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Geopolitics threaten economic cooperation – WEF


Competition among nations to establish relative geopolitical power threatens to undermine the logic of global economic cooperation and potentially the entire international rule-based system, the World Economic Forum has indicated in its Global Risks report of 2015.

According to the Global Risks report, much of the interplay between economic and geopolitical interests plays out not in the trade arena but in the Bretton Woods institutions. Countries’ inability to agree on an institutionalised, closer coordination of macroeconomic policies to reduce global imbalances provides an interesting example. Some observers see the failure to mitigate these imbalances, combined with the return of strategic competition in an era defined by an erosion of trust, as raising a tail-risk possibility of undermining the Bretton Woods institutions themselves and the international rule-based system more generally.

These developments are reflected in the recent alternative structures being established by selected countries. Brazil, Russia, India and China in 2014 set up the New Development Bank,  the so-called BRICs Bank, which is intended to lend up to $34 billion globally, particularly for infrastructure  projects.

In the same year, together with 20 other countries, China created the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank for the Asia-Pacific region. “Much as a retreat from global multilateralism is worrisome, stronger regional multilateralism is not necessarily a bad thing, as regional solutions to regional problems can be consistent with global governance structures; although economic integration is not often explicitly targeted, it binds nations more closely together politically.

While increased interdependencies have brought the world closer together, the Global Risks report, emphasises the flip side of the effects of this situation, as people’s lives become more complex and more difficult to manage while businesses, governments and individuals alike are forced to decide upon courses of action in an environment clouded by multiple layers of uncertainty; self interest stands to erode the rule based system and cooperation.

Faced with competing strategic needs and governments’ growing tendency to look inwards and prioritise their domestic producers and economies, and with an increased reliance on economic levers as a means to gain geopolitical influence, ‘the coming years could see competitive relationships between the major powers develop into trade and currency wars, requiring economic diplomacy.’

“While regional institutions and alternative structures have a role, global institutions must respond to pressure to better reflect the rising wealth and power of emerging economies. They remain the most promising means for competing powers to build strategic trust, which could minimize the detrimental effects of geo-economic competition on growth and prosperity,” says the report.

“The interconnections between geopolitics and economics are intensifying because states are making greater use of economic tools, from regional integration and trade treaties to protectionist policies and cross-border investments, to establish relative geopolitical power. This threatens to undermine the logic of global economic cooperation and potentially the entire international rule-based system,”

The fragility of societies is of increasing concern, fuelled by underlying economic, societal and environmental developments. A major driver of social fragility is rising socio-economic inequality within countries, although it is diminishing between countries. Among the members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average income of the richest 10 percent has now grown to about nine times that of the poorest 10 percent. In other countries, the ratio Is even higher: for example, more than 25 times in Mexico.

According to the Global Risk Report, Geopolitical risks are back, as evidenced by the central node of the failure of national governance in the interconnections maps, and the strong linkages to interstate conflict and profound social instability, among others. With economies tied together on an unprecedented scale by financial and trade flows, analysts who contributed to the views in the Report, are concerned about the resurgence of the trend towards the interplay between geopolitics and economics.

While national governments in the past also made use of economic tools to increase their relative power, today’s strong economic ties arguably make this interplay more complex and therefore more difficult to navigate. This resurgence could have profound implications for the effectiveness of global governance mechanisms in other areas, from combating climate change to reaching an international solution for Internet governance. Even as nation states step up their efforts to maintain or expand power, urbanization is slowly but surely rebalancing the locus of power from national to city governments.

The data gathered for this report suggest that urbanization is a critical driver of profound social instability, failure of critical infrastructure, water crises, and the spread of infectious diseases. This will only be further exacerbated by an unprecedented transition from rural to urban areas: by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population – an estimated 6.3 billion people – will live in cities, with 80 percent in less developed regions. Rapid and unplanned urbanization in these regions has the potential to drive many risks. How effectively the world addresses global risks.

When confronted with political and economic volatility at home, countries often revert to protectionism under the guise of policies to reduce risk as evidenced by a recent OECD report showing that despite their professed commitment to free trade, G20 economies have increasingly reverted to protective measures since growth slowed in 2012 in the wake of the global financial crisis. Protectionism can take different forms. It can be related, for example, to the protection of strategic sectors, local content requirements in the case of external investment, or state bailout.

