ISSUE 58
January 2004
 
 
   
    South Africa: SABC Stifles Public Policy Debate - DA
   
    Bangladesh: 45-Member Committee of Bangladesh Public Administration Association Formed
Sri Lanka: 'Public Servants Should be Given All Encouragement'
Australia: Australian Plans for Police and Public Servants to PNG in Doubt
   
    Turkey: Sahin: Public Administration Bill Has Been Sent To Parliament
UK: Bill to Protect Civil Service Independence
Slovakia: No Info about the New Offices
UK: Standards Committee Criticises Government's Civil Service Plans
Russia: Law on Alternative Civil Service Comes in Force on January 1, 2004
UK: Tories Attack 'Hesitation' over Civil Service Bill
Ireland: Questions Remain over Political Appointees in Public Recruitment bill - Labour
UK: Commons Select Committee Welcomes Proposed Civil Service Legislation
UK: First UK Guide On E-Government Legal Issues Unveiled
Italy: Public Administration: A Third Works in School Sector
Italy: Civil Service: Mazzella, Contracts To Be Signed Very Soon
   
    Saudi Arabia: Saudi Reform
Lebanon: Political Squabbling Halts Reform, Privatization Program
   
    USA: Democrats, Union Leaders Review Civil Service Proposals
USA: Corrupting Public Policy with Campaign Cash
Canada: Government Reorganization Leaves Public Servants Confused: Union
USA: Potlatch Announces Public-Private Partnership Protects Key Land Along Mississippi River
USA: Industrial Park Sparks Partnership Interest
   
    U.S. Pushes Campaign on Global Corruption
 
   
    Nigeria: Strive to Win Battle Against Corruption, Government Urged
Malawi: Anti-corruption Body Probing Fam's Boss
South Africa: N. West Government Urges People to Fight Corruption
Zambia: Fighting Corruption Isn't for the Faint-Hearted
Ghana: President Committed to Fight Corruption - Prez Spokesman
Liberia: Lawmakers Diagnose Causes of Corruption, Want Minimum Salary At L$4,000
Zimbabwe: Mugabe Promises Corruption Crackdown
Nigeria: Check Official Corruption in Ministries - ASCSN
Zimbabwe: Zanu Pf-Induced Anarchy: Root Cause of Corruption
Zimbabwe: State to Clamp Down On Corruption
Zimbabwe: Anti-Corruption Commission Bill Drafted
South Africa: Hefer Commission Stands the Transparency Test
Nigeria: Only N/Assembly Can Legislate on Corruption, Power Abuse - Supreme Court
South Africa: M&R and Aveng Sign Up to Stamp Out Corruption
Ghana: Zero Tolerance for Corruption Not Limited to Ministers Alone
   
    Indonesia: Anti-Corruption Body Leaders Sworn In
India: India News: Corruption Alert Against Cops in Mumbai
China: Campaigns Against Corruption and Mismanagement
Malaysia: Corruption: PM and His Cabinet Will Lead the Fight
China: Chinese Vow to Curb Corruption in North-East Rustbelt
China: Bringing more Democracy to Local Government
Azerbaijan: Parliament Adopts Law To Fight Corruption
Indonesia: Megawati Rival Promises to Fight Corruption
China: China's Anti-corruption Plan Doomed by One-Party System
South Korea: Corruption and Infighting Roil S. Korea
India: Police, MCD Top Corruption List
China: Survey Shows Chinese Unhappy with Fight Against Corruption
India: Corruption, Communalism Evils of Society: Punjab Minister
Indonesia: House, Government Defend Corruption 'Bulldozer'
India: Fernandes Calls for a Corruption-free Society
   
    Georgia: Georgia to Revive Economy, Promote Anti-corruption Efforts: Minister
UK: Terror Bill Gives Ministers More Powers
Georgia: Georgia: Saakashvili Vows To Fight Corruption
EU: EU Wants WTO to Tackle Corruption
Russia: PM to Chair Presidential Anti-corruption Council Next 6 Months
Russia: Putin Moots Anti-corruption Drive
Russia: Kasyanov Heads Putin Anti-Corruption Council
Yugoslavia: Corruption Council Invites Ministers to Meeting
Georgia: Saakashvili Again Promises War on Corruption
   
    Israel: Reforming Israel's Culture of Corruption
   
    USA: Corruption Bites North and South
The Americas: Latin Delegates, U.S., Clash over Corruption
USA: Public Corruption Probe Widens
USA: Another Formidable Resource in Fighting Public Corruption
USA: City Manager Style of Government 'Supports Citizen Control'
   
    Corruption Focus of Davos Economic Summit
 
   
    Ghana: Absence of Civil Servants from Work Deplored
Ghana: Retired Civil Servants Assured of Care
Nigeria: Don Condemns Planned Massive Downsizing of Federal Civil Service
Kenya: Ex-Intelligence Boss Broke Civil Service Rules
Central African Republic: State Can't Pay Civil Servants
Zambia: Civil Servants Won't Tighten Their Belts Any Further, Says Hikaumba
Central African Republic: Non-Payment of Civil Servants 'a Violation of Human Rights', NGO Says
Nigeria: Civil Servants Living with HIV/AIDS Won't Be Sacked, Obasanjo Assures
Botswana: BDP Losers' Protect Civil Servants Vote
Nigeria: Nnamani Wants Civil Servants' Promotions Released
   
    Burma: Salary Hike Helps No Civil Servant in Burma
India: City Pupils Shy Away from Civil Services
South Korea: Civil Servants' to Get 3 Percent Pay Raise
Burma: Burma's Military Junta Said It Would Add 5000 Kyats to All the Salaries of the Civil Servant
China: China to Crack Down on Unlawful Legal Services Organizations
South Korea: Imbalanced Promotion Discourages Public Servants
Malaysia: 16 Sabah Civil Servants Among 36 Held over Corruption
Malaysia: Sultan Wants Civil Servants To Be Honest and Transparent
South Korea: Public Servants Engrossed in Roh's Favorite Books
Australia: Civil Servant
Malaysia: Civil Service to Adopt PM's Formula
Malaysia: Government to Build 100,000 Houses for Civil Servants
Australia: Top Public Servants Get More Breathing Time on Disclosing their Perks
Australia: Top Public Service Salaries Jump
Bangladesh: Five Top Civil Servants Transferred
Malaysia: Longer Break for Civil Servants
Australia: Public Servants Threaten to Stop Politicians' Pay
China: Hong Kong Civil Servant Encouraged for Continued Dedication
South Korea: Decentralisation Row over Job Ad for Top Civil Servant
Australia: SA Government Offers Revised Pay Deal for Public Servants
New Zealand: Top Civil Servant Questioned over Foreshore
Indonesia: Indonesia's 'Bloated' Civil Service Set to Grow by 1m
Australia: Public Servants Target Government Revenue
   
    UK: Civil Servants 'Most Committed to Job'
UK: Move Civil Service Jobs to our Town, Says MP
Germany: Union Takes Aim at 'Lazy' Civil Servants
UK: Civil Servants End Pay Stalemate
UK: PM Urged to Lead on Civil Service Bill
Ireland: Civil Servant Pay Row Escalates
Germany: Germany Looks for Savings Through Overhaul of the Civil Service
Germany: Civil Service Faces Changes
UK: Pledge Fails to Cut Back Sick Rate in Civil Service
Ireland: Civil Servants Unwilling to Transfer According to Internal Survey
Russia: Interior Ministry Fights Corruption Among Traffic Police Officers
UK: Local Hero
UK: Civil Servant Dealt Biggest Blow to Blair
   
    Israel: Netanyahu: 3,700 Civil Servants Left the Public Sector
Israel: PA Close to Default on Civil Service Wages
Iran: Hard-liners Approve more Candidates, Top Reformist Civil Servants Threaten to Resign
   
    USA: Book: Bush Twins Steer Clear of Public Service
USA: City Board, Civil Service Board Agree On Amendment To Civil Service Act
USA: Defense Authorizes Up to 25,000 Buyouts for Civil Service Workers
Canada: Government Reorganization Leaves Public Servants Confused: Union
Canada: Public Services to Shrink, McGuinty Warns
USA: Action on KU Civil Service Plan Delayed
USA: Students Get Involved in Public Service
USA: Charleston County Attorney One of Highest-Paid Public Servants
 
   
    Malaysia: E-government Use Growing Here, But Slowly
Malaysia: Good Public Servants Make Good Candidates, Says Pahang MB
China: Contract Employees Add New Dimension to Civil Service
Malaysia: Five New Initiatives to Boost Public Service
India: Rs 4000cr Byte to Add Might To E-governance
India: World Bank to Discuss India E-governance
India: E-governance: Ministers and Babus to Get Lessons
India: E-governance Brings Down Corruption: Survey
India: World Bank to Hold Talks with India on E-governance
India: E-governance Curbs Corruption: Report
India: E-governance in Manipur Government Administration Soon: Manipur Minister
China: E-government progress requires strategy rethink
India: Kerala: E-literacy Campaign to Be Launched
   
    UK: Civil Service Will 'Modernise and Change Attitudes', Vows McConnell
UK: On-line Local Services Take Another Step Forward
Italy: Civil Service: Today Start of Digital Revolution
UK: Showing Some Significant Signs of Improvement
Ireland: BearingPoint Set to Win Major E-gov Deal
Ireland: BearingPoint Wins e-Government Contract
UK: Privatisation Expert to Monitor the Civil Service
UK: Region on Road to Prosperity
UK: One Person's Public-Service Gem Is Another's Garbage
UK: eGovernment Case Study: Dealing with Public Enquiries Online
UK: eGovernment Open Source Costs Threatened by SCO Anouncement
UK: Government 'Failing to Deliver on Public Services'
Bulgaria: E-Government at Bulgarians' Disposal from 2005
UK: UK Urged to Increase Productivity
Malta: Public Service Must Get Rid of Its Parish Mentality - PM
UK: Europe Targets our Public Services
UK: Civil Service Plan
Europe: Growth of E-government Slows in Europe
Ireland: Ireland's E-government Advantage Erodes
EU: Makes Major Upgrades to Its Europa Web Empire
   
    UAE: Dubai Offering More Online Basic Public Services than Europe
UAE: e-Governments Have a Major Role to Play in the Development of E-commerce: Dubai eGovernment
Brunei: Government Officers Mull System Disruptions
UAE: Federal E-Government Steering Committee to Finalize Strategy and Transition Plan
Saudi Arabia: Corporate Culture for Public Services
UAE: Federal E-Government Steering Committee Approves Priority Projects within the Transition Plan
Egypt: 'E-government Won't Eliminate Jobs'
Jordan: Jordan, Microsoft Sign Deal on E-government
UAE: UAE University, Dubai eGovernment Boost Links
Egypt: Gates Touts Work on Egypt's E-government
   
    Canada: Family Connections Key to Civil-Service Jobs, Review Finds
USA: Public Service Commission Wants to Freeze RG&E Rates
USA: Minneapolis, Minnesota Selects Accela for E-Government Services
USA: Montgomery County, Ohio Launches Accela E-Government Solution
USA: Web Site Links Private Industry to World-Class U.S. Department of Veterans Research
USA: Veneman Announces E-gov Initiatives at FB Convention
USA: Industry Advisory Council Seeks E-gov Leaders
USA: Cognos Powers E-Government Initiatives at BC Assessment
Canada: Knowledge Network Changes Could Include Ads
USA: E-Gov Fund Shortchanged Again
USA: Share-in-savings Is One Approach to E-gov Sustainability
USA: Lee Wants to Limit Outside Counsel for Legal Services to State
   
    Global E-government
Global E-government
Global E-government
 
   
    China: Experts Urge Business Income Tax Unification
Australia: Public Servants' Pay May Be Revealed
Bangladesh: Financial Management System : A Critique
Australia: Public Service Money 'Not Wasted'
India: Plan Panel, IMF Warn over Rising Deficit
Pakistan: World Bank Criticises Pakistan's Poor Finance Management
Indonesia: Iran Plans to Build $1Billion Oil Refinery in East Java
Indonesia: Civil Service Group Criticises Finance Department
India: India Astounds Public Finance Gurus
India: Property Tax Policy Anti-poor: Arya
Japan: Japan Techs Tap Equity Finance on Improved Outlook
   
    Germany: Germany Introduces New "Minimum Tax" Policy
Hungary: Hungarian Finance Minister Forced Out over Deficit
Slovakia: Financial Analysts Predict Reforms Will Help Business Environment
Hungary: Tough Few Months Ahead for New Finance Minister
EU: Structure of Public Spending in the CEEC
Russia: Key Tax Policy Measure Is Lower Social Tax Rate
   
    Israel: Sources: Finance Ministry Will Have to Submit Multibillion Shekel Budget Adjustment within Months
   
    USA: Fitch: U.S. Public Finance Rating Changes Mixed During 4th Quarter; Credit Forecast Still Cautious
USA: W-B Council, Mayor United at First Meeting
USA: L'ex vice-ministre des finances américain Peter R. Fisher rejoint la société BlackRock
Jamaica: Tight Days Ahead - Omar Davies Says Ministries Will Have To Do More with Less
USA: Privatization: The Ultimate "Lockbox" for Social Security
 
   
    Japan: LDP Pols' OK Sought for Postal Privatization Plan
Brunei: Private Sector to Get its Act Together
Uzbekistan: What's Wrong with Privatization in Uzbekistan?
Uzbekistan: Uzbekistan Announces Privatization Tenders for 2 Chemicals, 1 Cement Plant
Malaysia: Malaysia PUAS Declines Comment On Privatization Plan
Japan: Japan Highway to Set Up Privatization Panel
Japan: Highway Privatization Panelists Face Off
Japan: Japan Highway to Create Privatization Preparatory Panel
Thailand: Thai Cabinet OKs Airports Agency's Privatization Plan
   
    France: France Telecom Poised for Privatization
Russia: Russia Plans Privatization Probe
UK: New Law Needed 'To Restore Public Trust in Government'
Russia: Speaker Denies United Russia's "Privatization" of Duma
   
    Iran: Government Plan in Order to Expedite Privatization
Israel: Anchors Aweigh for Zim's Privatization
Iran: Privatization Plan Questioned Shariatmadari
Iran: Biggest One Day Privatization in Iran
Lebanon: Political Squabbling Halts Reform, Privatization Program
Iran: Bill on Privatization Drafted
   
    USA: Blumenthal Puts Hold of Privatization Plans
USA: Prison Committee, Cornell, Begin Forging Partnership Agreement
Canada: Canadians Oppose Financing Provincial Privatization
USA: State Parks Head Unsure about Privatization; Georgia to Go Private
USA: Drivers Oppose Privatization of Transit System - Operators Fear Low Wages, Being Pushed Out
Uruguay: No to Privatization
USA: One Step Nearer to Port Privatization
USA: Mutual Fund Fees: More Evidence that Privatization Schemes Won't Work
USA: Student Housing Privatization - A Valuable Alternative for Student Housing Shortages, Increased Enrollments and Reduced Budgets
   
    Global Engineering and Construction Firms Adopt Anti-Corruption Principles
 

SABC Stifles Public Policy Debate - DA

Cape Town - Broadcaster accused of political bias - Opposition accusations concerning the political bias of the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and the threat this posed to the holding of a free and fair election gained new impetus yesterday. The Democratic Alliance (DA) claimed the public broadcaster was suppressing debates on vital issues of public policy. The accusations followed last week's political storm after the SABC gave extensive coverage to the launch of the election manifesto of the African National Congress (ANC). The corporation has refused to grant other parties the same exposure on the grounds that its intention had been to cover President Thabo Mbeki's first major speech for the year. Last week it gave coverage to the ANC's provincial launches.

Opposition parties including the DA, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the United Democratic Movement lodged a complaint with the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa). However, Icasa exonerated the broadcaster on the grounds that Mbeki had not yet formally announced the election date and so, strictly speaking, election campaigning had not yet begun. Yesterday, though, the DA cited more instances of what it saw as political bias in how the SABC treated issues, and said it would seek an urgent meeting with SABC TV News head Jimi Mat- thews and political editor Vuyo Mvoko to discuss the matter. It was not sufficient, said DA spokesman Douglas Gibson, that the SABC gave opposition parties a "20-second sound bite" and then purported that this satisfied its obligation to provide a plurality of views.

Gibson complained that SABC TV had declined to cover his party's detailed, critical analysis of the ANC's promises to create 1million jobs and employ 150000 police officers. "A debate over key policy areas and the future direction of our country is precisely what an election in a democracy is all about. "Thanks to SABC TV's refusal to air that debate, millions are being denied their right to a diversity of views over issues which are crucially important to them," Gibson said. "The SABC as public broadcaster has an obligation to expose the voting public to a range of views. If the official opposition is not afforded the opportunity by the public broadcaster to debate policy with the ruling party during an election campaign, then the strength and quality of our democracy is being damaged. "We cannot and will not allow that to happen without a vigorous campaign in response," he said. The broadcaster, Gibson said, had to go beyond the mere espousal of lofty, general principles of fairness. Repeated attempts to obtain comment from the SABC were not successful.

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, by Linda Ensor, 22 January 2004

 

45-Member Committee of Bangladesh Public Administration Association Formed

Dhaka - A 45-member committee of Bangladesh Public Administration Association (BPA) has been formed. Sharful Alam, joint secretary, ministry of local government, was elected president and Dr Zakirul Islam as secretary general of the committee. The other office bearers of the committee are vice-presidents-Mahmudul Hauque, Kabiruzzaman, Alamgir Hossain, Waliullah, Lutfur Rahman, Ataur Rahman and Shahinul Islam. Joint secretaries are ANM Bazlur Rahman, Fazlul Houqe, Nurul Kabir Siddiqui, Abu Zafar Badrul Hasan and Allama Siddiqui, financial secretary- Abdul Awal, Office and Publicity secretary - Reazul Islam, publication and literary secretary-Golam Shafiuddin, Cultural secretary-Parveen Azad, Sports Secretary-Ahmedur Rahman Bablu, International Affair Secretary -Rashed Chowdhury, Seminar secretary-Aftab Pramanik. Executive members are Dr Moslehuddin Terek, Khoda Box Chowdhury, Golam Mostafa, Dr Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, Dr Akhter Hossain, Badru Chowdhury, Zahanara Begum Lina, Rehana Parveen Hashi, Kabir Mohammad Ashraf Alam, Mahfuzul Houqe, Moshiur Rahman, Reshed Sarwar, Mahbub Hossain, Anwarul Karim, Tariqul Islam, Rafiqul Islam, Shammi Akhter, Saleh Shibly, Abdul Quader, Billal Hossain, Abdul Malek, Abdul Bari, Rawshan Ara and Dr Parveen Banu.

From Matamat.com, Bangladesh, 3 January 2004

'Public Servants Should be Given All Encouragement'

The government is now implementing public service reforms on the basis of finding urgent solutions to the problems of public servants and transforming the public service into a more humane service, said Public Administration, Management and Reforms Minister, Vajira Abeywardena. He was speaking at a ceremony held at his ministry to mark the handing over of appointment letters to a batch of 26 SLAS Officers who have been promoted to Class One of their service. Minister Abeywardena said the new batch of Class One Officers would be the highest positions in the public service which had fallen vacant and they would be given the option to select stations of their choice. He said public servants should be given all encouragement and inducement to work as a team to provide maximum service towards the future welfare of the motherland. This should be done by providing them with opportunities to display their skills in an environment of freedom. He said youth talent should be utilised to the maximum to improve the public service and it was encouraging to see that the new batch of officers were of a comparatively young age. Ministry Secretary, S. C. Mannapperuma, Director General Combined Services, Victor Samaraweera and Acting Director Combined Services, N. R. Athukorale also spoke.

From Daily News, Sri Lanka, 23 January 2004

Australian Plans for Police and Public Servants to PNG in Doubt

Australia's plans to send police, judges and public servants to Papua New Guinea may have stalled with the adjourning of the country's parliament until June. From Port Moresby, Shane McLeod reports the long delay means it may be months until appropriate legislation and treaties can be put in place: "With protection from a vote of no confidence expiring early next month, the government has adjourned parliament to the 29th of June. That's affected plans for the arrival of more than 200 Australian police and public servants. The arriving officers are expected to require legislation to back their legal status, which may not finalised for months. However, parliament may be recalled to swear in a new governor-general once a court case is resolved, and P-N-G's Ombudsman Commission has foreshadowed that it may take court action, challenging the legality of the extended parliamentary break."

From ABC Asia Pacific, Asia, 22 January 2004

 

Sahin: Public Administration Bill Has Been Sent To Parliament

Ankara - State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Sahin said on Monday that the public administration basic draft law was sent to the parliament. Speaking in a news conference, Sahin said that they made 11 amendments in the bill which was earlier submitted to the Council of Ministers. ''National Education Ministry's organizations in towns won't be transferred to provincial administration offices,'' he said, adding that the bill related to local administrations would be ready in February.

From Turkish Press, Turkey, 29 December 2003

Bill to Protect Civil Service Independence

MPs' committee anticipates Hutton criticism with measures to give legal force to Whitehall codes of conduct after 150 years - A bill legally safeguarding the principle of the independence and impartiality of Whitehall was published by the Commons public administration committee yesterday, in an attempt to make good 150 years of failure by successive governments. The committee, chaired by the Labour MP Tony Wright, aims to press the government to honour a promise to present its own bill to parliament this year. The committee's bill has been drafted with the help of the former cabinet secretary Lord Wilson, whose attempt to introduce a law was thwarted by ministers two years ago. It gives statutory backing to the civil service codes on propriety. It also strengthens the role of the Civil Service Commissioners, giving the body which vets appointment procedures wide-ranging powers to investigate civil service recruitment and breaches of the code of conduct.

These new powers anticipate criticism from Lord Hutton's report on the death of the government scientist David Kelly, which is due out this month. The report is likely to find that senior civil servants in Whitehall failed to do their job to protect him. The new powers would allow people like Dr Kelly to take their complaints in confidence to the commissioners without exercising what Lord Wilson called the "nuclear option" of having to ask the cabinet secretary to investigate them. This right has hardly ever been used because of the political repercussions. The bill would also allow parliament to limit the number of ministerial special advisers. It would end an anomaly which allows Irish citizens to become civil servants, but bars applicants from any other European Union country. The MPs say in a statement: "The bill is not intended to shield civil servants from change or make them a protected species.

In fact, it would make their duties and obligations clearer than ever. Neither would it affect the right of ministers to run their departments, make policy and deliver programmes. "What it would do, for the first time, is to anchor some of the key operating principles of our system of government in parliament." One member of the committee, Brian White, Labour MP for Milton Keynes north-east, issued a minority report dis senting from the rest of the committee. He condemns the bill as "inappropriate and premature". He said the proposals would only protect the 3,000 most senior civil servants and that the proposed legislation was flawed because it did not define who is a civil servant. "Legislation defining and protecting the civil service will only serve to protect vested interests and stall reform," he said. He backs the view held by the current cabinet secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, that Whitehall should concentrate on improving the delivery of services to the public and not on promoting new laws safeguarding civil servants' codes of conduct which are already in place.

From Guardian, UK, by David Hencke, 5 January 2004

No Info about the New Offices

The Cabinet has failed to inform citizens of the addresses and telephone numbers of the new public administration offices that were created on January 1, the daily Pravda wrote. Analyst Jaroslav Pilát said: "The ministries failed completely. As soon as they approved the laws [on new offices], they should have launched a massive campaign." No such campaign took place, however, and many of the new offices still do not have their phone numbers registered in the phone book. With the coming of the new year, eight regional and 79 old district offices were shut down as part of the ongoing public administration reform, and new specialized offices were opened throughout the country. Viktor Nižnanský, the father of the country's public administration reform, admitted that more should have been done to inform the public of the new addresses, contact numbers, and office hours.

From Slovak Spectator, Slovakia, 12 January 2004

Standards Committee Criticises Government's Civil Service Plans

Government proposals to "enhance" the role of special advisers to allow them to hold meetings with civil servants about advice to ministers were yesterday criticised by the standards watchdog. Sir Nigel Wicks, the Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, will today make the Government's plans to amend the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers public. He will warn that the amendment could lead to politicisation of Whitehall. "There is an inevitable risk here that such involvement of Special Advisers in civil servants' advice to ministers will prejudice the provision of objective and independent advice from civil servants," he will say. Sir Nigel, in an interview with The Independent, warned that legal curbs on the role of special advisers should be introduced in the form of a civil service act. The committee chairman urged Tony Blair to take personal responsibility for bringing in a Bill and preventing the civil service from becoming "politicised". Sir Nigel said a Bill was crucial to prevent a re-run of the Jo Moore affair - in which a special adviser told civil servants that September 11 was a good day to "bury" bad news.

His advice will be published in his committee's official response to the Government's proposals on curbing Whitehall sleaze. The response comes ahead of the publication of the Hutton inquiry into the Dr David Kelly affair, which is expected to have far-reaching implications for the civil service. Sir Nigel criticized the Government for failing to introduce a Bill protecting civil servants from bullying by ministers and their special advisers. "The responsibility for this lies with the minister for the civil service and the minister for the civil service is the Prime Minister," Sir Nigel said. He will call for more powers to be given to the Civil Service Commissioners, who oversee the appointment of civil servants, to investigate allegations of bullying of civil servants on their own initiative. Sir Nigel also warns against allowing ministers to have a choice in the appointment of civil servants from outside Whitehall. This could lead to party activists or friends of ministers gaining preferential treatment in the appointment process and an erosion of the principle that Whitehall officials should be politically impartial.

From Independent, UK, by Marie Woolf, 12 January 2004

Law on Alternative Civil Service Comes in Force on January 1, 2004

Krasnoyarsk - Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told a conference in Krasnoyarsk, the Siberia, that a law on alternative civil service shouldn't create new opportunities for potential conscripts to defer army service. The law came in force as of January 1, 2004. "At present, we have 22 call-up deferments, more than any other country in the world. Therefore, only ten percent of young men of the call-up age are really drafted into the army," the defence minister went on to say. At the same time, Sergei Ivanov said that several thousand young people wanted to do alternative civil service.

From ITAR-TASS, Russia, 14 January 2004

Tories Attack 'Hesitation' over Civil Service Bill

The government must cease its "endless hesitation" over the introduction of a civil service bill, former chancellor Kenneth Clarke insisted today. The evidence to the Hutton inquiry had shown ministers had politicised the service "as never before" so legislation was now "urgent". Mr. Clarke, returning to the Tory frontbench for the first time in almost seven years, accused the government of speaking with "forked tongues" over proposed reforms. Flanked by members of the shadow cabinet - including Tory leader Michael Howard - as he opened an opposition debate, Mr. Clarke told MPs: "The evidence given to the Hutton inquiry throws such a light on the way in which decisions were reached. "It throws such a light on the relationship between the non-elected, non-accountable powerful figures that the prime minister has brought into No 10 and the civil servants who should have shared responsibility. "Today is the day for the government to be driven away from saying 'we will consult, we agree in principle'. "Action is required if we're going to get back the confidence of the public in the political and public system." Mr. Clarke made clear he was in "no way" pre-judging Lord Hutton's report into the death of government weapons scientist Dr David Kelly, which will be published next week.

He told MPs: "The reason we are pressing this today is that we have actually now reached the stage where despite their protestations, the present government have politicised the civil service as never before. "Party political control over the formulation of policy is steadily developing, party political control of the presentation of policy has become almost absolute and it's no coincidence I trust that we're all considering this on the eve of the Hutton inquiry." Mr. Clarke went on: "I've reached the stage where I do not believe them - the government is not acting in good faith. "There comes a point where endless hesitation becomes opposition. There comes a stage where procrastination becomes positive deception of people. "The position of the government is actually: there is no grass long enough in the political world into which they do not wish to throw this proposition." Cabinet Office minister Douglas Alexander reminded Mr. Clarke that the Tory government of which he had been part had itself failed to introduce a civil service bill. Mr. Clarke's last appearance on the frontbench was in 1997 when he served briefly as shadow chancellor before William Hague beat him to the Tory leadership. The former chancellor - who turned down a place in the current shadow cabinet - is however on Mr. Howard's advisory council of "wise men", alongside former leaders Mr Hague, John Major and Iain Duncan Smith.

From Guardian, UK, 21 January 2004

Questions Remain over Political Appointees in Public Recruitment bill - Labour

Speaking during today's Dail debate on the new Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointment) Bill 2003 Labour Party Spokesperson on Finance, Deputy Joan Burton, stated that the Labour Party had grave reservations about sections of the Bill, particularly those relating to the appointment of special advisers and canvassing in relation to public service appointments. Deputy Burton commented, "The Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 initiated by the Labour Party in the Rainbow Government forbade the appointment of these special advisers to permanent positions in the Civil Service. The new Bill proposes to repeal that section without any explanation from the Minister in the Explanatory Memorandum. "The proposed Bill provides that the newly established Commission for Public Services Appointments may allow special advisers to be appointed to established positions. This means that special advisers may be able to circumvent the rules on open, competitive recruitment to the public service. "The response by Minister McCreevy to the Labour Party's criticism of the Bill, is to say that the public interest will be protected by such appointments being governed by a code of practice to be approved by the new Commissioners for Public Service Appointments.

This is a feeble substitute for a legislative bar on such appointments, and the Labour Party will be submitting an amendment to have the bar on the appointment of advisers clearly set out in the new Bill. "We are also seeking amendments to section 56c of the Bill which provides for a statutory ban on canvassing for appointments. But breach of the ban on canvassing gives rise to criminal liability on the part of canvasser only. In other words, a Minister who was canvassed and acted on foot of such a communication in order to secure an appointment is guilty of a criminal offence. "In the discussions on Decentralisation many government TDs commented on the number of Communications they had received from civil servants anxious to relocate to their constituencies. Any use of influence by politicians in public service appointments and relocations should be statutorily barred. "Further, the Government is now proposing to break up the centralised public service recruitment system, which has served this state well since its foundation. The Labour Party is anxious to support any changes that improve the delivery of public services, but there are many questions that need answers to justify so radical a change of policy.

This is particularly true in the context of the Governments decision to decentralise 44 Government Departments and Agencies across the state". "The Bill proposes to dismantle the Civil Services Commission and the Local Appointment Commissioners and to replace them with the 2 new bodies ? The Commission for Public Service Appointments (CPSA) and the Public Appointments Service (PAS). It will allow Secretary-Generals of Government Departments to acquire recruitment licences to recruit staff directly themselves or to use private recruitment agencies who become licence holders under the new Bill. "The origin of the Bill appears to have been negotiated as part of the Sustaining Progress National Agreement, but there has been no public debate otherwise on the merits or demerits of these radical changes in recruitment to the public service.

While the existing public service recruitment procedure could be seen as slow, particularly at the height of the Celtic Tiger, public confidence in the integrity of the system was very high. "With the localisation of recruitment provided for in the new Bill, together with the Decentralisation of 44 departments and agencies across the State there is a real fear that there could be an excessive localisation of recruitment and the loss of a unified civil service career structure and appointment system "By relocating departments and agencies around the country the question arises will a department or agency based in Kerry or Mayo, for example, end up excessively favouring local applicants for public service jobs? "The Local Appointments Commission was introduced partly to cut out excessive canvassing by local politicians in favour of local candidates to Local Authorities.

One recalls in the aftermath of the Decentralisation announcement at Budget time the posters and leaflets by Minister of State Parlon welcoming civil servants to "Parlon Country." I want an assurance that this Bill will not facilitate a culture of local favouritism in appointments to departments located outside Dublin. "Value for money is obviously not an issue for the Minister in this Bill, or in the proposal to decentralise 100 staff of the Civil Service Commissioners to Youghal. In March 2002 the Taoiseach opened brand new purpose built office building for the Commission, at a cost of EU3 million and includes state of the art interview and video conferencing suites. "The new structure also provides for an expansion of the new Civil Service Commissioners, the Commission for Public Services Appointments (CPSA), and the new Public Appointments Service (PAS) to have 9 member boards in each case as opposed to the current 3 member boards. "In recent times the country has been traumatised by evidence of corruption through many tribunals of inquiry. Maintaining absolute public confidence in the integrity of the recruitment system must be a priority for all political parties. Unfortunately because of the lack of public debate and discussion surrounding the introduction of this Bill, the Minister must answer the questions raised by the Labour Party."

From Politics.ie, Ireland, 21 January 2004

Commons Select Committee Welcomes Proposed Civil Service Legislation

The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee-has welcomed the Government's pledge to bring forward early civil service legislation. Cabinet Office Minister Douglas Alexander yesterday promised the House of Commons that a draft bill on the civil service would be presented in the current Session of Parliament. Such a move was recommended in a PASC report published earlier this month. The Committee Chairman, Tony Wright MP, said: "We are delighted that the Government has accepted our recommendation so quickly, committing itself to early legislation to protect the values of the civil service. "This is a crucial step forward and a clear demonstration of the value of the Committee's initiative. Current concerns demonstrate the importance of making sure that Parliament plays a central role in maintaining a strong ethical framework for the work of the Civil Service. "We look forward to taking part in the debate on the draft Bill, and hope that Parliament can put in place a robust mechanism, possibly in the form of a joint committee of Lords and Commons, to ensure that the legislation reaches the statute book as soon as possible. I hope that this important constitutional advance will be supported right across the political spectrum."

From PublicTechnology.net, UK, 23 January 2004

First UK Guide On E-Government Legal Issues Unveiled

E-Government: A Practical Guide to the Legal Issues, from the publisher Sweet & Maxwell claims to be the first comprehensive text to cover all legal issues that central/local government and their advisers need to consider when bringing their services online. Government's goal to be fully online by 2005 is a fast approaching challenge but one that can be delivered by central/local authority lawyers more quickly and conveniently with the proper guide. As the workload for government offices continues to increase, e-government departments are tasked to maintain high standards of quality and responsiveness. And as councils strive to improve delivery of services, lawyers need to consider the legal issues surrounding personal information, confidentiality and privacy.

E-Government: A Practical Guide to the Legal Issues offers an extensive database of research from all departments and services such as information provision, revenue collection (Council Tax and income tax), grants & benefits, procurement, voting, regulations and consulting. This one-stop source of legal requirements can help Central Government and Local Authorities to deliver on some of the promise of e-government by clarifying the laws and issues that need to be managed when implementing e-government. One librarian from a well known lawfirm (who cannot be named because staff are not allowed to endorse outside commercial products) described it to Managing Information as 'very readable and authoritative.' 'E-Government: A Practical Guide to the Legal Issues' costs Ł69 and is available at legal booksellers or by visiting www.sweetandmaxwell.co.uk or calling 020 7449 1111.

Contents of E-Government: A Practical Guide to the Legal Issues:
Introduction - Explains why the book is relevant to central and local government
Part 1: Defining the Scope of E-Government
Chapter 1 - What is Electronic Government?
Chapter 2 - Key Government Bodies Involved in Electronic Government
Chapter 3 - The Policy Framework for Electronic Service Delivery
Chapter 4 - Electronic Government and Public Procurement Law
Part 2: Implementing Electronic Government
Chapter 5 - Local Authorities - Implementing E-Government at a Local Level
Chapter 6 - Drafting and Negotiating the Contract
Chapter 7 - Managing Electronic Government Projects
Part 3: The Implications of Electronic Government
Chapter 8 - Data Protection , Data Sharing and Employee Monitoring
Chapter 9 - A Presence on the Web - The Legal Implications of Having a Digital Presence
Chapter 10 - Security and the Government Gateway
Chapter 11 - Intellectual Property Rights and Domain Names
Chapter 12 - Electronic Voting
Chapter 13 - Electronic Procurement
Chapter 14 - Electronic Government in a Wider Context - eEurope 2005 and Similar Initiatives

From Managing Information, UK, 23 January 2004

Public Administration: A Third Works in School Sector

Rome - A third of the public administration works in the school department. On a total of 3,377,918 units 1,130,658 units (33.4 pct) work for the school sector, followed by the national health service (20.4 pct), the regional and local authorities (17.9 pct), the police forces (9.5 pct), the ministries (3.7 pct), the armed forces and the universities (3.3 pct). That is the 'picture' of the 'Public Account 2002' of civil servants, presented today by the general State Accountant, Vittorio Grilli, in occasion of the conference "The cost of public labour: evolutions and prospects ten years after the '93 reforms". In the 2000-2002 period - the report explains - there has also been a slight increase in the number of civil servants: 1.3 pct between 2000 and 2001, and a reduction of 0.7 pct in 2002.

From Agenzia Giornalistica Italia, Italy, 22 January 2004

Civil Service: Mazzella, Contracts To Be Signed Very Soon

Rome - The Minister for Public Administration, Luigi Mazzella, said he hoped that the Cabinet will "very soon" renew the contracts of the fire-fighters. He also said that he is "very satisfied" with the contract that has been signed for the employees of the Tax agencies: "I am pleased with my positive approach and my confidence in a positive result and that I have always endeavoured to reach the targets I had set myself". With the modifications to the Aran and the negotiation system, Mazzella hopes to close the next round of contracts "earlier than used to be the case with the current muddled negotiation system. Obviously, with the unvaried legislation, talks will start immediately and I hope that we will soon be able to introduce new rules that will streamline the process. This is one of the points on the agenda during the forthcoming talks with the unions".

From Agenzia Giornalistica Italia, Italy, 26 January 2004

 

Saudi Reform

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared as a Middle East Document in the online edition of the Middle East Economic Survey (MEES) on January 12, 2004. The following is a MEES translation of the text of the final communiqué and recommendations of the Second National Intellectual Dialogue meeting in Makkah which was published on the Elaph website on 4 January. In pursuance of Shari'a principles based on safeguarding people's interest and concern with the public good, carrying out the responsibility borne by the country's clergy and intellectuals, and taking up from the First National Intellectual Dialogue which was followed by a Royal Decree to establish the King ?Abd al-?Aziz Center for National Dialogue, the Second National Intellectual Dialogue meeting was held in Makkah on 4-8 Dhu al-Qa?da 1424 H, corresponding to 27-31 December 2003 AD. The purpose was to establish the idea of dialogue as a part of the way of life and the main means to get to know the realities and trends of public opinion in order to present them to the authorities responsible for introducing reforms. A group of clergy, intellectuals and academics - men and women - representing a range of intellectual outlooks, took part in the meeting. The subject was "Excess and Moderation: A Thorough Review."

The subject was carefully chosen, bearing in mind the danger of excess and the great harm it causes to the country and its people - and to the world as a whole - and taking into account the context of the age we live in which is witnessing all kinds of excess. The working papers on the subject of the meeting were written in advance by experts specializing in legal, social, psychological, educational, political, economic and media affairs in order to obtain a clear and balanced study of it. The purpose was to bring about effective and commendable ways to remove extremism and excess from this country, all the while preserving national unity and the consolidation of society at a time when it is being buffeted by uncompromising groups that are distorting the teaching of religion and contradicting its true aims. The purpose of the meeting was to study the problem and the reasons for it, as well as to analyze its various facets with a view to formulating suggestions to help confront the symptoms of excess. Sixty men and women - clergy, academics and leading opinion-formers in society - took part in the meeting, along with 15 specialist researchers.

They tackled the subject of excess and moderation in 14 working sessions, with much attention given to free and open discussion, dealing with the following aspects: 1. The legal aspect. Including study of the concepts and phenomena of excess, through the Quran and the Sunna, and discussing the concept of excess from an overall juristic point of view, as well as the current phenomenon of denouncing others as non-believers, and criticizing them for the level of their social commitment and loyalty to religious practices, as well as the issue of dealing with non-Muslims, and how puritanical one is and others should be - in addition to the relationship between rulers and the ruled, citizens' rights and obligations. 2. The psychological and social aspect. Including subjects such as: characteristics of an extremist personality, and the effects of education and social upbringing on the local environment, plus a social examination of religious education in Saudi society.

3. The education aspect. The effect of religious curricula and the role of the teacher and the social milieu in achieving moderation, the role of education in bringing about sound ways of thinking and creating a balanced personality, in addition to the discussion of dubious educational activity and its impact on the achievement of excess or moderation. 4. The political and economic aspect. The importance of popular participation, intellectually and practically, in dealing with excess in society and its relationship with freedom and human rights, and the extent of engagement with the affairs of Muslims in the world at large. Also, a study of the economic factor and its influence on excess, plus its relationship with other phenomena such as: poverty, unemployment, general financial management, economic growth and balanced development. 5. The media aspect. The media coverage of the phenomenon of excess, stressing the importance of freedom of expression in the various forms of the media, and the effect of this on dealing with excess.

Plus media coverage of religious sermons and its role in confronting excess and achieving moderation. The participants ended their discussions with a commitment to Saudi national unity, based on Islam as the source of theology and law. Referring to the acts of terrorism that the world - including Saudi Arabia - has witnessed, the participants reiterated their rejection of it and called for more solidarity in dealing with it, especially given the bloody bomb attacks that the world and our country has experienced, resulting in the killing of innocent people, the defiling of sacred places, the terrorizing of believers and the destruction of property. After lengthy study, the participants made the following recommendations: 1. A call on religious academic institutions to agree on definitions for terms related to excess, such as: terrorism, Jama?at al-Muslimin, Dar al-Harb, Dar al-Kufr, Dar al-Islam, al-Taifa al-Mansura etc. 2. A call for a comprehensive scientific study of the phenomenon of excess in Saudi society: its causes, forms and impact, in order to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with it. 3. The speeding up of the political reform process, widening public participation through: elections to choose members of the Shura Council and regional councils, encouraging the formation of trade unions and voluntary societies, and civil society institutions. 4. Developing lines of communication between rulers and the ruled, and making a clear distinction between the three branches of government: administrative, judicial and executive.

