September 15th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Horse flu: another quarantine scandal

COVER STORY: Howard and Rudd: the Xerox men

QUARANTINE: Taiwan farmers' lessons for Australia

WATER: Federal water plan could wipe 2.9 per cent off GDP

ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS: Sexual abuse of Aboriginal children: is Labor serious?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor's cumbersome IR policy

INTERNET FILTERING: Teenager bypasses 'useless' Govt porn filter

DIVORCE LAWS: Aussie dads still in dark about family law changes

OPINION: Abortion: an unanswered question

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Surprise appointment / A country looted by its corrupt leaders / An exercise in Islamic compassion / Now for the good news

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: WTO's Doha round staggers to a stalemate

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Australia's uranium sale to India

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Toxic childhood

BOOKS: SACRED CAUSES: The Clash of Religion and Politics, by Michael Burleigh


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Surprise appointment / A country looted by its corrupt leaders / An exercise in Islamic compassion / Now for the good news

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, September 15, 2007
Surprise appointment

Former Victorian Labor Premier Steve Bracks seems to want to put as much distance between himself and Melbourne as soon as possible. Not many of us would have anticipated his becoming the adviser to East Timor's Xanana Gusmao, the latest prime minister of what has been a basket-case state.

Mr Bracks is going to help establish an efficient and democratic political and administrative system for East Timor - he'll be a kind of Plato or Lykurgos. Whether he might be asked to help out with transport or water is not known …

Timor faces the problem of raising revenue in large quantities - but how? I think a casino and a Grand Prix would be the way to start.

Meanwhile, as Rick Wallace wrote in The Weekend Australian (September 1-2, 2007): "The stakes in the stoush over gaming licences in Victoria this week could not be higher. Ministerial careers, the fortunes of a major listed company and the state's reputation as a clean place in which foreign firms can do business have all been on the line" at the hearings in Victoria's Legislative Council (i.e., upper house).

Steve Bracks has been asked to give evidence, but is insisting that it not be on oath. It is therefore passing strange that Mr Bracks already has his eyes on fresh pastures.

So, what with one thing and another, Steve obviously feels that he needs a break - and where better than enjoying the corruption-free air of Dili?


A country looted by its corrupt leaders

The discouraging story of the former colonies of the various European powers continues to get worse.

For a long time it was said that Britain had left legal and democratic parliamentary institutions, a free press, the rule of law and a nucleus of educated people who would lead their nations to freedom and prosperity and to become members of the new world order - the order arising from decolonisation.

And in some, though not all, of Britain's ex-colonies, this happened. One country upon which many hopes were placed was Kenya, first led by Jomo Kenyatta.

Alas! Kenya is turning out to be yet another crushing disappointment. Kenya became distinguished by being regarded as one of the most corrupt countries in the world - according to a recent report by the UK Guardian's Nairobi correspondent, Xan Rice ("The looting of Kenya", The Guardian, August 31, 2007).

The new government of President Mwai Kibaki, elected on an anti-corruption program, brought in the international risk consultancy, Kroll, to investigate the 24-year incumbency of former president Daniel Arap Moi.

Its preliminary findings reveal that more than £1 billion (AUD$2.5 billion) had been embezzled, through "a web of shell companies, secret trusts and frontmen".

The money? Parked in 30 countries, including Australia.

If this is true, says Rice, "it would put the Mois on a par with Africa's other great kleptocrats, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Nigeria's Sani Abacha".

Mr Moi's sons , one an MP, are reportedly worth $942 million, and $1.4 billion respectively.

Moi's associates colluded with Italian drug-barons and printed counterfeit money. His circle owned a bank in Belgium, a $9.8 million house in Surrey and a $5 million flat in Knightsbridge, and a 10,000-hectare ranch in Australia.

This preliminary report was handed to the new government in April 2004, but not acted upon.

Why not? Because, "soon after the investigation was launched, Mr Kibaki's government was caught out in its own scandal, known as Anglo Leasing, which involved awarding huge government contracts to bogus companies".

So none of Moi's relatives or friends has been prosecuted, and no money recovered. And Kroll has not been engaged for future work. The report, according to the Kenyan government spokesman, was not "credible". It was inaccurate, incomplete and "based a lot on hearsay". Yeah!

