Cakiroglu Group suspended operations in Turkmenistan in 2018 after being owed several million dollars by the government and agricultural producers have seen their assets seized as soon as they become profitable. Russian-based telecoms company MTS witnessed its licence to use state telecoms infrastructure arbitrarily and suddenly terminated in an act that saw a monopoly restored to the state operator and losses to MTS running into the millions. Neither are Turkmen companies are not trusted abroad – the European Aviation Safety Agency banned Turkmenistan Airlines from flying within EU airspace for safety reasons.

Private sector businesses operating inside Turkmenistan risk exposure to supply chains that may include forced labour; especially during the cotton harvest thousands are forced from their homes and their regular jobs to pick cotton in Turkmenistan’s vast fields. Driven and unpaid labour includes the use of children.

While Turkmenistan’s need for economic restructuring goes unattended and its people languish in poverty, the persecution of political dissidents and the abuse of prisoners continues. Two weeks ago the deaths of two graduates in prison was documented; they had been jailed for their support of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, and another Gulen supporter, Alisher Mukametgulyev, is continually denied urgent medical assistance while he is detained in the Ovadan-Depe jail. The regime also practices the imprisonment of conscientious objectors.

As the economic crisis deepens, Berdymukhammedov is sure to look around for yet more officials to blame. In statist command economies such as Turkmenistan individuals seek officialdom for the protection and advantages it brings, but in this unreformed post-Soviet country it appears that no-one – except the president himself – is truly safe.

Climate change

Big business seeks unified, market-based approaches ahead of climate summit

Reuters

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Corporate executives and investors say they want world leaders at next week’s climate summit to embrace a unified and market-based approach to slashing their carbon emissions, write Ross Kerber and Simon Jessop.

The request reflects the business world’s growing acceptance that the world needs to sharply reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, as well as its fear that doing so too quickly could lead governments to set heavy-handed or fragmented rules that choke international trade and hurt profits.

The United States is hoping to reclaim its leadership in combating climate change when it hosts the 22-23 April Leaders Summit on Climate.

Key to that effort will be pledging to cut US emissions by at least half by 2030, as well as securing agreements from allies to do the same.

“Climate change is a global problem, and what companies are looking to avoid is a fragmented approach where the US, China and the EU each does its own thing, and you wind up with a myriad of different methodologies,” said Tim Adams, chief executive of the Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based trade association.

He said he hopes U.S. President Joe Biden and the 40 other world leaders invited to the virtual summit will move toward adopting common, private-sector solutions to reaching their climate goals, such as setting up new carbon markets, or funding technologies like carbon-capture systems.

Private investors have increasingly been supportive of ambitious climate action, pouring record amounts of cash into funds that pick investments using environmental and social criteria.

That in turn has helped shift the rhetoric of industries that once minimized the risks of climate change.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil companies, for example, said last month it supported steps to reduce emissions such as putting a price on carbon and accelerating the development of carbon capture and other technologies.

API Senior Vice President Frank Macchiarola said that in developing a new U.S. carbon cutting target, the United States should balance environmental goals with maintaining U.S. competitiveness.

“Over the long-term, the world is going to demand more energy, not less, and any target should reflect that reality and account for the significant technological advancements that will be required to accelerate the pace of emissions reductions,” Macchiarola said.

Labor groups like the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of U.S. labor unions, meanwhile, back steps to protect U.S. jobs like taxing goods made in countries that have less onerous emissions regulations.

AFL-CIO spokesman Tim Schlittner said the group hopes the summit will produce “a clear signal that carbon border adjustments are on the table to protect energy-intensive sectors”.

Industry wish lists

Automakers, whose vehicles make up a big chunk of global emissions, are under pressure to phase out petroleum-fueled internal combustion engines. Industry leaders General Motors Co and Volkswagen have already declared ambitious plans to move toward selling only electric vehicles.

But to ease the transition to electric vehicles, US and European automakers say they want subsidies to expand charging infrastructure and encourage sales.

