Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gilmore shakes his clenched iron fist at corrupt Uganda

Having ostracized the Vatican from his diplomatic wigwam Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore has now shaken his iron fist at Uganda and given its prime minister a flavour for ‘Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way’

The brazen and barefaced misappropriation of €4 million by the Nomenklatura of Uganda of money donated by struggling and compassionate Irish taxpayers should serve as a sharp wake-up call to our own authorities and lead to a radical and fundamental policy change with respect to Irish Aid.

We have been informed by the Tánaiste that this money is to be repaid. The Prime Minister of Uganda has told the Irish public that he is not implicated in its misappropriation. But there are no instances, anywhere on the globe, of endemic corruption prevailing among public officials who are not aided, succoured, protected and abetted by politicians, as various costly tribunals in this country and the media reports about Uganda over many years have so clearly illustrated. It is also noteworthy that it was not the Irish authorities who uncovered this misappropriation and this begs the critical question of how much more of the €600 million+ spent on Irish Aid reaches unauthorised banks accounts in disreputable and decrepit jurisdictions.

Officials attached to the office of Uganda’s President Museveni were accused last year of accepting millions of dollars in bribes. The Ugandan Parliament met in emergency session and demanded that the Uganda’s prime minister, foreign minister and internal affairs minister recuse themselves from office while the parliament investigated allegations that millions of dollars in bribes were paid by an oil company. Sam Kutesa, the foreign minister, who was involved in a separate scandal involving the use of public money to renovate a hotel, resigned in October 2011.

The Ugandan Government was also accused of losing an estimated €115 million in 2007 from various scams during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The former Ugandan vice president resigned after being accused of being a beneficiary to the tune of €3 million to provide luxury cars used to transport visiting dignitaries.

As recently as last August Transparency International cited Uganda as registering the highest incidence of bribery cases in East Africa and fingered the Ugandan police and the Ugandan judiciary as being the most corrupt institutions in that country.

Against this appalling and indefensible background the Tánaiste is telling us that he is asking his Department to examine how Ireland could assist the Ugandan Government to recover misappropriated funds through processes similar to those employed by our Criminal Assets Bureau. This tongue-in-cheek exercise in solicitous introspection is to take place at a time when Ireland has had to face the implications of €500 million of assets being unlawfully and wilfully dissipated by the Quinn family by recruiting a Russian entity, unfamiliar to most Irish taxpayers, to untangle that opaque cobweb arrangement with the inducement of an upfront payment of €31 million  with no strings attached and 20% of the proceeds of what is eventually retrieved by the State from this dreadful illicit debacle.

Uganda is set to become the beneficiary of revenue derived from the recent discovery of large oil reserves, estimated to have the potential to deliver at least 2.5 billion barrels that will yield tax revenue of over €1.5 billion per year. The Ugandan Government has been fit to spend over €570 million on military aircraft to protect this asset. It is time for Irish Aid to cut the umbilical cord of easy Irish cash.  The limited resources of the Criminal Assets Bureau need to be fully and forensically and rigorously employed in this country hunting rogue bankers and other delinquent renegades and not used teach the Ugandan Government how to discover the road to virtue, especially in the light of our curtailed resources and the fact that not a single recruit has been enrolled in An Garda Siochána in four years.

The compassion of the Irish people must not be exploited by either vested interests, do-gooders or corrupt manipulators, nor should aid programmes be of indeterminate character. A root and branch reform of the Irish Aid programme is urgently required combined with an immediate severe pruning of its budget.

Should tax relief could be granted to those who wish to donate to corrupt countries in a personal capacity?  The era of saddling society as a whole with an outrageous burden of unaffordable generosity that fosters a culture of infinite chronic dependency must end now.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

First anniversary of Michael D Higgin’s lacklustre, unfocused presidency marked today

According to the editorial writer in The Irish Times on 5 November, 71-year old  President Michael D Higgins ‘has performed assertively and well’ during his first year as President of Ireland. Does this mean he is convincing, credible and effective

When the wreath laying, headstone tapping and fraternal greetings to the widows’ of long-deceased fallen idols are segregated from the activity of his first year in office, what remains that defines his presidency? 

He has been a critic of the EU’s failure to balance austerity with growth and job creation, but what interventions has he made directly to counter this and to stimulate employment other than offer idle chatter?  Who is he connected to that is strategically relevant to enhancing the prosperity of Ireland?  Who accepts his phone calls?

His speeches tend to be long and weary commentaries about abstract concepts of general concern over which he has limited or no, capacity to influence.  Any one of the sloppy and slovenly Independent TDs in Dáil Éireann could embrace a similar platform of self-righteousness  but Higgins is Head of State, not a local, scruffy ward heeler.  How, creatively and dynamically is he using the resources of the presidency?

The Irish Times interview with President Higgins (A Year in the Áras, 3 November) conveys an impression of a one-dimensional presidency on a perpetual campaigning carousel, engaging only in a zealous, but somewhat ambiguous, quest for a philosophy that might produce a purer form of virtue and an ethical culture that is more robust. The theme of this endeavour is to be adapted in 2013 from the attribution in 2012 that unregulated markets caused ‘a post ethical, or unethical existence’ to wider reflection and deliberation on what is described as ‘the crisis in ethics and the crisis among intellectuals’.  What impact will that have on the stature and wellbeing of Ireland other than being fire side conversation over a stale pint of Guinness?

But as far as the public is concerned the presidential election campaign is over, having resulted in President Higgins achieving the highest-ever number of first preference votes in the seven contested presidential elections. Public focus is now on what the President is actually delivering. It is regrettable, therefore, that President Higgins did not avail of this interview opportunity to describe the impact, effectiveness and strategic accomplishments of the first year of his presidency.

The long-term unemployment rate is 8.8% and 29% of those in the 20-24 year age group are unemployed. But nowhere in this interview does the President refer to his attitude towards investor sentiment, profit, employment creation, opportunity, innovation, incentive or risk mitigation all of which are critical catalysts to relieve the debilitating and tragic catastrophe haunting Irish society. Why should President Higgins seem to be so detached and aloof from the benchmarks of economic vitality and the complexity of investment decision making, or is he taking the achievement of a dynamic investment flow from sectors that are rigorously regulated and closely scrutinised too much for granted?

The interview describes the thousands of encounters the President has had this year and the journeys he has taken. But it does not elaborate as to what proportion of these interventions have had a significant or influential impact, or which are a reflection of the eminent stature and the privileged global access the unique prestige of his office confers.

The President is preparing a speech for delivery in the New Year intended to truthfully represent the history of The 1913 Lockout to ensure that the efforts of workers of that era, struggling to achieve even the most minimal power to protect themselves, is accurately portrayed by him.

But what initiatives and interventions to promote investment and employment creation does he intend to take to ensure that the workers of 2013 and the hundreds of thousands deprived of work are afforded the opportunity to achieve a modest level of self-sufficiency and dignity to sustain themselves and protect the integrity of their families?

President Higgins attributes the widespread failure of institutional leadership in Ireland to moral turpitude, prompting ‘a different search for a source of morality’ –as if morality was something one discovers in a Swedish furniture warehouse. He states that ‘the President’s discretion is what defines the Presidency’, the essence of which is moral authority, but he also wants to extend the boundaries of the presidency.

What specific, focused, targeted accomplishments would he like to describe at the conclusion of the second year of his presidential legacy in November 2013 that are shown to have had a compelling and enduring impact; are the product of the discretion and boundaries already available to him and are crafted by his irrepressible insight, passion, acumen and charm combined with the counsel, guidance, pragmatism and experience of his officials?