5. Stressing the control of economic affairs when it comes to public funds, making expenditure on basic resources for citizens the priority according to a balanced and comprehensive development program, and stressing the need to lower the public debt by means of stringent measures, achieving the principle of transparency and accountability in the process. 6. A call to modernize the religious message to conform with contemporary developments, with a careful understanding of conditions in the world at large, dealing with them in an open and interactive way. 7. Stressing the rejection of individual fatwas on public issues affecting the interests of the state and its future, such as war and peace, and assigning this responsibility to those qualified on the subject, as well as upgrading the performance and instruments involved in issuing fatwas. 8. Establishing the concept of dialogue in Saudi society, and teaching new generations in schools and universities about this by opening the doors of responsible free speech that safeguards public interests. 9. Developing educational programs in various specializations at the feet of competent experts, in subjects including the spreading of the spirit of tolerance and moderation, and the development of cognitive skills, to play a part in achieving comprehensive development, keeping the process under periodic review.

10. Supporting healthy youth programs, setting up mechanisms for them, and establishing youth centers - for boys and for girls - in residential neighborhoods, drawing up programs focused on the need for young people to develop a spirit of innovation, under supervision according to defined principles. 11. Observing negative phenomena in society and making future plans to deal with them, by means of cooperation between universities and scientific research institutions. 12. Strengthening the role of women in all aspects of life, and calling for the setting up of specialist national authorities concerning themselves with the affairs of children, women and the family. 13. Opening the door to anyone wanting to give up violence or evil and repent; and rather than casting him out and dealing harshly with him, helping him to reintegrate into society. 14. Guaranteeing a fair trial for those accused of acts of violence and terrorism, allowing them a choice of lawyers and freedom to meet them whenever they wish. 15. Putting in place a comprehensive strategy to help to pull young people in the right direction and remove them from excess and extremism, giving them opportunities for work, training and qualifications, and widening the grounds for their acceptance in various educational institutions.

16. Stressing the need for balance in media coverage of matters relating to religion and the state, putting in place a system for this in a way that avoids anything that creates division, and takes into account intellectual and religious sectarian diversity. 17. Paying attention to the media message of the kingdom abroad and developing it to confront contemporary challenges, and calling for the setting up of a specialist unit at the King ?Abd al-?Aziz Center for National Dialogue for the dialogue of civilizations and cultures, and studies related to them. 18. The participants recommended that the subject of the third meeting should be one of the following: o The Relationship Between Ruler And The Ruled. o The Rights And Duties Of Women. o Popular Political Participation. o Education. In conclusion, the participants directed their thanks and appreciation to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Fahd ibn ?Abd al-?Aziz, and his Crown Prince ?Abd Allah ibn ?Abd al-?Aziz, and the Second Deputy Prince Sultan ibn ?Abd al-?Aziz for the facilities provided for the participants during this meeting.

From Saudi Arabia United States Relations, United States, 12 January 2004

Political Squabbling Halts Reform, Privatization Program

A little over a year ago, Lebanon won $4.4 billion in soft loan pledges from donor countries that met during the Paris II conference. In return, the government of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri promised to initiate administrative reforms and privatize state held assets to lower the suffocating national debt, which currently stands at $32 billion. What was the direct result of Paris II? Confidence in Lebanon shot up, interest rates plummeted and the prime minister became the savior of the economy. Even private banks played a major role by buying $4 billion worth of zero-coupon T-bills. Rating agencies and international financial organizations began mirroring the new found confidence by releasing promising reports and by upgrading the country's credit ratings. A little over a year after Paris II the mood has radically changed. Privatization has failed, reforms have halted and Lebanon's image has seriously degraded. The World Bank said, in its third quarter 2003 country report, that the "status quo budget for 2004 signifies that the authorities have given up, at least for the time being, to pursue their strategy presented at Paris II."

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) criticized Lebanon's economic policy by saying that the "near-term outlook for the economic reform program is poor. The 2004 budget has confirmed to most observers that the premier's reform agenda has lost its energy." International rating agency Standard and Poor's (S&P) lowered its outlook for Lebanon from positive to stable and said that the "outlook revision reflects our view that the draft budget for 2004 implies a postponement in fiscal consolidations and hence delays the envisaged reduction in the government's debt burden." Citigroup, another international financial organization, said in its sovereign credit research that Lebanon can ill afford the consequences of further delay on key reform efforts. Failure to do so "could have huge costs for Lebanon," it stated. Merrill Lynch, which ruled out a financial crisis over the next six to twelve months, warned that even if Paris II provided Lebanon with substantial breathing space in which to implement a package of reforms necessary to put the debt dynamics back on a sustainable footing, authorities have not been able to deliver promises, the fiscal adjustment has fallen short of plans and there have been no concrete results on privatization or securitization."

Moody's downgraded Lebanon credit to negative, mainly due to the government's failure to implement privatization and securitization. "We note that the margin for error in achieving the government's economic program is practically zero, and success hinges on the stop-gap financing provided by privatization and leases of state-owned companies," stated Moody's in its credit research. So what's next? According to all of the reports, the delays in delivering the promises made during Paris II will continue at least until the presidential elections, which are scheduled for November 2004. The agencies and organizations have unanimously blamed poor economic performances to the ongoing power struggle between the president and the prime minister. The privatization of the mobile sector was halted by political bickering and has thus reflected a very negative economic atmosphere in Lebanon. Instead of successfully privatizing and liberalizing the profitable sector - as promised - the government found an "amicable" solution so that political differences would be eased. However, that solution is not a sign that Lebanon is ready to keep up to its promises. If anything, it shows the contrary. The same goes for the 2004 budget.

From Daily Star, Lebanon, 26 January 2004

 

Democrats, Union Leaders Review Civil Service Proposals

Denver - Proposed changes in the state civil service system drew criticism, praise and wary watchfulness from union officials and Democrats who reviewed them. At a meeting on Monday, one lawmaker said the changes could open the door to a political spoils system while another said they would modernize antiquated rules. A union leader said she would oppose the changes. The changes, proposed by a commission formed by Gov. Bill Owens, include eliminating competitive tests for hiring and promotion and making it easier to discipline or fire employees. They would also get rid of residency requirements and expand the number of high-level employees who could be hired outside the civil service system. Lawmakers will consider the changes in the legislative session that begins Wednesday. Voters would have the final say, because the proposals require a change in the state constitution. ''The original intent of the civil service system was to eliminate patronage,'' said Rep. Lois Tochtrop, D-Westminster. ''This is going to create more patronage. That's a real concern that I have.''

But Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver, endorsed the changes. ''This is a balanced approach, I think - a moderate approach to reform the civil service that can take us a long way into the 21st century,'' she said. The current rules are arcane, she said. One that allows only the three highest-scoring applicants on a test to be considered for a job often ends up shutting out women and minorities, she said. Jo Romero, president of the Colorado Federation of Public Employees, said she will urge lawmakers to reject the proposals because they would triple the number of employees not covered by civil service and would create a spoils system. ''We have yet to pinpoint anything (in the plan) that will help state employees,'' she said. Colorado Common Cause, a government watchdog organization, has not taken a formal position on the proposed legislation but has concerns, director Pete Maysmith said. ''If any proposal allows for a spoils system to creep back in, that's a concern,'' Maysmith said. Lawmakers and union officials plan more meetings to work out differences and craft legislation.

From Wyoming News, WY, 6 January 2004

Corrupting Public Policy with Campaign Cash

Before we rush full-tilt boogie into the '04 election cycle, let's hear a word from our sponsors. Yes, the good folks who pay for the campaigns of George W and most of the democratic presidential contenders should be acknowledged before next year's vote. I say we should highlight these corporate interests now, just to get a sense of who's buying what in our Land of the Free. Of course, the corporate big spenders and the politicos they purchase insist that nothing is being bought, that the corporations putting up $100,000 to a million bucks each want only "Good Government." If you believe that, Pollyanna, you should check out something called "Internal Political Party Documents" at this website: www.campaignlegalcenter.org. Here you'll find the smoking quid pro quo between the corporate contributors and the poltical contributees of both parties. For example, there's a letter from the Republican party chairman to the drug giant Bristol-Myers Squibb requesting $250,000. Does the letter ask for "good government"? Not exactly - it encloses the GOP's health care proposal, asking Bristol-Myers for any changes they'd like to make!

The politico says to the CEO, "We must keep the lines of communication open if we want to continue passing legislation that will benefit your industry." There's another letter from the Republican Party's finance chairman to the chairman of Global Crossing, the corrupt telecommunications giant that, at the time, was pushing for federal ok of a merger. As an ante, Global Crossing had pledged $100,000 to the party, with a promise to hike it to $250,000 if the merger went through. Surprise - it did! So, the finance chairman wrote back to the corporate guy: "I am taking the liberty of enclosing an invoice for the additional upgrade." This corporate money is not buying "good government" and its not buying "access" - it's buying corruption. To stop it, call Public Campaign: 202-293-0222. Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of "Thieves In High Places: They've Stolen Our Country And It's Time To Take It Back," on sale now from Viking Press. For more information, visit www.jimhightower.com.

From Pulse of the Twin Cities, MN, by Jim Hightower 14 January 2004

Government Reorganization Leaves Public Servants Confused: Union

Ottawa - Efforts to reorganize some government agencies have left public servants confused, with some uncertain who their employer is, a union leader said Wednesday. Steven Hindle, head of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, said the government should have consulted its unions before announcing planned changes and a freeze on job reclassifications and the size of the public service. He said the government may be violating some contracts. "We're taking a look at it." Hindle said the government is moving employees from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to the new Canada Border Services Agency, but it's not clear who is shifting and who isn't. The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents about 150,000 federal civil servants across the country, has made similar complaints about confusion.

Nycole Turmel, alliance president, has said the union will complain to the Public Service Staff Relations Board about the customs agency transfers. Hindle said the No. 1 complaint from his 49,000 members is "they are confused." "They're complaining about not knowing what the rules are." Days after the Paul Martin government took office last month, Treasury Board President Reg Alcock announced a freeze on capital spending, on the size of the public service and on reclassifying jobs. This was done without consulting either the unions or the senior bureaucrats, Hindle said. It has left the public service in disarray. "The message from the government isn't clear." Hindle said he had high hopes for greater co-operation and dialogue after the passage last fall of a new public-service law. That hasn't happened. He said he had been planning to seek a nomination as a Liberal candidate in an Ottawa-area riding in the next election, but has abandoned that idea. The Liberals, he said, have "made some decisions that I'd have a hard time defending."

From Canoe.ca, Canada, 14 January 2004

Potlatch Announces Public-Private Partnership Protects Key Land Along Mississippi River

Linking Existing Minnesota State Park and Popular Recreation Areas - Brainerd, Minn. - Potlatch Corporation Worked with State Agencies and Nonprofit Groups to Safeguard Critical 96-Acre Tract, Marking the First Success in Broader Conservation Plan - Crow Wing State Park's outstanding natural and cultural resources will be enhanced by the State of Minnesota's recent acquisition of Mississippi river frontage linking the park with the popular Paul Bunyan Trail. Acquisition of the critical 96-acre parcel from Potlatch Corporation (NYSE:PCH), the state's largest private forestland owner, was facilitated by The Conservation Fund in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota and the Paul Bunyan Trail Association. The Conservation Fund and its partners are working with Potlatch to acquire two additional parcels, located in the popular Brainerd Lakes area of central Minnesota. If successful, the acquisitions will establish public ownership on more than two miles of Mississippi River frontage in an area under strong development pressure.

The Brainerd Lakes area is among the areas experiencing the greatest pressure as more people seek to acquire recreational property in northern Minnesota. Timber management is generally compatible with recreation and maintenance of wildlife habitat. However, the Potlatch property has unique recreational value because it adjoins two very popular recreation areas. Potlatch has and will continue to sell recreational tracts in northern Minnesota, according to Tom Murn, regional manager for Potlatch Corporation's Resource Management Division. He stressed that the company carefully selects and markets its properties. "We are very pleased that we could work with the partners in assuring that the parcel adjoining the park and trail could be acquired by the state," he noted. The Potlatch transaction is part of The Conservation Fund's effort to address conservation needs in the Mississippi River watershed. Thanks largely to support from the McKnight Foundation, The Conservation Fund has protected more than 3,000 acres in Minnesota.

Much of the land has been protected through the Fund's Mississippi River Revolving Fund, which provides conservation funding to local land trusts. "Thanks to the commitment, leadership, and foresight of Potlatch Corporation and the State of Minnesota, we're protecting an important wildlife corridor and expanding popular recreation areas," said The Conservation Fund's president, Larry Selzer. "The Conservation Fund remains committed to working with the public and private sectors to safeguard the magnificent natural treasures of the Mississippi River region." The recently acquired land and remaining two parcels contain a variety of timber and vegetation, which augment the exceptional prairie landscape and pine and hardwood forests found in Crow Wing State Park. The park is also culturally rich, containing remnants of a frontier town and a section of the old Woods Trail that served ox cart traffic and carried supplies to and from St. Paul. "With this purchase, the state has preserved the Mississippi River blufflands and expanded the recreational opportunities in the park and the surrounding area," said Teresa Thews, the Division of Parks and Recreation's real estate program coordinator. "This partnership was imperative to accomplish the DNR's land protection goals in a part of the state that is experiencing rapid growth," she said.

Conservationists are also applauding the acquisition as the long-awaited connector between the Paul Bunyan Trail and Crow Wing State Park. One of the nation's most premiere recreational trails, the Paul Bunyan trail is a 110-mile, mostly paved route beginning in the Brainerd/Baxter area. "The signature of the 110-miles of the Paul Bunyan trail is woods and waters," said the Paul Bunyan Trail Association volunteer coordinator, Terry McGaughey. "This acquisition will greatly enhance that with magnificent views of the river. I predict this trail section, when developed, will become one of its most popular segments." The Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota recently acquired a fourth parcel, 78 acres from a private landowner, between two of the Potlatch parcels. Parks & Trails also worked with the Minnesota Legislature to secure funding to acquire these and other parcels for state parks statewide. "Partnering with The Conservation Fund enabled each of us to do more," said Dorian Grilley, executive director of the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.

The Conservation Fund, rated the top environmental organization by the American Institute of Philanthropy, acts to protect the nation's legacy of land and water resources in partnership with other organizations, public agencies, foundations, corporations, and individuals. Seeking innovative conservation solutions for the 21st century, the Fund works to integrate economic and environmental goals. Since its founding in 1985, the Fund has helped to protect wildlife habitat, greenways, community "greenspace" and historic sites totaling more than 3.5 million acres throughout the nation. Potlatch Corporation is an integrated forest products company with 1.5 million acres of forestland in Idaho, Minnesota and Arkansas. The company owns 315,000 acres in Minnesota and operates lumber and panel manufacturing plants in Bemidji, Grand Rapids and Cook. Potlatch employs about 700 in the state. This news release contains, in addition to historical information, certain forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are based on Potlatch Corporation management's best estimates and assumptions regarding future events, and are therefore subject to known and unknown risks and uncertainties and are not guarantees of future performance. The company's actual results could differ materially from those expressed or implied by forward-looking statements. The company disclaims any intent or obligation to update these forward-looking statements.

From Business Wire (press release), 21 January 2004

Industrial Park Sparks Partnership Interest

A Charlotte company advising the county on how to best market the county-owned industrial park, Summit Corporate Center, is apparently interested in a partnership. County Manager Tim Russell said The Keith Corp., specialists in commercial real estate, has indicated an interest in a partnership similar to what it now has with Lincoln County. Russell said the company is willing to put money into the project, including building speculative buildings, and handle marketing for the whole park. Founded in 1989, Keith Corp. is a full-service commercial real estate firm operating throughout North America. Clients include multinational Fortune 500 corporations. Summit Corporate Center, at the intersection of Interstate 85 and Julian Road, has nearly 600 acres, including 200 acres in Phase 1. Started in 1995, it was originally designed for big box industries looking for large tracts. It remains mostly vacant. On Tuesday morning, Russell asked for directions from the Board of Commissioners, whether to discuss a partnership with Keith Corp. or go forward with plans to seek marketing proposals from brokers. Previously, commissioners had turned down a proposal to use the front section of the park for commercial development.

At that time, the board asked Russell to look at ways to improve the park and possibly seek proposals from real estate brokers to sell the park. Russell said the discussion of a possible partnership came about during a meeting of a group looking at ways to "spruce up" the park. In a brief discussion, three commissioners indicated they would like to tour the industrial park in Lincoln County and hear a presentation from Keith Corporation. Vice Chairman Frank Tadlock said it would be helpful to see the park and suggested that Belk and Tadlock coordinate the trip. Two commissioners who have steadfastly advocated staying the course, keeping the park for high-end industries and business, Steve Blount and Chairman Gus Andrews, indicated little interest in visiting the Lincoln park. "One park looks like another," said Blount, who prefers a presentation from the manager at the next meeting. "Somebody coming to the table with money ... put a different perspective," said Andrews, who has previously opposed marketing concepts that included a mix of commercial development.

Andrews indicated he is intrigued by the public-private partnership. Russell said Keith Corp. has built on county land in Lincoln park and on some private land and is marketing both. Belk asked how that differs from the county's arrangement with Atlantic American Properties. The Kannapolis-based company has a 100,000-square-foot shell building on county land in Summit. Despite high hopes at the outset, the building has not sold. Russell said Keith Corp. would have much greater incentive to market the park, adding that the Atlantic American building is "overpriced and under built." Following commissioners' meeting Tuesday, Russell said officials will arrange a tour of the Lincoln County park. And following that, commissioners will decide if they want to hear a presentation from Keith Corp. on a partnership. A representative of Keith Corp. volunteered to serve on the panel with architect Bill Burgin and builder Bill Wagoner, along with some county officials. Wagoner's firm built the Atlantic American building, and Burgin designed the signs. Russell said the committee recommended improvements for cleaning up the park for a cost of around $100,000. The committee also recommended improvements to the signage.

From Salisbury Post, NC, 21 January 2004

 

U.S. Pushes Campaign on Global Corruption

Ashcroft, in Davos, touts gains in Iraq - Davos, Switzerland - One year after he faced a broad wave of anti-American sentiment here, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft returned Thursday to the World Economic Forum in this Alpine village to say America was winning the war on terrorism and to promote a new campaign to assail global corruption. Ashcroft was the most senior U.S. official to address the annual forum as Washington seeks to swing international opinion behind its vision of a transfer of political authority in Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney is also expected to attend the gathering. At his previous appearance in January 2003, just weeks before the invasion of Iraq, Ashcroft and others, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, confronted business and political leaders whose mood varied from skepticism to hostility toward America's military intentions in the Middle East.

Ashcroft also faced wide criticism of the harsh measures he had taken to combat terrorism. "I didn't come back to Davos because I haven't been able to find any hostility in Washington, D.C.," Ashcroft joked at a lunch gathering, apparently referring to questioning in the United States about the extent to which civil liberties have been subjugated to security measures taken in the name of pre-empting terror attacks. At this year's meeting, the mood is more muted and diffuse, focusing on an array of economic and business uncertainties. But there were some important leaders who challenged the results of America's war on terrorism and its campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. The war in Iraq, President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan said at a conference session, "complicated the already tense situation in which the world found itself," with many Muslims resenting the way their cause was being depicted and feeling a "deep sense of injustice and powerlessness." "The world became a very dangerous place to live," Musharraf said.

Ashcroft had a more positive message. "We are winning the war against terrorism," he said, insisting that despite criticism of his record, Washington was respecting civil rights "at the highest level possible." He was referring specifically to questioners who challenged the Bush administration's decision to detain people as "enemy combatants" with no access to lawyers or legal support. But Ashcroft alluded to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to say that America was at war, giving Washington the right to seize its foes. "Nations when they are attacked have a right to detain individuals that are attacking them," he said. "When you're conducting a war - and we are still at war - you expect the executive to conduct the war." Decisions to detain people, he said, are "based on significant evidence and made by the president of the United States. It is not based on a whim. We are respecting liberties at the highest level possible to make these judgments."

Apart from over 600 prisoners held at the U.S. naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, human rights groups have also challenged three people held in the United States, whom the Bush administration calls "enemy combatants." "The real question is, Were these just the test cases," said Kenneth Roth, executive director for Human Rights Watch in New York. "Are these just the test cases, and how will the administration behave if these test cases are approved? Will this be the tip of the iceberg?" Ashcroft said that in the past the United States had called on nations to fight terrorism. "Today we need to expand our efforts to fight corruption," he said. He underlined that he was referring to official corruption in governments rather than the kind of corporate malfeasance that led to major scandals in American and European corporations like Enron, Tyco and Parmalat. He called official corruption a "contagion that cannot be contained by borders" and urged international combat against it through strong political leadership, cooperation and transparency, meaning a readiness by governments to inform people honestly about its actions. "Information is the enemy of corruption," he said. "Corruption cannot flourish in the light of day."

From International Herald Tribune, France, by Alan Cowell, 23 January 2004

 
 

Strive to Win Battle Against Corruption, Government Urged

The Federal Government has been advised to strive to win the battle against corruption in the country as the only means to attract Nigerian experts based in abroad to return and join in the process of nation-building. A Nigerian Consultant Structural Engineer based in the United States of America, Dr. Nonso Mojekwu who gave the advice in Nnewi Anambra State on Wednesday said corruption was the root of the ills bedevilling the country and stalling its development. Fielding questions from the DAILY TIMES in his family home, Mojekwu who was in the town to attend the 50th anniversary of his parents' wedding, said many Nigerian experts abroad would have loved to come home but were frightened by that government business had been paralysed by corruption. "Lack of infrastructure, insecurity of life and property, and other ills of the country are traceable to corruption and until this is eradicated no one would want to risk certainties for uncertainties," he said. He advised government to embark on massive training of the children and youth to love their country, adding that for government to overcome the lack of infrastructure, money budgeted for projects must be tied to such projects.

Mojekwu also said one of the biggest problems in the country was the dearth of the middle class "which is the class that produces for any nation." He feared that should his counterparts return to the country, they would not have professional fulfilment, pointing out that those of them who once came back left again in frustration. Asked how the country's image was like now, Mojekwu said it had improved. But he quickly added that Nigeria was not practising democracy yet but a semblance of it. Said he: "The image of the country is not as bad as it used to be, it is a little better than what it used to be. It has some semblance of democracy. I am hoping that as we go through the process, we will learn more of what democracy is." He, however, said some Nigerians were stuck to the United States because they chose to having decided to close the bad side of America. "The United States has a lot of good and bad, so there is everything available so that you chose between the good and the bad."

From Daily Times of Nigeria, by Chukwujekwu Ilozue, 2 January 2004

Anti-corruption Body Probing Fam's Boss

Will there be any breathing space for Football Association of Malawi (Fam) president Sameer Suleman? As Sports Council is piling pressure on the new Fam boss and four of his lieutenants to leave office, the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) has launched investigations into allegations that Suleman offered K500s (about $5) to some affiliates to influence them vote for him during the recent Fam elections. ACB Director Justice Michael Mtegha confirmed on Wednesday that the bureau had started probing into Suleman's issue. "Yes, we have started the investigations …(but) I don't know how far we have gone because I have been out in the field and have not been briefed by the officers handling the investigations," said Mtegha." Suleman, however, said he was not aware that he was under the ACB's probe. "I don't know anything. I haven't been summoned nor asked. I am readily available and when they come to me, I will answer them," said Suleman," who did not want to talk much on the issue. According to sources in the Central Region, a number of football officials have already been called in to testify by the ACB.

The Fam president is alleged to have offered K500s to some members from Fam central region affiliates after he had drove to Lilongwe with another Fam member Raphael Humba, who campaigned for the removal of a close in the Fam hand book which says aspirants for Fam executive positions should posses Malawi Schools Certificate of Education, (MSCE) or its equivalent. While confirming that he met the affiliates, Suleman denied offering them with any bribes. He said he only assisted those, who had asked for transport money from him. But some of the members present, including Malawi Football Coaches Association, (MFCA) general secretary Peterkins Kayira told Nation Online that Suleman offered the money out of his own will. The ACB investigations have come fast on the heels of another issue involving MSCE certificates, which has seen Council asking Suleman, his two deputies Anderson Zimba and Steve Msambila and executive members Peter Chavula and Humba to vacate Fam, having failed to produce the certificates.

Meanwhile, reports indicate the testimonial that Suleman presented during the Mzuzu Extra Ordinary General Meeting belonged to his brother Gaffar. But Suleman, who is insisting that he holds the Form Four certificate, dismissed the reports, saying the name Gaffar appears on the testimonial because it is his father's name. "I am with Humba right now, can he read for you what is on my testimonial." According to what Humba read, the testimonial bore the name Sameer Gaffar Suleman and was obtained from Central High School on 14.08.94. Should it be established that Suleman presented his brother's certificate, he risks answering a charge of impersonation, according to Law Society of Malawi spokesman Charles Mhango.,Will there be any breathing space for Football Association of Malawi (Fam) president Sameer Suleman? As Sports Council is piling pressure on the new Fam boss and four of his lieutenants to leave office, the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) has launched investigations into allegations that Suleman offered K500s (about $5) to some affiliates to influence them vote for him during the recent Fam elections.

ACB Director Justice Michael Mtegha confirmed on Wednesday that the bureau had started probing into Suleman's issue. "Yes, we have started the investigations …(but) I don't know how far we have gone because I have been out in the field and have not been briefed by the officers handling the investigations," said Mtegha." Suleman, however, said he was not aware that he was under the ACB's probe. "I don't know anything. I haven't been summoned nor asked. I am readily available and when they come to me, I will answer them," said Suleman," who did not want to talk much on the issue. According to sources in the Central Region, a number of football officials have already been called in to testify by the ACB. The Fam president is alleged to have offered K500s to some members from Fam central region affiliates after he had drove to Lilongwe with another Fam member Raphael Humba, who campaigned for the removal of a close in the Fam hand book which says aspirants for Fam executive positions should posses Malawi Schools Certificate of Education, (MSCE) or its equivalent. While confirming that he met the affiliates, Suleman denied offering them with any bribes.

He said he only assisted those, who had asked for transport money from him. But some of the members present, including Malawi Football Coaches Association, (MFCA) general secretary Peterkins Kayira told Nation Online that Suleman offered the money out of his own will. The ACB investigations have come fast on the heels of another issue involving MSCE certificates, which has seen Council asking Suleman, his two deputies Anderson Zimba and Steve Msambila and executive members Peter Chavula and Humba to vacate Fam, having failed to produce the certificates. Meanwhile, reports indicate the testimonial that Suleman presented during the Mzuzu Extra Ordinary General Meeting belonged to his brother Gaffar. But Suleman, who is insisting that he holds the Form Four certificate, dismissed the reports, saying the name Gaffar appears on the testimonial because it is his father's name. "I am with Humba right now, can he read for you what is on my testimonial." According to what Humba read, the testimonial bore the name Sameer Gaffar Suleman and was obtained from Central High School on 14.08.94. Should it be established that Suleman presented his brother's certificate, he risks answering a charge of impersonation, according to Law Society of Malawi spokesman Charles Mhango.

From The Nation, Malawi, Malawi, by Leonard Sharra, 7 January 2004

N. West Government Urges People to Fight Corruption

Pretoria - The North West Government has urged people to become its eyes and ears by exposing any form of corruption or suspected mismanagement in the province. The provincial government encourages the public to use the toll free number, 0800 202 2591, launched last year, to report corruption and fraud. Government launched the number to enable people to report fraud and corruption while at the same time protecting the identity of whistleblowers. Since its inception, 18 cases of corruption have been reported through the hotline and eight of them are still being investigation. "People must expose those who use their positions in government and the public service to enrich themselves, their friends or relatives through illegal and corrupt means", said North West Premier Popo Molefe, adding that corruption is a threat to the country's promising democracy.

Premier Molefe said corruption had the greatest impact on poor people and it retards development because resources meant for the poor are diverted to the pockets of individuals. "Corruption affects government's capacity to deliver services to its citizens and to ensure sustainable development", said Premier Molefe. "We must ensure that the culture of corruption, secrecy and lack of accountability inherited from the apartheid past is not entrenched in our new democracy," he said. "We must build a culture of integrity and clean governance." Last year, more than 52 cases involving R35 million were reported for investigations and 19 cases were referred to the Directorate for Public Prosecutions.

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, by Edwin Tshivhidzo, 7 January 2004

Fighting Corruption Isn't for the Faint-Hearted

Lusaka - We have stated before that the fight against corruption is not for the faint-hearted, it is a war. The people who plundered the resources of this country are heartless men and women who are willing to do anything to keep their ill-gotten gain. It will not do for President Levy Mwanawasa to tread softly as though he were walking on eggshells. He declared the war and he should be willing to fight it decisively. Those conversant with the art of war will agree that it is not possible to follow a General whose trumpet has an uncertain or indeed, a hesitant sound. The Zambian people will bear witness that we have long complained about this particular Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) - Mukelabai Mukelabai. Finally the truth has been laid bare; he is actually on the other side. How else will you explain the DPP having a meeting with the chief accused in the most sensational legal case in Zambia, a case which he has been bungling? Let us keep in mind that this is the same accused who was acquitted on the DPP's watch, is it any wonder? Now one might wonder: did the benefits of whatever nature that the DPP must have obtained trickle down to the State Advocates who were so willing to vouch for his integrity? Or is it just a case of blind loyalty by our learned colleagues? If that was the case, now that the truth has come out, the Zambian people deserve a statement of their position on the DPP in light of the recent candid revelation.

However, the cardinal question on the Zambian people's minds is, what is the stand of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs - George Kunda? We recall that at his press briefing two days ago, he said Mukelabai was under his protection, whatever that meant. We suggest, nay we demand, he follows his protégé because either he is on the other side or he does not understand that the country is at war with the plunderers. Either way, there is no place for Kunda in the fight against corruption. His presence in this fight would render it a farce. The litmus test for President Mwanawasa as to whether he is the General that the Zambian masses need to lead them in this fight for their lives is whether he will drop Kunda. Even if, as we have stated earlier, he is not on the other side, he must be what was called in Operation Desert Storm 'Collateral Damage'. He stood by the DPP even at the time we pointed out that the prosecution of Chiluba was becoming a farce.

Indeed it is true as the state advocates say, the DPP is not incompetent, he was simply acting in accord with the instructions of his masters who are neither President Mwanawasa nor the people of Zambia as we have found out. For those who were looking for a motive for his inconsistent behaviour, they need not look any further. Kunda must pay the price for having stood by him. If he was an honourable man, he would resign on his own accord, but we know that would be asking for too much from the man who desperately needs that job. On the other hand, the people of Zambia wait to see if the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of Zambia is bold enough to take the inevitable decision to drop his Attorney General and not flounder as usual and wait for events to force him into the inevitable decision. We know, and respect, the fact that Kunda is a very close personal friend of President Mwanawasa and it is not easy to part with friends. But what is at stake is not a personal matter for President Mwanawasa; it is a serious national challenge. And in such matters personal relationships should never be the primary concern. The Zambians await a certain trumpet call from the General as he leads them onward in this fight to the end.

From Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic, 9 January 2004

President Committed to Fight Corruption - Prez Spokesman

Mr. Kwabena Agyei Agyepong, Presidential Spokesman, on Wednesday dismissed views by critics that President John Agyekum Kufuor has not shown much commitment to the declaration of zero tolerance for corruption. "Mr. Kufuor's administration has taken prominent measures to sanitize public financial management systems, which is the bedrock of corruption", a statement from the Office of the Press Secretary said in Accra. Mr. Agyepong in the statement said President Kufuor's stance was evidenced in his exemplary, accessible and opened leadership coupled with pragmatic steps he had taken to enhance fair practices in public administration and office.

The statement said apart from enhancing the operational capacity of state institutions in checking corruption, Kufuor's administration has been able to put in place the repeal of the criminal libel law, the passage of the freedom of information act, Bank of Ghana Act, the establishment of a Revenue Agencies Governing board among others to serve as checks on corruption. The statement requested critics of Kufuor's administration not to discount the benefits of the repeal of the criminal libel law has had on the economic, governance and transparent public service, which has made the media more empowered to scrutinize the use of state resources and finances in a productive way. It also challenged corruption observers to evaluate President Kufuor's commitment in light of his honest effort at empowering and providing resource to criminal investigative bodies within the three years of NPP administration.

From GhanaWeb, Ghana, 14 January 2004

Lawmakers Diagnose Causes of Corruption, Want Minimum Salary At L$4,000

Monrovia - The leadership of the National Transitional Legislative Assembly (NTLA) has diagnosed several causes of corruption within the Country, naming low salaries for civil servants as a major factor for corruption. Accordingly, the Legislators want L$4,000 as the least pay in Government to ensure that civil servants are not corrupt. Their diagnoses and recommendations were made at a three-day workshop last Friday at the Public Affairs Auditorium of the United States Embassy in Mamba Point, Monrovia. Setting as the bases for their recommendations at the end of the workshop, the Lawmakers said the lack of education and understanding of government, dishonesty and greed, lack of accountability and the lack of commitment have been responsible for rampant corruption in the Country. Consequently, Transitional Legislators made a five-point recommendation to curb the lack of education and understanding of government. Amongst the recommendations, they said there should be persistent workshops by relevant institutions such as the Liberian Institute of Public Administration (LIPA) and partners of the Liberian Government to educate public officials on the function of Government. "Besides, civil education should be taught in all schools and that the LIPA should be supported by the Commission on Good Governance," the Legislators maintained.

They indicated how placement test should also be a pre-requisite for the employment of civil servants, and that there should be a vigorous media campaign to create awareness that appointment in government is service oriented and not intended for self-enrichment. The Legislators also recommended that punitive measures be meted to officials or employees dismissed for corruption. They agreed that dismissing someone in the absence of judicial action to serve as deterrent would not help to curb corruption from the society. They also expressed the need for government to establish an anti-corruption commission. Besides, the NTLA members spoke against the lack of accountability, and proposed an expenditure and public account committee in the Legislature and said there is a need for the Bureau of Audit to be placed under the Legislature for the purpose of check and balance. All major contracts between government or the State and private companies and concessions should be ratified, they opined. But they maintained that the underpayment of civil servants was the major cause of corruption and said the least salary should be L$4,000. The Lawmakers recalled that the least salary for civil servants had ranged between US$100 and US$250, saying they cannot see why civil servants are not paid the value of that amount in Liberian currency today.

Civil servants' salary, they observed, is so low that it cannot buy them a bag of rice, pay their children's school fees and at the same time cater to their spouses. "Because of this, those in civil service are bent on squandering public funds to ensure that they meet their goals in life", the lawmakers argued. On the other hand, they said the merit system should be enforced in government and that economic benefits such as transportation fares and other incentives should be given to ensure that public servants are not corrupt in the performance of their duties to the detriment of the state. According to them, they said they were willing to enact these recommendations into law if AIESEC would sent them forward to the Legislature in the form of petition. AIESEC is a student exchange foundation. The group said the workshop was intended to conscientize the Lawmakers on the rampant wave of corruption in the society so as to find a way out. The workshop discussed the ills in the society and traced reasons to the vicious circle of violence in the society amongst others. Amongst participants of Lawmakers at the workshop were Nelson Wah Barh of the NTLA Information and Broadcasting Committee, George D. Moore of the Good Governance & Government Reform Committee, Josephus S. Dokie of the Public Works Committee, Za wolo Z. Zuagele of the Rural Development , Prince G. Toe of the National Security Committee and Harrison Sleweon of the Lands, Natural Resources and the Environment Committee.

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, by Bill K. Jarkloh, 14 January 2004

Mugabe Promises Corruption Crackdown

Harare - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has promised the government will deal firmly with corrupt financial institutions involved in an upsurge of fraud, the official Herald newspaper says. "We will not allow lawbreakers and corrupt characters to get away with their illegal activities. We will deal with them," the paper quoted Mugabe as saying after donating computers to a school in the central town of Kadoma. Zimbabwe is mired in an economic crisis widely blamed on mismanagement by Mugabe's government. Analysts say he may crack down on corruption, within his ZANU-PF party and elsewhere, to boost ZANU-PF's chances in a parliamentary election next year. A Harare magistrate was due to rule on Wednesday on a bail application by a businessman and senior ZANU-PF member arrested on Saturday on charges of interfering with a major fraud probe.

Lawyers for Philip Chiyangwa, a ZANU-PF legislator and provincial chairman, said his arrest had been engineered by political opponents amid feuding over who should succeed Mugabe if he stands down as party leader. Local media have over the past year reported splits within ZANU-PF as debate intensifies over a successor for Mugabe, who turns 80 in February and has hinted he could be ready to retire. Police suspect Chiyangwa of withholding vehicles key to investigations into allegations that two directors of the asset management firm ENG Capital cheated investors of billions of dollars. State prosecutors say the directors used the money to source foreign currency from the black market to import personal vehicles. Chiyangwa has denied any wrongdoing. Authorities have accused financial institutions of driving a black market where U.S. dollars fetch up to five times the official rate against the local dollar.

The central bank has warned of a crackdown on speculative trade in the sector. "Right now there are companies which handle people's money, but they sell the people's money...to buy U.S. dollars, pounds and rands which they sell at high prices. This is what caused the shortage of money and prices to go up. It was the work of thieves," the Herald quoted Mugabe as saying. Chiyangwa, a champion of the government's black economic empowerment drive, says he intervened in the ENG matter merely to ensure a political and legal settlement that did not harm the programme. Mugabe denies his government has brought a thriving economy to its knees, arguing it has been sabotaged by local and Western opponents of his seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution among landless blacks.

From Reuters, UK, 14 January 2004

Check Official Corruption in Ministries - ASCSN

As government intensifies its efforts at ridding the country of corrupt practices, the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN) has urged the Federal Government to curtail the fraudulent acts being perpetrated by officials in some ministries. It also expressed disappointment at the refusal of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to allow its workers unionise. The union argued if not checked official corruption in ministries would create more problems and rubbish government's anti-corruption crusade. ASCSN in a statement issued at the end of its national delegates conference in Lagos and signed by its Secretary-General, Solomon Onaghinon said keeping the salaries and allowances of workers in private bank accounts with the ulterior aim of getting interest smacks of corruption at its worst.

Said ASCSN: "The conference in addition, called on the Federal Government to check the fraudulent action in some ministries where some management staff were in the habit of depositing salaries and allowances of workers under them in private bank account for many months." According to ASCSN, the development had the potent danger of rubbishing the anti-corruption crusade of government and creating serious and destructive social crises for many families. Part of the measures to check the trend, according to the union, is by putting in place a system that would guarantee the prompt payment of pensions and accord them respect and dignity. While expressing dismay at the recalcitrant posture of INEC towards the unionisation of its workers, the ASCSN recalled that the trade union Act did not exempt INEC staff from being unionised. The commission, it posited, is betraying the reasons for its very existence for such anti-unionisation rigidity.

From Daily Times of Nigeria, Nigeria, 19 January 2004

Zanu Pf-Induced Anarchy: Root Cause of Corruption

Harare - Every so often in the course of human history, there comes an opportunity for serious introspection. Recent upheavals in the country's troubled economy, culminating in arrests of company directors, insurance executives, court officials, lawyers, and as the icing on the cake, one very pompous legislator as well as the dismissal of Trust Bank's three top directors, may well be that moment for Zimbabwe. Evidently, what has so far emerged seems to be a mere tip of the iceberg. This is indeed a massive iceberg straddling the length and breadth of Zimbabwe, the extent of which still remains to be unearthed. Media coverage of the arrests, however, only describes the scale, albeit tiny, rather than explain the depth and extent of corruption as the principal method by which the Zimbabwean political and economic elite have used to accumulate wealth and status at the expense of the people of Zimbabwe. The victims of this shameless scramble for the spoils (corruption) are, needless to say, the people of this country. The pursuit of spoils is not only taking place in government, the army, the civil service but also in the private sector as a whole.

As it now emerges, it has been particularly blatant in the financial sector but the point must still be made that this pursuit is now a widespread phenomenon permeating all strata among politicians, bureaucrats and business people. Just as businessmen come up in all shapes and sizes, so does corruption. So do politicians and bureaucrats. It is common parlance that it takes two or more people to create corruption. Corruption in Zimbabwe has become so blatant as a result of the breakdown of the rule of law. We are now paying a preposterous price for Zanu PF-induced anarchy where people do as they wish. It is this atmosphere of chaos and lawlessness created by President Mugabe and the ruling party in the name of politics that has bred a class of arrogant people who think they can take the law into their own hands while the police, the supposed guardians and custodians of law and order stand by and watch the country descending into barbarism. It was predictable that sooner or later the country would begin to pay the price for the lawlessness so created and the consequent degrading scramble for land and other resources.