The 10 most likely global risks, the WEF says, are; interstate risks; extreme weather events; failure of national governance; state collapse or crisis; unemployment or underemployment; natural catastrophes; failure of climate change adaptation; water crises; data fraud or theft; and cyber-attacks.


Meanwhile, the risks that will have the biggest impacts are: water crises; the spread of infectious diseases; weapons of mass destruction; interstate conflict; failure of climate-change adaptation; energy price shocks; a breakdown in critical information infrastructure; fiscal crises; unemployment or underemployment; and biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse.

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Civil Service volatility: Democracy vs Bureaucracy

19th April 2021
President Masisi

Here is how one Permanent Secretary encapsulates the clear tension between democracy and bureaucracy in Botswana: “President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s Government is behaving like a state surrounded with armed forces in order to capture it or force its surrender. The situation has turned so volatile, for tomorrow is not guaranteed for us top civil servants.

These are the painful results of a personalized civil service in our view as permanent secretaries”. Although his deduction of the situation may be summed as sour grapes because he is one of the ‘victims’ of the reshuffle, he is convinced this is a perfect description of the rationale behind frequent changes and transfers characterising the current civil service.

The result of it all, he said, is that “there is too much instability at managerial and strategic levels of the civil service leading to a noticeable directionless civil service.” He continued: “Changes and transfers are inevitable in the civil service, but to a permissible scale and frequency. Think of soccer team coach who changes and transfers his entire squad every month; you know the consequences?”

The Tsunami has hit hard at critical departments and Ministries leaving a strong wave of uncertainty, many demoralised and some jobless. In traditional approaches to public administration, democracy gives the goals; and bureaucracy delivers the technical efficiency required for implementation. But the recent moves in the civil service are indicative of conflicting imperatives – the notion of separation between politicians and administrators is becoming blurred by the day.

“Look at what happened to Prisons and BDF where second in command were overlooked for outsiders, and these are the people who had sacrificially served for donkey’s years hoping for a seat at the ladder’s end. The frequency of the changes, at times affecting the same Ministry or individual also demonstrates some level of ineptitude, clumsiness and lack of foresight from those in charge,” remarked the PS who added that their view is that the transfers are not related to anything but “settling scores, creating corruption opportunities and pushing out perceived dissident and former president, Ian Khama’s alleged loyalists and most of these transfers are said to be products of intelligence detection.”

Partly blaming Khama for the mess and his unwillingness to let go, the PS dismissed Masisi for falling to the trap and failing to outgrow the destructive tiff. “Khama is here to stay and the sooner Masisi comes to terms with the fact that he (Masisi) is the state President, the better. For a President to still be making these changes and transfers signals signs of a confused man who has not yet started rolling his roadmap, if at all it was ever there. I am saying this because any roadmap comes with key players and policies,” he concluded.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness seems to be the most hard-hit by the transfers, having experienced three Permanent Secretaries changes within a year and a half. Insiders say the changes have everything to do with the Ministry being the centre of COVID-19 tenders and economic opportunities. “The buck stops with the PS and no right-thinking PS can just allow glaring corruption under his watch as an accounting officer. Technocrats are generally law abiding, the pressure comes with politically appointed leaders racing against political terms to loot,” revealed a director in the Ministry preferring anonymity.

The latest transfer of Kabelo Ebineng she says was also motivated by his firm attitude against the President’s blue-eyed Task Team boys. “The Task Team wants to own the COVID-19 pandemic and government interventions and always cry foul when the Ministry reasserts itself as mandated by law,” said the director who added that Masisi who was always caught between the crossfire decided on sacrificing Ebineng to the joy of his team as they (Task Team) were in the habit of threatening to resign citing Ebineng as the problem.

Ebineng joins the Office of the President as a deputy Coordinator (government implementation and coordination office).The incoming PS is the soft-spoken Grace Muzila, known and described by her close associates as a conformist albeit knowledgeable.

One of the losers in the grand scheme is Thato Raphaka who many had seen as the next PSP because of his experience and calm demeanour following a declaration of interest in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretary post by the current PSP, Elias Magosi.

But hardly ten months into his post, Raphaka has been transferred out to the National Strategy Office in what many see as a demotion of some sort. Other notable changes coming into OP are Pearl Ramokoka formerly with the Employment, Labour and Productivity Ministry coming in as a Permanent Secretary and Kgomotso Abi as director of Public Service Reforms.

