Friday, February 26, 2010

No Accountability without Transparency for Mismanagement of Financial Industry in Ireland

Klaus Regling, German economist and co-author of an upcoming report into the banking crisis yesterday told the Finance Committee that the reason the banking sector in Asia survived the financial crisis better than Ireland and all western economies is that their financial regulators responded to changes in the marketplace by introducing restrictions to control unsustainable lending practices by banks (to prevent a property bubble) in addition to the Financial regulatory preventing banks from undertaking off balance sheet transactions.

Furthermore he said that Asian Banks unlike their Irish or European equivalents largely did not invest in or buy products that they didn’t understand thereby reducing their exposure to risk and financial loss.

Former International Monetary Fund (IMF) Deputy Director Max Watson will collaborate with Klaus Regling in investigating the banking crisis and will submit a report to the Minister for Finance.

Their report will be considered with a review by the Governor of the Central Bank in forming the basis for a Commission of Investigation.

It will be interesting to see if Mr Regling will lay any blame on the Financial Regulator or the former Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen T.D. for not ensuring proper public sector governance of the Financial Regulator, the Central bank or the banking industry in Ireland.

The chief executive of the financial regulator, Pat Neary took early retirement over the handling of the regulator’s investigation into the €87 million in secret (off balance sheet) directors’ loans at Anglo Irish Bank.

The Financial Regulator was warned by the German regulator, Bafin, as early as 2004 that Sachsen LB's troubled Irish subsidiaries were involved in highly risky and under-scrutinised transactions worth as much as €30bn or 20 times the parent bank's capitalisation. Despite the warning, in 2007 the Regulator approved another Sachsen investment vehicle and two months later the stable of off-balance sheet companies needed a €17.3bn bail-out from the German association of savings banks to keep Sachsen afloat.

In August 2009 the head of the German Financial Regulator told the Reichstag Finance Committee that the failure of the Depfa Bank, which was completely supervised by the Irish Financial Regulator, lead to the collapse of its German parent which forced Berlin to bail it out at a cost of €102 billion.

In December last year the Governor of the Irish Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, said that “ignorance and inattention” were at the heart of regulatory failure in Ireland.

Overall responsibility should lie with the previous government, the Toiseach Mr. Bertie Ahern T.D., the then Minister for Finance Mr. Brian Cowen T.D., and the collective Cabinet.

As for accountability for the person in charge of the Financial Regulator Mr. Leary, the man who oversaw the culture of “ignorance and inattention” well he took early retirement and received a lump sum of €390,000 and an annual pension of €130,000 as part of his retirement package.

Fianna Fail the party of government, the political party that oversaw this mismanagement, ineptitude, incompetence of government at best and criminal behavior at worst meanwhile remain in government and we are supposed to trust them to get us out of this mess.

No accountability, no transparency, no chance of those responsible for regulation and public sector management ever being held to task for not doing their job.

Sounds all to familiar….

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Future of Green Politics in Ireland

I am writing this as someone who is a committed "green" but resigned from the Green Party in November for many reasons including NAMA but more particularly as it was apparent that my membership of the party was obstructing my work in the community as an environmental activist and scientist. It became apparent to me personally that in the current times membership of the Green Party had become a major obstacle to delivering the message of sustainability to the wider community, both within the public and private sector. Rather than fighting battles on sustainability I was fighting battles for the government many of which I inherently opposed.

My immediate concern being that to keep the wider message alive in the advent of collapse of the Green Party support, society needs to have people who will work with all political parties to progress sustainability and the greening of irish politics across all political parties. I was willing to stand for the party in the local elections, but not being successfully I now needed to remove myself from the party in order to remain objective in the public eye.

I have witnessed the slow erosion and collapse of public support for the Green Party both during the last local elections and more particularly in the past ten months.

This must be extremely difficult to comprehend by members of the party and elected TDs all of whom have given enormous commitment to try and change Irish politics for the betterment of Irish society. However the party have allowed divisions to grow within its ranks, it has not listened to its members effectively, has alienated many and many more have resigned from the party in protest. This must be of the utmost concern for the political leadership.

The Green Party are the political leaders of the Green movement in Ireland, yet their ability to connect with the wider community through effective public communications has failed. This must be acknowledged first and foremost if you desire for the Green Party and green politics to grow and develop.