Instead of being able to use the newly-acquired resources for long-term productive goals, the ill-gotten gains were dissipated into wasteful things like cars, mansions and lavish holidays. The enormous price the mass of ordinary Zimbabweans have been called upon to pay by their exploiters is devastating. Massive unemployment, shortages of all kinds and unaffordable prices of basic commodities. Widespread suffering now stalks the land. And for almost four years now, the police consistently refused or lacked the will to stem the corruption using the lame excuse that the crimes were political. This is a strange excuse that would never find currency in a normal democracy. The Zimbabwe Republic Police needs to be constantly reminded that in a free society, there is no such thing as a political crime - still less a political crime too sensitive to investigate. Crimes committed in the name of politics or indeed any other name such as black empowerment or indigenization are still crimes and should de dealt with professionally irrespective of who commits them.

That is why people are asking why now when the struggle for spoils has been going on for four years now. Why this sudden clamp down on corruption as if it has just fallen from hell. Where were the powers that be all along? We have all been impoverished by Mugabe's policies and inaction for years -Why now? Be that as it may, the point must be made as they say, in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. At least something has begun to happen. The story of corruption is beginning to unfold in the public domain. Much time is being taken up at work places, homes, bars and buses with people fervently discussing recent developments, which in itself is a good thing. Whether Zanu PF is ready, willing and able to go the whole way to the point of destroying itself, only time will tell. For it is no exaggeration to say that Zanu PF is synonymous with corruption. If indeed the gloves are off now, is it going to be rough on everybody? Will the ruling party go a step further and allow the establishment of an independent Anti-Corruption Commission given the increasing corruption in the country?

The police have been partisan all along when they were required to be above party politics. Is this the beginning of a process of the police becoming once again a non-partisan force? Is Zanu PF capable of reforming itself to that extent or do we have to wait for a new democratic dispensation for the police force to be overhauled or purged before anything resembling law and order can be restored? Moral exhortation and admonition by President Mugabe is not enough. Politics is power and very few people would give up power easily. President Mugabe is the last person we expect to do that. This effectively means that the role of the media is very crucial in the fight against corruption. So is the importance of civil society in this important battle. Regardless of who or what they are, whether politicians, bureaucrats or businessmen, corrupt people must be called to account. What goes up using corrupt means must come down with a thud. And this paper will continue shining its lamp into those dark corners that corrupt people would rather remain dark.

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, 19 January 2004

State to Clamp Down On Corruption

Harare - The Government, through its law enforcement agents will bring to book all economic saboteurs regardless of their political, economic or social standing, the Minister of Home Affairs, Cde Kembo Mohadi, has said. Cde Mohadi said his ministry had a duty to execute a directive issued by President Mugabe at the Zanu-PF People's Conference in Masvingo last month to clamp down on all corrupt individuals irrespective of their political standing or influence. President Mugabe told conference delegates that greedy businesspeople posed a major threat to the country's economy through their illicit activities, which border on sabotage. He said besides the directive, law enforcement agents had a duty bestowed on them by various Acts of Parliament to maintain law and order and protect the country's citizens. Cde Mohadi said following the unraveling of the ENG Capital Asset Management saga, it was now apparent that the corrupt businesspeople involved in the shady deals had a hand in the foreign currency and cash shortages that have wreaked havoc on the economy.

He said there were also indications that corruption in the financial services sector was wider than what had been anticipated. ENG was forced to close its doors at the end of last year when it could not pay creditors billions of dollars that it owed. "The case will show that we are out to destroy all the corruption taking place in Zimbabwe. We want to bring sanity to the financial services sector and it does not matter whether one is well connected in business or politics, everyone will be brought to justice." He said President Mugabe said no stone should be left unturned in investigating economic sabotage and his ministry was out to carry the assignment to its conclusion. Cde Mohadi took the opportunity to dismiss claims that Harare businessman and Member of Parliament for Chinhoyi Philip Chiyangwa's arrest in connection with the ENG saga was politically motivated saying the legislator committed a crime by trying to hinder police investigations and misrepresenting himself in court. Chiyangwa's lawyers claimed in court submissions last week that his arrest was related to the succession debate in Zanu-PF. "There is no truth in that claim. Chiyangwa told the courts that he had taken the cars for safe keeping and also tried to solve the matter out of court but how do you solve fraud out of the courts?" the minister asked.

He said most of the cars were also recovered from the parliamentarian's associates after a long struggle. Cde Mohadi said suggestions that police ignored a High Court order setting the release of Chiyangwa from remand prison were also ill-informed. "The order cited the Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri who was on leave, the second respondent was the Officer Commanding Harare and we have so many officers with that title. So it is not true that police did not obey the order and the fact is that people who say that are not conversant with the technicalities involved," he said. He expressed concern at the increasing backlog of cases at the country's courts, which he said, would result in the miscarriage of justice. Cde Mohadi said police were also concerned with the tendency by the courts to grant bail to undeserving criminals. "We have this case of a lawyer who misrepresented himself to a magistrate and the concerned law officers did not take the trouble to verify with the Attorney-General's Office before granting a suspect bail and that cannot be allowed to happen,' he said. "And those who were involved in the case have since been arrested and they will be brought to justice."

Police, like other ordinary Zimbabweans have also been negatively affected by the poor performance of the economy. The minister said the poor economic situation was putting constraints to adequate and efficient policing in the country. "Like all institutions in the country we have constraints and we are going through a very difficult economic phase. Our mobility has been greatly affected as we cannot get to places where crime was committed on time," he said. "We also have social problems such as the shortage of accommodation for our officers. The ministry is working very hard to address all these problems and that will be achieved as long as the public supports us." Cde Mohadi said Zimbabweans should understand that the police could only effectively discharge their duties with their support through the voluntary sharing of information.

The technological evolution over the decades has also given police new challenges such as tackling cyber crime and other complicated criminal activities, he said. Cde Mohadi said although some of the sophisticated criminal activities were not anticipated such as the forgery of cheques, certificates and other documents through the use of computers, Zimbabwean police had risen to the occasion through interacting with their regional counterparts. Last year, Zimbabwe chaired the Southern Africa Regional Police Organisation and Cde Mohadi said this enabled his ministry and the police to tour almost all-Southern African countries where a lot was learnt and adopted. Zimbabwe is also a signatory of several international conventions and protocols on crime prevention and co-operation and is a member of Interpol. "The ministry is also working with other Southern African countries in fighting cross border crime and all our operations have been very successful," he said.

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, 19 January 2004

Anti-Corruption Commission Bill Drafted

Harare - The much-awaited Anti-Corruption Commission Bill, which seeks to establish a commission that will fight against graft in all sectors of the country's economy, has been drafted and is now awaiting Cabinet approval before it goes to Parliament for debate. The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Cde Patrick Chinamasa, yesterday confirmed the Bill was ready. "It is in the process of going to Cabinet," he said. "We have to wait until Cabinet sits so that it is discussed." The Government adopted principles of the Bill last year following the launch of the National Economic Revival Programme, which has a number of sectoral measures to revive the economy. The measures include the setting up of an anti-corruption commission that the Bill would establish. In the economic revival programme document, the Government notes that corruption has become a serious concern in both the public and private sectors and would cost the economy if unchecked.

The provision for the establishment of the commission is set out in Section 108 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe as amended in 2000. The Government has of late been fighting illegal and corrupt activities blamed for the economic problems the country is facing. Within the last few weeks, the police arrested court officials, lawyers, company directors, a lawmaker and insurance executives for corrupt activities. Trust Bank's three top directors were dismissed over mismanagement. Some of the shady deals unearthed by the police include the ENG saga that has resulted in the arrest of two directors of the asset management company. Chinhoyi Member of Parliament Philip Chiyangwa was also arrested for attempting to protect the two youthful directors. The Anti-Corruption Commission would combat corruption, theft, misappropriation, abuse of power and other improprieties in the conduct of affairs in both the public and private sectors.

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, 21 January 2004

Hefer Commission Stands the Transparency Test

Pretoria - The much publicised Hefer Commission of Inquiry, charged with looking into allegations of whether National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka was an apartheid agent, might have come and gone, but one thing is certain, the Commission has lent a hand in further entrenching transparency, public accountability and openness in the country's democracy. Matome Sebelebele writes that the commission not only sparked public debate but further put flesh to certain Constitutional principles aimed at deepening and supporting democracy as the nation celebrates a decade of freedom. Chapter nine states that "no person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of (state institutions that seek to strengthen the constitutional democracy in the republic)." Chapter ten of the Constitution, further expands on basic values and principles governing public administration, prescribes that public administration ought to be transparent. "Transparency must be fostered by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information," it says. The same section also demands that the public administration, including public officials "must be accountable "for their actions or inactions." The question arises then, how far did the Hefer Commission live up to these well-enshrined Constitutional principles?

The Public Service Commission (PSC), an independent body that monitors, evaluates and investigates the administration of the public service, believes that the Hefer Commission was "a perfect illustration of (Constitutional) values." In an exclusive interview with BuaNews, PSC chairperson Professor Stan Sangweni concedes that the Hefer Commission had succeeded in giving life to some of the principles enshrined in the Constitution, saying public hearings are "an appropriate" constitutional and democratic tool to deal with matters of such public and national interest, against the head of an institution that was set-up to help in upholding democracy. Prof Sangweni explains that the Commission was not only transparent in its interpretation and application of constitutional principles in its broadcast of the public hearings, but also through the witnesses who came to give evidence, as well as non-interference from high profile officials and state organs. "The President did not have any knowledge of the kind of people (the witnesses) who will come to give evidence, and indeed, the people who made allegations were free to call anybody to come and give evidence. That is transparency.

Nobody actually said: 'listen, don't call so and so,'" says Prof Sangweni. He believes the Commission had gone a long way in entrenching a hard fought constitutional democracy as well as succeeding in putting under the spotlight and scrutinising senior public officials. Prof Sangweni asserts that public hearings of such a nature have provided the electorate and the public with an opportunity to understand the way the administration is run by lifting the lid on governance. "It has placed on the table all aspects of information about the subject, about the National Director of Public Prosecutions. This is a very senior position and we have the right, in terms of our Constitution, to know who he is and that we have come to know. Only ten years ago, it would not have been possible to know that,' he affirmed. "This, to me will clearly be a milestone in terms of enhancing our democracy and the transparency and accountability aspect of our democracy." He argues that the incumbent government is more open and transparent than the previous regime, with the public more at liberty to use parliamentary legislation such as the Promotion of Access to Information Act, to access information, which is in the possession of the state.

Prof Sangweni believes the Hefer Commission has moved the country into the frontlines in terms of public accountability, transparency and openness that is unmatched anywhere on the continent. "Without any fear of contradiction, very unequivocally, I should say, we in South Africa rate certainly amongst the best in Africa in the areas of transparency, however not withstanding the pitfalls. I will be very naďve to say that we have achieved all that needs to be. "But, the very fact that we (the public) are able to debate and discuss these issues of transparency in public, that in itself is a top score," asserts Prof Sangweni. Comparatively speaking, he adds, South Africa also does not fall far behind developed countries such as Sweden, which have experimented with transparency legislation laws over 250 years, but still place restrictions on some of their information, especially on policies. He believes such openness and public transparency comes with a particular level of socio-political and economic development within the nation.

He contends if such allegations occurred in any other country, it would have been cause for instability. "If you look at these issues that are of concern (in the Hefer Commission), elsewhere in other countries this could have been cause for instability," he says. He however calls on the populace and the media to be more careful in the manner they handle unfounded and damaging allegations that affect governance and public administration. "We are building a State that should attain social and political stability but we are still far from that, so within those limits, the extent to which we can at the same time grow and deepen transparency, lets do so." President Mbeki also believes transparency ought to be the cornerstone of public administration, especially if "the person holding the office, is manifestly of constitutional significance and indubitably of public importance," as he stated in a letter he wrote to judge Hefer this week. "I thought that the best way to address this requirement would be to appoint a Judicial Commission of Inquiry. I remain convinced that this (commission) was the way to proceed," he explained, referring to the reasoning behind the setting up of the Hefer Commission.

During his handing over of the report to Justice and Constitutional Development Minister, Penuell Maduna, last week, Judge Hefer disputed comments that the probing of allegations was not in the public interest but rather that of the ruling party and should not have come to the Commission. "We are dealing here with a person who is in charge of all the public prosecutions on behalf of the State in the country...any allegations that are made which impact on the performing of his duties and the very question that he is abusing his powers, I cannot see it being disposed in any other way than by way of a public inquiry," Judge Hefer told reporters. In his letter to Hefer, accepting the report's findings that said that Mr Ngcuka was 'probably never" an apartheid agent, President Mbeki concurred with the retired Judge. "Like you, I therefore did not and do not accept the observations made by some that the inquiry was irrelevant..." affirmed the President. If anything, as Prof Sangweni puts it, the very fact that the public received unrestricted access to the Hefer Commission; they received full broadcast of the hearings and also now have access to the final report which enables them to then debate and discuss these issues without any fear - that in itself is a top score for transparency and our democracy.

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, 21 January 2004

Only N/Assembly Can Legislate on Corruption, Power Abuse - Supreme Court

Abuja - Without prejudice to the powers of constituent parts of a federal system of government to enact laws, the Supreme Court has declared that the National Assembly is constitutionally, solely empowered to legislate on matters relating to corruption and abuse of power in the country. In a unanimous decision, the court also held that the Assembly had the requisite powers to enact the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Act 2000. The court was delivering judgement on an appeal brought by one Chief Adebiyi Olafisoye through his counsel, Chief F.R.A. Williams (SAN) over the power of the Assembly to enact the ICPC Act 2000. Olafisoye had been standing trial with Alhaji Mika Anache, Chief Adebiyi Omowunmi and Chief Milton Ohwovoriole (SAN) under the ICPC Act before he went to the Supreme court to challenge the powers of the Federal Government to prosecute him under the law. Besides upholding the powers of the National Assembly to enact the ICPC Act, the apex court, in the decision delivered by Justice Niki Tobi on behalf of justices Salihu Modibo Alfa Belgore, Uthman Mohammed, Anthony Ikechukwu Iguh, Aloysius Iyorgyer Kastina -Alu, Samson Odemwingie Uwaifo and Akintola Olufemi Ejiwumi, also held that decisions of foreign countries were merely of persuasive authority to the court.

Said he: "as our country is sovereign, so too our constitution and this court will always bow or kow-tow to the sovereign nature of our constitution, a sovereignty which gives rise to its supremacy over all other laws of the land, including decisions by foreign courts. "Gone are the days when all things from the older common law jurisdictions were preferred to everything from the younger common law jurisdictions. Gone are also the days when differences between judgments of this court and foreign judgements, implied that the judgements of this court could be wrong", he maintained. Justice Tobi further noted: "decisions of foreign countries are merely of persuasive authority. This court will certainly allow itself to be persuaded in appropriate cases but his court will not stray away from its course of interpreting the Nigerian constitution by resorting to foreign decisions which were decided strictly in the context of their constitutions and which are not similar to ours. "No two countries operating federal constitutions practise federalism exactly in the same way. I am yet to see two countries operating federal constitution providing exactly the same federal content in the constitutions", he stressed.

Specifically, Olafisoye prayed the court to determine whether the Act impedes or interferes with a state government's management of its affairs whether the chapter 2, on fundamental objectives and directives principles of state policy (particularly section 15(5) is a legislative, executive or judicial power also sought a declaration on whether the Act is unconstitutional for uncertainty and whether the bad provisions of the Act would be severed. The Federal Government, which is the Complainant/Appellant in the suit also asked the court to determine the following issues: o Whether the combined effect of the provisions of sections 4(2), 15(5), items 60(a), 67 and 68 in part 1 of the second schedule and section 2(a) of part III of the second schedule of the 1999 Constitution confer powers on the National Assembly to make laws for peace, order and good governance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with respect to offences arising from, connected with or pertaining to corrupt practices and abuse of power. o Whether the National Assembly has the power to enact sections 9(1) (a), 9 (1), 26 (1) (c) and 26 (3) of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000. o Whether the National Assembly has the requisite power to enact the Corrupt Practices and other Related Act, 2000. o Whether the creation of Offences in the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 does not amount to a usurpation by the National Assembly of the powers of the state to create offences in criminal law, thus rendering the Act unconstitutional and invalid. o And, whether the Supreme Court could depart from its decision in Attorney-General of Ondo State versus Attorney General of the Federation in determining the case.

Williams had, in his submissions, averred that the principle of autonomy implies that neither the central government nor the regional ones could confer functions or impose duties, obligations, restrictions, and liabilities on the functionaries of others. According to him: "This particular implication of the principle of autonomy was expressly enacted in the 1963 Constitution in the provision forbidding the President as well as the Federal Legislature from conferring functions or imposing duties on the governor or other functions of state government without the consent of the state governor". But the Federal Government (complainant/appellant) through, Mrs C.I. Onugo, an Assistant Director in the Federal Ministry of Justice, contended that the National Assembly has the power to make laws that would promote and enforce the observance of the fundamental objectives and directive principles contained in the constitution. She maintained that the National Assembly enacted the ICPC Act by virtue of the powers conferred on it by item 60(a) of the exclusive legislative list and section 15(5) of the constitution. Onugo urged the court to hold that the combined effect of sections 4(2), 6(6), (c), 15(5) of the constitution, items 60 (a) and 68 of the Exclusive legislative list is to empower the National Assembly to enact the ICPC Act 2000.

From Daily Times of Nigeria, Nigeria, by Joseph Nwankwo, 26 January 2004

M&R and Aveng Sign Up to Stamp Out Corruption

Johannesburg - Two of South Africa's largest construction and engineering companies, Murray & Roberts (M&R) and Aveng, have signed an accord to stamp out corruption in the industry alongside some of the world's biggest names. The agreement, which was drawn up with Transparency International and the Basel Institute on Governance, was signed under the auspices of the World Economic Forum (WEF) which held its traditional annual meeting last week in the Swiss resort city of Davos. Under the agreement, the firms will adopt a zero tolerance policy on bribery and will develop the internal systems and controls needed to implement the policy. The 19 firms that signed the compact had combined annual revenues of more than $70 billion, the WEF said. M&R has an annual turnover of over R10 billion. Aveng, which owns construction giant Grinaker LTA and cement producer Alpha, had an annual turnover of more than R13 billion last year. The rest of the list of signatories includes household names such as Swiss giant ABB, Liechtenstein-based Hilti, Fluor from the US and Skanska of Sweden.

From Independent Online, South Africa, by Quentin Wray, 26 January 2004

Zero Tolerance for Corruption Not Limited to Ministers Alone

Mr. Eric Nana Agyemang-Prempeh, Presiding Member of the Ahafo-Ano North District Assembly, has stated that President Kufuor's call for "Zero Tolerance for Corruption" should not be limited to only Ministers of State and government officials but to all Ghanaians irrespective of their status. He expressed regret that the president's call was being limited to only top government officials and other functionaries and that it was a wrong interpretation of the declaration. Mr. Agyemang-Prempeh was speaking at the end of a three-day training workshop organised by the assembly for 29 Area and Town Councillors at Tepa. He pointed out that development could not take place in the district without revenue and called on the councillors to assist revenue collectors to discharge their duties diligently without compromising their positions. The presiding member cautioned the councillors not to introduce partisan politics into the discharge of their duties.

From Accra Mail, Ghana, 27 January 2004

 

Anti-Corruption Body Leaders Sworn In

Indonesia's judiciary and political elite have failed abysmally to eradicate endemic corruption since the fall of ex-president Suharto more than five years ago. Pundits aren't expecting the creation of a national graft eradication commission to change much. The five leaders of the long-awaited Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) were sworn in by President Megawati Sukarnoputri in a ceremony at the state palace on Monday (29/12/03). Megawati, who was accompanied by Vice President Hamzah Haz, gave no speech at the induction event. Indonesia has long been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The pervasive problem, which exists at all levels of politics, business and society, is considered a major detriment to urgently needed foreign investment. International donors had put pressure on the government to establish the anti-graft commission, as the judiciary is widely viewed as too crooked, too incompetent and unwilling to deal with corruption. The chairman of KPK is retired police inspector general Taufiqqurochman Ruki, who served in parliament's non-elected military/police faction for several years under Suharto. Ruki's four deputies are former state auditor Amien Sunaryadi, Finance Ministry official Sjahruddin Rasul, former state prosecutor Tumpak Hatorangan Panggabean and former Jakarta Stock Exchange commissioner/former tin mining executive Erry Riyana Hardjapamekas.

The five were elected on December 16 by the House of Representatives, which is led by Akbar Tanjung, who remains free despite being convicted over a year ago of massive embezzlement of state funds. Many observers seriously doubt that a state institution led by a convicted felon would have a appointed a commission willing to tackle rampant corruption to the full extent of the law. No one is expecting KPK to swiftly resolve the case of Tanjung, who was sentenced in September 2002 to three years in jail for misappropriating Rp40 billion ($4.7 million) in state funds that were supposed to have been used to buy food for the needy. Presidential aspirant Amien Rais, who is speaker of the People's Consultative Assembly (MPR), has said KPK will be useless without any political commitment from the government to combat corruption. He said it's understandable that some elements of society have expressed pessimism over the commission. After the five KPK leaders were elected in a secret ballot by 44 legislators from House Commission II on legal and domestic affairs, analysts immediately complained that "more worthy" candidates with greater integrity had failed to make the grade. Among those who had hoped to be in KPK were respected former attorney general Marsillam Simandjuntak, state prosecutor Mohammad Yamin and Indonesian Transparency Society (MTI) member Iskandar Sonhaji.

The House was widely accused of selecting the KPK members based on political considerations, rather than choosing figures with an unblemished track record against corruption. One major problem that faced KPK even before it was inaugurated was that Sunaryadi, one of the team's more respected members, said he might quit because some of his colleagues are "too old". Despite the criticism and pessimism, commentators have said KPK's leaders must be given the benefit of the doubt, as they will have the power to prosecute corruption cases, unlike previous toothless anti-graft bodies. Such power was previously in the hands of the Attorney General's Office and the police. KPK chairman Ruki on Monday vowed to never to succumb to pressure and promised to act swiftly to deal with corruption. "No powers or individuals will be able to intervene...whoever they are," he was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. "We will not hesitate in taking actions against corruptors," he said, adding the commission would not abuse its powers. Ruki last week admitted that corruption was rampant in all levels of the police force, but claimed he had tried to stop it. "I know that corruption is rampant in the police force. I know because I am an insider," he was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post daily.

He acknowledged it would be difficult to build a potent institution capable of combating corruption, but promised to do his best. Whether KPK will be willing and able to flex it muscles remains to be seen. Legislators have already demanded that KPK's secretariat should be placed under one of the ministries accountable to House Commission II. Commission II monitors the Home Affairs Ministry, Justice and Human Rights Ministry, State Administrative Reform Ministry, National Police and the Attorney General's Office. According the Commission II, the move is necessary to reduce state budget costs. If such a proposal is accepted, Indonesians might just as well forget about having an independent, powerful anti-corruption body. Health Wealth - In addition to student groups demanding the resolution of Akbar Tanjung's corruption conviction, KPK has also been urged to immediately deal with the alleged mark-up of Rp345 billion ($40.7 million) in additional 2003 state budget funds for various development programs in eastern and western Indonesia.

A. Rusly Biki, president of the State Wealth Rescue Committee (KPHN), on Monday claimed much of the money had been misused by the Health Ministry and state-owned PT Rajawali Nusantara Indonesia, which is one the country's main sugar manufacturers. "We called on the related institutions, the police, the prosecutors office and the newly established KPK to focus on Health Ministry officials for investigation and legal process," Biki was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara. He made the demand as about 200 members of KPHN and the People's Anti-Corruption Commission (Korak) protested at the Health Ministry to call for the resignation of Health Minister Achmad Sujudi. Also on Monday, about 500 anti-corruption activists in Jakarta launched a national movement to encourage voters not to elect crooked politicians in next year's legislative and presidential elections. "Do not choose them, those who rob state coffers, do not choose them, those who make the people suffer," popular singer Franky Sahilatua was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. About 500 people participated in the rally to launch the so-called National Movement Against Electing Rotten Politicians in front of a statue of the country's founding fathers, Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, in a park on Jalan Proklamasi.

From Laksamana, Indonesia, 5 January 2004

India News: Corruption Alert Against Cops in Mumbai

Mumbai - Determined to clean up Mumbai Police that have seen their chief being arrested for alleged links with a forgery scam, Police Commissioner P.S Pasricha has shunted out several tainted officers and stepped up vigilance against corruption. Police sources here said that Pasricha had transferred more than a dozen police officers out of the Crime Branch, the elite investigation department of the police force that has hunted down and killed several gangsters in the past years. The sources said the transfers were part of a move to identify departments and individual police stations that are favourites with corrupt police officers. Among those transferred out of the Crime Branch is high profile Inspector Pradeep Sharma, the "encounter specialist" who headed the anti-extortion cell of the police force and had gunned down several gangsters. The new police chief has also ordered his deputies to keep a watch on 11 police stations in Mumbai that are known to be lucrative for corrupt police officers.

Police personnel are known to pay huge amounts of bribes to be posted here since they can earn large sums of money from criminal elements. These police stations are located in the docklands where smuggling and thieving of consignments from the docks take place. Other "hot" precincts include the police stations in Juhu, Lokhandwala and other areas of north Mumbai, which are home to movie stars, and downtown Colaba where a large number of tourists stay. Soon after he took over, Pasricha carried out a massive cleanup operation promoting 14 police sub-inspectors and transferring 115 assistant police inspectors, 1,255 assistant sub-inspectors and head constables and 54 police writers. Many of them had allegedly developed links with the underworld, sources said. Investigations into the multibillion rupee fake stamp scandal masterminded by Abdul Karim Telgi revealed that a number of police officers remained in the same post for years at a stretch after negotiating with political bosses.

From Keralanext, India, 2 January 2004

Campaigns Against Corruption and Mismanagement

In recent years, literature and broadcasts on a specific theme "campaigns against corruption and mismanagement "have become favourites for Chinese publishing houses and TV stations. Books on this subject frequently make best-seller lists while their TV adaptations are broadcast in prime time on channels of the national China Central Television (CCTV) network and provincial stations. Last year alone, Zhou Meisen, a popular rising author and screen writer, saw three of his works on the same theme adapted into television series and broadcast either on local TV stations or CCTV. The phenomenon invites critics to probe into the stimuli behind it. And, as it turns out, the genre stirs as much controversy as the interest it arouses in the audience. Contemporary life - An obvious reason for the appeal of such subject matter is its immediate relevance to contemporary social life, critics agree. On one hand, officials who accept kickbacks or bribes have become one of the most maligned groups of social pests in China. Few things give Chinese people more pleasure than seeing a corrupt official punished. Political intrigue, trust or betrayal only make these acclaimed novels about fighting corruption more popular with contemporary readers. On the other hand, the Chinese Government has greatly intensified its drive to oust corrupt officials in recent years.

In 2003 alone, 12 senior officials above the provincial and ministerial level lost their positions and were found by the court to be guilty of accepting bribes, embezzlement and other crimes while abusing their political and administrative power. Many writers do not sit idle. Realism has always been a strong part of China's literary tradition since 1919's May 4th Movement. Many Chinese writers still believe that literature must reflect real social life. A large number of writers committed to writing about fighting corruption have claimed they are motivated by their responsibility to help find solutions to social problems. "I always believe that literature must actively exert its influence on the society and the people,'' said Zhang Ping, the author of 1997's "To Make a Choice'' (Jueze), winner of the fifth Mao Dun Literature Award in 2001. Many writers have undertaken painstaking investigations and managed to unearth first-hand materials from local police, public prosecutors and judicial officials around them before they start to write. Zhou Meisen has made his exploration in the administrative sector, delving into the realities behind so-called "government achievement'' as in "Supreme Interest (Zhigao liyi),'' with the novel published in 2002 and the TV drama series broadcast last year. He has also gone into the sector of public prosecution as in his 2003 novel "State Prosecution,'' (Guojia gongsu),'' which also became a TV drama series.

It was said that after "To Make a Choice'' was published, Zhang received threatening mail from enraged local officials, who believed he used them as the models for the corrupt characters in his work. But Zhang also got many more encouraging letters from local people for exactly the same reason. The episode attests how true-to-life the novel is. The book's movie adaptation, "To Make a Choice between Life and Death'' (Shengsi jueze), produced a box office smash in 2000. What is the essence - However, debates have also begun as the genre soon proved to be profitable in the market, which has encouraged more and more writers to pick up the theme and join in the production of films and television series based on the same subject matter. The discussion mainly focuses on what attitudes the writers should adopt to write about social and official corruption. Critics say that some works have aroused uncomfortable feelings because some writers have adopted a naturalistic way to describe corruption. Those authors feature corruption in their works but do not give detailed commentary. Some of the literary works even give the impression that the authors actually take delight in exposing such subject matter. As a result, instead of reinforcing people's disgust toward these depraved lifestyles, they seem to be instilling the idea that it is enjoyable. "Between writing about the effort to fight against corruption, and writing about corruption, there is a big difference,'' said Writers' Publishing House President Zhang Shengyou. "The two approaches would influence readers in quite different ways.''

Also under the pretense of "fighting corruption,'' some writers cunningly initiate an adventure to write specifically about political tricks and administrative schemes. The most representative of this is Wang Yuewen's "Chinese Painting'' (Guohua) (1999), published by the People's Literature Publishing House, and Wang Wanfu's "The Taste of being an Official'' (Jiguan ziwei) (2001), published by the China Movie Publishing House. Both have hit best-seller lists. "Human beings have had a natural fascination with power struggles throughout history,'' said He Hong, a critic working with the Henan Literature Institute. "That's why the TV series centreing on Imperial China's royal courts have been so popular in recent years.'' Now such an interest also motivates some writers to take to the writing of the so-called "guanchang'' novel, or novel about officials. "These novels seek to satisfy the curiosity of those outside official circles. And to those in it, they may serve as textbooks to teach them the arts of grabbing and wielding power. They are low and vulgar in taste, and immoral as far as a writer's conscience is concerned,'' said Zhang Shengyou. As far as the literary accomplishment is concerned, the anti-corruption literature has met with rather cold acknowledgement with literary critics.

Literary merits - Few reviews have ever been dedicated to novels of this theme in literary magazines. When they are mentioned, critics usually relegate those into a category but seldom regard such works as individual examples of creative writing. The snub irritates many writers who have produced the works. Lu Tianming is the author of several novels featuring the rise and fall of the officials during the period of reforms and opening up. His novel "Heavy Snow Leaves No Trace'' (Daxue wuhen) (2000) was considered a major success in the market. The TV drama series adapted from Lu's novel of the same title won the Golden Eagle award as the best TV drama series in 2001. In November of last year, when the former Minister of Land and Resources Tian Fengshan was sacked from his post for corruption, Lu revealed that he had heard about Tian's wrongdoings while collecting first-hand materials in the Northeast for "Heavy Snow Leaves No Trace,'' nearly 10 years ago. However, few literary critics have touched upon his work. "I didn't expect they would give me a medal for my writing, but I do wish they could at least appreciate the pains I have taken in writing such novels,'' Lu Tianming said, in response to the cold response from critics. "Part of the Chinese literary world seems to have an ingrained notion that the more popular the book, the cheaper it is,'' he added.

An often-heard observation made by the more "refined'' literary world about these anti-corruption novels is that they believe such works cannot endure. Being the product of a specific era, some critics say, these novels could produce a spell that would last only a matter of several years. Just as Chinese society of the 1970s and the 1980s has for a time been dubbed as producing so-called "scar literature'' and "reform literature,'' which are scarcely read after the society moves on and the historical context changes. But the writers themselves are optimistic about the long-term appeal of their work. "As long as there is the phenomenon of corruption, there must be the battles against corruption, and the literature dedicated to them,'' Lu Tianming said. Zhou Meisen said he is not happy with the fact that his writings have been relegated to the rank "anti-corruption'' works. A writer who has worked with local government offices in Xuzhou in East China's Jiangsu Province, Zhou said he is concerned with a broad range of social problems, which, arising from reforms and changes, affect the lives and ways of thinking of all Chinese citizens, including those who hold government posts. "I am trying to examine why those (instances of official corruption) happen,'' he said. Critics also question the artistic value of anti-corruption literature.

The genre is often generally censured as rough in linguistic craftsmanship, and stereotyped in plot and portrayal of character. Some critics even believe that a large part of the writing should not be called literature at all. There is no denying that most of the anti-corruption novels are concocted with the same ingredients: criminal investigations, power struggles, suspense and elements found in fictional thrillers, sometimes perhaps spiced with an episode of romance as well. All of these elements are likely to promote the sales in book market. The best anti-corruption writers are conscious of the shortcoming of the writing so far as it develops, and are making efforts to instill a new vitality to the genre. "The most important concern of mine in recent years has been how to establish a more distinctive personal style, while still maintaining appeal in the market,'' said Lu, who is one of the most influential writers in this field. Lu tried the subject in 2000 with "Heavy Snow Leaves no Trace.'' The novel removes much of the impulsive mood of "The Blue Sky above,'' (Cangtian zaishang)'' (1995), and assumes a much more calm and rational tone. He adeptly dissects the psychology of a promising official who turns from a conscientious young man into a criminal who commits murder to cover his crimes. "I wanted to draw a comprehensive portrait of a senior Chinese official such as a provincial governor," he said, a job seldom tried before.

From China Daily, China, 7 January 2004

Corruption: PM and His Cabinet Will Lead the Fight

Kuala Lumpur - Political leaders should lead by example in combating corruption, said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He said it would be sheer hypocrisy to tell government officials to behave when they did not uphold good work ethics. Speaking at the Fifth Public Service Council Meeting at the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan) at Bukit Kiara here today, the Prime Minister said: "If the political leaders are themselves involved in corruption or are inefficient in carrying out their duties, how can they expect the officials under them to serve the people well? "So on behalf of all political leaders, I would like to make a New Year resolution. All political leaders under my administration will show good examples in carrying out their duties. "I will ensure that there will be no place for political leaders who cakap tak serupa bikin (do not do as they say)." Also at the function was the Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Samsudin Osman and most members of the Cabinet.

From The Star, Malaysia, 9 January 2004

Chinese Vow to Curb Corruption in North-East Rustbelt

The governors of Liaoning, Heilongjiang and Jilin, three provinces in China's north-east, have vowed to clean up corruption and get the region back on track. The economic revival of the north-eastern industrial rustbelt, home to some 110m people, would be impossible unless authorities could assure investors that spectacular recent cases of corruption were a thing of the past, officials said yesterday. Bo Xilai, governor of Liaoning, said his province was determined to use all possible measures to smash the scourge of official corruption to emancipate the economy from bribery, favouritism, mafia influence and other abuses. "If we can't create a clean and honest government and a law-abiding society, then it will be impossible to reinvigorate the north-east," Mr. Bo said. The north-east of China, identified by the government of Wen Jiabao, premier, as a priority area for development, has fallen prey to widespread criminal activity since its once-proud heavy industrial base collapsed in the 1990s, throwing millions out of work.

The most spectacular case of corruption so far was in Liaoning, where Liu Yong, a mafia boss, used terror and bribery to gain huge influence over the administration of Mu Suixin, former mayor of Shenyang, the province's main city. Mr. Mu died of cancer in prison after being jailed and Mr. Liu was executed a few weeks ago. However, citizens in Shenyang still complain of official corruption. Mr. Bo did not explain the steps the province was taking to eradicate unlawful practices and an official in his office rejected the idea that the case of Mr. Liu indicated shortcomings in China's political system. The mafia boss, who also held a post in the local parliament, had been able to co-opt most of the mayor's office, the tax bureau, the state prosecutor and other officials into his schemes. Heilongjiang province is still reeling from its latest corruption case. Zhang Zuoji, its governor, said a province-wide campaign had been launched to overcome corruption. "We have punished a lot of officials at lower levels," he said. He confirmed that Zhu Shengwen, formerly a deputy governor, recently committed suicide in jail, where he was serving a 17-year sentence for accepting Rmb70,000 ($8,400, €6,600, Ł4,500) in bribes from a property developer.

Former governor Tian Fengshan has been investigated since October 2003, also for economic crimes. Xu Youfang, the province's Communist party secretary until March last year, is also under investigation, party sources said. High-level corruption is only one of the difficulties inherent in "reinvigorating the north-east", an aim that Mr. Wen has listed as a central goal of his tenure. A comprehensive strategy on how to develop the area had recently been drawn up by the State Development and Reform Commission but details remained secret, officials said. "Reinvigorating the old industrial bases is a long-term strategy rather than a one-off programme," Hong Hu, governor of Jilin, said. "It will take 10 years or beyond to complete the rejuvenation process." One thing is clear. The state will have to inject funds, mainly from the proceeds of treasury bonds, to build infrastructure and help ailing state industries upgrade their performance. Investment from abroad, particularly from Japan, was also required, officials said.

From Financial Times, UK, by James Kynge, 9 January 2004

Bringing more Democracy to Local Government

"Government of the citizens, for the citizens and by the citizens" has been pledged by Guangzhou municipal government, as it plans to put all planned administrative regulations up for public scrutiny. This southern metropolis has always been as a trailblazer, having opened its official archives and data before any other city in China. And now this improvement in the city's democracy is likely to attract nationwide attention. Officials said the authorities will work harder to ensure that local people have a greater say in the policy-making process, guaranteeing greater public support for regulations and their more efficient carrying out. A website was launched last month by the local government to give residents a further opportunity to take part in local democracy. Qin Yaoguang, secretary-general of the Guangzhou municipal government, said local residents will be able to get information about urban planning, key projects, financial administration, personnel changes online this year. Residents are expected to send e-mails to the mayor and lodge complaints they may have about the work of the local government. Government purchasing will be put under stricter public supervision as projects should only be set up after public bidding.

As the city expands the coverage of governmental purchases, the municipal government is redoubling its efforts to improve the purchasing management system and strengthen supervision in order to make the procedure more open, fair and transparent. Projects involving a purchasing value of more than 500,000 yuan (US$60,240) are subject to public bidding, and projects involving a purchasing value over 5 million yuan (US$602,410) are additionally subject to the supervision of various governmental departments in Guangzhou. The city recently developed management software to appraise government purchases, pooling some 3,000 experts for 200 purchasing categories. The experts will be chosen by random sampling and automatically informed one day before the appraisal, thereby minimizing concerns about "unfair practices.'' Total government purchasing last year was estimated at 2 billion yuan (US$241 million). Liu Heng, a professor of public administration with Guangzhou-based Zhongshan University, pointed out that the efforts have helped build up the city's image. benefiting Guangzhou as it competes for funds and technology.

From China Daily, China, 12 January 2004

Parliament Adopts Law To Fight Corruption

Azerbaijani Parliament (Milli Majlis) on Tuesday adopted a law on fighting against corruption in its third reading. Adopting such a law was among the commitments that the country took before joining the Council of Europe (CE) in 2001. The law that is going to take effect beginning Jan. 1 next year considers creating a Commission to Fight Against Corruption, which will be comprised of representatives from all three wings of authority. Government officials are required by the new law to report to the commission every year about their income, property, bank deposits, etc. According to the law, high government officials cannot hire their close relatives. They should also refrain from taking gifts that cost more than $50. The law says if a gift costs more than $50, then it can be given to the office, or the government body where the official works at. The Transparency International's (TI) Corruption Perceptions index for 2003 placed Azerbaijan in a group of countries where corruption is "pervasive." Azerbaijan shares the group with Bangladesh, Nigeria, Haiti, Paraguay, Myanmar, Tajikistan, Georgia, Cameroon, Angola, Kenya, and Indonesia.

From Baku Today, Azerbaijan, 14 January 2004

Megawati Rival Promises to Fight Corruption

A leading contender to unseat Megawati Sukarno-putri, Indonesia's president, in elections this year has pledged to reform the country's ailing judiciary and bloated civil service and offer zero tolerance to corruption. Wiranto, a former defence minister, was indicted last year by United Nations prosecutors in East Timor who say he held "command responsibility" for the 1,400 deaths and other human rights abuses during its 1999 vote for independence. In recent months, however, the one-time adjutant to former President Suharto has emerged as a leading candidate for the nomination of Suharto's Golkar party, which is due to name its presidential candidate following legislative elections on April 5. Some analysts and diplomats say Mr. Wiranto's tainted record on East Timor could lead to international isolation for Indonesia if he were elected. The retired general blames "social unrest" for the killings in East Timor and claims responsibility only for a "peaceful settlement". His testimony as a witness before an Indonesian tribunal on East Timor, widely criticised as a sham, also meant he had already faced a court, he said yesterday.