The National Mining Association, the US industry trade group for miners, said it supports carbon capture technology to reduce the industry’s climate footprint. It also wants leaders to understand that lithium, copper and other metals are needed to manufacture electric vehicles.

“We hope that the summit brings new attention to the mineral supply chains that underpin the deployment of advanced energy technologies, such as electric vehicles,” said Ashley Burke, the NMA’s spokeswoman.

The agriculture industry, meanwhile, is looking for market-based programs to help it cut its emissions, which stack up to around 25% of the global total.

Industry giants such as Bayer AG and Cargill Inc have launched programs encouraging farming techniques that keep carbon in the soil.

Biden’s Department of Agriculture is looking to expand such programs, and has suggested creating a “carbon bank” that could pay farmers for carbon capture on their farms.

For their part, money managers and banks want policymakers to help standardize accounting rules for how companies report environmental and other sustainability-related risks, something that could help them avoid laggards on climate change.

“Our industry has an important role to play in supporting companies’ transition to a more sustainable future, but to do so it is vital we have clear and consistent data on the climate-related risks faced by companies,” said Chris Cummings, CEO of the Investment Association in London.

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Brexit

UK asks for more time to respond to EU Brexit legal action: RTE TV

Reuters

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Britain has asked for more time to respond to legal action taken by the European Union over its unilateral decision to ease requirements of the Northern Ireland Protocol, Ireland’s RTE television reported on Wednesday (14 April), writes Conor Humphries.

“The request came in two letters from the UK’s chief Brexit minister David Frost,” RTE correspondent Tony Connelly said in a Twitter post.

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EU

Team Europe increased Official Development Assistance to €66.8 billion as the world's leading donor in 2020

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The EU and its 27 member states have significantly increased their Official Development Assistance (ODA) for partner countries to €66.8 billion in 2020. This is a 15% increase in nominal terms and equivalent to 0.50% of collective Gross National Income (GNI), up from 0.41% in 2019, according to preliminary figures published today by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC). The EU and its member states thereby confirm their position as the world's leading donor, providing 46% of global assistance from the EU and other DAC donors, and have taken a major leap forward towards meeting the commitment to provide at least 0.7% of collective GNI as ODA by 2030.

International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen said: “Team Europe has significantly increased its contribution of Official Development Assistance compared to last year. This is crucial at a time when so many people in our partner countries face significant health, economic and social challenges linked to the COVID-19 crisis. The latest figures show that 10 years ahead of the due date to deliver on our commitment to provide 0.7% of our collective GNI as ODA, we are more determined than ever to achieve this target.”

Overall, 17 Member States increased their ODA in nominal terms in 2020 compared to 2019, with the strongest nominal increases coming from Germany (+€3.310bn), France (+€1.499bn) and Sweden (+€921 million), and further increases coming from Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The EU institutions' ODA (meaning the European Commission and the EIB) increased by €3.7bn (27%) overall in 2020 in nominal terms. 15 member states improved their ODA relative to their GNI by at least 0.01 percentage points: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden. In Cyprus and Greece, ODA as a share of GNI decreased by at least 0.01 percentage points.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the EU, its member states, and the European financial institutions, together with the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, have combined their financial resources as Team Europe, mobilising over €40bn in support to partner countries in 2020. 65% of this amount was already disbursed in 2020 in support of the immediate humanitarian needs; health, water, sanitation and nutrition systems, as well as tackling the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis has put a huge stress on public finances and debt sustainability of many developing countries, affecting their ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This is why, in May 2020, President von der Leyen called for a Global Recovery Initiative, linking debt relief and investment to the SDGs to promote a green, digital, just and resilient recovery. The Global Recovery Initiative is about shifting to policy choices supporting green and digital transitions, social inclusiveness and human development while enhancing debt sustainability in partner countries.