If the leadership of the Party ignore this fact the Green Party will certainly follow the route of the National League Party (1926-1931), Farmers Party (1922 and 1932) the National Centre Party (1932-1933), National Corporate Party (1935-1937), Clann na Talmhan (1938- 1965), Socialist Labour Party(1977-1982), Socalist Party of Ireland (1971-1982) the Progressive Democrats (1985-2009), Democratic Left (1992-1999) and many other political parties that floundered on the rocks of public opinion and changing political circumstances.

The most urgent issue that the Green Party must undertake at this moment is its public image. The public do not see its elected members as "real" people. The public do not fully understand its elected representatives, their motivations, desires, their passion for a new political order and commitment to work for future generations.

They are rather seen as indifferent, aloof, critical, lacking human interaction skills, humour, charisma, unemotionally introverted, pessimistic, the twittering class. Too serious by far to invite to a party, lacking any sense of emotion or fun.

It is of paramount importance that the public see the human and personal side to the Green Party as a political movement, it needs to showcase its values, humanity, what motivates the party, its people, fears, desires for the future, as a political movement it need to win hearts and minds. It needs to show that the Green Party are more than a political party rather a lifestyle and environmental movement that it critical to the future of humanity, in many respects a party beyond politics.

Right now as a political party it is disconnected with the Public, as a movement it is not engaging with the public but rather its own political supporters, many of whom are divided. The party is in freefall, disentangling, the signs are ominous that it may not survive the the next election. Action must be taken swiftly to ensure that the Green Party will survive, prosper and grow.

People need to see Green TD's, away from the office, away from suits and Leinster house. They need to show in some respects their human side, their anguishes, strengths and weaknesses.

In the meantime the Party need to present a movement that in public shows that is not afraid of the next general election, that it believes that the irish public want political change and that the Green party are the only party that can offer this change.

The Party are losing this PR battle and if they do not change and act quickly I fear the GP in Ireland will become extinct before it has any opportunity to address the most important issues of our generation. This indeed would be a terrible loss for the people of Ireland.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What Future For Democracy

How will humanity deal with the many challenges we face this century including competition for finite resources, food, energy, population control, migration, security, healthcare, protection of our natural resources, soil, water, clean air, the marine environment, our threat to the planet's biodiversity, the implications of climate change and our ongoing blind obsession with economic growth above all else?

It is becoming apparent to me that to address these overwhelming problems, to deal with climate change and energy security, to actually make a meaningful difference then everyone in the developed world needs to make large, rapid and uncomfortable cuts in their standard of living.

Making small sacrifices may reduce our own carbon footprint but the reduction required is so enormous that this alone will only play a small part in any solution.

It is unlikely that we will ever elect politicians with a manifesto of banning most long haul flights, reducing meat consumption, car ownership and promoting sustainable food production that returns the populace to eating only in season food grown in the locality. Who would support the end of convenience foods, supermarket dominance and cheap food imported from the far off corners of the world?

The day will come when we will have to deal with building sustainable communities. Do we wait for the tidal wave of wars and diminished resources before acting? Do we wait for a natural culling of the human population before taking action?

Turning the habits and addictions of the world's population around is a task that many feel is impossible. Yet if we don’t act what will the future hold? How will the next generation deal with the disasters they will undoubtedly face? What advise can we give them? How will we prepare them? Is their any solution we can provide them?

Are we even willing to examine the impacts of our lifestyles and consumption on future generations? Do we even really care about the next generation?

It would appear from the evidence at hand that we do not. The UNEP conference in Copenhagen was an abject failure. We still question the validity of climate change science even when the evidence is clear. We appear unwilling disinterested and unconcerned about the future, yet we all hope that it will be better than today.

It appears to be evident that urging people to act for the common good simply does not work. As a species we appear too selfish or ignorant to act responsibly. So what will the solution be if indeed there is one?

Historically democracy has only flourished as long as the promise of continued economic growth, security and more for everybody has been the goal. Our future now appears to clearly show that this may not be possible for much longer.

So the question must be asked, for how long can democracy survive as we know it?

The recent past has clearly shown us the limits of sustainability, we have witnessed how for a market to survive we must restrain development. The economic crisis is a visible example of how the pillars of civilisation depend on a strong foundation of protecting the common interest. In the past two years here in Ireland we have been faced with many challenges and each challenge offers an opportunity for change. Yet change has not come. Our Government have invested our futures in a failed economic model that may ultimately bring most of our world's biodiversity to the brink of extinction. Our Government could have provided the seed of change for the rest of the world to follow, we could have dismantled our economic model and transformed it into something new. Instead our economy is broken, we have 450,000 people on social welfare drawing benefit but not providing any service to the state. We also have one of the largest growing population of pensioners who also benefit from the state and a dwindling population of workers bearing the cost for everyone.