Mr. Wiranto has emerged as the leading hope in elections this year for both foreign and local business people seeking a return to strong, pro-business leadership in Indonesia. Yesterday he pointed to the faster recovery of economies such as South Korea and Malaysia from the Asian financial crisis in outlining a largely pro-business agenda. Indonesia, hit hardest by the 1997-98 crisis, "lost a lot of time in the last five years" in its efforts to recover, he said. Mr. Wiranto pledged to strengthen the country's weak judiciary and "uphold legal supremacy without being trapped by authoritarianism and militarism". This, he said, would lead to zero tolerance towards corruption, an area in which Indonesia now ranks among the worst countries in the world. Mr. Wiranto said he would also tackle the country's "fat bureaucracy" and work to retain industries relocating elsewhere in south-east Asia. Indonesia's unpredictable judiciary and bloated civil service are seen as barriers to a badly needed increase in foreign direct investment. He also offered hope to human rights groups, pledging that he would bring a "speedy halt" to military operations in Aceh, where Indonesia is trying to quell a long-running separatist uprising.

From Financial Times, UK, by Shawn Donnan, 16 January 2004

China's Anti-corruption Plan Doomed by One-Party System

Beijing's graft-busting efforts barely scratch the surface: Bao Tong - The Chinese Communist Party has issued an ambitious six-point plan for tackling rampant official corruption in its ranks in 2004, but a former high-ranking Party official says its efforts are doomed to failure without political reform, RFA's Mandarin service reports. The Chinese Communist Party Central Commission for Discipline Inspection published a bulletin earlier this week, outlining its plans to investigate and handle major corruption cases. Priority would be given to cases involving top officials at or above county level involved in corrupt activities, the statement said. "Where do the roots of China's corruption problem lie? With the single party system, with the fact that there is no democracy," Bao Tong, former Party Central Committee member, told RFA. "They talk about attacking both roots and surface, but the problem is that every single case they deal with is attacking the surface, not the roots."

According to the statement, the commission will focus on cases involving construction projects, transfer of land-use rights, the financial sector, and on cases involving restructuring and regrouping of state-owned enterprises that result in asset impairment losses. It will also target those leaders and law enforcement officers who protect evil gangs. Bao-who is a former close aide to the disgraced Party chief Zhao Ziyang-expressed strong skepticism that the Party would be able to turn around its appalling record of official corruption. "Never mind about the new cases. Can you solve the problem of the existing cases?" he said. "If the country can't even cope with the surface layer of problems that have already cropped up in the past, how is it going to succeed in preventing future problems? I don't think they'll be able to," Bao said. "I wish they could apply the spirit of these regulations to the existing cases."

He said that while Chinese leaders basically understood the extent of corruption in the country, without a solution that changes the problem's non-democratic roots, corruption would continue. "It will continue to grow, and proliferate, and create even more corruption," Bao predicted. Shenzhen-based dissident Miao Xike said part of the problem was that nearly all officials had something to lose from anti-graft investigations. "It all sounds very good. But when it comes down to implementing it, will they really be able to catch these officials of county-level and higher? There can only be a handful of clean officials left in the Chinese Communist Party," he told RFA correspondent in Hong Kong, Yan Ming. The anti-graft regulations are being propelled by the Party's internal watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and the Organization Department of the Party Central Committee. These two bodies set up a joint office and inspection teams in August to further scrutinize the affairs of provincial Party and government leaders.

Wu Guanzheng, who heads the Commission for Discipline Inspection, vowed last year to set up an efficient and systematic anti-graft mechanism within the next few years, to ensure officials clean up their act. The official People's Daily newspaper estimated recently that U.S. $30 billion a year disappears from state coffers in China through the actions of fraudulent officials. Another estimate by a Chinese scholar put the amount at U.S.$157 billion over the past three years. Last month, the disgraced former vice-governor of Anhui province in eastern China was sentenced to death last month for corruption while the vice governor of scandal-plagued Liaoning province was sacked recently. Elsewhere, the deputy mayor of the southern metropolis of Shenzhen was thrown in jail. China last month signed the UN Convention Against Corruption in a move aimed at repatriating billions of dollars in public funds that have been siphoned off overseas by corrupt Chinese officials.

From Radio Free Asia, United States, 16 January 2004

Corruption and Infighting Roil S. Korea

President Roh Moo-hyun's foreign minister resigned in a rift over how to balance relations with the US and N. Korea. - The forced resignation Thursday of Korea's foreign minister added to the turmoil within a government already shaken by corruption scandals, torn by internal divisions, and weakened by conservative foes in control of the National Assembly. Yoon Young Kwan, a former Seoul National University professor who had seemed to support President Roh Moo-hyun's desire for an "independent" policy vis-ŕ-vis the United States, was finally forced out after revelation of a deep rift between his subordinates and Roh's closest aides. Differences focused on how to rationalize the desire of the Bush administration for a firm policy toward North Korea with efforts by Mr. Roh to pursue the "sunshine policy" of reconciliation advocated by his predecessor, Kim Dae Jung. The rift emerged in recent days amid reports that one leading foreign ministry official had accused members of Roh's entourage of fanatic pursuit of their enemies by likening them to Afghanistan's Taliban. In response, Jeong Chan Yong, a senior secretary at the Blue House, the center of presidential power, said bluntly that foreign ministry officials had "failed to effectively implement the independent foreign policy direction" of the government.

While Mr. Yoon's resignation appeared initially as a setback for closer ties between Seoul and Washington in the midst of an international standoff with North Korea, some analysts questioned the extent to which the furor would force a shift in outlook. "This is some kind of bureaucratic infighting between institutions," says Kim Tae Hwan of Yonsei University's school of international studies. "Professional diplomats tended to look down on the National Security Council staff surrounding the president and complained they had no idea what diplomacy involves. I don't think it symbolizes a change in policy." But the incident threatens to consume more of the Roh administration's time and energy, already dissipated by seemingly nonstop corruption scandals. Aides say that the president is consumed by the scandals, so much so that he has little energy left to deal with pressing topics like the economy and North Korea. 'I regret all this'. In his New Year's press conference on Wednesday, the South Korean president acknowledged the scandal has been a distraction. "The public became upset over the issue of illegal presidential election campaign funds, coupled with faults surrounding me," Roh said. "Once again, I regret all this."

Corruption appears certain to grab headlines, taking precedence over North Korea, in the run-up to National Assembly elections in April. In the upcoming contest, he hopes his followers can cut into the majority held by the conservative Grand National Party, an obstacle to whatever he hopes to do on substantive issues. However, Roh may end up losing support, in part because the southwestern Cholla region is now divided on his presidency after having been largely responsible for his victory in 2002. More than 95 percent of the voters from Cholla cast their ballots for Roh even though he's from near Pusan, the major center in the southeast. The voting again proved the enduring popularity of the region's favorite son, Kim Dae Jung, who had won a similar percentage in the 1997 election but could not seek a second five-year term under the Constitution. In an bid to win back support, Roh promised to tackle the corruption problem. "We will see every collusive link and abusive power that existed between politics and the press, and politics and business over the past few decades dismantled completely," Roh said. But, the job is considerably complicated by the realization that numerous former aides of Roh and Kim Dae Jung, two of Mr. Kim's sons, and eight National Assembly members have also been jailed.

Roh himself might be a target except for the fact that the Constitution bars prosecutors from pressing charges against a president while still in office. Some foreign observers, viewing the fallout, see the government badly weakened while facing North Korea in negotiations this year on topics ranging from nuclear weaponry to road and rail contacts between the two Koreas. Nonetheless, there's also a sense of déjŕ vu, a feeling that Korea has weathered such scandals in the past and will survive the current imbroglio too. "We've seen much worse than this," says a Western diplomat. "Comparatively, the money they're talking about now is fairly trivial. The government could also gain strength from this business once it's all over." Korea's most extraordinary revelations of corruption emerged in the trials of two former South Korean leaders, Chun Doo Hwan and Roh Tae Woo, both of whom were generals.

A cycle of corruption - The fact that Roh Tae Woo was elected president in 1987, six months after outraged demonstrators forced promulgation of a democratic constitution, did not stop him, like his predecessor Mr. Chun, from assuming that the country's notorious chaebol, or conglomerates, owed him enormous gifts in the ancient tradition of fealty to the ruler. The payoffs to Chun and Roh are estimated in the hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars. Chun and Roh were both convicted during the administration of Kim Young Sam, elected in 1992 as Korea's first civilian president since 1960. Mr. Kim is now accused of having received and passed on funds to advance his own political career. Nongovernmental groups are determined to break what they see as an endless cycle. "We demand the prosecutors investigate top businessmen to find out how conglomerates engaged in illicit collection of funds for politicians," People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy said in a letter to the Seoul District Public Prosecutor's Office. Such demands, however, may go unheeded. Prosecutors and courts have periodically gone after tycoons, generally obtaining convictions that result in suspended sentences and large fines. "It's no disgrace," said a manager of a major trading firm. "It's part of the price of doing business."

From Christian Science Monitor, by Donald Kirk, 16 January 2004

Police, MCD Top Corruption List

New Delhi - In what has become a familiar pattern, the MCD and the Delhi Police topped the list of complaints about corruption, received in 2003. The MCD had 211 complaints against it while the Delhi Police had 117 complaints. The figures, which are yet to be published by the Delhi government's vigilance department, also show that the reporting of complaints has increased from 2002. The number of complaints received in 2002 was 1,449. In 2003, this went up to 1,674. However, the most significant fact to emerge out of these figures is that 80 gazetted officers from various departments have been chargesheeted through vigilance inquiries conducted by fellow officers. "This is a tough job as it involves taking decisions against one's own colleagues," said vigilance secretary B V Selvaraj. The number of people penalised in corruption cases has also increased from just 16 in 2002 to 47 in 2003, which is almost a three-fold increase.

From Daily Times of Nigeria, Nigeria, 26 January 2004

Survey Shows Chinese Unhappy with Fight Against Corruption

Chinese state media has published a survey showing nearly half of all Chinese are unhappy with the government's handling of official corruption. Earlier this month the Chinese Communist Party pledged to strengthen its fight against corruption. Corruption is widely believed to be rampant throughout China, and is the cause of much public unrest. A survey about corruption involving 12,000 people from 10 large cities and provinces was published in today's Beijing Times newspaper. It says only 52 per cent of respondents approve of the government's anti-corruption work. For more than a decade top officials in China have promised to crack down. A number of high profile prosecutions seem to have done little to curb the problem, or win public regard.

From ABC Online, Australia, 26 January 2004

Corruption, Communalism Evils of Society: Punjab Minister

Jalandhar - The true way to honour those martyrs who fought in the freedom struggle is to rid the society of corruption and other evils like communalism. It is only by carrying out the much needed economic reforms and by putting the state into developmental mode that would be a befitting way to celebrate the country's freedom. They sacrificed their lives to bring about a free and just society. Expressing these views the medical and primary education minister Khushhal Behal said this day was a day of self-appraisal. Even after 55 years, corruption is a major issue and is throttling the country. Our government is committed to take the fight against corruption to its logical end, he said. Meanwhile, the national flag was unfurled by Gurbinder Singh Atwal at Phillaur. At Nakodar Amarjit Singh Samra, revenue and agriculture minister for state unfurled the flag. Unfurling the national flag at Kapurthala the medical education and research minister Santokh Singh paid rich tributes to Dr BR Ambedkar and said he was a visionary.

From The Times of India, by KS Dhaliwal, 27 January 2004

House, Government Defend Corruption 'Bulldozer'

Jakarta - The House of Representatives and the government on Monday defended the establishment of the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) and denied suggestions that the setting up of the new commission was unconstitutional. "There have been no breaches of the constitution. What we have done is simply to harmonize the powers of the KPK and Public Servants Wealth Audit Commission (KPKPN)," said Hamdan Zoelva, a member of House Commission II for legal affairs, before a judicial panel of the Constitutional Court. Hamdan was representing the House in an action challenging the constitutionality of Law No.30/2002 on the establishment of the KPK. The government was represented by Abdulgani Abdullah, director general for law and legislation at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. KPKPN members are seeking a judicial review of Law No. 30/2002 as it abolishes the role of the KPKPN in eradicating corruption.

The KPKPN, whose establishment was mandated by Law No.28/1999, was given the task of taking preventive action against corruption through auditing the wealth of public officials. Many legislators and state officials have been up in arms over what they see as prying by the KPKPN into their possibly ill-gotten wealth. However, the public sees the KPKPN as having courageously crusaded against rampant corruption in high places. Hamdan reiterated that the KPKPN would be subsumed into the KPK so that its role and functions would be maintained. Counsel for the KPKPN, Amir Syamsuddin, said that although the KPKPN would be incorporated into the KPK, some of its duties would be jettisoned. "This has prejudiced the constitutional rights of our client," Amir said.

During the hearing, which was presided over by the Constitutional Court president, Jimly Asshiddiqie, Judge Maruarar Siahaan asked whether the winding up of the KPKPN was motivated by malicious intent. Both Hamdan Zoelva and Abdulgani denied this, saying that the establishment of the KPK was intended solely to strengthen the war against corruption. Abdulgani said that corruption in Indonesia was so widespread that the preventive measures carried out by the KPKPN were not enough. "It will take a bulldozer to eradicate corruption in Indonesia. We hope that the KPK will function as a bulldozer," he said. Meanwhile, Hamdan stressed that the establishment of the KPK was aimed at bringing into being a commission that would have greater powers than the KPKPN. He said that the KPKPN had wide-ranging duties but not enough to properly perform these duties.

From Jakarta Post, Indonesia, by Kurniawan Hari, 27 January 2004

Fernandes Calls for a Corruption-free Society

The Defence Minister Shri George Fernandes has called upon the NCC cadets to work for a corruption-free society. Addressing the NCC cadets on behalf of the Prime Minister here today he asked them to add the pledge of eradicating corruption with unity and discipline which is the motto of NCC. He said with these three pledges they will be able to project a cleaner and brighter picture of India to the world. Shri Fernandes commended the role of NCC cadets in times of adversity whether it was during the Orissa cyclone, the Gujarat earthquake or the phase when Gujarat witnessed internal turmoil. The Defence Minister said, in fact, NCC with 13 lakh cadets is more than the strength of our Army and has been the first in reaching at any spot in times of distress.

He expressed full confidence that with unity and discipline combined with integrity and perseverance, this institution will be able to get the country rid of all its ailments. In his opening remarks the Defence Minister made it clear that he was addressing the gathering on behalf of the Prime Minister who could not address the rally because of a bereavement in the family. Mr. Fernandes said that he and those present at the rally share the sorrow of the Prime Minister. Shri Fernandes gave away best cadet and best directorate awards. The overall championship was won by the Karnataka Directorate.

From Press Information Bureau (press release), India, 27 January 2004

 

Georgia to Revive Economy, Promote Anti-corruption Efforts: Minister

Tbilisi - Georgian Minister of State Zurab Zhvaniya said Saturday that the new government will face the uphill tasks to revive economy, attract foreign investments and fight rampant corruption. "The first priorities on the agenda of the new government will be to crack down on corruption, reduce governmental financial crisis, overcome energy shortage and take measures to attract more foreign investments to help invigorate the country's economy," Zhvaniya said in an interview with Xinhua on the eve of Sunday's presidential election. On the issues of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the minister said the two, which have been in separatist wars with Georgia, are "the most thorny problems in his country." "Georgia insists that the issues be resolved by peaceful means and hopes the international community can play an important role," he said. Zhvaniya said "Russia should play a crucial role in this regard," stressing that these problems could not be resolved without Russia's constructive participation.

Meanwhile, he said one of the key tasks of the new government would be to normalize the country's relations with Russia. He said Georgia is willing to establish relationship of good-neighborliness and partnership with Russia, which "is and will be Georgia's important partner." The two countries should dispense with all previous ill will and develop bilateral ties on the basis of mutual respect and trust. He proposed that Russia withdraw its military bases in Georgian territory. The presence of these military bases is an obstacle to the improvement of relations between the two countries, and Russia should create better conditions for the withdrawal of the bases, he said. Zhvaniya told Xinhua that the motive behind the withdrawal proposal is not to open the door for any deployment of US military bases in his country. Georgia opposes presence of any foreign military bases within its territory, he said.

On relations between Georgia and China, the minister said that China is Georgia's crucial partner and Georgia hopes to strengthen economic, trade and cultural ties with China. Georgia will open its embassy in China in the near future, he said. He also said Georgia supports China's policy of "one country, two systems." Hong Kong's smooth return to China shows that China could realize reunification of the motherland by peaceful means, he added. Georgia's economy is bolstered by tourism and its famous wines. But industries of the country, with a population of about 5.5 million, collapsed in recent years, and the nation has been torn by the separatist wars in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Widespread corruption has driven away massive Western aid. Fraud allegations in the parliamentary elections last November triggered Eduard Shevardnadze to step down from the presidency and Avtandil Jorbenadze from the minister of state. The Georgian parliament appointed Zhvaniya the new minister of state, the second most powerful man after the president. The country will hold the presidential election on Sunday.

From Xinhua, China, 3 January 2004

Terror Bill Gives Ministers More Powers

The Government has published a Bill which will give authorities major new powers to cope with civil emergencies, including terrorist attacks. The Civil Contingencies Bill, drawn up in the wake of the September 11 outrages in the USA, will allow ministers to issue emergency orders without the approval of Parliament. These could include measures to bar public access to sensitive sites, evacuate affected areas, deploy the armed forces, requisition property, ban public gatherings or set up a special court to deal with a disaster. The Bill has aroused concern among civil liberties campaigners and parliamentarians, who warned that as initially drafted it gave ministers the ability to invoke emergency powers in too wide a range of circumstances. In response to the concerns, the Government has tightened its definition of an emergency, which is described in the Bill as "an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or the security of the United Kingdom or a place in the United Kingdom".

Ministers agreed to strike out a proposal to include threats to the "political, administrative or economic stability" of the country, after a joint committee of MPs and peers warned that this would allow a future Government to declare a national emergency simply in order to protect its own existence. Emergencies could be declared under the terms of the Bill not only in the case of terror attacks, but also situations like major floods, catastrophic storms, oil-spills or war. Existing emergency legislation is based on the 1920 Emergency Powers Act and the 1948 Civil Defence Act, which was drawn up to deal with the threat of an attack by the Soviet Union. Although they already give police wide-ranging powers to take control of services and commandeer buildings and equipment, the new Bill is intended to ensure their actions are legally watertight in the event of circumstances not envisaged when the laws were drawn up. Cabinet Office minister Douglas Alexander, who presented the new Bill to Parliament, said it would streamline civil protection procedures to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

From Reading Chronicle, UK, 7 January 2004

Georgia: Saakashvili Vows To Fight Corruption

Tbilisi - President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili says he will form a special investigative unit to tackle corruption when he becomes the new president of Georgia. "We need to introduce to the parliament a very drastic anticorruption legislation that would give fast powers to a new elite, small, honest investigative unit that would really tackle high-level corruption," Saakashvili said. Saakashvili made the remarks to The Associated Press news agency today, shortly after Georgia's election commission said the 36-year-old lawyer overwhelmingly won a presidential poll on 4 January. Saakashvili has said his anticorruption campaign may target assets held by the family of ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze. He said he does not intend to take vengeful actions against Shevardnadze or his relatives, but that any illegally obtained assets should be returned to the state. Saakashvili has pledged to battle corruption, work for prosperity, bring Georgia's separatist territories under central control, and to pursue good relations with European countries, the United States, and Russia. His inauguration has tentatively been scheduled for 25 January.

From Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic, 7 January 2004

EU Wants WTO to Tackle Corruption

The European Union wants to expand the agenda of the World Trade Organisation to include anti-corruption measures, Pascal Lamy, the EU's trade commissioner, said yesterday. In Berlin, Mr. Lamy said the Commission would comment on the EU's stance on business and trade-related corruption when WTO members reviewed its trade policies this year. He hoped the move, aimed at prompting other WTO members to do likewise, would be a first step towards building a "broad coalition of interests" in support of an "explicit anti-corruption agenda in the WTO". "If we get others to follow, we will have gone a long way towards making the fight against corruption an explicit rather than an implicit WTO objective" he said. The Commission's comments would draw on a policy paper it published last May on bribe paying, procurement and other issues.

Mr. Lamy's proposals go beyond existing demands by the EU, the US and some other countries for negotiations in the Doha trade round on improving transparency in government procurement and streamlining customs procedures, particularly in poorer countries. Although the demands have received some support from poorer WTO members, they have become enmeshed in a bitter dispute over parallel calls by the EU and Japan for rules on investment and competition. The commissioner said the WTO at present lacked "the autonomy to make an institutional statement against corruption". Mr. Lamy was speaking at an award ceremony for Peter Eigen, chairman of Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog, who supported the initiative. Mr. Lamy said corruption could add up to 20 per cent to the cost of public purchasing. He suggested business would have to accept that the WTO might impose "obligations on companies, be they on corruption or other issues".

From Financial Times, UK, by Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Guy de Jonquičres, 9 January 2004

PM to Chair Presidential Anti-corruption Council Next 6 Months

Moscow - Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov will chair the presidential anti-corruption council for the next six months, ITAR-TASS reported Monday. Kasyanov's candidacy was proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin at Monday's meeting of the council and was unanimously supported by its members. Putin suggested a six-month rotation for the chairman of the council. Putin said that anti-corruption measures have so far been ineffective and demanded that the anti-corruption council, created late last year, be turned into a fully working body as soon as possible. The council was established November 24. The exact tasks and objectives of this institution are not completely clear.

From PRIME-TASS, Russia, 12 January 2004

Putin Moots Anti-corruption Drive

Moscow - Ahead of the presidential polls in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday announced a drive to curb corruption in the country, blaming the flaws of economic and administrative system for the social scourge. "It's obvious that the corruption is closely linked with different forms of misuse of power on all its levels," Putin said unveiling the newly set up anti-corruption body at the Kremlin. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has been appointed rotating chairman of the Presidential Consultative Council on combating corruption. Chairmen of Russia's Constitution, Supreme and Arbitration Courts, Speakers of the two Houses of the Parliament are also members of the body. Corruption demoralises the society, decays the authorities and state apparatus, Putin said. "The roots of corruption are in the inherent flaws in the structure of economic and administrative life, are nourished by bad quality of legislation and expand in the absence of an effective control on the activities of the officials, state and municipal bodies," Putin said in his televised statement ahead of the polls on March 14.

From Times of India, India, 12 January 2004

Kasyanov Heads Putin Anti-Corruption Council

Moscow - The President's Anti-Corruption Council held its first meeting here today. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is overall chief of the President's Council. Deputy Prime Minister Boris Aleshin will head the anti-corruption panel of the President's Anti-Corruption Council. Dmitri Kozak, first deputy head of the presidential administration, made the announcement, adding that he, Kozak, will head the panel on official ethics. Kozak emphasized that the council will not duplicate the work of law enforcement and will not investigate particular crimes. He said it will seek the root causes for the perceived rise in corruption. The panel on official ethics will look into questions of conflicts of interest as faced by appointees of the president and the government.

From Russia Journal, Russia, 12 January 2004

Corruption Council Invites Ministers to Meeting

Belgrade - Friday - Serbia's Anti-Corruption Council has invited the outgoing prime minister and cabinet members to meet today to discuss the council's report on privatisation in Serbia. Council president Verica Barac told media that cabinet members were welcome at all regular meetings. "All our sittings are open to members of the government so that they take part in debates," she said. Today's agenda will be headed by the controversial report on privatisation which alleges a lack of transparency in the process. The council will also discuss appointing legal officers to defend its members against criminal complaints.

From B92, Yugoslavia, 16 January 2004

Saakashvili Again Promises War on Corruption

Tbilisi - Georgian president-elect Mikhail Saakashvili reaffirmed on Friday that he plans to crack down on corruption. "All officials who have plundered the national treasury must go to prison and return to the people what they have stolen," Saakashvili told a news conference in Tbilisi. Such officials may receive milder sentences if they give back the money they misappropriated, he said. "It is much more problematic for us when mafiosi are in prison, while all the property they have plundered is at large," he said. Saakashvili said he planned to ask Russia to extradite Levan Mamaladze, a former presidential representative in the Kvemo Kartli region, who is wanted by the Georgian police. Georgian Soccer Federation President Merab Zhordania returned 742,000 lari to the state after imprisonment, and so no further criminal actions are planned against him, Saakashvili said. Akaki Chkheidze, a former general director of the Georgian Railways company who is accused of embezzlement of state funds and tax evasion, was arrested in Batumi on Friday.

From Interfax, Georgia, 19 January 2004

 

Reforming Israel's Culture of Corruption

The daily newspaper headlines ring out, "Sharon Get's Questionable Loan." Israeli television news tells us, "Former Prime Minister Barak Investigated For Phony Organizations." The radio blasts, "Knesset Members Accused Of Double Voting." Israeli Internet sites let us know that, "Former Knesset Member investigated for bribery during primaries." Well they're politicians, so what do you expect? Then every so often the Central Bureau of Statistics reminds us that the heads of companies in Israel - including state owned companies - are making gosh awful lots of money. But who cares? The workers at the Electric and Water companies are the highest paid salaried workers in Israel - about twice the national average and three times the salary of teachers - and they are public regulated utilities. Don't forget that the workers at Israel Electric Corp. also get free, unlimited electricity to boot. Now you know why electricity prices keep rising in Israel. But hey, they're unionized! Speaking of unions, Israel's large trade union - the Histadrut - has been threatening a general strike for several months already, due to the Israeli government's economic reform plan. Recently Finance Minister Netanyahu proposed introducing legislation that would require any strike action be brought before the union membership for a vote before being initiated, as is standard in the US and elsewhere.

Well, Histadrut head Amir Peretz in typical demagogic fashion went on television and screamed how Netanyahu was trying to break the union. It made a lot of news for a couple days. And then, on Israel TV's show, "Politika," a Likud Knesset member read the Histadrut by-laws that clearly said that any strike action needs to be approved by the membership through a vote. Israel's trade union - for decades connected to the Labor Party - has never been observing its own rules. Industrial democracy in Israel is a farce. A small clique of oligarchs have run the union from the start, making the decision to strike or not, to accept the terms of a new agreement or not, as if it was their private fiefdom, without the workers, i.e. members permission. A general strike, by the way, would cause major damage to Israel's economy. Israel for decades has had one of the highest number of annual strike days in the world. It's estimated that the threatened strike could cost the economy 2.5 billion shekels/day (that's about $550 million/day). But whose counting? Certainly not the Bank of Israel, according to a senior bank official's recent "leak" ahead of a Finance Ministry report on central bank wage practices. Details of payments and bonuses for central bank staffers are generally difficult to acquire due to the bank's practice of obfuscation over employment conditions.

For example it was learned, the Governor of the Bank of Israel, David Klein, received an "efficiency bonus" of some 80,000 shekels in 2000, his first year heading the central bank, for his work as a senior official the previous year. The issue of "efficiency" bonuses has recently been a hot topic, and it has even reached the labor courts due to the annulment of the bonus, which was paid quarterly to bank workers, by the Finance Ministry's Wages Director Yuval Rachlevsky. Senior bank employees, are among the best paid in the public sector, they received an average efficiency bonus of 64,000 shekels a year until mid-2002, when Rachlevsky put an end to the practice. Senior bank staffers also get a company car, which they are free to use for their personal use. However, they are also paid a monthly "car maintenance" fee for the vehicle's upkeep. Such a payment is usually made to civil servants who have to use their own vehicles for work purposes. It's just another perk, at the Bank of Israel, I guess. There isn't just scandal at the national political level in Israel, but in local politics as well. A new 22-page report, issued by the Finance Ministry, accuses the Jerusalem Municipality of overpaying at least 80 senior employees millions of shekels/month, in contravention of the law and past agreements with the Treasury.

The newly elected mayor has appointed six deputies at the enormous monthly salary of 40,000 shekels each. Under public pressure, because of a growing budget deficit and a planned 3% property tax hike, the Jerusalem Municipality spokesman recently announced that a planned 5% cut in the salaries of the deputy mayors would be carried out. But a 5% wage cut would leave them with a monthly salary of 38,000 shekels, five and a half times the average wage in Israel. This, at a time when there is near-record unemployment, a long recession, and serious national government budget cuts. Don't worry, later it was learned that the deputy mayors turned the proposal down. All this is the "norm" in Israel. Distorted wage levels, massive perks, breaking rules; sounds to me like a third-world country. Israel as I've said many times before, is NOT an information society. Although politically democratic, with a mixed economy leaning further and further toward free enterprise, Israel lacks a culture of transparency and accountability. This inability to find out information leads to cronyism - in Israel called "protectzia" - protection. For example, someone has a friend, who "knows" someone else that can get you a job. No public tender for the position in a local government office, no need to "apply" and take tests for civil service, just go meet Mr. X. A couple of years ago, I was reading something and came across a description of the British civil service's bureaucratic culture. The operative phrase was, "need to know."

That is, give out as little information as possible to the public or other levels of the bureaucracy, or even limit information to politicians. Share information only on a "need to know" basis. Suddenly, I realized, many of the "Israeli evils" were in fact probably leftovers from the British Mandate days, that ubiquitous "Israeli mentality". Where else would Israel have learned bureaucratic culture, if not from the British Mandate Administration? Oh yes, most immigrants to the mandate or later Israel, until at least the 1960's, were either from Eastern Europe - Soviet Russia, Poland, Romania, etc. - or, the Arab Middle East and North Africa, also not great bastions of democracy and transparency. The culture of corruption in Israel, is probably not due to some "genetic" weakness of Israelis, but has a lot to due with a lack of transparent institutions and accountability. Now for the reason that I decided to write this article... Breezing through the news recently, I read an article on "corruption" in the non-profit sector. What disappoints me is that these are the people who provide vital non-governmental health, education, and welfare services. These are the organizations that help the weak, but are getting fat by doing so. The article based on a leaked Interior Ministry report, described the exaggerated salaries of the top officials in the non-profit sector.

The Efrati Committee completed this report almost a year ago. And to make maters worse, it's been presented to Interior Minister Avraham Poraz - from the Shinui Party - whose free market and clean government election campaign, seems a distant memory. Poraz hasn't done anything to implement the recommendations of the report yet. Surprised? There are about 13,000 Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs) or Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Israel. In some, salaries of the three top officials make up 50% of total expenditures. In the majority of organizations the report said, salaries make up about 80% of expenses. Anyone familiar with business, the non-profit sector, and economy in modern western democracies today, should realize that this flagrant theft. People donate money to organizations to help the poor, to further social or ideological goals - like environmental protection or Cancer research - not to line the pockets of top management. The Efrati Committee document recommended that organizational overheads should constitute only between 7 to 20 percent of total expenditures, thus the vast majority of donations would be to further the purposes of the organization. Public monies from tax revenue are also being misused, since some NPOs receive state funds in addition to private donations.

To better understand the next section, assume a shekel-dollar conversion rate of about 4.5 to 1. While the average salary in Israel - now about 7,000 shekels/month - has been falling for at least a year due to the recession, the government in its budget-balancing "cut-and-slash" reform plan has been cutting social welfare transfer payments to the weakest sectors of society - who live on 1,500-3,500 shekels/month. At the same time, the top employees at hospitals, think-tanks, women's organizations, organizations to help the handicapped (soldiers and elderly), Yeshivas - rabbinical seminaries - and Kibbutz educational centers are earning 35,000-130,000 shekels/month - an average of 50-70,000 shekels/month - or about 5 to 20 times the average wage in Israel, and as much as 20 to 90 times as much as the poor for whom they collect money to help (at least the corruption is universal). Something sounds desperately wrong. Certainly, transparent reporting to the public would have helped prevent these outrages. Who would donate money to an organization, where you know that the head earns 63,000 shekels/month - that's over 750,000 shekels in a year - and the three top officials make up 50% of the organizations total expenses? I know I wouldn't. In all fairness, this type of over-inflated salary issue occurs in other places also. Several years ago, the head of the United Way, a huge charitable organization in the US, had to step down after his excessively high salary was made public.

And just recently, the top official of the New York Stock Exchange quit after his extortionately high salary was discovered. But in general, these are exceptions rather than the rule. By the way, none of the Israeli directors are quitting or apologizing or retuning the money. Israel, in this regard is a good 30 years behind America in this element of non-profit management. High salaries and operating expenses that ate up most of the donor money were common in America in former days, but with the explosion of competition in the "social sector" in the last couple of decades, organizations have had to become more efficient in their delivery of services. Transparent accounting has contributed to this. Big donors today, are more involved than ever, with the organizations they contribute to, and they don't want to "waste" their money. Non-profits in America today are run much more like a business, they "compete" for donor money, trying to prove how small a percentage is used for salaries, general office and running expenses. They've learned to uses their resources more efficiently. Top non-profit organizations today in America, claim to put upwards of 90% of their operating budget directly into providing the aid and services they exist for. Contrast that with Israeli NPOs, who spend 80% of their budget on salaries. Rather than provide services, they provide fat-cat jobs to the privileged few.

If Israel wants to enter the 21st century of developed nations, democratic, freedom loving with free economies, it has to reform itself. FM Netanyahu is on track when he talks about legislation guaranteeing the democratization of the Histadrut. Imagine if Israel hadn't been shackled with strikes for decades, how much larger the economy would have grown. And Netanyahu's economic reform plan, that includes trimming social welfare benefits and the public sector, in general is surely needed. But when people are receiving less social welfare benefits from the government, the social sector, NPOs, need to pick up the slack. Israeli NPOs aren't doing anything wrong according to Israel's culture of corruption, but to meet the demands that will be put on them in the years to come, they will need to reform. Cutting fat-cat salaries and increasing the use of volunteer labor, to enable them to devote larger percentages to delivery of services, is just one element toward greater efficiency. Israeli opinion leaders, whether in politics, business, sports, the arts, and yes the non-profit sector, must change their behaviors.

Trustfulness, not lies and deception; accountability, not flight from responsibility; openness and transparency, not secretiveness; maybe even modesty rather than extravagance, must become the norms of Israeli society. In areas like business, where new wealth is created, there is some room for higher salaries, but in the public and social sectors, where there is no economic productivity, how can they be justified? It's true that the US and European business worlds have been shaken lately with financial accounting scandals, such as WorldCom, Enron, Vivendi, and Parmalat, but again these are exceptions. Look at how serious US President Bush, American legislators, academia, and the media have criticized the situation. Attempts to root-out that type of behavior have engulfed America. Political and financial scandals occur the world over, but why so often in Israel? A couple sparks of light in the darkness... As of January 1st, Israeli banks will have to - by law - inform customers of most banking charges they will incur for an action before it is executed. That is, transparency in their service charges.

Imagine, until now banks didn't legally have to provide customers with a list of charges for different transactions, or inform them of the reason for the cost, the exact sum, how it was calculated, and the date of their payment. It's a small victory for accountability and consumer protection. And, there is a small but growing trend in corporate Israel toward social responsibility. Israeli private companies are beginning to get into community and philanthropic activities. Hopefully this trend will continue and grow. It might even eventually impact on how NPOs are managed. Israel must reform itself until scandal and corruption are an exception like elsewhere, not the way things are done. Lack of transparency and accountability, and rampant corruption in business and public life must not be ignored, tolerated, or worse, quietly praised, for someone's ability "to get more for himself or herself". Success in the modern global economy requires reform, stability in Israel's society necessitates reform, and Jewish ethics and tradition demand reforming Israel's "Culture of Corruption". Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis. His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites, in newspapers, and can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko

From SierraTimes.com, by Ariel Natan Pasko, 5 January 2004

 

Corruption Bites North and South

I hadn't given much thought to the question of whether Louisiana does or does not have foliage. Our greenery is abundant and obvious. But last month, we were confronted with a vicious allegation that strikes at the very heart of our fauna community. We have been accused of not having foliage. This besmirching of our green name came up in a discussion of the corruption scandal involving Connecticut Gov. John Rowland. Rowland has confessed to allowing a company that does business with the state to do renovation work on his home. Rowland did not pay for the work, and he has since admitted he lied about this unethical arrangement when he had been asked about it. Bill Curry, who twice lost to Rowland in races for the governor's mansion, has made it his business to remind the public of Rowland's corruption. He has done so at our expense. "We were the Constitution State," Curry said in an interview last month with the Hartford Courant. "We were the home of New England town meeting democracy, and now we're Louisiana with foliage."

The Punchline State - Once again, Louisiana is the butt of a biting joke about public corruption. But in light of the scandals in Connecticut, it'd be difficult to say we're more corrupt than they. Paul J. Silvester, Connecticut's former state treasurer, pleaded guilty to racketeering and money laundering charges in 1999. He's been singing like a bird since, claiming he didn't steal alone. Rowland's former deputy chief of staff, Lawrence Alibozek, pleaded guilty in March to accepting an unspecified amount of cash and gold coins in return for influencing state contracts. Rowland's former co-chief of staff, Peter Ellef, was forced out as chairman of the state trash authority after the agency lost about $200 million in public money in a deal with the current poster child for corporate corruption, Enron. Less than honorable - It is true that our state officials have sometimes been less than honorable.

For example, our last three insurance commissioners have ended up in jail. Last year, we learned that Charlie DeWitt, a state representative, accepted an interest in a pair of race horses from the owners of the Fair Grounds while he also was advocating a lot of pro-gambling legislation in the Legislature. Our critics might point out that Bob Odom, our agriculture commissioner, is under indictment for allegedly receiving bribes in exchange for fixing a warehouse contract, filing false tax returns, laundering campaign contributions through his church, and stealing pine seedlings from the state Department of Agriculture. We are not strangers to allegations of public corruption. But I feel compelled to respond to Curry's irresponsible remarks on behalf of our state's irises and roses, cypress and oak trees. To Curry, I would declare in the strongest possible terms, we do too have foliage!

From Times Picayune, LA, by Lolis Eric Elie, 2 January 2004

Latin Delegates, U.S., Clash over Corruption

Monterrey, Mexico - U.S. and Latin American negotiators clashed yesterday over the issue of corruption in the hemisphere as U.S. President George W. Bush prepared to arrive at a summit that is increasingly hostile toward Washington's plans for the region. Latin American delegates put up stiff resistance to proposals by both the U.S. and Canadian governments to put corruption on the agenda for the Summit of the Americas, which begins today in Monterrey, Mexico's second-largest city and economic powerhouse. The U.S. position got a boost last night from Prime Minister Paul Martin, who said poverty cannot be tackled seriously without first addressing corruption. "You're not going to deal with the social and economic problems in the Western hemisphere unless you deal with corruption," Mr. Martin told reporters. With leaders from 34 countries set to open talks this afternoon, negotiators were also deadlocked on the timetable for free-trade talks and a plan to set up a fund to fight poverty in the Americas. Officials said the mood for the two-day summit was tense because economic recession and political unrest have gripped Latin America since the leaders adopted a wide-ranging economic, political and social program at the last summit in Quebec City in 2001.

Popular revolts against free trade and market-oriented economic policies have shaken several countries and forced the presidents of Argentina and Bolivia to resign. Several Latin leaders are reluctant to approve a hemispheric free-trade agreement without mechanisms for ensuring that its benefits are equitably distributed. They feel Washington's anti-corruption agenda is politically motivated as a tool to exclude leaders who are out of favour with the United States. "Expectations have not been met, that's fair," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said in an interview yesterday. "People do expect to see leaders commit to a program that recognizes that it's not just about lowering tariff barriers." A source familiar with the talks said they were more fractious than those at the Quebec summit. "It's not as constructive, because the hemisphere is in bad shape," the source said. Canada pushed for the interim Monterrey meeting as a way of injecting fresh momentum into political and economic reform initiatives between the Quebec City summit and another scheduled for Argentina next year. Nearly half the leaders who took part at Quebec City have resigned, finished their terms or been voted out of office.

Several new presidents, including Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Argentina's Nestor Kirchner, have signalled a desire to stake out greater economic and political independence from the U.S. The 24-hour summit will be the first since the U.S.-led war against Iraq, which was supported by only seven of the 34 countries represented. Mr. Bush, who arrives in Monterrey today, is scheduled to hold two-way talks with Mr. Martin, Mexican President Vicente Fox, Mr. da Silva, Mr. Kirchner and Bolivian President Carlos Mesa, as well as participate in group talks. A U.S. proposal for tough anti-corruption measures emerged over the weekend as the most contentious issue in haggling over the wording of a final summit declaration. High-minded vows to battle corruption are a dime a dozen in Latin America, and rarely have much impact. Sources said the negotiators have agreed to deny asylum to bribe-payers and bribe-takers, and to freeze their assets. But Latin American negotiators rebuffed a U.S. proposal to bar countries that failed to live up to the commitment from future summits and other meetings sponsored by the Organization of American States.

They asked who would judge whether the standards had been met. According to one source, the proposal recalled U.S. decisions to deny aid to countries it declared were not taking tough enough measures against drug trafficking. This so-called "certification process" is considered demeaning by many in the region. Mr. Graham said there was "very good language" in the declaration and he hoped it would zero in on countries where corruption is pervasive. Latin Americans resent Washington's "holier-than-thou attitude" on corruption following revelations about U.S. corporate wrongdoing, said Donald MacKay, executive director of the Canadian Foundation for the Americas. "A good portion of it is not so much the objectives but how the U.S. decides to pursue its policies," he said. Negotiators were also at an impasse on Venezuela's call for a special fund to relieve persistent poverty. Brazil, meanwhile, was also battling over a reference to free-trade talks in the proposed declaration. It would reiterate a long-standing commitment to bring a hemispheric trade pact into effect on Jan. 1, 2005 - a goal that looks increasingly difficult to reach.