As they said of the Costigan Commission, as more and more damning facts emerged, so steps to close the whole thing down were taken at the first opportunity. Then it could be described as incomplete and much of it based on hearsay.

Kenya has long demonstrated its unfitness to receive loans and benefactions from the West, so why do major banks and NGOs continue to lend and to donate to it? Is it really like the Iraqi food-for-oil system?

And what of the hordes of Western social and aid workers who descend on Nairobi for their conferences of 2,000 delegates at a time, to discuss poverty, AIDS and the need for more money? Do they ever discuss corruption in government, in the bureaucracies and in the financial system?

No. The price of cooperation with such countries and their politicians is collusion - active or tacit.

This seems to be a price many Westerners are ready to pay if the price is right, such as the people who still work with Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe - and others who would, if he let them.


An exercise in Islamic compassion

To a jaundiced observer, it almost appears as though Pakistan, from the time its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah (yet another father of a nation) passed away, has moved between rule by force, and rule by fraud - force, being normally a military dictatorship; fraud, the overbearing politicians and their semi-ersatz parties, with banners bearings strange devices.

Parliamentary and electoral conflict is between some very rich families and politicians who have made their way upwards by maximising the ever-present opportunities for rorting the political and economic system.

The judiciary is a changing litmus-paper, reflecting the wishes or demands of whomsoever are the rulers.

The ideology which binds seems to be 1) fear and hatred of India, 2) envious but fascinated attitudes towards the West (more recently, the United States), and 3) control by Islamic values of different degrees of severity and social inclusiveness, with fundamentalist versions of Islam steadily on the rise, as is the case in so many Islamic societies.

A succession crisis - one so familiar in Muslim states - is coming to a head, with the president and commander-in-chief, General Pervez Musharraf, pitted in conflict with exiled leaders, Mrs Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

Whoever "wins" is not going to have any effect on the poverty of ordinary Pakistanis, who now number 180 millions. Nor on the gross inequalities, nor on the control of society by a very small elite group - a group which periodically falls out with one another as to who is going to control privileged access to the social product.

In a sense, Pakistan is going nowhere. But, a very important decision has just been taken which seriously affects the US-led Coalition forces over the border from Pakistan in Afghanistan, and also the viability of the Afghan government.

Pakistan is starting to move, or force out, two million Afghan refugees, who have been living in camps just inside Pakistan's border. Some have been there for 25 years, and their children were born in Pakistan. Most of the refugees have no skills - in fact, have been living in limbo. They now have to be back in Afghanistan by the end of next year.

The chaos and destruction that this movement of people - who need accommodation, food and jobs - will inflict on a fragile society and social fabric, such as Afghanistan now possesses, could be extreme.

It is going to make Kabul's task all that more difficult, and even introduce a whole new clientele for the Taliban - one consisting of desperate people looking for help anywhere. The Islamicists, who do not lack money, will gladly fill the vacuum.

If the US-led Coalition intends to remain to defend Afghanistan and help it to build a new and more hopeful society, and if President Hamid Karzai hopes to retain power, an almighty effort is going to have to be made to protect and succour these latest refuges.

I doubt if the Coalition has these resources, while Europe certainly hasn't the will.


Now for the good news

In a world which sometimes seems all doom and gloom - and I certainly haven't been a great help here - three very hopeful processes are unfolding before our eyes.

First, the North Korean transformation. Giving away her dangerous nuclear fantasies would have a remarkably calming effect in the region and help repair the shattered nerves of the South Koreans.

Whether Pyongyang will also renounce its very lucrative drug trade and its illegal arms-trafficking is not yet known.

Developments in Palestine are looking more promising than for a very long time. The Palestinians, having elected Hamas and condoned the subsequent coup, are now quite disenchanted with these terrorist thugs. The Palestinian problem is now how to get rid of them. They want peace, and they need access to Israel's resources and to those of Europe.

They have to learn to live within their political means, and this seems to be their future intention. Here is one case where Israel's firmness has paid off.

The Lebanese have at last found that he who lives by the gun usually dies by the gun. They are at the moment displaying a remarkable measure of unity, and are insisting that no foreign country, e.g., Syria, is going to influence their future directions, as has so often occurred in the past.

So, the only blowfly left in the ointment is Iran, and she is starting to isolate herself. It may be like Europe's Thirty Years' War, when more and more people started asking, "Why are we doing this? There must be another way."

- Max Teichmann

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