This is completely unsustainable and isn’t working, we are only surviving as a nation by obtaining international loans to the tune of over €20 billion this year to fill our budget deficit and pay our public sector. As our nation's debt continues to skyrocket at the rate of €400 million a week the very foundations of our state weaken. We must accept that out economic system is broken; we have builders and developers who cannot access credit and who owe billions in loans to banks, we have banks that can no longer lend and businesses that can no longer survive without credit and finally we have more people becoming unemployed. In many respects we are experiencing Government that can no longer govern, a political system that stumbles from one crisis to the next that is no longer in control of their destiny but controlled by events outside their control.

Where will it all end?

It may be that in our generation we will see that our cherished democratic system is no longer capable of resolving our current predicament. What then for the future?

Do we just wait to see what happens or take our future into our own hands?

If we must act what changes would you demand? We don’t have much time...

Friday, February 12, 2010

How To Save Our Political System

This is my view written on the back of a piece of paper on what we need to do to save the political system in Ireland before we fall into an abyss.

  1. Pay County Councilors €50,000 a year inclusive of expenses, pay city councillors €30,000 annually. Either can remain in office for no more than 2 terms. They become temporary employees of the Local Authorities with a full time contract for the duration and are provided with offices and support staff from within local authorities.
  1. TDs can be elected twice only and their salaries are to be capped at €100,000 including expenses for which they must attend Dail 4 days a week not 3.
  1. Exceptional TDs who have run their period may be brought onto the Cabinet by the Taoiseach or as members of a strategic group, this is limited to 1 senior minister and 2 junior ministers.
  1. The Dail set up an all party strategic group that feeds support on policy and legislation to all ministers. All TDs must sit on a minimum of one policy group. This is what they should work at when in the Dail, not local politics. They may be permitted to work on local politics/issues but it must feed into national policy.This way we can ensure that we get the best out of our TDs without them worrying if they will get re-elected.It will also ensure people are mentored into more senior positions and that fresh blood and ideas keep the political system working.
  2. County and City Local Authority Managers should be elected. Get rid of mayors altogether.
Something must be done and done quickly for if we continue on the road we are on it will lead only to anarchy as people, politicians included, continue to walk away from politics.

More to follow later....

Monday, February 8, 2010

Putting the Cart Before The Horse Again: Environmental Management in West Cork

After years of procrastination and little headway I was delighted to read in the Southern Star Newspaper and other local print media of the proposals by Clonakilty Chamber of Tourism for addressing the enrichment and eutrophication of coastal waters in Courtmacsherry and Clonakilty bay and environs that result in the environmental scourge of sea lettuce which despoils our beaches and coastal environment.

In addressing the sea lettuce problem a number of factors must be examined:

  • the first being what is the cause of the sea lettuce problem and
  • subsequently what solution is required to protect our local economy and environment, bays, and beaches from the presence of rotting sea lettuce.

It would appear that from reports in the press that the proposed solution is:

  • to harvest the sea lettuce from the beaches, bays and mudflats;
  • to dewater and dry the sea lettuce and process it into a power and transport it to Galway as a raw material for animal feed.

One must however examine any proposal in light of how will it address the problem of nutrient enrichment and protection of our coastal environment?

This proposal will address neither. The proposal does nothing to deal with the problem of pollution of surface waters that is in itself the cause of sea lettuce in the first place. The proposed “solution” will require amongst other items the construction of a large drier, dewatering and processing plant and the haulage of by-product to Galway. It will also require the provision of a waste water treatment plant to treat the process waters and where insufficient sea lettuce may be collected in the area, the possible importation of sea lettuce from china, transportation to Clonakilty for processing and subsequent haulage to Galway for final packaging. The process in itself is energy intensive from waste collection to transport and processing. But will the proposal prevent eutrophication of our coastal waters? It will most certainly not.

The proposal while addressing the fouling of our beaches does not provide a sustainable solution to the problem, rather a cosmetic band aid to remove the offending sea lettuce from our environment without addressing the lack of waste treatment infrastructure and treatment of industrial, domestic and agricultural waste that is the source of the problem.