From The Globe and Mail, Canada, by Paul Knox, 12 January 2004

Public Corruption Probe Widens

A state grand jury investigation into voter fraud and official misconduct could be over. In its place, the powerful linking of arms of county, state and federal prosecutors could bring Lake County its most substantial focus on public corruption in decades. The Post-Tribune has learned a news conference regarding this realignment is planned for next week in Hammond. U.S. Attorney Joseph Van Bokkelen, Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter and Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter are set to announce the sharing of resources and manpower in a broad, countywide investigation. They will make a similar announcement in Indianapolis. Sources said the joint effort is coming about because the inquiry paths of the state grand jury were beginning to overlap with ongoing federal investigations. Sources also said the sharing of resources could lead quickly to another substantial wave of public corruption indictments from Van Bokkelen's office. Sources said in the last two weeks, state investigators have been in the Lake County election office at least four times.

Each time, they have served subpoenas, conducted interviews and left with records. Those records are believed to be at Van Bokkelen's office. Van Bokkelen, the Indiana attorney general and the Lake County prosecutor were all out of the office Thursday and could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for Steve Carter said, "Nothing is available to discuss right now," declining to listen to questions about a potential change in investigative direction. Steve Carter and Bernard Carter were believed to be at a judicial conference in Indianapolis on Thursday. A state grand jury investigation scheduled to be led by their offices on Thursday did not take place. This was the second straight week that the state grand jury activity was postponed. On Jan. 8, people subpoenaed were told to return Thursday. But this week, those witnesses were notified that they would not have to come on Thursday.

They were not told when, or if, they would be called back. That grand jury has been seated for four months, investigating the hundreds of documented cases of voter fraud in the May primaries. Yet in that time, the grand jury has indicted just two people - an elderly couple from Hobart who voted in East Chicago's primary. In a joint news conference last year, both Carters indicated they expected several people to be indicted and they expected indictments to come quickly. They haven't. But sources also said the grand jury investigation has splintered into several directions, leading to this point of cooperation with Van Bokkelen. Van Bokkelen has had a grand jury impaneled since 2002, solely to investigate claims of public corruption. The state grand jury, meanwhile, was formed in response to the well-publicized cases of voter fraud. But in forming that grand jury, both Carters indicated the jurors would also focus on official misconduct.

Dozens of politically connected Lake County residents were notified they were targets of the investigation, but no one with political connections has been indicted so far. From the variety of people being called to testify in recent weeks, it is apparent to observers that the state grand jury has moved away from voter fraud and toward misconduct. Specifically, investigators have been focusing on the operations of the Schererville Town Court, under the direction of Judge Deborah Riga. State investigators hauled away boxes of records from the court on Jan. 2, two days after Riga's term ended. She had won the seat in May thanks to voter fraud. Later, a judge overturned her victory. It is believed the focus on fraud in the Schererville case has led to other investigations. Many of the people subpoenaed last week, and again this week, were called because of their relationships to Schererville's court and its contractors.

From Gary Post Tribune, IN, by Steve Patterson, 16 January 2004

Another Formidable Resource in Fighting Public Corruption

The issue: The FBI - Our opinion: With elections this year, a federal investigation of voter fraud will put crooked politicians on notice that this hanky-panky is a bad idea. Added muscle is about to be flexed to investigate allegations of systematic vote-buying and potential collusion of election officials in last year's primary elections in East Chicago and Schererville. The FBI has joined the hunt. The bureau and the U.S. Attorney's office join Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, the Indiana State Police and Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter on the trail of likely shenanigans in the primary elections. This is welcome news. The more investigative skills applied to the task of weeding out public corruption here, the better. Much work has already been done, but the involvement of the FBI, with its formidable resources and power, could quicken the pace. A special grant jury jointly conducted by the two Carters has spent months investigating the allegations.

So far, the only indictments have been of an elderly Hobart Township couple, on allegations they illegally cast absentee ballots for incumbent East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick even though they live outside East Chicago. Then there is the framework assembled during two recount trials, in the Democratic primary races for the nomination for East Chicago mayor and for Schererville town judge. Special Lake Superior Court Judge Steven King last summer issued a 104-page opinion in the recount trial for the East Chicago Democratic primary. He called incumbent Mayor Robert Pastrick's victory a "textbook example of chicanery," but determined that Pastrick had enough votes to win even after 155 votes were tossed.

In the other recount case, Lake Superior Court Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura issued a 45-page ruling chastising Robert Grkinich, campaign worker for incumbent Judge Deborah Riga, for "illegal, deliberate actions" to either forge or fabricate 23 absentee ballots. Riga, like Pastrick, was named the winner only after absentee ballots were counted. In the recount trial, Bonaventura named Riga challenger Kenneth Anderson the winner after tossing the 23 ballots. U.S. Attorney Joseph Van Bokkelen convinced the U.S. Justice Department in Washington to get the FBI involved. Give him credit for that move. Attorney General Carter, a Republican, moved swiftly to join the probe when Prosecutor Carter, a Democrat, sought his help. It is truly unique and welcome that a bipartisan investigation is taking place to right any wrongs. A side benefit will be that with federal, state and county races on the ballot this year, a federal investigation of voter fraud will put crooked politicians on notice that this hanky-panky is a bad idea.

From Munster Times, IN, 19 January 2004

City Manager Style of Government 'Supports Citizen Control'

The Council-Manager form of government was developed in the early-to-mid 20th century in an attempt to take politics out of city management decisions and substitute for it professional management experience. It was seen as an alternative to big machine politics, such as in Tammany Hall, New York, and in Chicago. The city manager is trained, for example, in NIU's Public Administration Program, in the many workings of city services including planning, budgeting, fire, police, street, water, zoning services as well as community development. The movement has been defended vociferously over time by the DeKalb County League of Women Voters. Elizabeth Bass, LWV member and former president, noted the council-manager form of government has been a priority for the League for decades "because it supports citizen control. "Every time the council-manager concept has been threatened in DeKalb, people from throughout the community have supported it," Bass said.

In the council-manager form, an elected city council (usually 5-11 members) is responsible for making policy, passing ordinances, voting appropriations, and having overall supervisory authority in city government. In such a system, the mayor performs mostly ceremonial duties and acts as a member and presiding officer of the council. The council hires a manager or administrator who will be responsible for supervising government operations and implementing the policies adopted by the council. The manager serves at the pleasure of the council, usually with a contract that specifies duties and responsibilities. Ideally, the manager is apolitical, but in actuality, there are few purist systems. Carol Zar, executive director of the Illinois City and County Managers' Association, based in DeKalb, said a master's degree in public administration has become the "union card" for professionals in the field. "Folks who are active in our association, almost without exception, have a public administration master's degree."

The three largest degree programs in the state are at NIU and at Southern Illinois University, both Carbondale and Edwardsville. Whereas, a few years ago, the tenure of city managers was fairly short because of conflicts over issues within a city, many today have remained with their community 10-15, even 20 years, Zar said. "On a national basis, tenure has lengthened." Zar said exceptions are "widely diverse communities with a lot of growth pressure." Typical roles and responsibilities of a city manager include: supervising day-to-day operations of all city departments; supervising the department heads; preparing a draft city budget each year with options the council votes on; researching and making recommendations about topics of interest to the council; meeting with citizens and citizen groups to understand their needs better; providing executive leadership that encourages good performance by city workers; and operating the city with a professional understanding of how all city functions operate together.

From MidWeek, IL, 21 January 2004

 

Corruption Focus of Davos Economic Summit

Davos, Switzerland - U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Thursday urged countries that rallied against terrorism after Sept. 11 to unite again to fight corruption, which is estimated to cost the world economy more than $2 trillion US every year. In a speech to the World Economic Forum, Ashcroft attacked government officials who pocket payoffs and deprive their people of money for better roads, cleaner water and more modern schools. "We are winning the war on terrorism," he said, but corruption is threatening "the capacity of business and government to work together to end the plague of poverty and expand human achievement." The World Bank estimates the cost of corruption represents about seven per cent of the annual world economy. The sum, roughly $2.3 trillion US, is equal to the entire U.S. federal budget, Ashcroft told more than 100 participants at a private lunch during the annual five-day meeting. The forum involves 2,100 people from 94 countries, including some of the world's richest businessmen and top thinkers. Many government leaders, including Prime Minister Paul Martin, are also attending.

On the business side, leaders tackled the thorny issue of how to resist pressure to distort company earnings - one factor cited in the scandal involving energy trader Enron. In a discussion between the heads of major corporations, the practice of rewarding top executives with stock options was both praised and blamed, depending on how those options are structured. Options that pay off in the short term can push executives to cut corners and pump up quarterly earnings to satisfy the market, while long-term options can promote better strategic thinking, panel members said. "It's the best thing or the worst thing, depending on how you use it," said Bertrand Collomb, chairman of French building materials company Lafarge. Pressure from stock markets is widely considered one of the factors contributing to corporate accounting scandals such as the collapse of Enron. European officials have been confronted with a mushrooming scandal of their own in the collapse of Italian dairy giant Parmalat, a company with extensive holdings in Canada.

Corporate governance and ethics have assumed a more prominent role at the gathering with the passage of U.S. legislation - the Sarbanes-Oxley Act - imposing new accountability on companies and executives. In another development, the head of the World Trade Organization warned that bilateral trade agreements can prove damaging to global attempts to forge a trade liberalization. "Nobody knows the real effect: (Politicians) just like to go and sign them," Supachai Panitchpakdi, director-general of the WTO, said during a panel discussion. There are nearly 300 separate trade agreements between countries and groups of countries around the world, and almost 100 more are under negotiation. Among the biggest is the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Supachai slammed a "bandwagon effect" that makes countries start negotiating the agreements because all their neighbours are doing the same. "You just can't afford to stay out of it," he said.

Critics claim the agreements make it hard for countries to agree on a global deal. They also fear that the deals don't increase trade but simply divert it from other countries that are not part of the agreement. Supachai said the amount of time, effort and money that has been put into small trade agreements could have given a huge boost to the global trade deal that the WTO is trying to revive. However, Brazil's trade minister, Luis Fernando Furlan, said individual trade deals should be encouraged because they lay the ground for a global treaty. "We believe it is a kind of college before the university," he said. Brazil and its trading partners in the Mercosur grouping have deals with countries across the world and are working on more. Some 20 to 24 government ministers were expected to meet on the sidelines of the forum Friday to discuss ways to get negotiations between the WTO's 146 members back on track. They had committed themselves to completing a treaty by the end of this year, but look likely to miss that deadline.

From Calgary Sun, Canada, by Edith M. Lederer, 23 January 2004

 
 

Absence of Civil Servants from Work Deplored

Mr. William Krakani, First National Trustee of the Civil Servants Association of Ghana (CSAG) has deplored the trend among some Civil Servants to wilfully absent themselves from work after long holidays. He was speaking to the Ghana News Agency (GNA) on Friday on the generally low attendance of workers at the Ministries at Ho. Mr. Krakani, who is a Principal Development Officer of the Department of Social Welfare, said the Government in widely circulated announcement had expressly stated which days of the week were non-working days. "In any case we all know it and there is nothing to explain the mass absence from work except the pervasive attitude among us to take Government business for granted", he said. Mr. Krakani observed that it was disappointing for clients to go to offices to transact businesses and find to desks empty.

He observed that unattractive wages and poor logistics in the Civil Service were not tangible reasons for flagrant abuse of the trust of their employers. Generally workers in Ho reported for work in trickles and as at 9000 hours when the GNA went round most offices had not opened for business. At the Regional Office of the National Youth Council (NYC), Mr. Ransford Ocloo, Regional Youth Coordinator, expressed misgivings about the practice but complained that his staff had not yet received their December salaries. He said staffs at the NYC District Office in Kete-Krachi as at the time of the visit were yet to receive their November salaries. At the Ghana Education Service (GES) Regional Office, workers were standing in groups and chatting. Mr. Hickson George Tome, Public Relations Officer of GES, said work was going on normally and that it should be expected that after long holidays there would be some socialisation among workers before they settled down for serious business.

From GhanaWeb, Ghana, 2 January 2004

Retired Civil Servants Assured of Care

Accra - Dr. Glover Quartey, Head of Civil Service, on Monday said the Service would continue to care for retired civil servants to ensure that they enjoyed their last few years on earth. He gave the assurance on a visit to the longest surviving retired Civil Servant in the country, Mr. Mark Dick Abloh, who clocked 100 years on July 17, 2003. Dr. Quartey said the visit to Mr. Abloh "is to reinforce our conviction that those who served this country with dedication and faithfulness in their capacity as Civil Servants, should not be made to feel abandoned and forgotten." He said the Service was committed to finding all retired civil servants and joining them to celebrate their milestones in life. Mr. Quartey congratulated Mr. Abloh for chalking a five scores, which he noted, was very rare among retired Civil Servants, saying; "we will follow your progress on daily basis and provide the necessary assistance for your family to take good care of you". He presented a food hamper, Christmas card and a sum of one million cedis to Mr. Abloh, who is suffering from a mild stroke and has speech difficulties.

Ms. Ophilia Abloh, the third of five daughters of Mr. Abloh, said it was acknowledged that the good works of dedicated Civil Servants would follow them when they grow old. Mr. Abloh, born July 17, 1903, joined the Civil Service as a Fourth Class Clerk on March 16, 1921 and retired at age of 55 as an Administrative Officer Class three at the Ministry of Trade and Industries on July 16, 1958. He retired with commendable remarks reading: "Highly satisfactory and Exemplary" on his retirement certificate issued on December 3, 1958. The centenarian was married to the late Georgina Abloh and they had two sons, who are deceased, and five daughters. He has 31 grandchildren and 37 great grandchildren. This is the first time in the history of the Civil Service that the Head of Civil Service had visited the longest surviving retired Civil Servant and presented gifts to him.

From GhanaWeb, Ghana, 5 January 2004

Don Condemns Planned Massive Downsizing of Federal Civil Service

Lagos - A political economist and senior Lecturer, Political Science Department, Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, Dr. Abubakar Momoh has warned that the planned massive downsizing of the federal civil service by the government as a way of reducing cost of governance is only a goose chase. Dr. Momoh argued that the exercise would only affect administrative overhead or cost, stressing that most of the bleeding and wastage in the economy were centred around over-bloated federal executive council and uncontrollable extra-budgetary spending by the executive. In a key note address at the 7th National Delegates Conference of the National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE) held in Kano, Kano state he noted that no form of poverty alleviation or eradication would succeed without the state taking charge of key sectors like energy. According to Dr. Momoh: "Today, government has destroyed all public schools in order to promote private schools. Soon we shall hear about government-owned universities being privatised. Already the universities have been urged to be "financially autonomous," a euphemism for charging tuition and levies. It is clear that it is the children of the poor who constitute two-thirds of those that attend public universities. "I am contending that poverty alleviation cannot succeed where government is wrecking more hardship on the people."

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, by Victor Ahiuma-Young, 5 January 2004

Ex-Intelligence Boss Broke Civil Service Rules

Nairobi - Former Intelligence Chief James Kanyotu contravened Civil Service regulations by engaging in private business while in public service, the Commission into the Goldenberg Inquiry was told yesterday. A Senior Principal Personnel Officer in the Office of the President Mrs. Miriam Tsingui Ngonze told the Inquiry that according to Civil Service Regulations (section G1,) no civil servant was allowed to engage in private business. She said a civil servant could only do so if he had written permission from the Permanent Secretary, Office of the President. But in the case of Kanyotu, no such permission exists in his employment files which show that he began as an Inspector of Police, Grade 1 in 1959. The Inquiry has, however, received evidence that Kanyotu was a director of four business concerns which engaged in business related in one way or another with one another before he retired from the Civil Service on January 27, 1993. These were Goldenberg International Ltd, Exchange Bank Ltd, First American Bank Ltd and an air charter company that imported gold dust from Bunia, Zaire.

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, by Athman Amran, Eliud Miring'uh and Biketi Kikechi, 9 January 2004

State Can't Pay Civil Servants

Bangui - Civil servants in the Central African Republic will not be paid on time this month, because the government does not have the means to do so. Finance Minister Mohamed Mahadi Marboua said yesterday: "The state does not have the means to pay the salaries on time. There is no point in our compatriots pacing up and down in their bank branches. "The state has real problems: it had earmarked a maximum of resources, with outside help, since the end of April for paying salaries, but the difficulties persist." CAR has been led by an interim government since April, a month after backers of General Francois Bozize toppled president Ange Felix Patasse in a bloodless coup. While state workers' wages were initially paid on time, civil servants' salaries have come in late since August.

From The Star, Africa, 9 January 2004

Civil Servants Won't Tighten Their Belts Any Further, Says Hikaumba

Lusaka - Civil servants will not tighten their belts any further, Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Leonard Hikaumba has said. Reacting to labour minister Lt Col Patrick Kafumukache's announcement that the government would effect a wage freeze on civil servants' salaries for the first six months of this year, Hikaumba advised government leaders to lead by example and sacrifice as well. "For the past few years, we have been given increments based on the principle of sacrifice because government wanted to qualify for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief," he said. He said the unions were not told about the steps that would follow after Zambia had qualified for the HIPC debt relief. "We were told that after we qualify for HIPC, things would be better," he said. Hikaumba said that the union had recommended to the government that they be part of the negotiating team when discussing conditions with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank but that had not happened. "We have not been accorded audience but when it comes to implementation they want us to comply. Now we say no to complying with these conditions since we were not part of the negotiations," he said.

"Time for us to sacrifice has gone, we are already sacrificing," he said. One of the conditions for Zambia to reach the HIPC completion point was to spend only eight percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on personal emoluments. "When they talk about eight percent of GDP, we don't know how it was arrived at and what conditions were taken into consideration," he said. "It's just a figure they gave us that we don't understand. It would make great sense if they involved us in one way or the other." "We were told that leaders' salaries would be reduced but they haven't. Why has it taken so long?" He said it was not fair for the government to ask civil servants to sacrifice when they themselves would not. "They want us to sacrifice when they are not ready to do the same. We would have seen them refunding to government," he said. Hikaumba said civil servants were equally not ready to be subjected to further sacrifice. "We don't want to be sacrificial lambs for their shortcomings," he said. "We have completely refused the wage freeze."

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, by Nomusa Maunga, 9 January 2004

Non-Payment of Civil Servants 'a Violation of Human Rights', NGO Says

Bangui - A human rights organisation in the Central African Republic has expressed concern over a declaration on Wednesday by Finance Minister Mohamed Mahdi Marboua that the government was broke and could no longer pay monthly salaries on time. "The non-payment of civil servants' salaries is a violation of human rights," Lambert Zokoezo, chairman of the Observatoire Centrafricain des Droits de l'Homme, said. He described Marboua's declaration, which was broadcast by state-owned Television Centrafricaine, as "a provocation of the population that would lead to dramatic consequences". Since early 1990s, the CAR has been having difficulties paying its civil servants, a situation that has prompted strikes by employees. The government owes civil servants salary arrears of at least 30 months. The administration of CAR leader Francois Bozize, who ousted Ange-Felix Patasse on 15 March 2003, has said salary arrears would be paid "later".

The Bozize administration paid civil servants their monthly salaries from April until September 2003. Labour unions declared in May 2003 a moratorium on strikes, to give the new administration time to stabilise its finances. Radio Centrafrique reported on Saturday that after Marboua's declaration, representatives of the civil servants had met on Friday with the directors of three local banks and reached an arrangement for the payment of salaries this week. Reacting to Marboua's declaration, Bangui Roman Catholic Archbishop Paulin Pomodimo urged Bozize to "find a rapid settlement to the salary issue". "There may never be social peace if civil servants keep waiting indefinitely for their salaries," Radio Centrafrique quoted Pomodimo as saying on Saturday. (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks).

From AllAfrica.com, Africa, 12 January 2004

Civil Servants Living with HIV/AIDS Won't Be Sacked, Obasanjo Assures

Abuja - The Federal Government will not victimise or relieve any civil servant of his or her appointment on the account of a confirmed HIV/AIDS status, while it seeks to present a bill before the National Assembly against such action. President Olusegun Obasanjo said this at the weekend at the Abuja National Stadium during the "Battle of Hope," an event put together to symbolically demonstrate the victory achieved by the battle against the disease through boxing. The President assured those living with the disease to beef up their psychology and live normal lives, as the government awaited a consignment of anti-retroviral drugs for distribution nationwide at the subsidised rate of N1,000 per month.

He described as callous attempt by any government that is alive to its basic responsibilities to compound the troubles of those living with AIDS by denying them good means of livelihood. Directing that anybody who suffered such victimisation to report to him immediately, Obasanjo urged the media not to confuse issues and resultant frustration to people as a result of their write ups. He commended the courage of those living victorious and normal lives even though infected, adding that "there is hope, and very soon, it shall be over." Wife of the Vice-President, Mrs. Titi Atiku Abubakar, whose organisation, WOTCLEF, show- cased the event, remarked that all people are equal before God, with or without HIV/AIDS and wondered the basis for discrimination. She called on women not to see prostitution as the high way of earning a living but to engage themselves in other meaningful enterprises that would equip them with joy, happiness and honour.

From The Globe and Mail, Canada, by Simon Timothy, 14 January 2004

BDP Losers' Protect Civil Servants Vote

Voting by civil servants is one of the numerous irregularities cited in the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) primary elections, dubbed "Bulelwa Ditswe". Just before the primaries, the party said permanent and pensionable civil servants were going to be barred from voting. The party felt that allowing civil servants to vote would have been tantamount to exposing them to active and visible participation in politics, which is against the Public Service regulations. The only civil servants allowed to vote are the industrial class workers, a party statement said. But one of the candidates who was contesting a council ward in Broadhurst, said the wife of his opponent, who is a permanent and pensionable civil servant voted during the primaries. BDP Executive Secretary, Botsalo Ntuane said he could not tell whether permanent and pensionable civil servants participated in the elections since there were thousands of people who voted.

He claimed that more people voted in "Bulela Ditswe" than the 1999 general elections. "So essentially Bulela Ditswe was a general election of some sort. Given these massive figures, one cannot totally discount that some civil servants could have voted. But I doubt if it were known that they were civil servants, they would have been allowed to vote," said the BDP spokesman. "Bulela Ditswe" seemed to have opened a can of worms for the ruling party, with many candidates citing massive irregularities about the exercise. A major problem was missing names from the voters' role, which angered many party members. Some of the candidates alleged that people were ferried from outside their constituencies to vote. Ntuane told Mmegi that the central committee has appointed a technical committee to deal with the appeals.

The technical committee is expected to come up recommendations. "It would therefore be inappropriate to comment on the merits and de-merits of the appeals. They are still being dealt with," said Ntuane. He added that he was not in a position to comment on whether "Bulela Ditswe" would cause divisions in the party and whether it was a success. "I would rather reiterate what President Fesgus Mogae said in a TV interview that Bulela Ditswe remains a good system. But owning to the fact that it was new, there were liable to be problems which we can only work up to perfect for 2009," he said. Ntuane said he was not aware of any BDP members who have defected from the party to protest the conduct of the primary elections. "On the contrary we have been receiving defectors from the opposition parties," he said.

From Mmegi, Botswana, by Lekopanye Mooketsi, 19 January 2004

Nnamani Wants Civil Servants' Promotions Released

Enugu - Governor Chimaroke Nna-mani of Enugu State has directed the state Civil Service Commission to release the 2003 promotion of civil servants in the state without further delay. According to him, the move was one of the many ways his administration could provide a conducive atmosphere to enable civil servants to be more productive. He lamented the sorry state of the civil service, which he noted had been highly polluted by politicians and jobbers, but assured that he would leave behind a "civil service that is intact, unpolluted and very productive with good record of service." The governor, who gave the directive to the executive members of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Enugu State branch who paid him a courtesy call yesterday, said that as a product of the civil service: "I have great respect for the Service and will continue to give priority attention to workers welfare."

From This Day, Nigeria, by Oladunjoye Mansur Aramide, 23 January 2004

 

Salary Hike Helps No Civil Servant in Burma

Despite the recent salary hike for civil servants in Burma, the economical situation is becoming worse for them, according to an unidentified civil servant from Moulmein in southern Burma. And he added that if the junta wants to help civil servants, it should retain rice ration system and keep inflation under control. Despite a couple of salary hikes after the military coup in 1988, the runaway inflation rate and the rocketing commodity prices make it impossible for many civil servants to live on their salaries alone. Many of them have to depend on 'outside' incomes to feed their families. Pensioners are particularly vulnerable to economic chaos in Burma and they have to depend on their relatives to survive. The salary hike is supposed to 'alleviate' the difficulties faced by civil servants but the junta is withdrawing the subsidised rice rations for them.

From Democratic Voice of Burma, Norway, 2 January 2004

City Pupils Shy Away from Civil Services

Hyderabad - The record number of applications received for the Group I exam is an exception rather than the norm for the times, for youngsters have been shying away from public service commission exams in recent years. It is not just the AP Public Service Commission exams (APPSC) that have no takers in the city, the all-India Civil Services Exam of the IAS exam also has fewer aspirants. "Youngsters are in search of quick money and their best bet is to go abroad and finish their master's in a jiffy and get jobs,'' said Gopal Krishna, who runs an IAS coaching centre in Himayatnagar. "You need to be very patient when attempting the IAS exam. Unless the student is ready to dedicate at least two years, he/she can't expect to qualify. Youngsters today lack that patience,'' he said. There was a brain drain in the latter half of the '90s, but after the September 11 attacks in the US, it became difficult for dark-skinned people to get admission in colleges abroad and that is when people started looking at civils and APPSC exams again, he said.

Almost all IAS coaching centres in the city say there is not enough awareness about public service exams among youngsters in Hyderabad . A majority of students taking coaching in the city are from smaller towns in the state. Students agree. "I hear it is too much hard work. It will take me almost three years to get to work. I can't wait so long,'' said S Pallavi , a science student from a city college. "I think people who appear for the exams are either rich and in no hurry to start earning or are passionate about making it to the IAS or IPS,'' said P Aditya, an engineering graduate from Chikkadpally. The dishonest picture associated with the career only adds to its unpopularity. "I agree not all bureaucrats are dishonest, but I don't want to put myself in any position where I would have to deal with the corrupt scum of society,'' said another engineering student, P Siri.

From Times of India, India, 5 January 2004

Civil Servants' to Get 3 Percent Pay Raise

Wages for civil servants will rise 3 percent this year, the government announced on Friday. The Civil Service Commission said that the pay increase was intended to stabilize the livelihood of government employees and boost their morale. The government is also hoping the measure will result in an improvement of service quality for citizens. The pay hike plan was announced at yesterday's Cabinet meeting. This increase is far lower than that of previous years, following 6.5 percent last year, 7.8 percent in 2002, 7.9 percent in 2001 and 9.7 percent in 2000. "We decided to go with a milder pay raise because of the economic downturn and the resulting contraction of revenue generation," said commission official. However, the increment might be raised by 0.88 percentage points to 3.88 percent as the government is considering an additional increase in November of some allowances for civic servants.

From Korea Times, South Korea, 2 January 2004

Burma's Military Junta Said It Would Add 5000 Kyats to All the Salaries of the Civil Servant

Although Burma's military junta, the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) said it would add 5000 kyats to all the salaries of the civil servants and cut the subsidised basic commodities for them, there have some confusing differences from one department to another. Some departments would continue to receive rice and the supplies for other department would be cut in the middle of the year. It is not clear whether the 5000 kyat 'bonus' is the salary hike or substitute for rice. Civil servants from some towns had already received the money at the end of December but others have yet to receive the promised money.

At Monywa in central Burma, educational civil servants not only haven't received the money, parts of their unpaid salaries were sliced off by the authorities. On the other hand, staff in Rangoon University were told that they would still receive rice and cooking oil along with the salary hike. But part-time labourers who do not receive rice and oil are not likely to be entitled to the hike. Critics claim that the junta is trying to placate the discontented civil servants with the hike rather than helping them overcome their difficulties. The junta needs the supports of all civil servants especially those in education department, the police and the army for its 'road map' plan to work. But some observers believe the hike could trigger off far worse inflationary problems in the country.

From Democratic Voice of Burma, Norway, 7 January 2004

China to Crack Down on Unlawful Legal Services Organizations

Beijing - China will ban illicit legal services organizations in 2004, in an effort to regulate the market, Minister of Justice Zhang Fusen said here Wednesday. Similar nationwide campaigns were launched by China in 1988 and 1993, Zhang said. Zhang explained that some legal services organizations do not meet the operational requirements, and some have been set up without approval. Meanwhile, different organizations are supervised by different government organs, which has resulted in unclear and overlapping management. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Ministry of Civil Affairs and State Administration for Industry and Commerce made a joint inspection of the legal services market in seven provinces in 2003,and then submitted a proposal for rectifying the market to the State Council, China's cabinet. Zhang said that legal services organizations violating the regulations should be improved and rectified, and illicit organizations should be prohibited.

He said that lawyers and law offices are the mainstay of the legal services market, but other legal services organizations would be retained in rural areas due to a shortage of lawyers and law offices there. In cities, these organizations will withdraw from lawsuits gradually, and specifically provide public legal counseling. Meanwhile, China will take measures to regulate the conduct of lawyers, and improve their professional ethics and credibility, Zhang said. "We hope that lawyers will be trustworthy and not charge irrationally high fees," he said. The MOJ and the Supreme People's Court will issue a joint regulation to supervise the conduct of and exchanges between lawyers and judges in lawsuits. So far, some 20 provinces keep credibility records for legal services workers, and the MOJ plans to promote this in 2004, according to Zhao Dacheng, director of the Lawyers and Notarial Affairs Department of the MOJ.

From Xinhua, China, 7 January 2004

Imbalanced Promotion Discourages Public Servants

The Grand National Party (GNP) and the Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) criticized Cheong Wa Dae over Wednesday's massive promotion of high ranking executive officials as "imbalanced appointments disregarding law and procedures." Gu Sang-Chan, vice spokesperson of the GNP, harshly commented, "On the surface, the government is emphasizing a balanced and fair system and procedures, but in fact, it is ignoring even the law to favor people who are on its side." Kim Yeong-chan, vice spokesperson of the MDP said, "This kind of unfair promotion will give a sense of loss to general public servants and discourage them." He also urged, "The government should withdraw its promotion immediately and set a good example of observing law and procedures as a superior government agency."

From Donga, South Korea, by Myoung-Gun Lee (gun43@donga.com), 7 January 2004

16 Sabah Civil Servants Among 36 Held over Corruption

Kota Kinabalu - The Anti Corruption Agency (ACA) arrested 36 people including 16 civil servants last year over allegations of corruption made against them by the people, Sabah ACA Director Mohamad Shukri Abdull said Wednesday. Information on their alleged corruption was passed on to the ACA offices in the state, he said in a statement. "The Sabah ACA wishes to thank them and hopes the people will continue to cooperate with the ACA in the future." Mohamad Shukri said that last year the Sabah ACA received 950 pieces of information from the people and following this the ACA opened 318 investigation files. "The remaining information was not related to corruption and was either passed on to the relevant departments for their attention or the ACA took no further action," he said. Mohamad Shukri urged people with information about corrupt activities to forward it to the nearest ACA office. The Kota Kinabalu ACA office address is Tingkat 3, Blok D, Kompleks Kuwasa, Jalan Karamunsing. Tel Nos 088-232255/233550. That of the Sandakan ACA office: Tingkat 7, Bangunan Persekutuan, Jalan Labuk.Tel No 089-668746/668496 and the Tawau ACA Office Tingkat 6, Bangunan Persekutuan, Tawau. Tel No 089-772743/753005.

From Utusan Malaysia Online, Malaysia, 7 January 2004

Sultan Wants Civil Servants To Be Honest and Transparent

Sabak Bernam - Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah of Selangor Wednesday night urged civil servants to be honest and transparent when performing their duties to avoid being linked to negative elements such as graft and misuse of power. He said the public's expectations of the civil service was high nowadays as more of them were educated, making them realise their rights when dealing with the Government. The Sultan said the state government was serious in combating corruption at all levels. "Civil servants are always blamed for a number of negative elements due to the irresponsible acts of several of their colleagues. Stay away from these elements for your own good, for the service and for the State," he said at a banquet with Sabak Bernam's civil servants here in conjunction with his three-day official visit to the district beginning Wednesday. The Sultan also urged Government officers to perform their duties efficiently.

He said delays in work would result in a backlog and would burden the public. He also wanted projects for the people's benefit to be expedited, especially in rural areas. Earlier Wednesday, Sultan Sharafuddin began his official visit to Sabak Bernam with a district development briefing by the District Officer, Abdul Ghani Zainuddin, here Wednesday. In the two-hour briefing, the Sultan was updated on the various projects, such as Bandar Baru Sg. Lang which was proposed as the Education Cradle of Selangor in 2010. He also visited the Mini Expo site at Dataran Tanah Lesen in the afternoon. The Sultan was accompanied by Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo and State Secretary Datuk Abdul Aziz Yusof on the visit.

From Utusan Malaysia Online, Malaysia, 7 January 2004

Public Servants Engrossed in Roh's Favorite Books

Senior public servants are engrossed in reading three books about change, which were recommended by President Roh Moo-hyun, elected on the platform of reform last year. The three books are ``The Change Monster, The Human Forces that Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change'' by Jeanie Daniel Duck, ``Harvard Business Review on Change'' by John P. Kotter et al, and ``The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organization'' also by Kotter. The trio deal with how to effectively change organizations, how to deal with inner resistance, and what variables affect change as well as how to drum up support from within. They were recommended personally by President Roh for the new year, and most government ministers read them prior to a debate on state affairs held Jan. 3.

That the President personally recommended them has made the three books a must-read for virtually all public servants. Some think, however, the reading fever has gone too far. Officials at Health-Welfare Ministry, after making an abstract for the minister and vice minister who attended the Jan. 3 debate, also circulated the abridged version of the three books via e-mail. At a workshop to be attended by most of the ministry officials from today in South Chungchong Province, the three books will also be provided as the raw material for debate, divided into three subjects. "We felt a need to familiarize ourselves with the change-oriented mind the books advocate to conduct better reforms," said an official.

From Korea Times, South Korea, by Seo Soo-min, 8 January 2004

Civil Servant

Australian researchers have designed an unmanned aerial vehicle using low-cost systems, making it affordable for civil as well as military use. The helicopter-like Mantis, designed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial ResearchOrganisation (CSIRO), can be told in advance where to go and what to do, and will then launch, complete the task and return without further assistance. The UAV could be used for tasks that may be dangerous for humans, like monitoring power lines, traffic and forest fires, and difficult jobs such as 3D site mapping and inspection of bridges and buildings. A swarm of vehicles could even be used to locate survivors during air sea rescue searches. 'The major task in developing Mantis', said Dr. Peter Corke of CSIRO Complex Systems Integration, 'was to produce an inertial sensing system and a computer vision system to control and provide flight stability and to guide the aircraft.' 'The inertial sensing system behaves somewhat like our inner ear, providing balance and indicating the orientation of the helicopter in the air.

The instrument, custom developed by CSIRO, uses low-cost MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems) sensors and is fabricated from magnesium alloy and weighs only 75 g.' 'This is much lighter than current technology and is one of the major reasons we were able to make the brains of the Mantis light enough to be carried by such a small helicopter', Dr. Corke says. The vision system uses two miniature cameras, and CSIRO-developed software running on a medium-powered onboard computer. 'Just as we use our two eyes to estimate the distance of an object, the helicopter uses the data from the two cameras to estimate its height above ground, a very important thing to know.' 'The on-board computer also observes the changes in the image over time and from this it estimates its speed over the ground', says Corke.

While Mantis can connect with the global GPS network it is not solely reliant on a GPS signal for operation, reducing the cost of the design, adds Dr. Corke. The military are also interested in UAVs, and this technology has received a lot of media attention this year. Dr. Corke says, 'They have, however, generally used very precise GPS guidance equipment, which require an expensive unit onboard the aircraft as well as expensive equipment on the ground'. 'While GPS may seem like an ideal technique to use, it has many drawbacks in practice, particularly in built environments near large structures which can obscure or reflect the signals from the GPS satellites.' By reducing the weight of the computer system, the Mantis helicopter measures just 1.5m long and just over 50cm high.

From E4engineering.com, UK, 12 January 2004

Civil Service to Adopt PM's Formula

The five-point winning work culture outlined by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will be given special attention in the ongoing improvisation programme for the 900,000 civil servants nationwide. Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Samsudin Osman said today the formula would be incorporated in long-term plans towards increasing efficiency. "We regard the Prime Minister's statement as a directive to improve the quality of the civil service and while this is being continuously carried out, special attention will be given to the initiatives outlined." Samsudin said this after visiting Pusat Tenunan Kampung Kempadang, the Sungai Lembing Museum and a deer sanctuary in Sungai Jin.

He was asked to comment on Abdullah's five-point initiative, among others, calling for a mental and attitude change in striving for excellence and adopting good leadership principles. The Prime Minister had also called on political leaders to work closely with civil servants to prevent erosion of confidence in the public service. On the National Integrity Plan aimed at raising public commitment to curb corruption, Samsudin said it was expected to be ready by next month. He also said seminars organised by the State Secretariat with university students, non-governmental organisations, political leaders and the private sector had been productive, with participants giving valuable input on ways to eradicate corruption.

From New Straits Times, Malaysia, by V. Ramanan, 12 January 2004

Government to Build 100,000 Houses for Civil Servants

Jakarta - The Regional Infrastructure and Settlement Ministry plans to build 100,000 houses for civil servants as part of its program to build one million units in 2004. The 100,000 units would be part of a total 200,000 low-cost houses that would be built under the program, Regional Infrastructure and Settlement Minister Soenarno said here Tuesday. The ministry had discussed the issue with the Advisory Board for Housing Deposit (Bapertarum), the Agency of Land Affairs (BPN), the Association of Low-cost Housing Developers (Aspersi) and Indonesian Real Estate (REI).

From The Globe and Mail, Canada, 14 January 2004

Top Public Servants Get More Breathing Time on Disclosing their Perks

Lobbying by public servants has delayed the introduction of any new disclosure rules for bureaucrats by at least a year. This is despite the recent recommendation of the Commonwealth auditor that the Government provide more detailed disclosure of the remuneration of ministers and top bureaucrats. Companies will be required to reveal the total amount - including all benefits - paid to their top five executives, and to put a value on the shares and options allocated to each executive under new rules for disclosure of corporate executives' salaries likely to be unveiled next week by he Australian Accounting Standard Board. These rules were originally intended to apply equally to the public and private sectors.

The board's chairman, David Boymal, told the Herald there was concern in the public service about whom the disclosure rules should apply to and the level of disclosure required. On top of their base salaries, politicians and senior bureaucrats receive generous travel and communications allowances and big superannuation payments. As a result, the board decided to closely consider the bureaucrats' concerns before requiring changes. Mr. Boymal said any new disclosure rules for the public service would not take effect until at least 2005. The board is due to sign the new remuneration disclosure rules for listed companies at a meeting next week. Companies will have to apply the new standards in their financial accounts for the year ended June 30, 2004.

From Sydney Morning Herald, Australia, by Cosima Marriner, 14 January 2004

Top Public Service Salaries Jump

Salaries of Australia's top public servants grew by almost 6 per cent last year, with an elite band cracking the $400,000 mark. However, a veil of secrecy prevents taxpayers discovering the precise breakdown of how the heads of government departments and major agencies are paid. An Advertiser survey of more than 100 departments, agencies and publicly-owned corporations has found that nine top chiefs were paid more than $400,000 in 2002-03. Australia Post boss Graeme John is the highest paid, with almost $1.88 million last year. The average salary of a public service boss in 2002-3 was just over $300,000. But in the private sector, seven-figure salaries for chief executives are the norm. Public service heads were paid more than Prime Minister John Howard, whose base salary is $267,176. The pay packages of most key public servants are set each year by the Remuneration Tribunal.

But the salaries of departmental secretaries are determined by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Some public servants paid under $400,000 who gained significant pay rises last year included Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty, whose salary rose about 18 per cent to almost $340,000, and Immigration Department secretary Bill Farmer, whose salary rose 12.5 per cent to about $370,000. The secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peter Shergold, was paid $250,000 for six months in the job. Hays Personnel director Jacky Carter said the base salaries of senior government employees were often similar to those in the private sector, but their total remuneration was less because there was no profit-sharing in contracts. Ms Carter said this made it difficult to recruit candidates for government agencies.