One of the ousted senior officers in the Office of the President warned that there are no signs that the changes and transfers will stop anytime soon: “If you are observant you would have long noticed that the changes don’t only affect senior officers but government decisions as well. A decision is made today and the government backtracks on it within a week. Not only that, the President says this today, and his deputy denies it the following day in Parliament,” he warned.

Some observers have blamed the turmoil in the civil service partly to lack of accountable presidential advisers or kitchen cabinet properly schooled on matters of statecraft. They point out that politicians or those peripheral to them should refrain from hampering the technical and organizational activities of public managers – or else the party (reshuffling) won’t stop.

In the view expressed by some Permanent Secretaries, Elias Magosi, has not really been himself since joining the civil service; and has cut a picture of indifference in most critical engagements; the most notable been a permanent secretaries platform which he chairs. As things stand there is need to reconcile the imperatives of democracy and democracy in Botswana. Peace will rein only when public value should stand astride the fault that runs between politicians and public managers.

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Morupisi fights for freedom in court

19th April 2021
morupisi

Former Permanent Secretary to the President, Carter Morupisi, is fighting for survival in a matter in which the State has charged him and his wife, Pinnie Morupisi, with corruption and money laundering.

Morupisi has joined a list of prominent figures that served in the previous administration and who have been accused of corruption during their tenure in office. While others have been emerging victorious, Morupisi is yet to find that luck. The High Court recently dismissed his no case to answer application.

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Pressure mounts on Biden to suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents

19th April 2021
Joe Biden

United States President, Joe Biden, is faced with a decision to make relating to the Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property after 175 former world leaders and Nobel laurates joined the campaign urging the US to take “urgent action” to suspend intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines to help boost global inoculation rates.

According to the world leaders, doing so would allow developing countries to make their own copies of the vaccines that have been developed by pharmaceutical companies without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringements.

“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly,” the signatories, comprising more than 100 Nobel prize-winners and over 70 former world leaders, wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden, according to Financial Times.

A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for Covid related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been backed by nearly 60 countries.

Former leaders who signed the letter included Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister; François Hollande, former French President; Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the USSR; and Yves Leterme, former Belgian Prime Minister.

In their official communication, South Africa and India said: “As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns [about] how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.”

While developed countries have been able to secure enough vaccine to inoculate their citizens, developing countries such as Botswana are struggling to source enough to swiftly vaccine their citizens, something which world leaders believe it would work against global recovery therefore proving counter-productive.

Since the availability of vaccines, Botswana has been able to secure only 60 000 doses of vaccines, 30 000 as donation as from the Indian government, while the other 30 000 was sourced through COVAX facility.  Canada, has pre-ordered vaccines in surplus and it will be able to vaccinate each of its citizens six times over. In the UK and US, it is four vaccines per person; and two each in the EU and Australia.

For vaccines produced in Europe, developing countries are forced to pay double what European countries are paying, making it more expensive for already financially struggling economies.  European countries however justify the price of vaccines and that they deserve to buy them cheap since they contributed in their development.

It is evident that vaccines cannot be made available immediately to all countries worldwide with wealthy economies being the only success story in that regard, something that has been referred to as a “catastrophic moral failure”, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The challenge facing developing countries is not only the price, but also the capacity of vaccine manufactures to be able to do so to meet global demand within a short time. The proposal for a patent waiver by India and South Africa has been rejected by developed countries, known for hosting the world leading pharmaceutical companies such US, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

According to the Financial Times, US business groups including pharmaceutical industry representatives, have urged Biden to resist supporting a waiver to IP rules at the WTO, arguing that the proposal led by India and South Africa was too “vague” and “broad”.

The individuals who signed the letter, including Nobel laureates in economics as well as from across the arts and sciences, warned that inequitable vaccine access would impact the global economy and prevent it from recovering.

“The world saw unprecedented development of safe and effective vaccines, in major part thanks to US public investment,” the group wrote. “We all welcome that vaccination rollout in the US and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.”

“Yet for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising across the globe. Our global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.”
The group warned that fully enforcing IP was “self-defeating for the US” as it hindered global vaccination efforts. “Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3tn in gross domestic product this year.”

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