ODA is one of the sources of financing to deliver on the SDGs, although more transparency is needed on all sources of finance for sustainable development. As an important step in that direction, data on Total Official Support for Sustainable Development (TOSSD) has been collected and published for the first time, increasing transparency on all officially-supported resources for the SDGs, including South-South co-operation, support to global public goods such as vaccine research and climate mitigation as well as private finance mobilized by official interventions.

Background

The data published today is based on preliminary information reported by the EU Member States to the OECD pending detailed final data to be published by OECD by early 2022. EU collective ODA consists of the total ODA spending of EU member states and the ODA of the EU institutions not attributed to individual member states or the UK (notably own resources of the European Investment Bank and, for the first time in 2020, special macro-financial assistance loans on a grant equivalent basis).

Despite its withdrawal from the European Union taking effect on 1 February 2020, the United Kingdom still contributed funding in the form of ODA to the EU budget and the European Development Fund in 2020. This is included in the EU institutions' ODA. However, in order to avoid double-counting between the ODA reported as EU collective ODA and the ODA reported by the United Kingdom itself, the United Kingdom's contribution to EU institutions is not included in what is reported as EU collective ODA.

Four EU member states already exceeded the 0.7% target of ODA as a share of GNI in 2020: Sweden (1.14%), Luxembourg (1.02%), Denmark (0.73%) and Germany (0.73%).

When highlighting the member states which increased or decreased their ODA as a share of GNI, only cases where the change amounts to at least 0.01 percentage points (based on exact rather than rounded values) are taken into account, while member states for which the change is smaller than 0.01 percentage points in either direction are considered to have kept their ODA as a share of GNI stable.

The EU and its member states thereby perform significantly above the average of non-EU DAC donors in terms of their ODA as a share of GNI, standing at 0.50% compared to 0.26% by the aggregate of all non-EU DAC donors.

In May 2015, the European Council reaffirmed its commitment to increase collective ODA to 0.7% of EU collective GNI by 2030. Since 2015, on a flow basis, ODA by the EU and its current 27 member states has grown by 37% (€18.7bn) in nominal terms while the ODA/GNI ratio has increased by 0.1 percentage points. The year 2020 marks a turn in the previous trend of declining ODA since the 2016 climax when the EU and its then 28 member states' ODA reached 0.52% of GNI. This turn is due partly to an absolute increase in collective ODA in nominal terms, and partly to an absolute decrease in collective GNI in nominal terms. The EU is also committed to give collectively between 0.15% and 0.20% of the EU GNI in the short term to Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and 0.20% by 2030. Since 2015, on a flow basis, ODA by the EU and its current 27 member states to LDCs has grown by 34% (€3.5bn) in nominal terms to reach €13.8bn (0.10% of GNI) in 2019, and the ODA to LDCs/GNI ratio has increased by 0.01 percentage points. Moreover, compared to 2018, the EU and its then 28 member states increased their aggregate ODA to Africa by 3.6% in nominal terms to €25.9bn in 2019. Data on ODA to LDCs, Africa and other specific recipients for 2020 are expected by early 2022.

Scaling up sustainable finance and private sector engagement in partner countries is essential, coupled with reforms to enhance business climates, as meeting the challenges of the Global Recovery Initiative cannot be achieved by ODA alone. The EU has been instrumental in bringing together aid, investment, trade, domestic resource mobilisation and policies designed to unlock the full potential of all financial flows. The European Fund for Sustainable Development guarantee in particular has played a key role in unlocking additional finance for partner countries. Over the last year alone, the EU signed €1.55bn worth of financial guarantees with our partner financial institutions, leveraging over €17bn of investments – also helping to ensure that recovery from the pandemic is green, digital, just and resilient.

More information

Q&A on preliminary figures on 2020 Official Development Assistance for the EU and its member states 

Annex Preliminary Figures on 2020 Official Development Assistance, Tables and Graphs for the EU and its member states

Commission's publication of figures on the global COVID-19 response

OECD press release

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