From Advertiser, Australia, by Mark Phillips, 14 January 2004

Five Top Civil Servants Transferred

The government yesterday transferred five top civil servants as part of its current reshuffle to make the civil administration dynamic. Secretary of the Ministry of Textile Syed Tanveer Hussain has been transferred to the Ministry of Environment and Forest, according to an official notification yesterday. He has been replaced with Secretary of the Energy Division Azizul Islam. The position of secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Forest has fallen vacant following the expiry of the contract of Sabihuddin Ahmed. Sabihuddin has been appointed Ambassador to Sweden. Chairman of the Handloom Board Taj Mohammad has been made Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs. His replacement is yet to be appointed. Secretary in-charge of the Ministry of Liberation War Affairs Nazrul Islam has been transferred to the Energy Division of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources. Divisional Commissioner of Chittagong Iqbal Uddin Ahmed Chowdhury has been made Acting Secretary of the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock. Official sources said more changes will take place immediately as contract of several secretaries will expire soon.

From The Daily Star, Bangladesh, 15 January 2004

Longer Break for Civil Servants

Putrajaya - More than 800,000 civil servants will enjoy a longer Chinese New Year holiday break this year which starts on Jan 22 as Jan 24, which falls on the fourth Saturday of the month, has been declared a rest day. This means that instead of the normal two days of uninterrupted holiday, civil servants will enjoy a stretch of four days. The rest day on Jan 24 will be replaced by the first Saturday of February which falls on Feb 7. According to a Public Services Department circular, the Government has decided to amend the date of the rest days to enable those celebrating Chinese New Year to enjoy a longer holiday.

From The Star, Malaysia, 16 January 2004

Public Servants Threaten to Stop Politicians' Pay

A long-running pay dispute between the South Australian Government and the state's public servants could hit MPs in the back pocket. The Public Service Association (PSA) has threatened to freeze the pay of the Premier and his ministers unless a wage offer to its 35,000 members is increased. The PSA is fighting to have the offer lifted from 3 per cent to 6 per cent over the next two years. PSA general secretary Jan McMahon says pay officers may refuse to authorise payments to MPs' bank accounts. "That will be considered by members at a meeting to held on Wednesday," she said. "There'll be lots of other stoppages considered there, including any overtime within the public sector - that is, if they want to work overtime they'll have to be paid. "They will not be talking time in lieu and that in itself will cost the Government tens of thousands of dollars." Speaking from Darwin, South Australian Premier Mike Rann has described the threat as a publicity stunt. "I couldn't care less about my pay - all I can tell you is that the PSA pay negotiations, as with other pay negotiations, as with the teachers last time round, will be done properly and not under threat," Mr Rann said.

From ABC Online, Australia, 17 January 2004

Hong Kong Civil Servant Encouraged for Continued Dedication

It is hoped that Hong Kong's civil servant will continue to perform their duties and serve the citizens with total dedication, said Secretary for the Civil Service Joseph W P Wong Wednesday in a letter to all of his colleagues. In the letter, conveying the Chinese Lunar New Year greetings to the civil servant, Wong said monkey is a symbol of agility and vivacity and "it is my wish that in the Year of the Monkey, our civil service will, as always, demonstrate its adaptability by responding pro-actively to forthcoming changes and challenges." "The past year saw a spate of trials and turbulence for both our economy and society. Yet our civil service has made tremendousefforts and displayed professionalism in maintaining the stabilityof our society and contributing towards the revival of our economy," said Wong. Wong said that, in his policy address released earlier this month, Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee Hwa has commended the civil service for its continued dedication to implementing government policies and providing quality public services while coping with immense work pressure. "Here I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all civil service colleagues for your devotion and hard work," added Wong.

From Xinhua, China, 21 January 2004

Decentralisation Row over Job Ad for Top Civil Servant

Civil Applicants for a senior civil service post have been told they must be prepared to work anywhere in the State, a move which has sparked a new row over decentralisation, writes Chris Dooley, Industry and Employment Correspondent In an advertisement for the post of assistant secretary, the Department of Justice said it was "obliged to transfer staff" under the Government's decentralisation programme. "The person appointed must be willing to accept liability to transfer to any location that may be designated for the Department," it said. The stipulation has angered senior civil servants, who received the advertisement in internal emails on Friday. Mr. Seán Ó Riordáin, general secretary of the Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants (AHCP), said it suggested a "no Dubliners need apply" policy was being introduced in the public service.

A number of members had contacted the union yesterday to say they could not apply for a job in an unspecified location. Unions were not consulted about the terms of the advertisement, the first for an assistant secretary since the plan to decentralise 10,000 public servants was announced in the budget. A Department of Finance spokesman said he could not say if the stipulation would become standard for all civil service vacancies until discussions had taken place with unions. He also denied that it placed a question mark over the Government's promise that all transfers would be voluntary. "In the past jobs were advertised in Dublin, and it was open to someone in Tipperary or anywhere else to apply if they wished." Mr. Ó Riordáin said the stipulation would reduce the number of candidates for one of the most important security-related posts in the State.

The successful applicant's responsibilities will include management of the State's prisons. Some 200 Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform staff are to move to Tipperary under the programme. Asked why the advertisement had not specified Tipperary as the location for the new post, the spokesman said agencies controlled by the Department were transferring to a number of locations so it might choose to change its management structure. The higher civil servants association is to hold a special delegate conference on the decentralisation issue at the end of next month. The post of assistant secretary is one of the most senior in the civil service, and carries a salary ranging from €95,500 to €109,000.

From Chosun Ilbo, South Korea, 20 January 2004

SA Government Offers Revised Pay Deal for Public Servants

The South Australian Government is hoping public servants will lift their work bans today after promising to make a revised pay offer within a fortnight. The State Government met with the Public Service Association (PSA) late on Tuesday. After the meeting, SA Industrial Relations Minister Michael Wright promised that the State's public servants would get a pay rise, with an offer to be made within two weeks. "In return I asked for all the bans to be lifted and I would hope that the members would agree to that," Mr. Wright said. The Minister says he will not give public servants what they want, a 12 per cent pay rise over two years. PSA general secretary Jan McMahon says she will urge members a meeting today not to ban the processing of State Minister's pay. "However, it's up to worksite reps as to whether they want to escalate," she said. It is not clear whether improved maternity leave conditions will be included in the government's new offer.

From ABC Online, Australia, 21 January 2004

Top Civil Servant Questioned over Foreshore

Maori finally got a senior government official on the stand over the foreshore and seabed controversy but failed to land any punches. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet chief executive Mark Prebble gave evidence yesterday at the Waitangi Tribunal's foreshore and seabed hearing in Wellington. But the country's most senior civil servant, whose department has formulated the unpopular policy, successfully avoided giving any ground to Maori despite being questioned extensively by several claimant lawyers. The three-hour shadow boxing exhibition left claimants frustrated and bemused as tribunal members and lawyers tried to pin Mr. Prebble against the ropes. He refused repeatedly to be drawn on issues ranging from whether the final deal will give Maori marine farming rights to whether ministers were in the best position to approve the policy.

He even avoided saying whether his department was on schedule to have the draft legislation by the Government's self-imposed deadline of early March. "We're working on it. I'm doing the very best, we're working hard." He also refused to release documents drafted by officials for ministers, saying they would be unhelpful. Mr. Prebble confirmed the Government's policies on aquaculture, oceans and marine reserves were stalled till the foreshore was dealt with. But his overall performance only reinforced the Government's determination to push on with its plans to vest ownership of the foreshore and seabed in public domain title and prevent Maori ownership, regardless of what the tribunal says. The tribunal's presiding judge, Carrie Wainwright, told lawyers Mr. Prebble was not there to "add gloss" to the Government's policy.

After lawyer Tim Castle failed several times to get Mr. Prebble to comment on the policy or process, Judge Wainwright stepped in. She said Mr. Castle was getting close to "flogging a dead horse. Mr. Prebble will not comment on the process". National's Maori affairs spokeswoman Georgina Te Heuheu said Mr. Prebble's contribution to the inquiry was always going to be marginal given he did not decide policy. "He's a faceless bureaucrat. It's totally consistent with the Crown's approach towards the whole hearing." The Crown's other lawyer, customary rights expert Paul McHugh, said Maori had substantial rights to the foreshore and seabed. But he said they would not amount to freehold title but instead a bundle of rights that while giving Maori certain privileges, did not give them exclusive ownership. Dr McHugh said the Government had tried to specify Maori rights but also needed to do the same for the general public.

From Stuff.co.nz, New Zealand, 22 January 2004

Indonesia's 'Bloated' Civil Service Set to Grow by 1M

Indonesia is planning to hire 1m new civil servants over the next three years despite concerns expressed by foreign investors, donors and institutions such as the World Bank that it already has a bloated government bureaucracy. The plan, announced this week by three government ministers, would see the new civil servants hired primarily for the ailing health and education sectors. In comments reported in the local press yesterday and confirmed by aides, the ministers argued the move would be in line with Indonesia's population growth. The archipelago of 18,000 islands has a population of almost 220m people, making it the world's fourth most populous nation. The country's current 3.5m civil servants account for only about 1.6 per cent of its population, the ministers argued, putting it far below the ratio in neighbouring countries such as Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore.

"We want to increase the number [of civil servants] to at least 2 per cent of the total population in the next three years," Feisal Tamin, minister for administrative reform, was quoted as saying by the English-language Jakarta Post. However, most foreign investors see Indonesia's bureaucracy as a bloated barrier to business. More foreign investment is vital if Indonesia is to return to the 6-7 per cent growth it needs to absorb millions of new entrants to the labour force. Dominated by survivors from the Suharto era, the public service is seen as the source of much of the rampant corruption that regularly puts Indonesia at the bottom of watchdog Transparency International's annual rankings. Experts say the last thing Indonesia needs is more civil servants. Government schools and clinics suffer from high rates of absenteeism. The average first-grade teacher attends school for less than three hours a day, a World Bank survey found last year, while government doctors had an "astounding" absenteeism rate of 42 per cent. Additional reporting by Taufan Hidayat.

From Financial Times, UK, by Shawn Donnan, 21 January 2004

Public Servants Target Government Revenue

Adelaide - Industrial action by state government employees has pressured the SA Labor government to negotiate around a new industrial agreement. Four months ago, the Public Service Association of SA lodged a claim for a 12% pay rise over two years. The SA government claimed its "final" offer was a 6% pay rise over two years. In response, the PSA mounted an industrial campaign targeting the government's revenue-raising. On January 6, employees of the SA Land Titles Office voted to ban overtime, after management asked them to work overtime three out of five days to overcome a backlog. On the same day, PSA members began targeting a prime source of government revenue by standing at selected major intersections, holding placards advising motorists that speed cameras were in operation, and asking them to drive safely.

In a January 6 press statement, PSA state secretary Jan McMahon said that, "Our members are well aware of the recent pay rises awarded to judges (12.5%), the government's own political staff (average of 11% with some increases as high as 20%) and other public sector workers in the health sector (4%). "Couple this with the increased cost of power and water and general increase in the government fees and charges (3.9%) like motor vehicle registration, and our members do not believe their claim is unreasonable." The action subsequently spread. State library workers voted not to charge for school tours, photocopying and digital imaging. Road transport inspectors banned shift work and court appearances in traffic cases. Industrial relations minister Michael Wright's response was that the union would have to wait until he returned from his holidays. On January 14, speed camera operators joined the industrial action, refusing to replace film or operate cameras.

A few days later, PSA members working in public hospitals, in effect, banned overtime by demanding payment rather than time off in lieu. All these actions received widespread and generally sympathetic coverage in the mainstream media. A report in the January 18 Sunday Mail that PSA members in charge of government payrolls were considering blocking the pay of Premier Mike Rann and government ministers drew a furious response from Peter Lewis, the parliamentary speaker. He described the threat to ministers' wages as "tantamount to treason". On January 20, Wright finally met with PSA officials and told them that the government was prepared to make an improved offer. A meeting of nearly 200 PSA delegates the next day voted to give the minister seven days to respond, and as a sign of "good faith" to not go ahead with blocking ministers' pay. However, they voted overwhelmingly to maintain the current bans until the government responds.

From Green Left Weekly, by John Nebauer, 28 January, 2004

 

Civil Servants 'Most Committed to Job'

One in four employees is planning to quit their jobs, a survey reveals today. 47% drifted into their job or settled for their post after failing to get a higher position. Around a quarter (26%) said that they view their current job as just a way to pay the bills. The Consumer Analysis Group surveyed 1000 full-time employees aged between 20 and 65 across England for the poll, commissioned by Foundation Degrees. The average employee has worked in three different sectors or has had three different careers during their working life. 71% of workers class themselves as permanent career "drifters". 40% of the workforce said they were disadvantaged by the decisions they made as youngsters, which made their career dreams unattainable.

Workers in the financial sector are the least satisfied, with 53% looking to move from their current job. Employees in education (68%) and the health service (64%) are most likely to show career satisfaction by saying that they are in their dream job. More warehouse and factory workers (71%) than any other sector state that their job is just a way to pay the bills. Civil servants are the most committed to their vocation, with the lowest number of career changes. Retail has the most employees who actively "loath" their jobs (75%). Those in the building trade have on average more career changes (5.1) between them. 93% said they would be prepared to devote two years to study for a qualification if they thought it would help them land them their dream job.

From The Scotsman, UK, by Sherna Noah, 5 January 2004

Move Civil Service Jobs to our Town, Says MP

Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman is fighting for hundreds of government jobs to be based in the town. Chancellor Gordon Brown wants about 10% of civil service jobs in London and the south east - around 20,000 - to be relocated to the regions. Now Government official Sir Michael Lyons is looking into the practicalities of the proposal in the Lyons Review. His findings will be published in March this year. Mr. Sheerman said: "I have been talking to Kirklees Council about how we could get our share in to Kirklees. "Huddersfield could well accommodate one of the smaller quangos which employ between 200 and 500 people. "Ofsted is up for grabs, but that is a much larger organisation and would probably better be suited to somewhere like Leeds or Sheffield. "But the Adult Learning Inspectorate might be appropriate to come to Huddersfield." Mr. Sheerman said talks were well advanced over the proposed moves. "It's a real opportunity for Huddersfield and for Yorkshire. "One of my targets this year is to get higher levels of skill in to the area, to get more people graduating and living and working in Huddersfield and if there are good quality jobs here people are more likely to stay."

Tony Elson, chief executive of Kirklees Council, said: "We have been very keen to work with Barry Sheerman on this. And we would work very hard to provide support to anyone who did relocate to this area. "Any additional jobs would also act as a spurt into regeneration as people would spend money in local shops, eat at local restaurants and generally contribute to the local economy." Sir Michael Lyons said the potential benefits of relocation include: * Cost savings to Departments through improved recruitment and retention and lower labour and accommodation costs. * Better service delivery to customers and improved quality of life to employees due to lower house prices and commute times which are often half those of staff based in central London. Chancellor Gordon Brown is reported saying: "I am convinced that further decentralisation of public sector activities can lead to improved service delivery as well as provide a good deal for the taxpayer."

From Huddersfield Daily Examiner, UK, 7 January 2004

Union Takes Aim at 'Lazy' Civil Servants

Signaling a change in his organization's traditional approach to negotiations, the president of the German Civil Servants' Federation has called for performance-related pay while implicitly stating that some of his members now find little incentive to work hard. "We need more ways to intervene against lazy civil servants," Peter Heesen told Berliner Zeitung newspaper last Friday. A spokeswoman for Verdi, a union that represents some civil servants but is dominated by public employees who do not have full civil servant status, said he was "astonished" by the comment, adding that Heesen was implying that many public sector workers were slacking off. In the interview, however, Heesen stressed that most civil servants were delivering good value for money, but were distressed when colleagues did not show the same level of dedication. "Anyone who through his own fault delivers consistently poor service," he said, "has to except to be demoted."

A spokesman for Interior Minister Otto Schily, who is directly responsible for close to 1 million federal civil servants, said the government would be eager to discuss performance-related pay, which it has long supported. The minister is generally satisfied that the great majority of civil servants work hard, and the public should realize that there are disciplinary measures available to deal with those who do not, the spokesman added. While calling for reforms to how civil servants work, Heesen rejected calls - repeated again recently by North Rhine-Westphalia Premier Peer Steinbrück - to end civil servant status for all but a few groups working in particularly sensitive areas, the largest being police officers and prosecutors. Currently, close to 2 million civil servants enjoy various advantages - notably an exemption from pension premiums, better health insurance and total job security - not extended to ordinary public employees who in many cases work alongside them in similar jobs.

But civil servants, who are forbidden from striking, say they have also been an easy target for financially hard-pressed governments, with many states freezing pay levels and slashing the customary Christmas bonus in recent years. Showing skepticism that Heesen's comments would have much impact on working practices was the Baden-Württemberg economics minister, Walter Döring. "The federal parliament and all the state parliaments are dominated by civil servants, who enjoy their privileges and who are not exactly keen on reform," he said. Döring said change was unlikely until the number of civil servants in politics - they make up 25 percent of all parliament members, according to a recent survey by the Bild newspaper - is reduced. The best way, he said, would be to scrap the guarantee that civil servants can return to their old jobs in case of an election defeat.

From Frankfurter Allgemeine, Germany, by Michael Gavin, 9 January 2004

Civil Servants End Pay Stalemate

Civil servants have voted to accept the latest pay offer and bring an end to many months of stalemate. A ballot over Christmas of 1,487 members of the Government Officers' Association saw an overwhelming number of respondents agree to a two-year deal from the Civil Service Commission. The package, which the union had recommended members accept, includes a 4.2 per cent increase backdated to August 1 and a 3.5 per cent rise - or inflation, whichever is higher - from August this year. In addition, it includes a benefits package which the GOA says brings the overall increase close to the 5.3 per cent which it was calling for. The ballot saw 72 per cent of papers returned, of which 85 per cent voted to accept the deal, which will be implemented from next month. GOA secretary Eric Clucas was pleased with the response and relieved the negotiations are finally over. He said: 'I think if you're getting more than 70 per cent responding you are doing quite well.

The majority is quite resounding, although the association did recommend that members accept it. 'If you look at it, of all the ballot papers issued, I think it is about 61 per cent - the majority of people have agreed to it, even taking into account those who did not vote.' Mr. Clucas said negotiations had started in November 2002. 'We're happy to get that resolved and it gives us a bit of breathing space,' he explained. 'That now leaves us free to discuss with the CSC the new pay and grading system.' The deal included a one-off lump sum for those workers who missed out on an interim pay deal last year. However, as this isn't pensionable or added to salary, Mr. Clucas said the union would continue to negotiate for an improved deal for these members. The pay saga saw the union turn down two offers - an initial 2.7 per cent increase and another of 3.5 per cent in September - after which the CSC said it was ready to refer the deal to an independent arbitration. However, it then came back with the offer which has finally settled the situation.

From Isle of Man, UK, 8 January 2004

PM Urged to Lead on Civil Service Bill

The prime minister should take the lead in championing a civil service bill if he wishes to restore trust in government, a top sleaze watchdog has said. In an interview with ePolitix.com Sir Nigel Wicks, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said that the introduction of legislation could be "a big step in restoring some of the public trust" that has been lost in recent years. And his call was backed by Oliver Heald, shadow leader of the Commons, who was on Monday presenting a Civil Service Bill to parliament. Sir Nigel said that, in general, public affairs in Britain are conducted to high levels of propriety while standards in the Commons have risen since the scandals of the mid-1990s. "However, having said all of this it is with considerable regret that as I am coming to the end of my three years as chairman of the committee there does seem to be, despite what I say, a lack of trust in public office holders," he added. "There is a good deal of both anecdotal and some survey evidence that trust in public institutions, public office holders has, in recent years, diminished somewhat."

The watchdog suggested that the introduction of a civil service bill to regulate the relationships between ministers, civil servants, special advisers and parliament could be one way to address public mistrust. "I don't ask for a great thick tome, I think if it was a thick tome it would be a mistake, I don't think it should be over-prescriptive," he said. "But if we did have a civil service bill which rested on a firm platform of consensus, I think it could be a big step in restoring some of the public trust in public institutions, particularly in central government, which by all accounts seems to have fallen away recently." Wicks said that delays in implementing such legislation could be a result of the prime minister's failure to champion its introduction. "You have a champion always for an education bill, you have a champion if you want an asylum bill, the home secretary, but there is no real champion for a civil service bill. And therefore there is a tendency for it to be squeezed out," he said. "Personally I think the champion for a civil service bill should be the prime minister. I think it is the prime minister who is in overall charge of government. I think he should be the person who should champion such a bill."

His call was echoed by Oliver Heald, who urged Tony Blair to back the Civil Service Bill version being presented to parliament by the Conservatives. The Bill was drawn up by the cross-party Commons public administration select committee, which has investigated the role of special advisers in the modern civil service. "The time is long overdue for legislation which clearly sets out the role of civil servants, special advisers and ministers and gives civil servants statutory protection against political interference," Heald told ePolitix.com. "In the current environment, with the Hutton report due to be published soon, this Bill ensures that civil servants will be treated fairly in future and would provide a ready vehicle for any further changes deemed necessary by Lord Hutton."

From ePolitix, UK, 12 January 2004

Civil Servant Pay Row Escalates

Civil servants in Northern Ireland and the Government were on a collision course tonight over a pay dispute. Members of NIPSA planning to intensify industrial action were warned to consider the implications of their action. Thousands of members of public service union NIPSA are gearing up for a one-day strike at the start of next month, and two work stoppages to allow workers to attend mass rallies in the preceding two weeks. Civil Service management warned of pay being docked and people being temporarily removed from work without pay if they refused reasonable management requests to carry out duties during action short of a strike. The new industrial action follows a one-day strike in December and ongoing overtime ban. The rallies will coincide with the start of selected and extended strike action in key areas, said NIPSA. The areas facing extended strikes are: Social Security Offices, the Water Service, driver and vehicle testing centres, meat inspectors, industrial and employment tribunals.

The union today announced plans for work stoppages for mass rallies on Friday January 23 and a week later on January 30. They will be followed by a one-day strike by all 20,000 civil and public service staff on February 6 should there be no moves by management towards a resolution to the pay dispute, said NIPSA. Union general secretary John Corey said: "The blame for this escalation of industrial action lies squarely with senior civil service management and ministers. "After the strike on December 11 we formally requested further urgent negotiations to resolve this serious dispute so that the staff can have a fair and reasonable pay settlement for 2003. "We have received no response whatsoever to that request which has left us with no option but to escalate the industrial action." Information notices circulated around all Northern Ireland government departments and offices today by management urged NIPSA members to consider what they were doing and warned of possible sanctions.

It said all departments had a responsibility to protect the level of service to the public and to take "whatever steps are necessary to minimise any adverse impact on services". It said the purpose of the notice was to help staff understand their contractual obligations and provide further clarification on the "potential management actions that may be necessary in response to industrial action - particularly in the context of action short of a strike". The notice warned of withholding of pay for action short of a strike and the possibility of people being temporarily relieved of duty without pay for refusing to carry out any duties appropriate to their grade or refusing a "reasonable management request" when required to do so. It said: "This means that the officer would be asked to leave their place of work and would not be permitted to return until they were prepared to fulfil their terms and conditions of service."

From The Scotsman, UK, by Ian Graham, 14 January 2004

Germany Looks for Savings Through Overhaul of the Civil Service

The German government's efforts to tighten public finances have turned to civil servants, one of the few groups so far spared by chancellor Gerhard Schröder's reformist policies. Otto Schily, interior minister, yesterday announced an overhaul of the legislation governing the role, working conditions, pay and pension of civil servants. The first bills, aimed at keeping the state's ballooning pension bill from running out of control in coming decades, are expected to reach parliament this year. Germany's 1.7m civil servants became a focus of media attention earlier this month when Peter Heesen, head of the DBB civil service trade union, alarmed members as he called for the introduction of performance- related pay and for sanctions to be taken against "lazy civil servants". The statement, in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung daily, followed the publication of a paper by reformist Social Democratic parliamentarians demanding the abolition of the civil service in all public sector activities except the police, the judiciary, the military, the fiscal administration and diplomatic services.

Speaking at a DBB event in Bad Kissingen, a Bavarian resort, Mr Schily announced the creation of a fund to cover the pension of federal civil servants. Contributions will be financed by extending working time for state employees in the former West Germany from 38.5 hours a week to 40 hours. In addition to enjoying immunity from dismissal, civil servants, who make up about 39 per cent of all employees of the public sector, do not participate in the country's pay-as-you-go pension system. Instead, their pensions are drawn directly from the state's budget. According to economists at the Ifo institute in Dresden, without reform, the burden for the federal state and the Länder would rise from €21bn ($27bn, Ł14.5bn) in 2000 to €90.7bn in 2040. The Länder employ three-quarters of all civil servants in Germany.

From Financial Times, UK, by Bertrand Benoit and Philipp Jaklin, 13 January 2004

Civil Service Faces Changes

Campaign on how to avoid sudden infant death a huge success - The German government wants civil servants to work more hours for more years, while reducing their number and cutting their generous benefits packages. In other times that message, delivered by Interior Minister Otto Schily on Monday to the annual conference of the German Civil Servants' Federation, would probably have met with a chorus of boos. For Germany's civil servants, however, these are not normal times. The government's financial woes have already led to the loss of some of their annual bonuses and prompted a debate in the media and political circles over the fairness of civil servants' gold-plated health insurance plan and their exemption from pension premiums. With some state politicians calling for the scrapping of most civil servants' special status, and even their union's president suggesting recently that some of them had grown "lazy," the Beamte were at least prepared to politely hear Schily out.

The proposal for a performance-related pay system put forward last week by the union president, Peter Heesen, was taken up by Schily, who told the conference in the Bavarian spa town of Bad Kissingen that the government was now examining the idea. He did not give any deadlines for introducing legislation, however. Schily also said he wanted Germany to sharply reduce the number, currently about 1.7 million, of civil servants working for all three levels of government by moving toward a situation where full civil servant status would be reserved to those exercising "the sovereign authority of the state" - including police and other law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges and some tax inspectors. Other occupational groups, notably administrators as well as teachers and professors, would be classified as ordinary public employees, said Schily. While the latter group generally has de facto job security, it does not enjoy civil service pay levels or benefits. Schily warned his audience that they will have to start contributing to their own retirement plans. "The financing for the civil servants' pension system is not secure," he said.

From Frankfurter Allgemeine, Germany, by Michael Gavin, 16 January 2004

Pledge Fails to Cut Back Sick Rate in Civil Service

Absence causing Ł24m headache - Sickness absence in the Northern Ireland Civil Service has increased despite a Government pledge to tackle the problem, it was revealed today. Newly-released figures for the financial year 2002/03 showed an average absence rate of 15.4 days per staff year - costing taxpayers in the region of Ł24.3m. In the previous 12 months, the average sickness tally was 15.1 days. By contrast, the most recent Civil Service absence rate in Great Britain was 9.8 days per staff year. Ulster civil servants are not alone in having significantly higher absenteeism levels than their Great Britain counterparts. Similar problems have been identified in a range of Northern Ireland public sector workforces including teachers, police officers, firefighters, council employees and Roads and Water Service manual workers. The latest Northern Ireland Civil Service sick leave statistic of 15.1 days represents 7.0% of available working days. It was today branded as "unacceptably high" by Finance and Personnel Minister Ian Pearson. This time last year, Mr. Pearson said sickness absence in the workplace was a "priority issue" for the Government.

The Minister today acknowledged that there had been a "marginal increase" in sickness level absence despite "significant efforts" made by government departments. "The Government remains committed to tackling the problem of high sickness absence in the public sector generally," he added. Mr. Pearson was commenting after the release of an annual report on Civil Service sick leave rates here. He added: "Interestingly, the report shows that over three quarters of all working days lost due to sickness absence is attributable to a small number of staff and it is encouraging to note that almost 33% of staff had no sick absence at all during 2002/03." Today's report showed that the absence rate among female civil servants (20.0 days per staff year) was almost double that of males (10.7 days). When pregnancy-related absences were removed from the calculations the level of absence among females fell to 17.1 days - still significantly higher than the male rate. Overall, the largest proportion of Ulster Civil Service working days lost (26.1%) was due to psychiatric or psychological illnesses. The Department for Social Development had the highest sickness absence of the 11 government departments here, with 19.1 days missed per staff year. The lowest departmental tally, 10.7 days, was in the Department of Regional Development.

From Belfast Telegraph, UK, by David Gordon (dgordon@belfasttelegraph.co.uk), 16 January 2004

Civil Servants Unwilling to Transfer According to Internal Survey

The Government's decentralisation plans have taken another bashing as the results of an internal survey of civil servants reveal that as many as 85% say they won't move with their departments. According to a report in the Sunday Times, the survey at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural resources shows only 7% of them want to move to the department's new home in Cavan. At the Tánaiste's own department only 69 out of 503 respondents to a survey said they would move, while a mere 35 out of 1,100 Dublin-based staff in the Department of Agriculture, say they are prepared to move. The Government has set a three year deadline to complete its decentralisation programme, during which it's planned to see ten thousand public servants relocating out of Dublin.

From Ireland Online, Ireland, 18 January 2004

Interior Ministry Fights Corruption Among Traffic Police Officers

Moscow - The Russian Interior Ministry has developed and is carrying out a set of measures to fight corruption among its ranks. The ministry said this fight is conducted all the time and each fact of corruption is made public. The recent detention of Moscow traffic police officers suspected of legalisation of stolen foreign-made cars is one of the vivid examples of this work, the ministry said. "Each traffic police department has a control and prevention unit, a sort of internal security service. Each month they carry out several hundred special measures to expose bribe takers," a ministry official told Itar-Tass on Monday. Some time ago, a set of measures was developed for fighting bribery on the roads. They require that a hot-line telephone number should be advertised on each traffic police patrol car, by dialling which drivers can get legal counselling or report violations. In addition, one-man patrols have been prohibited.

However the most effective to fight bribery on the roads is so-called "bait cars" when "internal security officers pose as ordinary drivers and intentionally break traffic rules in order to evaluate traffic policemen's actions. Several dozen corrupt inspectors have already been detained in such a way," the official said. Earlier, Deputy Interior Minister Sergei Shchadrin told Itar-Tass that more than 400 traffic policemen had been fired in 11 months of 2003 for different violations. In 2002, 600 inspectors were stripped of their ranks. At the same time, Shchadrin believes that drivers also have to bear their share of responsibility for bribery on the roads. "Often motorists who have committed an offence do not want to wait for a protocol to be drawn up and to pay a penalty. It is much easier for them to pay the inspector," he said.

From ITAR-TASS, Russia, 19 January 2004

Local Hero

Hazel Blears tells Alan Travis why she is passionate about giving communities direct power over the management and financing of public services - There are few government members more involved in the "big conversation" debate over Labour's next manifesto than the Home Office minister, Hazel Blears, a self-confessed "local policy forum anorak". She has already been tipped by Stephen Byers as a future carrier of the New Labour flame. As minister for the police and newly appointed by Tony Blair to sit on Labour's National Executive Committee she is well placed to ensure that her passionate commitment to the "new localism" will feature strongly in Labour's third term manifesto. She argues strongly that the party cannot simply go into a third term general election campaign promising to manage public services better. It must also give the local community direct powers over the management and financing of the range of public services. It is a view that is provoking an increasingly sharp debate within Labour. Next week, Sir Jeremy Beecham, the Labour chairman of the Local Government Association, is to deliver a lecture in which he is expected to question whether new localism is compatible with representative local democracy and robust local government. He fears it will lead to a fragmentation of public services.

But Blears warns Labour councillors not to see every bit of extra democracy as a threat, and that the time for pilot schemes is over. She says she even wants to develop and train a new "cadre" of community advocates with incentives such as writing off student loans and removing the penalties faced by those on benefits who are prepared to do voluntary work. The most immediate challenge for this civic renewal agenda is in the field of police reform with competing proposals for elected sheriffs, neighbourhood panels and directly elected police authorities. Blears says that this time Labour's reform proposals have been greeted enthusiastically by the police, but questions about how much autonomy local police commanders should have and their accountability to their local community go to the heart of the new localism debate. These are not the dry schemes of some London-anchored Blairite thinktank. Blears says she has been organising local policy forums in her Salford constituency before they were a glint in the eyes of Matthew Taylor, head of the Downing Street strategy unit. More than 110 people turned up to a recent big conversation event in Salford with strong support for the naming and shaming of the subjects of antisocial behaviour orders and demands for better parenting.

Labour's consultation exercise poses the question whether the new breed of community support officers [CSOs] rather than uniformed constables should be providing the bulk of neighbourhood street patrols. Blears says it won't just be the new CSOs, whose numbers reach 4,000 this year, but others including street wardens, parking wardens and others in the "wider police family" who are providing a new visible official presence on the streets. But it is unlikely they will provide the bulk of street patrols: "My answer to that is no. I actually want to get more police officers out on the street doing that kind of community beat work. I believe in patrolling based on the intelligence you've got from the local community. In the past if you went out simply patrolling you're not going to detect crimes; you may have a deterrent effect but that won't necessarily be the best use of your resources." Blears says that these community beat operations are most developed in the North Wales force where police community beat managers deploy officers, CSOs, and wardens on the basis of action plans drawn up with the local community. "They have to decide what they're going to do in these streets, where are the drug dealers, where are the antisocial families, where are the kids running about on motorbikes, and draw up an action plan and then report back to the local people on exactly what has been done."

She says it means the debate with the community is not some general discussion about how to improve policing but instead is about deciding with local people how to use those resources that have been devolved to the community beat manager. The government's police reform consultation paper goes further and explores whether new neighbourhood community safety panels should have the money to spend on more beat patrols if that is what they want. The panel would draw in the local authority, local businesses, voluntary groups and residents. Some may be elected. "It is a genuine open consultation. It is about getting the right balance between ensuring good core standards of policing and getting some decision making at the local level. The question is, if we go down the route of local neighbourhood panels, how much autonomy in terms of budget setting and prioritisation should they have." The choices don't stop there. Another might be over whether it is better to have a police station open during the day or a one-stop shop in the housing department where you can talk antisocial behaviour, she says "That is really what the whole localism debate is going to centre around. That is where you get much wider political issues about equity and diversity; if you have something different, is that something less than equal?

You have to be prepared that in some cases people will get it wrong. You have to take risks." But she says the time for piloting such new localism experiments has passed: "I think the big challenge around localism is not to do pilots. I think the case for community involvement and community decision making across the public sector is incredibly well made. There is an evidence base now that where you involve local people your services are more acceptable. They are more responsive and they are better value for money. We have proved the case. What we need to do now, whether it is the police, health, education or transport, is say how we bring that community involvement into the way we deliver mainstream public services." Blears is well aware that such community activists need to be provided with training and backup; and that you can't simply put a member of the public into a room with a load of professionals and expect them to make these kind of decisions. She wants to develop a "ladder of participation" so that those who start off in neighbourhood watch would become street leaders then become a special constable or a magistrate or even go on to a local health patients' panel. Blears is convinced there is no shortage of volunteers and that there is a stock of social capital in even the most deprived communities.

More than 1,000 people attended a recent open day in Camden, north London, for those wanting to do something in the community. And restorative justice panels that decide what should happen to kids in trouble are all oversubscribed. But her most passionate plea is to her Labour colleagues in local government who fear she is trying to reinvent the wheel, in particular the local councillor. "Local government is not the only force that affects our lives. Companies do. Railways do. There ought to be lots of different centres of democracy. I don't see local government as the monopoly of democratic power in a community. "That doesn't mean to say I don't support local government. I do. I was a councillor for 10 years. The most confident councils are good, high performing, deliver well, and are prepared to facilitate other people having a say." She says that the introduction of patient advice liaison services in health has not reduced the role of the local councillor as a community advocate: "It helps them. It is my same message to local government. Do not see every bit of extra democracy as a threat to you. Do not see every new community advocate as treading on your toes. See them as an opportunity and not a threat. They will help you do a better job." o Hazel Blears is appearing at the Guardian's Public Services Summit, a major two-day event on January 28-29 to discuss the future of the services. More details at SocietyGuardian.co.uk/summit.

From Guardian, UK, 21 January 2004

Civil Servant Dealt Biggest Blow to Blair

Sir Kevin Tebbit delivered the biggest blow to Tony Blair's credibility over the David Kelly affair in a dramatic and belated appearance before the inquiry. The permanent undersecretary at the Ministry of Defence revealed that the crucial meeting which decided the media strategy for the scientist took place at Downing Street, with the Prime Minister in the chair. Sir Kevin said, until then, he and his Whitehall colleagues had thought that no useful purpose could be served by Dr Kelly's identity being disclosed. But he stated that the MoD "concurred" with No 10's plan. Sir Kevin knew that Dr Kelly had come forward revealing his contact with Andrew Gilligan, the BBC journalist, who had alleged that the Government had sexed up the Iraq weapons dossier on 3 July.

But he did not reveal the scientist's name to his boss, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, during a conversation, merely saying that a possible source had been found. He took the same stance with Sir David Omand, the permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, at a meeting the following day. Sir Kevin, the highest ranking civil servant in the MoD, told the inquiry he "did not want Dr Kelly's name being bandied around" and stressed to colleagues there should be "some degree of consideration for Dr Kelly". But, by 7 January, he had also learned that the Prime Minister was following the situation "very closely indeed". Sir Kevin urged Mr. Hoon three days later that Dr Kelly should be spared the ordeal of a televised hearing before the Commons' Foreign Affairs Select Committee (FAC) hearing into the Iraq war.

He wrote a memo saying: "The man came forward voluntarily - he is not on trial," and that an appearance before the FAC would give "disproportionate importance to his evidence". The Defence Secretary insisted that Dr Kelly should appear, saying that not putting him forward would be difficult "presentationally", a word much used by Alastair Campbell, Mr. Blair's director of communications, during his evidence before the inquiry. Sir Kevin told Lord Hutton that he had "glanced at" a question-and-answer crib sheet for MoD press officers - drawn up by Pam Teare, the director of news at the MoD, and Martin Howard, the deputy chief of defence intelligence - as part of the strategy to confirm Dr Kelly's name to journalists, but he maintained that he had played no part in formulating it.

From Independent, UK, by Kim Sengupta, 27 January 2004

 

Netanyahu: 3,700 Civil Servants Left the Public Sector

About 7% of the entire civil service retired or was layed off in 2003, according to Treasury sources. The number totals some 3,700 workers, Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu revealed Monday after signing an agreement with the Histadrut that ends over three months of labor sanctions in government ministries. Due to imminent changes in the government pension system, many public sector workers, especially those in the civil service have decided to take early retirement. According to his breakdown, 1,000 government ministry workers voluntarily retired, while 700 were laid off based on an agreement reached last year between the workers union and Treasury. "These retirees made their decision to the fear and uncertainty they felt," Histadrut Chairman MK Amir Peretz said in response to Netanyahu's announcement. In addition, 2,000 workers hired and paid through manpower agencies were laid off during the year, before becoming full-time employees. Yet, according to the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce said the public sector continued to expand, adding 2,900 new positions in 2003, while some 6,500 positions were eliminated in the private sector.

From Jerusalem Post, Israel, by Tal Muscal, 5 January 2004

PA Close to Default on Civil Service Wages

Hit by waning support from fatigued donor nations, the Palestinian Authority has been forced to borrow from banks to pay salaries to its 125,000 employees, and may be unable to meet the February payroll, the economy minister said Tuesday. With unemployment rampant outside the public payroll, Palestinians could be facing unprecedented economic collapse after three years of relentless conflict with Israel. "We took loans from the bank for the past couple of months to pay salaries," Palestinian Economy Minister Maher Masri told The Associated Press. "If this situation continues ... we will not be able to provide salaries next month." Masri did not disclose the size of the loans, but figures are likely to be made public when Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad presents the 2004 budget to parliament next week

. World Bank figures show about 40 percent of the Palestinian work force is unemployed and 60 percent of the population live on less than US$2 per person per day. Masri said the Palestinian Authority has a monthly income of about US$20 million and expenditures of at least US$85 million. The World Bank says donors have grown weary at the lack of progress toward Palestinian-Israeli peace, while the Palestinians are facing a US$400 million shortfall. "They are facing a crisis and its getting worse," Norwegian Mideast envoy Jakken Biorn Lian said by phone from Oslo. "They need extra contributions." Masri said that Arab declarations of support for the Palestinians was not being matched by remittances, with only Saudi Arabia and Libya agreeing to send money. "The Palestinian cause is not the world's highest priority these days," he said.

From Jerusalem Post, Israel, 13 January 2004

Hard-liners Approve more Candidates, Top Reformist Civil Servants Threaten to Resign

Hard-liners have reinstated more candidates who were barred from next month's parliamentary elections, but reformers rejected the move Friday as cosmetic. As the battle over who can run in the Feb. 20 polls continued, more than 70 senior civil servants, including more than a dozen deputy ministers, threatened to resign if the disqualification of thousands of reformist candidates was not overturned. The head of the body responsible, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, defended the Guardian Council's disqualifications of more than a third of the candidates as well-considered. State radio quoted an official of the Guardian Council, Mohammad Jahromi, as saying Friday that the number of reinstatements had risen to 350 from 200. Last week, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked the council to reconsider the disqualifications. "All legal factions have election candidates in all constituencies now," Jahromi said of the reinstatements. But Saeed Shariati, a leader of Iran's largest reformist party, dismissed the reinstatement of 350 out of more than 3,000 disqualified candidates.