It must be noted that the existence of sea lettuce on our beaches and estuaries in West Cork is a direct result of the coastline being used a dumping ground for our collective wastes, wastes that contain inorganic nutrients in particular nitrogen and phosphate.

The problem of sea lettuce can becomes particular difficult when effluents are discharged into semi enclosed bays such as Countmacsherry and Clonakilty bay. This can become destructive to the environment (as we have witnessed) when the discharges involve mudflats that are exposed at low tides.

The response of seagrass to high levels of nutrients (eutrophication) is well documented. Generally speaking the higher levels of nitrogen in the environment will result in higher levels of sea grass biomass. The problem of seagrass and continued deterioration of our coastal waters will not however be dealt with until we have addressed management of our waste from towns, villages, industry and agriculture in particular landspreading of waste and fertiliser application.

Harvesting of sea lettuce is not a solution to the problem, it provides nothing more than a temporary band-aid to relieve the most sensitive amenity areas, it addresses the symptoms of eutrophication nor the cure and in some cases the harvesting of the sea lecttuce may pose other environmental and socio economic problems.

It must be acknowledged that the euthrophication of Clonakilty and Courtmacsherry bay is a result of rapid urbanisation without proper controls put in place to address waste management. There are no waste water system existing for Courtmacsherry, Timoleague, and the plant in Clonakilty as mentioned is totally inadequate to deal with the volume of waste generated. Furthermore both bays are surrounded by agricultural lands which themselves contribute to euthrophication by the spreading of fertiliser and slurry providing much needed nutrients to further aid the spread of macro algae.

Only by a reduction in nutrient loading into our coastal waters can one deal with the problem of macro algae and sea lettuce properly.

Clonakilty waste water treatment plant (WWTP) currently only has the capacity to treat the pollution equivalent (nutrient loading) of 5000 people; at the height of the summer the waste load generated in Clonakilty requiring treatment is equal to about 24,000 people, what this means in essence is that the plant is overloaded by more than 500%. On a typical day the waste generated in Clonakilty would be in the region of a population load of 8000 people. In essence untreated waste is discharged into our coastal environment from Clonakilty WWTP generally speaking 24hrs a day 246 days of the year, with the maximum during the summer months when the problem with macro algae and sea lettuce is at its worst.

Cork County Council currently have plans to upgrade the sewage treatment works in Clonakilty but these plans do not provide for tertiary treatment to remove the excessive nutrients that cause eutrophication. Given the eutrophication in the bay this is totally inadequate. The application for a licence for the proposed development has now been with the Environmental Protection Agency since 2007 and the Agency have sought for further information to be provided by Cork County Council. Information that has yet to be provided.

The Water Framework Directive requires that all coastal and inland water must be brought back to good quality standards. Only by developing an integrated waste management system to deal with all the wastes generated in the environs of Courtmacsherry, Timoleague and Clonakilty can we hope to develop tourism and manage our natural resources sustainable.

This must be done in consultation with Regulatory Authorities including the EPA and National Parks and Wildlife service and the Department of the Environment. The responsibility lies with the County Council as the authority with responsibility for planning and development in addition to operation of waste water treatment infrastructure.

Building a sea lettuce processing plant is not the answer to the problem, the answer is investment in waste water treatment infrastructure.

Until the public see such investment we will continue to witness the devastating impact of poor waste management on our environment which will continue to degrade our water environment, tourism, fishing and amenities.

The fate of our coastal waters lies not in harvesting sea lettuce but in managing our waste.

Declan Waugh

Chartered Water Manager and Environmental Scientist

The kidnapping of Haiti

The Theft of Haite: John Pilger

I was forwarded this article and on first impression thought, what's this another conspiracy theory? another rant about President Obama and hidden US military secret intentions for world domination? Well yes it is but Mr. Pilger however poses some interesting questions, read it and in the weeks and months ahead watch the space that is Haiti.

The theft of Haiti has been swift and crude. On 22 January, the United States secured “formal approval” from the United Nations to take over all air and sea ports in Haiti, and to “secure” roads. No Haitian signed the agreement, which has no basis in law. Power rules in an American naval blockade and the arrival of 13,000 marines, special forces, spooks and mercenaries, none with humanitarian relief training.

The airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince, is now an American military base and relief flights have been re-routed to the Dominican Republic. All flights stopped for three hours for the arrival of Hillary Clinton. Critically injured Haitians waited unaided as 800 American residents in Haiti were fed, watered and evacuated. Six days passed before the US Air Force dropped bottled water to people suffering thirst and dehydration.

The first TV reports played a critical role, giving the impression of widespread criminal mayhem. Matt Frei, the BBC reporter dispatched from Washington, seemed on the point of hyperventilation as he brayed about the “violence” and need for “security”. In spite of the demonstrable dignity of the earthquake victims, and evidence of citizens’ groups toiling unaided to rescue people, and even an American general’s assessment that the violence in Haiti was considerably less than before the earthquake, Frei claimed that “looting is the only industry” and “the dignity of Haiti’s past is long forgotten.” Thus, a history of unerring US violence and exploitation in Haiti was consigned to the victims. “There’s no doubt,” reported Frei in the aftermath of America’s bloody invasion of Iraq in 2003, “that the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now to the Middle East.. is now increasingly tied up with military power.”

In a sense, he was right. Never before in so-called peacetime have human relations been as militarised by rapacious power. Never before has an American president subordinated his government to the military establishment of his discredited predecessor, as Barack Obama has done. In pursuing George W. Bush’s policy of war and domination, Obama has sought from Congress an unprecedented military budget in excess of $700 billion. He has become, in effect, the spokesman for a military coup.

For the people of Haiti the implications are clear, if grotesque. With US troops in control of their country, Obama has appointed George W. Bush to the “relief effort”: a parody surely lifted from Graham Greene’s The Comedians, set in Papa Doc’s Haiti. As president, Bush’s relief effort following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 amounted to an ethnic cleansing of many of New Orleans’ black population. In 2004, he ordered the kidnapping of the democratically-elected prime minister of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and exiled him in Africa. The popular Aristide had had the temerity to legislate modest reforms, such as a minimum wage for those who toil in Haiti’s sweatshops.

When I was last in Haiti, I watched very young girls stooped in front of whirring, hissing, binding machines at the Port-au-Prince Superior Baseball Plant. Many had swollen eyes and lacerated arms. I produced a camera and was thrown out. Haiti is where America makes the equipment for its hallowed national game, for next to nothing. Haiti is where Walt Disney contractors make Mickey Mouse pjamas, for next to nothing. The US controls Haiti’s sugar, bauxite and sisal. Rice-growing was replaced by imported American rice, driving people into the cities and towns and jerry-built housing. Years after year, Haiti was invaded by US marines, infamous for atrocities that have been their specialty from the Philippines to Afghanistan.

Bill Clinton is another comedian, having got himself appointed the UN’s man in Haiti. Once fawned upon by the BBC as “Mr. Nice Guy... bringing democracy back to a sad and troubled land”, Clinton is Haiti’s most notorious privateer, demanding de-regulation of the economy for the benefit of the sweatshop barons. Lately, he has been promoting a $55m deal to turn the north of Haiti into an American-annexed “tourist playground”.

Not for tourists is the US building its fifth biggest embassy in Port-au-Prince. Oil was found in Haiti’s waters decades ago and the US has kept it in reserve until the Middle East begins to run dry. More urgently, an occupied Haiti has a strategic importance in Washington’s “rollback” plans for Latin America. The goal is the overthrow of the popular democracies in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, control of Venezuela’s abundant oil reserves and sabotage of the growing regional cooperation that has given millions their first taste of an economic and social justice long denied by US-sponsored regimes.

The first rollback success came last year with the coup against President Jose Manuel Zelaya in Honduras who also dared advocate a minimum wage and that the rich pay tax. Obama’s secret support for the illegal regime carries a clear warning to vulnerable governments in central America. Last October, the regime in Colombia, long bankrolled by Washington and supported by death squads, handed the US seven military bases to, according to US air force documents, “combat anti-US governments in the region”.

Media propaganda has laid the ground for what may well be Obama’s next war. On 14 December, researchers at the University of West England published first findings of a ten-year study of the BBC’s reporting of Venezuela. Of 304 BBC reports, only three mentioned any of the historic reforms of the Chavez government, while the majority denigrated Chavez’s extraordinary democratic record, at one point comparing him to Hitler.

Such distortion and its attendant servitude to western power are rife across the Anglo-American corporate media. People who struggle for a better life, or for life itself, from Venezuela to Honduras to Haiti, deserve our support.

John Pilger

28 Jan 2010