"Approval of a few little-known hopefuls by the Guardian Council is meaningless. No one will be fooled by such tactics," said Shariati, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front. "As long as prominent names and thousands of liberal hopefuls remain blacklisted for their reformist views, there will be no possibility of free elections," Shariati told The Associated Press. A majority of the front's candidates have been disqualified, including their leader Mohammad Reza Khatami, a deputy speaker of parliament and a younger brother of President Mohammad Khatami. Leading reformists in the civil service and parliament have said they will make "important decisions" in the next few days if the disqualifications were not overturned. Some have already said an election boycott is likely. Others have urged the Interior Ministry to ignore the disqualifications and list all the disqualified candidates on the ballots. Reformers believe the conservatives are trying to skewer the elections in their favor. Hard-liners claim the disqualified failed to meet the legal criteria for being a member of parliament.

Among those barred from running are 80 liberals who are members of the current parliament. The disqualifications have provoked Iran's worst crisis in years. Most of the Cabinet and six vice presidents have submitted resignations in protest. Khatami has not so far accepted the resignations. Legislators have staged daily sit-ins in the parliament lobby. The civil servants who threatened to resign said in a letter to Khatami: "Mass disqualifications have infringed on the legitimate right of the nation to freely choose lawmakers and have undermined democracy ... If this trend is not reversed, we won't be able to serve in our position." The civil servants include Deputy Culture Minister Mohammad Sohofi, Deputy Cooperatives Minister Mohammad Salamati and Iran's representative to OPEC Hossein Kazempour Ardabili. A copy of their Thursday letter was given to AP on Friday. In his Friday prayer sermon at Tehran University, broadcast on national television and radio, Ayatollah Jannati said: "The quality of checking the qualification of election hopefuls -- from the first stage to the last - in the Guardian Council has been well calculated, legal and accurate."

From San Francisco Chronicle, CA, by Ali Akbar Dareini, 23 January 2004

 

Book: Bush Twins Steer Clear of Public Service

Washington - President Bush's twin daughters have shown little interest in their family's tradition of public service and are unhappy about the limelight they find themselves in, a new book says. Jenna and Barbara Bush (search) "have not campaigned or reined in their adolescent rebellions," Washington Post reporter Ann Gerhart says in the book published this week, "The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush." "They have not appeared engaged in any of the pressing issues their generation will inherit, nor shown empathy for the struggles facing their mother and their father," Gerhart says. "They don't show their faces at the White House often." The Bush daughters turned 22 in November. Barbara Bush attends Yale University, while Jenna Bush is student at the University of Texas at Austin (search).

The book recalls the twins' run-ins with the law in underage drinking incidents. The girls regard their Secret Service agents as "their chauffeurs, bellhops and valets," the book says. It says "they persist in seeing themselves as victims of daddy's job." Their parents have taken a hands-off approach toward the young women, the author says. "The only lesson they wanted to impart to their children, [their father] said during the presidential campaign, was 'that I love you. I love you more than anything. And therefore you should feel free to fail or succeed, and you can be anything you want in America."' Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for Laura Bush (search), declined to comment on the book.

From FOX New, 7 January 2004

City Board, Civil Service Board Agree On Amendment To Civil Service Act

The Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Greeneville Civil Service Board reached agreement Thursday night on a resolution to amend the town's Civil Service Act. The agreement was not "official" and no formal action on it was taken since the meeting was a work session rather than a formal meeting. At the end of the work session, however, Mayor Darrell Bryan said his board is now in a position to consider the resolution to amend the Act at the city board's next regular meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 20. Attending the work session were about 20 employees of Classified Services - the Police Department, the Fire Department and the Recorder's Office - including all three department heads. The proposed amendments to the Act are related to the newly adopted Civil Service Employee Handbook. Discusses Resolution - City Attorney Ron Woods discussed the resolution, noting that the latest change to it provides for both boards to work together and concur on job descriptions for the six positions of Police Chief, Fire Chief, Recorder and their assistants. The previous resolution, approved by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Dec. 16 but vetoed by the mayor on Dec. 17, stated that the Civil Service Board would approve such job descriptions.

Alderman Ginny Kidwell said she wants to include the three department heads in advising on the preparation of the job descriptions. The other aldermen agreed. Mayor Darrell Bryan asked if there is any potential "downfall" from the board's approving the resolution. Woods responded, "I don't think the public is going to let this process go astray. They're going to hold someone accountable." Civil Service Board member Kidwell King spoke of his meetings on Wednesday and Thursday with employees of Classified Services. He said they have expressed two main concerns - they have not been able to give input on the new employee handbook, and they have no way to communicate grievances to the board. Woods noted that two concerns expressed by the employees - the addition of impeachment procedures, and a change in how the Civil Service Board chairman is selected - would require changes to the Act. In their joint meeting Thursday evening, the boards did not consider those matters. King said the Civil Service Board and employees of Classified Services will meet to discuss such concerns, which could lead to changes to the employee handbook.

The handbook was prepared in a series of Civil Service Board workshops held over a 14-month period, and it was adopted by the Civil Service Board in November and endorsed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen in December. Alderman Sarah Webster said that the employees' concerns about the employee handbook can be addressed in changes to the handbook, and do not have to be addressed in the Act, so the Board of Mayor and Aldermen can go ahead with its consideration of the resolution. Civil Service Board Chairman Scott Saulsbury said his board has tried to expedite the approval of the Act, because it requires additional approval by the Tennessee General Assembly. He said the Civil Service Board thought the legislative approval had to be given at the first of the year. The local Civil Service Act is locally-written legislation, which was enacted by the state legislature in 1953. Sending To Legislature - The reason for the urgency, Saulsbury said, is because the Police Department has some pending promotions, which is one issue being changed in the Act.

The change primarily involves a switch from a seniority-based system to a merit-based system. Alderman Kidwell, a regional field representative for Gov. Phil Bredesen, said she had talked with a clerk in Nashville who said approval by the legislature of the resolution could be done a little later this winter. Mayor Darrell Bryan went around the table to all seven board members - Aldermen Webster, Kidwell, Laraine King and W.T. Daniels - and Civil Service Board members Brian Bragdon, Saulsbury and King, and asked if they all agree on the current resolution. Each said he or she agreed with the resolution. Alderman Daniels said he wants the employees to be happy with the board's actions, and that he hopes discussions with them will continue. "With their input and with our input, we can make this something not only good for the employees, but also good for the taxpayer," Daniels said. Bragdon apologized to the employees on behalf of the Civil Service Board for not including them in the process. "It was never our intent not to do so," he said. "We want to make sure that every person in the Classified Services has an opportunity to provide their input."

From Greeneville Sun, TN, by Amy Overbay, 9 January 2004

Defense Authorizes Up to 25,000 Buyouts for Civil Service Workers

The Pentagon has issued guidelines approving the use of cash buyouts and early retirements to help shrink and reorganize the Defense Department civil service workforce. The department can offer as many as 25,000 buyouts each fiscal year to employees who choose to resign or retire. The buyouts will be equivalent to an employee's severance pay if laid off, to a maximum of $25,000. Ginger Groeber, the Defense deputy undersecretary for civilian personnel policy, announced the department's policy on buyouts and early-outs in a memo to the department's senior personnel officials. The memo marked the department's first step in implementing the fiscal 2004 defense authorization act, which allows the Pentagon to phase in a new pay-for-performance system to replace the 15-grade General Schedule. In the memo, Groeber allocated 7,722 buyouts to the Army, 7,135 to the Navy, 5,873 to the Air Force and 4,270 to other defense agencies. She said defense officials "may immediately initiate use of this authority within the buyout allocations indicated above so long as affected employees leave government service during FY 2004."

Although the allocations were based on the restructuring needs of the armed forces, there are no estimates of how many buyout offers will actually be made and given out this year, a Pentagon personnel official said. Buyouts offered employees as part of base realignments and closures will not count toward the 25,000 ceiling established by Congress, according to the memo. Last week, the Pentagon asked base commanders to provide data for a fifth round of base closings. The information will be used to make recommendations to an independent base-closing commission next year. Buyouts, which have been authorized for use at the Defense Department in previous years, help the Pentagon avoid layoffs and employee grievances claiming unfair treatment when workers are reassigned to different jobs because of downsizing.

The new law also allows the department to offer voluntary early retirement to Defense employees without having to get the approval of the Office of Personnel Management. For the first time, Defense officials will be able to map out a multi-year early-outs plan that fits with other department workforce strategies, the Pentagon official said. Groeber's memo, however, notes that the congressional limit on buyouts may constrain the department's ability to offer early-outs and buyouts as a package deal to lure employees into leaving. Early retirement is usually taken by employees who want to leave the government but do not have enough years of service to qualify for an immediate pension. In general, workers taking early retirement must be at least 50 with 20 years of service, or any age with 25 years of service. Employees in the older Civil Service Retirement System lose 2 percent of their annuity for each year of age under 55. In most cases, there is no annuity reduction for workers covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System.

From Washington Post, DC, by Stephen Barr, 13 January 2004

Government Reorganization Leaves Public Servants Confused: Union

Ottawa - Efforts to reorganize some government agencies have left public servants confused, with some uncertain who their employer is, a union leader said Wednesday. Steven Hindle, head of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, said the government should have consulted its unions before announcing planned changes and a freeze on job reclassifications and the size of the public service. He said the government may be violating some contracts. "We're taking a look at it." Hindle said the government is moving employees from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency to the new Canada Border Services Agency, but it's not clear who is shifting and who isn't. The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents about 150,000 federal civil servants across the country, has made similar complaints about confusion. Nycole Turmel, alliance president, has said the union will complain to the Public Service Staff Relations Board about the customs agency transfers.

Hindle said the No. 1 complaint from his 49,000 members is "they are confused." "They're complaining about not knowing what the rules are." Days after the Paul Martin government took office last month, Treasury Board President Reg Alcock announced a freeze on capital spending, on the size of the public service and on reclassifying jobs. This was done without consulting either the unions or the senior bureaucrats, Hindle said. It has left the public service in disarray. "The message from the government isn't clear." Hindle said he had high hopes for greater co-operation and dialogue after the passage last fall of a new public-service law. That hasn't happened. He said he had been planning to seek a nomination as a Liberal candidate in an Ottawa-area riding in the next election, but has abandoned that idea. The Liberals, he said, have "made some decisions that I'd have a hard time defending."

From Canada East, Canada, 14 January 2004

Public Services to Shrink, McGuinty Warns

London, Ont.-Premier Dalton McGuinty says his government plans to shrink the menu of public services and acknowledges that free drugs for some seniors and some free health-care procedures may be on the table. "There are probably some things that we will stop doing, so that we can do the most important things better than ever," he told students yesterday at a training facility, jointly run by the Labourers International Union of North America and Fanshawe College. As his government grapples with a $5.6 billion deficit left behind by the Tories, it is being forced to do fewer things better, McGuinty said, particularly in priority areas such as health, education and the environment. "In the past, governments have either tried to tax and spend their way out of a mess or slash and burn their way out of a mess.

Both approaches have failed," McGuinty said. "Our approach makes more sense than simply cutting across the board and further undermining every service that government provides. "You might say that instead of thinning the soup again and again, we want to rewrite the menu so it offers what people want and need the most." At the end of the month, the government will begin a consultation process in which it will ask Ontarians what they think should be cut out of the budget. McGuinty warned that some "difficult decisions" will have to be made and, as an example, he questioned whether the province should be in the business of meat inspection or whether that should be the sole jurisdiction of the federal government.

From Toronto Star, Canada, by Theresa Boyle, 14 January 2004

Action on KU Civil Service Plan Delayed

Topeka - An effort to withdraw Kansas University's classified employees from the state's civil service system suffered a setback Wednesday that likely would delay possible implementation by a year. The Kansas Board of Regents unanimously voted to study the issue instead of forwarding it to the Legislature for approval. KU administrators had hoped to gain legislative approval this session. "This removes it from this legislative session, effectively," said Kathy Jansen, president of KU's Classified Senate. "We'll just keep working on it. We need to let (regents) feel more comfortable with it." The proposal would create a new designation of KU employee, "university support staff," that would have its pay and benefits system administered at the KU campus instead of by the Department of Administration in Topeka. The plan would retain benefits such as health insurance, retirement, grievance procedures and vacation time.

Two-thirds of money available for pay increases would be given to employees who have a "satisfactory" evaluation, with the other given on a merit basis determined by supervisors. Currently, the Legislature determines salary increases for civil service employees. KU's classified employees voted on the issue in May 2003, with the result ending in a 545-545 tie. Another vote in October had 623 votes in favor of leaving the system and 532 against. KU was asking regents to support a law that would allow individual campuses to decide whether their employees should withdraw from civil service. Several regents weren't ready to make a decision. "I need some additional information before I can decide on this," said Regent Donna Shank, of Liberal. "It has broad implications. I'm uncomfortable with the narrow margin of the vote. That gives me discomfort as well."

Regent Nelson Galle, of Manhattan, said he thought having administrators on each campus determine pay raises made sense, considering the move toward "block grant" budgeting that allows university officials to determine how their money is spent. "As I come to understand the mentality of block grants and becoming more autonomous organizations, I suggest this is something we need to take seriously in the future," he said. "It's compatible for where we want to get and where we want to be." KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway said he still was confident regents would sign off on the plan, though probably not for this legislative session. "I interpret the board's action as recognizing something that is well-worth the regents' study," he said. "We would have liked to have gotten started with it, but this way we'll take a step back and think about it for a subsequent year."

From Lawrence Journal World, KS, by Terry Rombeck, 14 January 2004

Students Get Involved in Public Service

Although in its infant stage, the new public service team at the middle school has been involving students in services to benefit local communities, cities, other states and even countries overseas. The newly formed group consists of two students from each cluster of each grade and seven faculty members and has been officially named SIPS, Students Involved in Public Service. After the school's students attended an informative panel with guest speakers from more than 45 public service or charity organizations last year, SIPS was formed to come up with ways to reach out a to diverse number of communities in need. "Last year we saw some options, this year we wanted action," said Blake Middle School Principal Peg Mongiello who said the effort in forming a committee like SIPS is to show Medfield students how to better understand other people and become more active citizens. "It's for a better knowledge of their world," said Mongiello. "That way they grow as emotional and social human being." SIPS, which was formed last fall, meets every two weeks to think of creative ways to get the middle school involved in several public services.

This week, the sixth graders concluded their coat drive at the middle school. In their two-week drive, sixth graders collected more than 200 coats to be donated to needy children this winter in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. "I hope we get a lot of coats so every kid gets a coat," said Gregory Donaldson, a sixth grader who donated two coats. So far, students helped the Medfield Food Pantry by collecting more than 900 cans and participated in several holiday events.. The school has also sent more than 200 holiday cards to the men and women serving the country overseas. The eighth graders sponsored a holiday party for residents of Tilden Village. The students brought Christmas stockings, a meal and sang songs to the 38 residents this December. They also helped out with the Christmas in the City program, which entailed students volunteering to go to Boston for two days and set up more than 400 dinner tables for a holiday meal for needy children at the Bay Side Expo Center. Students also provided gifts for children living in shelters in the city. The proceeds from the eighth grade candy sale allowed them to buy the gifts.

According to Mongiello, the move to reach out for the needy children in Boston is because there are more than 4,000 homeless children in the city. Molly Hoffman, an eighth grade student, participated in the Christmas in the City program and said she learned about helping children who lack all the resources that she has. "It gave us a sense that we're helping a lot. There are kids not having as many benefits as we do," she said on learning on how "not to take things for granted." Her other classmates, Shea Butler and Molly Dexter, agreed. "We have a lot of advantage," said Butler. "It makes you think about other kids, said Dexter. The three eighth graders said they didn't stay for the dinner but watched it on the television and were glad to see how large the event turned out to be. The seventh graders organized senior baskets for the Thomas Upham House, a local nursing home. The 42 baskets included snacks, toiletries, teddy bears among other goodies. Esther Babson, a SIPS member in the seventh grade, helped her class with the senior holiday basket. 'It's really fun.

They (residents) were really happy. Some of them asked 'Is is all for me?' They were really sweet," said Babson who said it was important to show seniors that there are people who care about them. For Mongiello, the students discovered, as they went through the holiday season helping out other communities, how fortunate they are and to become more appreciative of what they have. The principal said despite all the accomplishments so far from SIPS in getting school involved in public service, there are still "many places to go." Coming up, Mongiello said the SIPS plans to collect educational toys, such as puzzles, for needy children in the Dominican Republic and to conduct a book drive to benefit three islands in Maine, whose public libraries are stocked poorly with books. Also the school will soon start a donation to the Leukemia Association through cooper and silver, which means students will donate money through pennies, nickels and dimes. "The SIPS committee has been a success so far," said Mongiello. "We're going to continue to look for ways so students continue in public service."

From Medfield Press, MA, by Priscilla Yeon, 14 January 2004

Charleston County Attorney One of Highest-Paid Public Servants

Charleston, S.C. - After handling a series of legal disputes involving the county, Charleston County Attorney Joe Dawson ended up one of the highest-paid public servants in South Carolina last fiscal year. The county paid Dawson $290,415, The (Charleston) Post and Courier reported. That's more than 2 1/2 times what Gov. Mark Sanford receives and $90,000 more than U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist will make this year. Two years ago, then-County Council Chairman Tim Scott switched Dawson's compensation from an annual salary of about $100,000 to a base salary of $26,936, plus $125 per hour. In 2002, Dawson was paid $235,861, and he made $290,415 last year. Last year the county dealt with legal challenges to its single-member election districts, to its half-cent sales tax referendum and a property reassessment cap. "We gave him lots of work to do," Scott said. "This year, we won't be giving him that much work to do" and Dawson's pay will be lower, he added.

Council Chairman Barrett Lawrimore said he was not aware how many billable hours Dawson submitted and other council members expressed concern about the amount. "I respect Joe Dawson, and I know that he's working hard ... but it's more money than we can afford to spend for our county legal services, and that's the tip of the iceberg," said Councilman Leon Stavrinakis. He noted that the county has two other staff attorneys and contract lawyers "who I assume have some huge bills, too." County Council set aside almost $600,000 for legal services this year, including contract attorneys. That's down from the $1.28 million spent in 2001-02 and just over $961,000 spent in 2002-03. University of South Carolina College of Engineering Dean Ralph White is the state's highest paid employee, with a salary of $234,016, according to the state Budget and Control Board. The salaries of the mayors of Charleston and North Charleston are $117,984 and $95,000, respectively. Information from: The Post And Courier.

From The State, SC, 21 January 2004

 
 

E-government Use Growing Here, But Slowly

Kuala Lumpur - Electronic government adoption is growing in Malaysia, but rather slowly, according to a survey (www.tns-global.com/gostudy2003) by market information group TNS. About 15% of Malaysians have used the Internet to access online government services over the last 12 months, compared to 12% cent in 2002. This represented 44% of those who used the Internet within the last month, TNS Malaysia said in a statement. Looking for information remained the main reason for visiting government sites. In its survey, Malaysia ranked 25 out of 32 countries in terms of growth; but was rated amongst top 10 of 30 countries worldwide in terms of safety perception. The number of people accessing government websites within Asia Pacific has increased significantly last year compared to 2002, according to TNS (www.tns-global.com). "The majority of (Malaysian) users were mainly young people," said TNS Malaysia managing director Siti Norbaya Manaf. Those under 25-years made up 25%; 19% came from those in the 25-34 age bracket; and only 13% came from the 35-44 age bracket, she said. As in the 2002 findings, usage was higher among households with high incomes (23%) and higher levels of education (38%), but the increases are more significant in 2003 amongst the medium income (16% in 2003 compared to 10% in 2002).

"Security over the Internet still remains a concern," said Norbaya. Only 32% of Malaysians interviewed considered it is safe to use the Internet to provide the Government with personal information, as compared to 35% the previous year. "On the same note, those who considered it unsafe have risen to 47% compared to 42% in 2002. "This clearly indicates that safety remains the main concern of most Internet users. It is a barrier that we will need to overcome, especially if we want to see more Malaysians becoming IT-savvy," she added. Other Asian countries like Singapore and India have posted much higher e-government usage of 53% and 40%, respectively, she noted. Conducted across 32 markets, the annual TNS Government Online Study found that within Asian countries, Singapore maintained its lead with more than half of the population using e-government services. Taking the lead regionally however in terms of the highest increase in numbers of users was Hong Kong (from 37% to 43%). This increase was possibly the result of increased public access to Internet terminals as well as its introduction of new "smart" identity cards. Also seeing notable rises in the numbers of users of government services online were New Zealand (from 40% to 45%), Taiwan (30% to 35%) and South Korea (up four points to 27%).

Despite having the lowest levels of usage in Asia Pacific at just half the global average (15%), Japan and Malaysia still saw increases in use of 2% and 3% respectively; in the case of Japan, this represented a reversal in the downward trend observed in 2002. Almost one-quarter of e-government users worldwide (24%) use the service to "seek information." with less than one in 10 adults using e-government to "provide personal information" (9%) or to "make online payments" (8%). Not surprisingly, people felt safest using online government services in those countries with some of the largest proportion of e-government users, namely Singapore (44%), Hong Kong (40%), New Zealand (35%) and Australia (35%). Other key findings include: * Growth in the use of e-government has slowed in many markets, particular in the United States (from 43% of adults in 2002 to 44% in 2003) and Germany (from 24% to 26%); * THE biggest increases in use were in the Netherlands (from 41% in 2002 to 52% in 2003), Denmark (from 53% to 63%), Finland (from 49% to 58%) and France (from 25% to 35%); * USE of e-government was high amongst Internet users globally at 64% on average (63% average in Asia Pacific, with the highest levels in Singapore at 75%, followed by Australia and Hong Kong at 70% each); * Globally, e-government usage was higher amongst men than women, corresponding with the finding that males use the Internet more than females, a pattern which was found in both the 2001 and 2002 TNS Government Online studies.

"While the use of e-government services continues to grow in Asia Pacific, the rate of increase remains static in the region, suggesting that even more needs to be done to increase momentum and encourage further online use," said TNS director Alison Dexter. "Improved Internet access, enhanced connection speeds, marketing and communications and website functionality are likely to be instrumental in achieving this, but one of the main challenges still facing governments is convincing existing and potential users that it is safe to provide personal details online. "At a time when members of the public are increasingly turning to the Internet as an information resource, there is also growing concern about access to personal information by hackers and spam mailers. "Governments around the world need to allay public fears by communicating the security measures which are in place to prevent access to personal details so that confidence grows," she added. The Government Online (GO) Study was undertaken by the Social, Government and Polling division of TNS, via telephone and face-to-face interviews with 31,823 people across 32 countries or territories between July and October 2003. Those countries or territories covered by the study were: Australia, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey and the United States.

From TechCentral, Malaysia, 31 December 2003

Good Public Servants Make Good Candidates, Says Pahang MB

Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob said Barisan Nasional members who wished to become candidates for the coming general election should study their capabilities as good public servants first. "I advise those who are not selected not to be disappointed. It's not because they are ineffective as leaders. "I'm only following the advice of the Prime Minister, who said that candidates should be those who are accepted by the people. "A candidate should not be lobbying for a seat, when he had lost in previous elections," he told reporters after the state assembly sitting yesterday. He said he believed that 30% and 40% of the candidates would be new faces. Earlier during the assembly, Adnan admitted that there were some weaknesses in the state government's policies, but that the opposition had exaggerated and magnified the issues through its "lies". The assembly was adjourned sine die.

From The Star, Malaysia, 29 December 2003

Contract Employees Add New Dimension to Civil Service

Zhang Ming, a computer expert, seems to be pleased to work for the Jilin provincial government though he earns less than when he was doing with a Compaq branch in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province. In late November, he and another computer expert became the first "contract employees" in China amid a nationwide drive to restructure government administration. "Isn't it good for a person to be the 'first' involved in a reform of major importance?" asks Zhang, 33, who got his degree at the Shenyang Computer Technology Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He says that Jilin is his native province and that he wants to take a direct part in its development. Zhang Ming now works as senior manager of the province's public security information network, and Li Wenyin, a former professor at the Computer Technology Department of Jilin University, as chief engineer. As contract employees, they have no administrative functions to perform. According to officials at the Ministry of Personnel, contract employees refer to people hired by the government to offer technical services either on a long-term basis or just for certain projects launched by the government. Unlike civil servants who, in most cases, have secure jobs, this new breed work under contracts signed with the government, and the parties will cease to be responsible for each other when a contract expires.

E-administration - The idea of recruiting "government employees" comes along with adoption by the government of e-administration for higher efficiency and greater policy transparency. In early 2003, the Jilin provincial government decided to push an e-administration programme at a cost of 600 million yuan (US$72 million). Then, at a press conference on June 10, it announced a decision to invite applications from all over China for three high-level technical posts for the programme. "The news caused a sensation," says Pei Zhanrong, an official from the Provincial Human Resources Bureau. "For days on end, our office was flooded by telephone calls from inquirers." Zhang Ming and Li Wenyin emerged winners from among two dozen candidates competing for the three posts through written examinations and interviews. The third post, however, remains vacant. "We'd rather go without than have a person not totally qualified," Pei says. Zhang Ming's annual salary is 100,000 yuan (US$12,000) before tax. "When working with Compaq, I earned much more," says the man, who declines to specify. Under a decision of the Jilin provincial government, wages for contract employees consist of 14 scales, the lowest being twice the average wage for civil servants and the highest, 15 times.

Wages for civil servants in Jilin average 1,100 yuan (US$132.5) per month or 13,200 yuan (US$1,590) per year, suggesting that contract employees earn 2,200-16,500 yuan (US$265-US$1,987) per month or 26,400-198,000 yuan (US$3,180-US$23,855) per year. The official adds that the wage ceiling may be broken when the government has to hire an "exceptionally high level" expert. "That will be decided through negotiation," he says. Controversy - Governments in several other places are following Jilin's example. The government of Wuxi City in East China's Jiangsu Province has decided to recruit from home and abroad competent professionals for seven posts, offering an annual salary of up to 500,000 yuan (US$60,000). Zhuhai in South China's Guangdong Province is recruiting experts in law, finance, foreign languages and information technology. Wages for contract employees in the city have six scales, ranging from 44,400 yuan (US$5,349) to 104,400 yuan (US$12,578) per year. Li Dezhi, deputy dean of the Jilin University Administration School, describes hiring of contract employees as a "new, flexible way of human resources management," an attempt to change the existing structure of government jobs which, more often than not, stresses the candidate's following orders faithfully rather than their professional expertise.

Other experts hold that this new way of recruiting people by the government injects vigour and vitality into the government as it motivates civil servants to improve themselves.Civil servants in Jilin, however, are apathetic towards this new practice, except those working at the province's public security system. Some feel offended. They blame the government for seeking help "from outside" instead of trying to find the right persons from among people already on its regular payroll. "There are numerous qualified professionals among us civil servants," says one in Jilin, who declines to be named. "The problem is that under the current personnel system, it is difficult for us to bring our talent into full play." A man named Cai Hongdong, who claims to be a civil servant in a "poverty-stricken" county, is vehemently opposed to hiring of contract employees. "It's crazy," he says in an article on Xinhuanet, the website of Xinhua News Agency. "For 198,000 yuan (US$23,855) people like me will have to work for 20 years!" Closer to the market - Some researchers and scholars come out to defend the hiring of contract employees.

Bai Weichun, a professor at the College of Law and Political Sciences of the Northeast Normal University, hails the new payment system as an indication that the government is "edging closer to the market". "When something is in short supply, its price is bound to be high," he says. "The same rule applies to human resources." Officials in Zhuhai say that hiring people from "outside" is made necessary by the stark reality. According to Chen Anzhong, director of the Zhuhai City Personnel Bureau, one of the working departments under the city government used to have three dozen IT experts. "Most of them have left for better-paid jobs in foreign-funded companies. What we are trying to do is to 'buy' experts at market prices." Professor Bai shares the official's opinion. He stands for trimming the government staff for streamlined administration and higher efficiency while raising the wages of civil servants. Nevertheless, he takes relationship between contract employees and their bosses with a grain of salt.

Says he, "What if an employee has a bright idea wrongly turned down by his or her boss who happens to be a layman? What if the boss fails to take a scientific approach towards errors of the employee in his or her work? Who is to be held responsible for the consequences? And how should the employee be evaluated?" Despite all these worries, Wu Wenchang, head of the Human Resource Department of the Jilin provincial government, insists that hiring of contract employees is not an act on impulse or something coming out of the blue. "It has been proven effective in many industrialized countries," he says. "E-administration is being adopted by governments across the country to improve administrative efficiency and facilitate the State strategy that calls for rule of law," Wu notes. "Under such circumstances, hiring of contract employees will definitely usher in positive changes in government administration in China." Wu and other experts believe that the number of government employees is bound to increase, given the momentum and scope of the country's economic restructuring and political progress. Zhang Ming, now donning his police uniform, says he is "full of confidence." "I believe what I'm learning here will do me good all my life," he says.

From China Daily, China, 7 January 2004

Five New Initiatives to Boost Public Service

Kuala Lumpur - Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Friday outlined five new initiatives towards enhancing the public service to attain world standard. Re-emphasising the urgent need to curb corruption to prevent public confidence in the public service being eroded, he said civil servants should initiate a positive change in mentality and attitude; uphold high moral ethics; enhance human resource development; promote a conducive working environment to boost performance; and adopt good leadership principles. "There is a glaring negative public image of the public service. Even though various measures have been initiated, the public service is still considered as bureaucratic, slow, unfriendly, unresponsive to the needs of the public as well as inefficient and unprofessional in discharging their duties. "This negative perception is somewhat due to deep-rooted prejudice but it may be a realistic assessment of the prevailing situation. It may be said that many people have experienced unsatisfactory service provided by government servants," he said at the fifth public service premier gathering at the National Institute of Public Administration (Intan), here.

Abdullah said the current public perception that the public service was prone to corruption in its administration and law enforcement must be eliminated. The Prime Minister said corruption, if not checked effectively, would not only affect the integrity and dignity of the public service but would also have a ripple effect on the nation's economy and well-being. Stressing that government servants should strive to overcome weaknesses and shortcomings in the delivery of service, Abdullah said the target of attaining world class standard could be achieved if government officers and staff were determined in their pursuit of the world class and modern public service status in line with Vision 2020. He said to achieve the target, it was essential to effect a change in mentality and attitude with an awareness that the rakyat were the clients of the public service. He also said high moral ethics were linked to the change in mentality and attitude as it would ensure that the service delivered by the Government servants was the best. "To ensure that high moral ethics are embraced by the public service, it is essential that the management accord recognition and appreciation to noble gestures and on the other hand respond to abuses and malpractices with firm and swift action," he said.

For the public service human resources development, Abdullah said the existing courses should be conducted by taking into account the prevailing skills requirement. He said public servants who were fully equipped with knowledge and skills would enhance the public service to be more relevant and vital in a knowledge community while those who were indifferent towards the pursuit of knowledge would be left behind and would remain unproductive. The Prime Minister also said that government servants should be equipped with communication skills and to improve their command of the English language which would be an asset for them to open doors to various opportunities in networking and acquiring knowledge. Abdullah said emphasis on a work culture and environment which could boost productivity was essential and to achieve this, the public service should adopt a standard and benchmark.

He said besides being able to provide advice and guidance to staff with inadequate expertise, those who were hardworking should be accorded recognition and be appropriately rewarded. "In efforts to provide an environment which could boost performance, the public service should strive to attract and retain those with talent and ability regardless of their age, gender and such factors," he said. Citing good leadership as a critical element in any entity, Abdullah said that a wise leadership could provide a vision and promote strategic thinking of an organisation. It was vital for the top management to identify, train and appoint their dynamic officers and staff as leaders in the various government departments and agencies, he said. Describing the assembly today as timely, the Prime Minister said that the public service had seen a lot of changes but at the same time the world was also becoming more competitive and globalised which requires the public service to effect continual improvement. Abdullah also thanked and expressed his appreciation to all the public servants who had made contributions and extended their service in turning Malaysia into a model developing country.

From Daily Express, Malaysia, 9 January 2004

Rs 4000cr Byte to Add Might To E-governance

New Delhi - The government is likely to allocate around Rs 4,000 crore in the next financial year to give a thrust to its e-governance initiative. The additional outlay of Rs 1,300 crore over the previous year's allocation is also expected to send an election-eve message to the masses that the Vajpayee government is laying emphasis on providing good governance. Sources say the issue was discussed at a high-level inter-ministerial meeting recently and is likely to be incorporated in the government's annual expenditure plans. E-governance involves the larger process of using IT to improve both the internal operations of the government and its interface with the citizens. The increased emphasis on IT in governance is expected to reduce red-tape and lead to quicker decision-making. It is also expected to ensure a greater degree of transparency in the government.

The higher outlay for e-governance will also give a fillip to the country's IT hardware sector which has been lagging behind the software segment. According to a recent Nasscom-McKinsey report, the e-governance infrastructure and services sector in India is a billion-dollar market for IT vendors, software and training companies. The national agenda for the country's Tenth Five-Year Plan envisages defining a vision for national e-governance and designing an appropriate architecture to realise the vision. This also entails creation of infrastructure, implementation of a set of core initiatives and capacity building. India is lagging behind in e-governance, despite its prowess in the IT sector. The country does not even figure in the four categories of global e-government nations. The first category includes "innovative leaders" - Canada, Singapore and the US. The second category comprises "visionary challengers" such as Australia, the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

The third group comprises "emerging performers" - New Zealand, Spain, Belgium and Japan, while the fourth covers "platform builders" such as Portugal, Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico and South Africa. E-governance has not been able to make a significant progress due to operational, economic and personnel reasons. Even within India, various states have achieved different levels of e-governance with Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Gujarat being relatively ahead of others like Bihar, Orissa and Rajasthan. According to the annual report of the department of information technology, "The e-governance vision differs from country to country, state to state, and region to region as it should reflect the needs and aspirations of those countries, states and regions. However, a certain commonality exists in the expectations of the stakeholders, namely, the government on one hand and the citizen/business on the other."

From Calcutta Telegraph, India, by S.P.S. Pannu & M. Rajendran, 14 January 2004

World Bank to Discuss India E-governance

Bangalore, India - A World Bank team will discuss "e-governance" initiatives with Indian officials next week to develop more online services, a bank official said Thursday. "Our proposal is basically to help India provide better e-governance," Carlos Alberto Primo Braga, senior adviser in the bank's Geneva-based International Trade Department, said in the southern Indian technology hub of Bangalore. E-governance would include such things as using Internet connections to apply for government documents like passports. "It is not enough to have Web site information. You must have services built around the citizen," said Braga, on the sidelines of a workshop on using technology for development organized by the Carnegie Mellon University and the U.S. National Science Foundation. The three-day conference, ending Friday, has brought together 125 participants from 25 countries.

The World Bank team will meet Indian Communication and Information Technology Ministry officials next week. In a 2003 survey of 178 countries, the U.N. International Telecommunication Union ranked India 119th in the adoption of information and communication technology, behind much smaller nations such as Sri Lanka, Morocco and Fiji. With a population of more than 1 billion, India expects to have only 12 million computers by March 2004. There are only 4 million Internet connections, 35,000 of them broadband. Several government and private projects provide villagers access to computers and Internet. Farmers check out crop prices, illiterate people learn to read and write with the help of pictures on computer screens and elderly people applying online for pensions.

From Seattle Post Intelligencer, WA, 15 January 2004

E-governance: Ministers and Babus to Get Lessons

Ahmedabad - For Gujarat, it is e-governance year. And, Chief Minister Narendra Modi has decided to kickstart the process by having a brainstorming session for the advancement of IT industry here. CIT-2004, a showcase of various communication and information technologies, will be held at IIMA campus on Friday. While the original plan was to include only Cabinet ministers and secetaries, Modi has now decided to include top IAS officers posted in the cities and districts as well. ''The brainstorming session on e-governance is Modi's idea. It is his initiative that has brough together the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad for this event. The small affair has turned big now that the CM has decided to include IAS officers from district-level too,'' says Prof B H Jajoo, chairman of IT cell in CII. Says Jajoo, who also heads the computer science division at IIM: ''We are glad that the CM has chosen to educate his workforce on e-governance and has also included district-level officers in this. E-governance's sole aim is to percolate to the grassoots.''

At this session, the State's IT department will show an autopilot presentation on the initiative taken by the State Government in e-governance. Ganesh Natrajan, Western Region head of IT council of CII and managing director of Zensar Technologies, will make a presentation on 'Bringing IT to Masses.' Prof Jajoo will speak on 'E-governance in Gujarat - Strategic Views of Going Forward.' Representatives from service providers like TCS, Microsoft, HP, Reliance Infocomm and IBM will also be present at the closed-door meeting at IIM on Friday. Anil Mukim, additional principal secretary to the Chief Minister, says: ''Modi has declared 2004 as e-governance year. So, he has decided to use a grand platform like CIT-2004 to push the issue of e-governance.'' ''According to a study done by Union ministry of Information Technology, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal are top in e-governance. The Government feels that IT here is poised for a take-off. We want to be ready for that,'' Mukim adds.

From Ahmedabad Newsline, India, by Shashwati Ghosh, 16 January 2004

E-governance Brings Down Corruption: Survey

New Delhi - Believe it or not, greasing the palms is on the decline, at least when it comes to urban public services, according to a report. This indicates that corruption has moved from the middlemen outside government offices to more sophisticated areas. While public services like regional transport offices, railways and municipal corporations are still plagued with the middlemen menace; other areas like hospitals, civil supplies, urban development, electricity and water supplies have shown a remarkable turnaround, thanks to the newfound e-governance mantra, the report released by the Centre for Media Studies says.

Contrary to the popular perception that corruption is rampant, the survey, which covered five major cities - Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai - reveal that corruption in public services has come down drastically or moved to more lucrative areas of operation, N Bhaskar Rao, chairman, CMS, says. "An interesting fact that the survey found out was corruption has come down drastically at the middlemen level. It is not high as is often believed and the reasons for this can be attributed to the large-scale computerisation of services, reforms initiated by the vigilance departments and the rise in awareness among the consumers, Rao says. According to the survey, which covered eight major public utility services, corruption has shown a declining trend. While 28 per cent of citizens participated in the survey admitted that they have dealt through middlemen, a sharp decline from 48 per cent in 2000, 30 per cent admitted of giving bribes, down from 51 per cent in 2000.

From Economic Times, India, 19 January 2004

World Bank to Hold Talks with India on E-governance

Bangalore - A World Bank team will discuss "e-governance" initiatives with Indian officials next week to develop more online services, a bank official said yesterday. "Our proposal is basically to help India provide better e-governance," Carlos Alberto Primo Braga, senior adviser in the World Bank's Geneva-based International Trade Department, said in the southern Indian technology hub of Bangalore. E-governance would include such things as using Internet connections to apply for government documents like passports. "It is not enough to have Web site information. You must have services built around the citizen," said Braga, on the sidelines of a workshop on using technology for development organised by the Carnegie Mellon University and the US National Science Foundation. The three-day conference, which ends today, has brought together 125 participants from 25 countries.

The World Bank team will meet Indian Communication and Information Technology Ministry officials next week. In a 2003 survey of 178 countries, the United Nations International Telecommunication Union ranked India 119th in the adoption of information and communication technology, behind much smaller nations such as Sri Lanka, Morocco and Fiji. With a population of more than one billion, India expects to have only 12 million computers by March 2004. There are only four million Internet connections, 35,000 of them broadband. Several government and private projects provide villagers access to computers and Internet. Farmers check out crop prices, illiterate people learn to read and write with the help of pictures on computer screens and elderly people applying online for pensions.

From Khaleej Times, United Arab Emirates, 15 January 2004

E-governance Curbs Corruption: Report

Believe it or not, greasing the palms is on the decline, at least when it comes to urban public services, according to a report. This indicates that corruption has moved from the middlemen outside government offices to more sophisticated areas. While public services like regional transport offices, railways and municipal corporations are still plagued with the middlemen menace; other areas like hospitals, civil supplies, urban development, electricity and water supplies have shown a remarkable turnaround, thanks to the newfound e-governance mantra, the report released by the Centre for Media Studies says. Contrary to the popular perception that corruption is rampant, the survey, which covered five major cities - Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai - reveal that corruption in public services has come down drastically or moved to more lucrative areas of operation, N Bhaskar Rao, chairman, CMS, says. "An interesting fact that the survey found out was corruption has come down drastically at the middlemen level. It is not high as is often believed and the reasons for this can be attributed to the large-scale computerisation of services, reforms initiated by the vigilance departments and the rise in awareness among the consumers, Rao says. According to the survey, which covered eight major public utility services, corruption has shown a declining trend. While 28 per cent of citizens participated in the survey admitted that they have dealt through middlemen, a sharp decline from 48 per cent in 2000, 30 per cent admitted of giving bribes, down from 51 per cent in 2000.

From Walletwatch, India, 18 January 2004

E-governance in Manipur Government Administration Soon: Manipur Minister

Imphal - The much-vaunted e-governance, involving computerization land and revenue data of all district headquarters in the state government administration is to be getting off soon, Manipur Revenue Minister Elangbam Birmani Singh told a news conference at his office here on Wednesday. He said that entry of land and revenue data in the e-governance in respect of the Imphal East district has recently been completed and the entry of these data in respect of the Imphal west district, Churachandpur and Thoubal are still in progress. Asked about the getting of the e-governance the minister while evading direct reply has said that the government is trying its best for entry of all data for the e-governance are still going on. Under the e-governance, all government departments shall be equipped with adequate computer hardware and software for computerisation of its important activities.

The government departments will upload informations on the Internet for public access. All routine communications between the government secretariat and departments and between the departments themselves will be done through e-mail and bulletin boards, the sources said. For this, the state government will establish a backbone of network, Manipur State wide Area Network (MANNET) for voice, date and video transmission and dissemination of information. A separate budget for implementing the policy will be earmarked for the state budget. Moreover, each department, corporation etc., shall earmark three percent of its budget for IT applications. Under the IT policy, a separate department for IT will also be set up which will act as single window agency for successful implementation of the policy and other government departments will have an IT cell.

The year 1999-2000 witnessed a revolutionary change for the benefit of IT to trickle down to the masses of India. Keeping in view the importance of the IT, 18 states have already announced IT policy. The Prime Minister of India, in May 1998 constituted a National Task Force of Information Technology which envisaged to make India an IT superpower by 2008. One has to understand that the propellers of the big leap forward which is happening in the society, are information technology and bio-technology and other knowledge based sectors of science and technology and therefore Manipur must be fully in step with the paradigm shift being caused by IT in the economic activities of human race. The state has nine districts with the population of about 24 lakh of which 80 percent are farmers.

From KanglaOnline, India, 21 January 2004

E-government progress requires strategy rethink

In October 2003, the HKSAR government released a public consultation paper on the proposed 2004 Digital 21 Strategy. The paper, which was first published in 1998 and subsequently updated in 2001, is the third review of government's IT action plan for the next few years. By setting out various initiatives and programs in different aspects of the IT, telecommunications and broadcasting industry, the government aims to make Hong Kong a leading digital city in a globally connected world. Through the last five years of government effort, it is a palpable fact that IT development is one the remarkable achievements in Hong Kong. Today, adoption of the PC and Internet in both household and business sectors has exceeded 50 percent. The full liberalization of telecommunication market has resulted in better quality services at competitive prices. Our mobile and broadband Internet penetration rates are among the highest in the world. The establishment of the Cyberport and Science Park has also laid down fundamental infrastructure to further technological development in Hong Kong. Assessing the results over the last few years, Digital 21 is a strategy primarily focused on infrastructure development and adoption.

While the government may have made strides in establishing ubiquitous infrastructure and increasing general take-up of PC and the Internet in the territory, the entire economy is still failing to take full advantage of IT. Our e-commerce activities for example are still very limited. According to the findings on the Annual Survey on IT Usage and Penetration, only 9.6 percent of local enterprises had ordered or purchased goods or services via electronic means in 2003. With only 1.1 percent and 13.6 percent of these firms having sold and delivered goods or services respectively. It is clear that most local enterprises merely use IT for communications or marketing purposes and rarely integrate IT into their internal and external business operation. Too few of them are aware of the true value of IT. E-government is another example of how the government has failed to make clear to the population the real benefits of accessing e-public services. To the government's credit, to date, more than 90 percent of public services are available online. But the government scores poorly on securing sufficient take-up by the public of these online services.

The public is unlikely to want to use e-public services because users currently must undergo cumbersome procedures to utilize such services. When applying for a driving license, for example, one often needs to upgrade their operating system (which must be Microsoft Windows), and then visit the post office personally to obtain an e-Cert before they can make a electronic transaction with the government. Without a customer-oriented promotion strategy, it is not surprising that the utilization rate of e-certs remains low since it was introduced to Hong Kong in 2000. The government often justifies its significant investment in e-public services by the potential to improve their operational efficiency and release resources from front line services such as service counters. However, while usage of e-public services is far from satisfactory, the government is still running most of these frontline services instead of closing them. This may be a way for the government to please the public by not reducing the existing front line services, even though these service are available online.

But the government now has to bear the additional cost of operating public services online and offline simultaneously which in turn doubles public spending. Traditional thinking about e-government may be focused on getting as many services online as possible, as quickly as possible. But a meaningful e-government is far more than this. The true value of e-government must deliver return on investment. If the usage of e-public services are low, the potential benefits of e-government will never be realized. It also implies that the significant investment in e-government programs would be wasted. For our e-government initiatives to make any progress, it is high time for the government to rethink its strategy and pursue a program that will deliver real return on investment. Sin Chung-kai is Hong Kong's Legislative Councillor for IT. Contact him at cksin@sinchungkai.org.hk

From IDG Communications, Hong Kong, by Sin Chung-kai, 20 January 2004

Kerala: E-literacy Campaign to Be Launched

Thiruvananthapuram - Encouraged by the success of the pioneering project to bridge the 'digital divide' in Malappuram district, 'Akshaya' will be implemented in entire Kerala during 2004-05 with an additional investment of Rs 25 crore, Finance Minister, K Sankaranarayanan, announced today. Presenting a Rs 751.34 crore deficit budget in the State Assembly, the Minister said the Information Techonology sector would get a significantly increased allocation of Rs 93.75 crore, compared to Rs 31.60 crore during the current year. This would be in addition to the e-governance initiatives being implemented by departments under their budget. He pointed out that Kerala was fast gaining ground in IT and the Malappuram model e-literacy campaign would be replicated in all other districts.

Besides the Rs 25 crore budgetary support, local bodies would also make their contributions to create connectivity and develop content for the project. The Minister said a sum of Rs 20 crore had been earmarked for building the IT Park in Kochi, enhancing the existing Technopark at Karyavattom and for the proposed IT corridor here. In addition, Rs ten crore would be set apart for strategically important projects in the sector. A sum of Rs 15 crore would be given for developing knowledge-based decision support system for e-governance. Another Rs 5 crore would be spent for building up the staff needed for the successful implementation of the e-governance programme.

From The Hindu, India, 23 January 2004

 

Civil Service Will 'Modernise and Change Attitudes', Vows McConnell

The First Minister is planning a wide-ranging overhaul of the civil service in Scotland. Jack McConnell has already begun work on the shake-up with the Scottish Executive's permanent secretary, John Elvidge. The changes will include seconding experts from the private sector into senior posts within the service and a general change in working practices. Mr. McConnell said there would be a "massive programme of change in culture and attitudes" of the civil service. In an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper, the First Minister also spoke for the first time publicly on the Fraser Inquiry into the Holyrood fiasco, stating he was determined to ensure this never happens again. "The civil service has to modernise and change to reflect the new circumstances we are in and the country we now are. The permanent secretary and I are working closely on this," he said. "There is a massive programme of change in culture and attitudes. There is going to be more secondment in and out of the service. There are going to be more people appointed from outwith and there will be different ways of working. "Those are changes that are really, really important. They are not directly linked to the Holyrood Inquiry, they are linked to the whole business of improving government in Scotland." Mr. McConnell said he would be willing to give evidence at the inquiry. "I want to ensure that we have got not only a comprehensive report ... but also a set of recommendations that I will certainly be determined to implement to ensure this never happens again."

From The Scotsman, UK, 5 January 2004

On-line Local Services Take Another Step Forward

Local authorities across the country are progressing well towards the 2005 target for electronically e-enabling their services. The results of IEG (Implementing e-Government) Round 3 statements, announced today by the Government, also indicate that local councils in England now expect to be 66% e-enabled by March next year. Of the 399 local authorities asked to submit IEG statements, only 35 were assessed to have returned unsatisfactory statements and are being asked to re-submit their statements by early February. Announcing the results today, local e-Government Minister Phil Hope said: "The results of this third round of the IEG monitoring process are very encouraging and I'm confident we are on track to meet the 2005 target. In recent months we've begun to see the real benefits e-Government can bring. The National Projects, Pathfinders and Partnerships are transforming services across local government. It's important now that we don't lose momentum and we keep working together, keep innovating and remain focused in order to continue progressing." The Government has also published a first year report on the National Strategy looking at what's been achieved so far and what's still to do. The report uses several case studies to bring to life the impact e-Government is having on local services up and down the country.

In Sussex the CADDIE system, the Crime and Disorder Data Exchange, is a collaboration between the Police and the local council and was set up to tackle the fear of crime and reduce crime and disorder. The initiative uses technology to allow information sharing between emergency services and other agencies to focus resources and respond effectively to the concerns of the community. Another example of how e-Government is changing lives and transforming services is in Kirklees Metropolitan Borough. The local council is improving access for socially excluded residents to health information and services. The council is working in partnership with Primary Care Trusts and community services providers to make health service information available through digital television. Commenting on the first year report, National Strategy for Local e-Government - One Year On, Phil Hope said: "We must remember that e-Government is not an end itself. The 'e' is not what's important - it's about people and about services. It is a means to provide better quality services to people in ways they will make use of. The first year report shows the progress that councils and their partners are making towards transforming a broad range of services."

The IEG statement results are encouraging and the first year report highlights benefits e-Government is already delivering to people, but it is also clear that across the country varying degrees of progress are being achieved. The Government is also launching a consultation on the proposed specification for e-Government priority outcomes for every local authority by December 2005. These outcomes will clarify for people what functions they can expect to undertake electronically with their councils by 2005. To assist local authorities in meeting the 2005 target, the IDeA, supported by the ODPM will be providing additional support to those local authorities that either need guidance with individual elements of their e-Government programme or are struggling to make progress with the overall e-Government agenda. The first new unit, The Implementation and Support Unit will provide on-the-ground support for local authorities, helping them to find solutions to their e-Government problems. The second new support initiative, the Strategic Support Unit, will be available to all local authorities and will facilitate the sharing of advice and best practice.

From Tenders Direct, UK, 5 January 2004

Civil Service: Today Start of Digital Revolution

Rome - Today the "digital revolution" in the Italian public service has started. With the beginning of the year, a ministerial note reads, a directive from the Technology Minister, Lucio Stanca, comes into effect, which puts into action the IT Protocol for public services, central and local ones, 25 pct of which has already been ready for a few months. This measure will, above all, introduce significant elements of administrative transparency and instruments to bring big economic savings. "It is a matter - the minister said - of a real and proper revolution introduced by the application of new digital technologies that will allow for speed, capirallity, and efficiency in the transmission of information within the bureaucratic system, both nationally and locally.

The measure, in particular, from 1 January 2004 gives all public administrations I.T. systems for the management of documents, activating the so-called, "core minimum protocol" for access outside the passage of the practices, thus assuring greater administrative transparency. Minister Stanca's directive, already published in the Official Gazette, contains all the dispositions to create these systems and among other things has individuated an article together with the actions that the Administration has to carry out to digitalise their activities. Stanca has already instituted at the CNIPA (the National Public Administration I.T. Centre) a "Skills Centre" with functions of support, direction, and coordination for the administrations engaged in the carrying out of the various phases of the project.

From Agenzia Giornalistica Italia, 2 January 2004

Showing Some Significant Signs of Improvement

Flanked by market stalls and the remnants of the East End rag trade, the Royal London Hospital serves some of the most deprived communities in Britain. But the hospital, in Whitechapel, is now at the vanguard of the UK's Private Finance Initiative. A Ł1bn redevelopment of the Royal London, as well as St Bartholomew's hospital near the Smithfield meat market, will be the UK's largest hospital PFI project. Anyone who has ever visited the Royal London, or taken a sick relative there, will recognise the need for investment. But the way this will be achieved is controversial. PFI, which involves the provision of a full-service package, including an asset, under a long-term contract, has been criticised by unions opposed to private involvement in public services. Companies involved in PFI have also experienced a rough ride over the last couple of years. Opaque accounting structures within the companies set up to invest in PFI projects, high costs involved in tendering for schemes and accounting rules requiring companies to write off bid costs as they are incurred have all taken their toll on the share prices of companies involved in PFI schemes or Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), whereby the private sector contractor is completely integrated with the public sector. High-profile problems at Amey, WS Atkins and Jarvis have also dented confidence. Yet companies involved in providing services to the public sector insist that significant opportunities remain.

According to the Treasury, government investment in public services through PFI is running at Ł4bn a year. PFI accounts for 11 per cent of total investment in public services and is expected to remain at this level, while total investment in public services is expected to increase from Ł40bn in 2003 to about Ł48bn in 2005. In the UK, investment via PFI or PPP schemes is expected to remain focused on health, education and transport. In July, the government also set out plans to extend PFI into the refurbishment of prisons and into new areas such as waste management, urban regeneration and social housing. But PFI will no longer be used for information technology or schemes costing less than Ł20m. There is also uncertainty over the outlook for defence projects, even though the government says this is a core area for PFI. But government spending is little use if returns are under pressure. Returns on more recent PFI projects are generally recognised as having come down from earlier schemes. They are, however, believed to have stabilised over the past year. The UK remains the most advanced market for public-private deals. But there are also opportunities for UK contractors overseas. Stephen Harris, of International Financial Services London, formerly British Invisibles, says some 68 countries are currently looking at the UK model of PFI. "The market is opening up overseas," he says.

Charles Lloyd, PwC's partner in charge of the firm's PFI team, says the larger UK groups will be capable of winning this work. Furthermore, while Europe has larger construction companies, the UK has much to offer in terms of support services, given the number of deals that have been done. "Perhaps what we will see is more teaming up between big European construction companies and successful UK support services groups," he says. Further deals, such as Ferrovial's Ł81m purchase of Amey in 2003, are also a possibility. As well as signing new deals, there are opportunities for companies involved in PFI to release value from their existing portfolio of investments. Most companies involved in PFI create a separate unit or special purpose vehicle to invest in a project, financed through a mixture of debt and equity. In the construction and commissioning stages, there is a high degree of risk but when the asset is complete, the risk falls and there remains an ongoing operating contract. Investors can then realise a gain from selling on their equity investments. This can be used to offset bid costs or invest in new schemes. So far, most so-called secondary market deals have been prompted by corporate restructuring. But more regular recycling of equity is taking place.

Meanwhile, several specialist funds have also been established to acquire equity in operational PFI projects, attracted by their stable returns. Overall, the value of equity in operational PFI schemes is estimated at about Ł2bn-Ł3bn. David Metter, chief executive and founder of Innisfree, the infrastructure investment group, says that for this market to develop fully, institutional investors will need to recognise infrastructure as a separate asset class with its own investment features, mostly uncorrelated to other asset classes. Mr. Lloyd says it may also be possible for companies to spin off a portfolio of projects in a similar sector. This may be by selling a collection of projects or floating this package on the stock market. The equity investors in these projects would retain a stake in the new entity. It would work best if projects were in one sector, with a common ownership structure. Refinancing is also an option. The government has agreed a voluntary code with the PFI industry to take 30 per cent of the gain when completed deals are refinanced. For new projects, the gains will be shared equally. Mr. Lloyd believes 2004 could see a wave of refinancings.

A large number of deals were signed in 1999. Given a three-year construction phase and six months of operations, these projects could potentially be refinanced. "We are approaching a period of maximum refinancing activity," he says. But companies involved in PFI still face challenges. It remains expensive and time-consuming to bid for PFI projects. Finding the resources to undertake schemes, whether construction capacity or specialist architects or designers, can also be a problem. The government is taking steps to reduce bid costs, including bundling together smaller schemes into more significant packages. Another initiative involves batching projects, whereby companies would bid for a single project but, if successful, would build and run others of the same design. Mr. Lloyd says the standardisation of terms within tenders, and gradual release of schemes, is also helping. Andy Friend, chief executive of John Laing, the construction group, says while progress is being made, some projects are still subject to delays and changing timetables. But, he says: "Anecdotally, I think there is less negative comment from companies operating in the UK about bid costs. If one has to give a school report, there are significant signs of improvement."

From Financial Times, UK, by Andrea Felsted, 2 January 2004

BearingPoint Set to Win Major E-gov Deal

Multinational consultancy firm BearingPoint looks likely to win the contract to develop the Public Services Broker (PSB). The spokesperson added that REACH would release further details about the move on Wednesday afternoon and expects to announce the winner of the drawn out tendering process in the next few weeks. The agency also confirmed that June still remains the target month for launch of the PSB. The first phase of the contract is rumoured to be worth in the region of EUR15 million. Accenture, HP Services Consulting & Integration and Siemens Business Services were also in the running for the contract. It is believed that BearingPoint's bid for the deal proposes the use of open source software to power the service. The awarding of the contract was originally meant to be announced months ago. However, the announcement was delayed following a decision to review the process and assess whether it was providing value for money. That review has now been completed. The Public Services Broker has been a long awaited element in the State's e-government strategy.

The PSB will act as the engine for a range of proposed on-line service. It is intended to act as a single mechanism for access to public services to improve service delivery through traditional channels such as walk-in centres and the telephone and the new self-service on-line channel. The PSB will link all public services by means of citizen's PPSN numbers. In order to connect public services, a common unique personal identification number is needed. For many years, the Revenue and Social Insurance (RSI) number was a common identification number for taxation and social welfare purposes. The Integrated Social Services Strategy adopted by the government in 1996 recommended the extension of the use of the RSI Number across the public service in the interest of improving customer service and the Social Welfare Act of 1998 gave legal effect to this recommendation, renaming the RSI Number as the Personal Public Service Number (PPSN).

From Electric News Net, by Dick O'Brien, 7 January 2004

BearingPoint Wins e-Government Contract

The Government has selected BearingPoint to design a computer system to help it to provide a range of services online. BearingPoint won the multi-million euro contract following a tendering process that saw it compete against companies such as Accenture, HP Services Consulting & Integration and Siemens Business Services. Last year, BearingPoint won a contract to upgrade the passport application process to allow people to apply for passports online. The e-Government contract was scheduled to be announced in November - the tender process was completed in June - but was delayed due to a review of the project to assess whether it offered value for money, reports the Irish Times. In addition to providing services online, the new computer system will also act as a central data vault for customer information for future identification purposes and will eventually store credit card details so that people can pay payments for services over the internet.

From Business World, Ireland, 7 January 2004

Privatisation Expert to Monitor the Civil Service

Jack McConnell yesterday named Nick Parker, an expert in privatisation, as the leading businessman who will head the Scottish Executive's new civil service performance and innovation unit. The idea of putting a senior private sector figure into a strategic role in the civil service was announced last year by John Elvidge, the new permanent secretary at the executive, who is working with the first minister on a restructuring of government advisers and senior personnel at St Andrew's House. Mr. McConnell told the Scottish Parliament the changes in the civil service were now "well under way" and Mr. Parker, 56, who retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2004, would ensure efficiency across the public sector in Scotland. Mr. Parker will earn about Ł35,000 a year for working one- and-a-half days per week for a year subject to review. He will become a temporary civil servant "within the established framework for the appointment of expert advisers". Mr. McConnell said: "People in Scotland need and deserve the best public services, services that are designed and delivered to meet the needs of the people who use them. That is why the executive is placing such a high priority to modernising the organisation and to ensure it is focused on delivery. "I am keen the public sector gets the benefit of business expertise and the appointment of Mr. Parker will strengthen existing arrangements considerably.

He will play an important role in ensuring efficiency across the public sector. "I also expect him to help us ensure public services deliver value to the taxpayer for the substantially increased sums of money that we are investing in public services. There is no doubt it is a significant step forward in ensuring the improved delivery of policies." Mr. Parker said he was pleased with the chance to build on his private sector experience and experience of working with the executive on public-private partnership issues. "I have no preconceptions and relish the challenge, particularly since I will begin work at the start of the 2004 spending review," he said. He led corporate finance privatisation advisory work in Europe for PwC and has experience in dealing with ministers and senior business executives in policy and strategy development and implementation. The executive said the new unit would identify opportunities to improve services and secure efficiencies across the public sector and advise on how these should be addressed.

Working with the permanent secretary, Mr. Parker would "pull together small, short-life teams with the appropriate skills and experience from public and private sectors to examine and report on key issues, agreed by the first minister and deputy first minister," a spokeswoman for Mr. McConnell said. Alan Wilson, chief executive of the Scottish Council Development and Industry, said: "This is an important appointment and long overdue. He will work to change the culture and the delivery of civil servants." Jack McConnell yesterday named Nick Parker, an expert in privatisation, as the leading businessman who will head the Scottish Executive's new civil service performance and innovation unit. The idea of putting a senior private sector figure into a strategic role in the civil service was announced last year by John Elvidge, the new permanent secretary at the executive, who is working with the first minister on a restructuring of government advisers and senior personnel at St Andrew's House. Mr. McConnell told the Scottish Parliament the changes in the civil service were now "well under way" and Mr. Parker, 56, who retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2004, would ensure efficiency across the public sector in Scotland. Mr. Parker will earn about Ł35,000 a year for working one- and-a-half days per week for a year subject to review. He will become a temporary civil servant "within the established framework for the appointment of expert advisers".

Mr. McConnell said: "People in Scotland need and deserve the best public services, services that are designed and delivered to meet the needs of the people who use them. That is why the executive is placing such a high priority to modernising the organisation and to ensure it is focused on delivery. "I am keen the public sector gets the benefit of business expertise and the appointment of Mr. Parker will strengthen existing arrangements considerably. He will play an important role in ensuring efficiency across the public sector. "I also expect him to help us ensure public services deliver value to the taxpayer for the substantially increased sums of money that we are investing in public services. There is no doubt it is a significant step forward in ensuring the improved delivery of policies." Mr. Parker said he was pleased with the chance to build on his private sector experience and experience of working with the executive on public-private partnership issues. "I have no preconceptions and relish the challenge, particularly since I will begin work at the start of the 2004 spending review," he said. He led corporate finance privatisation advisory work in Europe for PwC and has experience in dealing with ministers and senior business executives in policy and strategy development and implementation.

The executive said the new unit would identify opportunities to improve services and secure efficiencies across the public sector and advise on how these should be addressed. Working with the permanent secretary, Mr. Parker would "pull together small, short-life teams with the appropriate skills and experience from public and private sectors to examine and report on key issues, agreed by the first minister and deputy first minister," a spokeswoman for Mr. McConnell said. Alan Wilson, chief executive of the Scottish Council Development and Industry, said: "This is an important appointment and long overdue. He will work to change the culture and the delivery of civil servants." Jack McConnell yesterday named Nick Parker, an expert in privatisation, as the leading businessman who will head the Scottish Executive's new civil service performance and innovation unit. The idea of putting a senior private sector figure into a strategic role in the civil service was announced last year by John Elvidge, the new permanent secretary at the executive, who is working with the first minister on a restructuring of government advisers and senior personnel at St Andrew's House.

Mr. McConnell told the Scottish Parliament the changes in the civil service were now "well under way" and Mr. Parker, 56, who retired from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2004, would ensure efficiency across the public sector in Scotland. Mr. Parker will earn about Ł35,000 a year for working one- and-a-half days per week for a year subject to review. He will become a temporary civil servant "within the established framework for the appointment of expert advisers". Mr. McConnell said: "People in Scotland need and deserve the best public services, services that are designed and delivered to meet the needs of the people who use them. That is why the executive is placing such a high priority to modernising the organisation and to ensure it is focused on delivery. "I am keen the public sector gets the benefit of business expertise and the appointment of Mr. Parker will strengthen existing arrangements considerably. He will play an important role in ensuring efficiency across the public sector. "I also expect him to help us ensure public services deliver value to the taxpayer for the substantially increased sums of money.

From The Herald, UK, by Murray Ritchie, 9 January 2004

Region on Road to Prosperity

Key stakeholders in the economy of South-East Wales have agreed to draw up a new framework aimed at further boosting the country's most prosperous region. All partners in the South-East Wales Economic Forum, which includes all the region's local authorities and employer bodies such as Cardiff Chamber of Commerce and CBI Wales, will pool their considerable expertise and resources to draw up a common economic framework. Its key objective will be to help establish South-East Wales on the road to becoming one of the most prosperous regions in Europe. A document outlining the framework should be completed this spring. Economic Development and Transport Minister Andrew Davies has confirmed that funding from the Welsh Assembly Government for the initiative will be made available.

Mr. Davies said the true potential of Wales's most prosperous region could only be maximised through a "true partnership" approach between the public and private sectors. He added, "Huge strides are being made in boosting the economy of South-East Wales. Since 1999, the total number of jobs in the area has grown by over 50,000 and unemployment has fallen by 9,000. "Over the past year alone, employment has gone up by 35,000, inactivity has fallen by 15,000 and unemployment by 1,000. This is a remarkable achievement by any standards. But there is absolutely no room for complacency in the face of stiff competition from around the world. "The common framework in South-East Wales will help us identify the priorities for action over the coming years," Mr. Davies said.

The chair of the forum, Roger Jones, welcomed agreement on developing a common strategy. Mr. Jones, who also chairs the Welsh Development Agency, which is also represented on the forum, said, "South-East Wales is one of the main drivers of the Welsh economy. The figures are well known but not always recognised." South-East Wales produces around 51% of all goods and services in Wales, contains 48% of the Welsh population and provides 51% of all jobs. Mr. Jones added, " If South-East Wales performs to its full potential Wales will be well on the way to competing effectively in the global economy. "We can all see around us evidence of real success in the region though significant challenges still remain." The forum has outlined several challenges facing the area. "The South-East Wales economy continues to grow, but there are still important structural challenges facing it in the medium term," Mr. Jones said. "Continued efforts will be needed to enhance the sustainability of some of the jobs in both the manufacturing and service sectors, particularly amongst low-added value plants and call centres. "At the same time we need to work to further diversify the manufacturing base into sectors which are growing more quickly at an international level."

Mr. Jones said that tackling skills deficits and problems of economic inactivity and multiple deprivation remain a priority, though he added that latest figures on inactivity show that encouraging progress is being made. "If we are successful in meeting these challenges we can stem or even reverse the continuing drift of population from the valley areas," Mr. Jones said. "While multi-million investments is being made in the transport network, further significant investment is needed along vitally important routes such as the M4 and Heads of the Valleys if South-East Wales is to remain truly competitive with other parts of the UK." He said this required a "unity of action which the commitment to the development of a common economic framework will help deliver".

From icWales, UK, 12 January 2004

One Person's Public-Service Gem Is Another's Garbage

David Liddiment fears Ofcom's survey on public-service TV could mean the end of risk-taking programmes. After all the debate and consultation leading up to last year's Communications Act, we still did not nail a key issue: what public-sevice broadcasting is and how to ensure we carry on getting it. The two major set-piece policy exercises of 2004 are essentially about this. Ofcom's first review of the public-service landscape and the BBC charter renewal process will occupy aeons of public servants' and broadcasters' time and fill up hectares of paper. But will they get us any nearer to nailing the jelly? Now in train, Ofcom's first quinquennial review of who is doing what across all the public-service channels is a drains-up exercise. Broadcasters have been asked for detailed information about the content, scheduling and cost of practically every programme they have shown since 1998. A raft of subsidiary questions hint at some of the value judgments being made. How many of your dramas fell into the "flashing blue light" category? How many were "classics"? Where, by UK region, were they all set? No wonder broadcasters are muttering.

At the end of the exercise Ofcom will have a million facts, but will it add up to more than a row of beans? The public is being asked questions, too: 6,000 are being surveyed about what they think public-service broadcasting should be, and a web of regional consultation exercises will feed back views to Ofcom's HQ. As if this weren't enough frenzied activity, the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, has announced the first "properly democratic, people-focused" review of the BBC's charter, to ensure that it "delivers the things that people want" (an interesting reversal of John Reith's original vision). Both exercises reflect the government's obsession with involving the public in the policy process. Laudable as this is, I doubt it will shed much light. The public knows as much or as little about what PSB is as anyone else, broadcasters and policy-makers included. As with beauty and impartiality, one person's public-service gem is often another's garbage. The only consensus that emerges from these consultation exercises is that the public values "good programmes". This is where Ofcom and Jowell risk missing something important.

Defining and protecting public-service broadcasting was never something we had to worry about in the past because it was part of the fabric of the old BBC-ITV duopoly, so imbued that it happened by instinct as much as regulatory diktat. As the market grew and forced instinct into second place behind commercial survival, it was logical to introduce quotas to shore up those genres most at risk. The commercial public-service channels were the first to pick up quotas and even more were added in last year's Communications Act. Now the BBC, traditionally enjoying an airy-fairy charter obliging it to do almost nothing specific, faces for the first time a raft of genre and other obligations in the act and in the next charter. So far, so public service. But quotas capture only the "market failure" elements of a much bigger and more exciting concept. What really grips viewers and makes public-service broadcasting a tangible and valued reality are those programmes placed before them whose quality, purpose and ambition are such that they demand attention and response. We can all think of examples, and some turn up when and where you least expect.

But there's no quota that will make the BBC commission a Secret Policeman, ITV a Second Coming or Channel 4 a Shameless. They are the result of having access to exceptional talent, judgment, courage (because the risk of failure is often high), confidence, timing and plain old luck - all things that cannot be legislated for. Most of all they are the product of a state of mind, one that is increasingly at odds with the demands of a modern broadcasting market that favours more-of-the-same and as-cheap-as-you-like. This is the bit of public service broadcasting that is least articulated and therefore least protected. It is not susceptible to capture by quota and it depends on myriad factors outside the control of regulators and legislators. But it is vital and must not be allowed to fall off the edge of Ofcom's radar just because it can't be counted or categorised. If it does, all we will be left with is quota-driven "obligation" television. Ofcom has set out its stall as a professional regulator with a determination to get to the bottom of this tricky public- service business. To do so, it will need not only the economist's tools of measurement and analysis and the researcher's clipboard, but an old-fashioned nose for a good programme and the guts to reward risk-taking.

From Guardian, UK, 12 January 2004

eGovernment Case Study: Dealing with Public Enquiries Online

The Internet has rapidly become one of the key methods that government departments use to provide the public with the information, forms and advice they require. The high profile e-Government programme states that government departments are required to make all their services available electronically by 2005. Combine this with the most recent statistics, which show that 56% of the population are now 'regular users' of the web and it is clear to see why the issue of dealing with public enquiries online has found its way to the top of the agenda. When a member of the public visits a government department's web site, their ability to find the particular piece of information they need amongst the mass of data available, varies significantly dependant on the site visited. Often, when using search facilities, a web visitor can be presented with an exhaustive list of documents, many of which have little relevance to their search. Having failed to find the information they need, the user is often required to then telephone the department's public enquiry centre, adding to the workload of these already busy staff. Developing an effective online public enquiry site will ensure users can find the information they are looking for easily, freeing busy call centre staff to deal with complex enquiries rather than being overloaded with a large volume of calls of a similar nature.

A number of key areas must be addressed when designing the public enquiry section of a web site, so that it can process the vast majority of users' queries quickly and effectively. 1) Accessing the information - There is no point reinventing the wheel. Government departments will have the majority of information the public needs stored in databases and back office systems, so there is no need to start from scratch. The trick is categorising and sorting the information that already exists into a format that can be easily searched by the public when they browse the web site. Consolidation is important. Many departments are divided into different policy units or divisions, each with their own set of information and forms. When a user visits a department's web site they may not be familiar with these internal divisions and so all this data needs to be combined and accessed via the one search engine. To do this well and avoid the duplication of information takes planning, and you may find it easier to employ an external agency. However, the resulting savings in administration time are worth it. Once the work is completed, internal staff need only maintain one set of data, and similarly when staff themselves have a query, they need only access one information source to find the answer. Once consolidated, the information needs to be prioritised.

The majority of visitors to a government department's web site will want to know the answers to the same 50 questions. Prioritising these questions will mean that users can avoid searching through hundreds of documents to find the information they require. One of the easiest ways to prioritise and categorise the information is through a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) area on the site. Typically this would display the 10 most commonly searched for items and as a result, will answer many queries instantly. The FAQ section of the site can usefully be sub-divided into categories, displaying the overall top 10 questions, with further links to the top 10 FAQs for sub-sections of the site. It is important that the site is user-friendly and that these sub-sections reflect how a web visitor would categorise him or herself. For example, a county council may have FAQs for businesses, residents and tourists. The NHS may need separate FAQs for doctors, dentists and pharmacists. These FAQs can be updated automatically to reflect the changing nature of searches on the site. FAQs can also be manually prioritised on a time-sensitive basis to reflect the needs of the department. For example, a question on flu jabs could be given precedence to appear in the first 10 questions on the NHS site as winter approaches.

Prioritising the information in this way will help the public receive the information they want quickly and will play a part in increasing their satisfaction with the government department with which they are interacting. The questions section should be accompanied by a keyword search facility for those users with less standard enquiries. This facility can also be used to inform the public enquiry unit of popular searches so that new questions and answers can be developed and added to the FAQs. 2) Who will be using the site? The question seems simple enough, and the introductory pages to a web site may often be well designed and well targeted, but a search on the site could reveal documents - perhaps out of date or intended for internal use - that are not fit for consumption by a mass audience. This is often the result of a desire to 'get everything online' without perhaps considering who will be accessing the information. A wise move is to ensure that the information that will be made available to the public via a web site is in a form that can be understood by the greatest number of users. The DfES is one government department that has made great efforts in this area, employing a team of editors who review and rewrite policy information to make it digestible by the greatest number of people. This information is not only used by the public via the web but by internal staff to answer queries.

3) Design and accessibility - The design of the public enquiry site is also key. Too much information on one page and the user will not be able to find what they need. If using the FAQ option, for example, only the questions themselves should be displayed, so that the relevant one is easy to locate and can be clicked on to reveal the answer. It is also essential that the site is accessible to the widest possible audience. In terms of technology, this means it must be easily viewed using the oldest PCs and web browsers. In terms of users with special needs, this will mean having written explanations of images to support visually impaired users employing text to speech software. By investing some time examining these questions and developing a good public enquiry site, a government department can dramatically save time spent on administration. If enquires are answered well on the web, the public has no need to make a call or write a letter to the department to find what they are looking for, freeing internal staff to spend time improving the quality of information provided on the site. In addition, a well written system is as of much use to an internal audience as an external one, so call centre staff and other employees can utilise the same resources to access the information they need, maximising the department's return on investment.

From PublicTechnology.net, UK, by David Eccles, Managing Director, 3T, 14 January 2004


eGovernment Open Source Costs Threatened by SCO Anouncement

Throwing more petrol on troubled open source Linux waters, the SCO Group Inc the owner of the UNIX operating system has announced it has begun making the SCO Intellectual Property License available to companies and organisations worldwide including small-to-medium size businesses and large corporations. That could throw a spanner in the works for wide-spread Linux open source eGovernment solutions. What does SCO's threat mean in plain English? It's think-carefully time for UK Non-Departmental Government Bodies, Non Governmental Organisations and not-for-profit organisations who operate as limited companies, and are considering Linux solutions over Microsoft, as a potential cost-saver. SCO claims the Linux operating system infringes on its intellectual property, and that Linux users who don't cough up to purchase its licence are in violation of SCO's copyright and could be subject to lawsuits. It's a threat which needs to be taken seriously.

The SCO Intellectual Property (IP) License permits the use of SCO's intellectual property, in binary form only, as contained in Linux distributions. By purchasing the license, customers are "properly compensating SCO for the UNIX source code, derivative UNIX code and other UNIX-related intellectual property and copyrights owned by SCO as it is currently found in Linux", according to the company. But Gartner's George Weiss, vice president and research director in Gartner Research advises that Hewlett-Packard will indemnify Linux customers against the SCO Group's legal claims if customers make HP their sole provider of Linux support. The offer makes best sense for enterprises with complex Linux deployments. Gartner also advises against purchasing SCO's licence until SCO settles lawsuits with IBM and Red Hat that relate to its intellectual property claims.

The SCO IP License is currently available at introductory pricing of $699 US per server processor and $199 US per desktop processor. The company is also offering the license to embedded device manufacturers who use Linux to run their devices. In addition to extending the license to customers worldwide, the company also announced the availability of the license through select SCO resellers. "While we have identified several problem areas at issue within Linux, we also want to be fair to customers and allow them to continue using Linux and our intellectual property unencumbered," said Chris Sontag, senior vice president and general manager of SCOsource, the intellectual property licensing and protection division of The SCO Group, Inc. "We believe the SCO IP License helps customers satisfy the legal requirements to continue using SCO's UNIX intellectual property in Linux in a forthright way while properly compensating the company for use of its property."

From PublicTechnology.net, UK, 16 January 2004

Government 'Failing to Deliver on Public Services'

Massive cash injections have delivered virtually no improvements to Britain's public services, it was claimed today. A right-wing think-tank said the transport system was a fiasco and there was little improvement in education. A decade of improvement in tackling crime was now levelling off and NHS improvements were minor compared with the huge Government investment. It said the public was losing patience because they could barely see any improvements despite rising tax bills. The claims came from the Reform think-tank as Prime Minister Tony Blair was holding talks with senior ministers on the delivery of public services today. The think-tank claimed the Government's reforms amounted to little more than tinkering and major changes were needed to bring public services up to scratch.

Reform's research director Andrew Haldenby said: "The public are losing patience. "Taxes are rising but services are barely improving and, in some cases, actually deteriorating. "If ministers are serious about improving public services, they must recognise that their failings are caused by their outdated structure and that only real reform, based on choice and competition, will deliver a step-change in performance and value for money." A recent study by the think-tank, which specialises in public service research, found crime had been falling since 1997. But the trend was now levelling off. Crime was now higher in Britain than any other European country except Sweden. It said more children were now passing GCSEs and A-levels, but only because the exams were getting easier. Britain has fallen behind other countries and now ranks 21st in the world for the qualifications of 25 to 34-year-olds. On health, waiting lists have fallen since 1997. But Reform said improvements in the NHS had not matched investment. Between 1998-99 and 2001-02 the number of hospital operations rose by just 4% despite a 24% increase in NHS spending in real terms.

The think-tank added 80% of NHS spending increases were absorbed in pay rises and higher drug spending. Furthermore, the Government is not on target to meet its aims of a sharp increase in rail use and a decrease in road congestion. The Conservatives today also published a dossier on Labour's public services record which reflected Reform's findings. Mr. Blair was being joined by Health Secretary John Reid, Education Secretary Charles Clarke and Home Secretary David Blunkett for today's meeting. The ministers were discussing the impact of the Government's education, health and crime policies at the Prime Minister's official country retreat, Chequers. The head of the Downing Street delivery unit, Michael Barber, was giving his report on the delivery of public services - set to be one of the key battlegrounds in the next General Election. Downing Street has insisted "steady progress" has been made since Mr. Barber's previous report in July. The Prime Minister's official spokesman added: "It is simply a progress stock-taking exercise, part of the regular series of such meetings that have taken place in the last year."

From The Scotsman, UK, by Jamie Lyons, 16 January 2004

E-Government at Bulgarians' Disposal from 2005

Completing the administrative reforms and launching the e-government into operation, in compliance with EU standards, are top priority tasks for working out in 2004, State Administration Minister Dimitar Kalchev said on Wednesday after a meeting with Mongolian State Minister and Government Administration Chairman Olziisaiichan Enchtuvshin. The Mongolian delegation was presented with the pace of administrative reforms in Bulgaria and the capacity of the e-governmental portal where the EU negotiation process with the country and the status of each negotiation chapter can be tracked down. The first online administrative services were officially launched September 2003 as the first step for Bulgaria towards fulfilling its national strategy for building efficient e-government system. A total of 20 online administrative services - including firms and vehicles registration - will be available in Bulgaria by the end of 2005. Through the optical cable infrastructure covering so far half of Bulgaria's territory, the exchange of information between institutions will considerably speed up.

From Novinite, Bulgaria, 21 January 2004

UK Urged to Increase Productivity

The Government was urged by the European Commission today to improve the quality and efficiency of public services. Low levels of productivity must be improved and the high numbers of workers claiming sickness and disability benefits reduced, a Brussels report on the state of the European economy said. The document warned that the EU's goal of becoming the most dynamic economy in the world by 2010 is slipping, with many member states demonstrating low productivity, high unemployment and weak public finances. Four years since EU leaders' pledge to beat all-comers economically by 2010, the Commission's latest progress report said the goal is moving out of reach, thanks to "worrying" employment rates, particularly among the over-55s, and a lack of political will to make the necessary investments. Germany, traditionally the EU's economic powerhouse, is suffering from "structural weakness" in its economy, with falling employment, a rising public deficit, and a too-rigid labour market.

French efforts to boost the economy have failed, with a marked deterioration in economic performance, virtually no growth last year and an urgent need to reduce deficits. The UK, by comparison, gets a glowing economic report, citing a combination of low inflation, low unemployment and steady growth. But the Commission also said: "The key challenges for the UK include the need to improve the relatively low level of productivity, to address the high numbers of working-age people claiming sickness and disability benefits and sustain labour supply in the longer term, and to improve the quality and efficiency of public services." The leader of Britain's Conservative Euro MPs, Jonathan Evans, said the document highlighted the continuing gap between the EU and US economies.

He said: "Since European leaders agreed a goal of making Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010, we have heard a great deal of talking, but seen too little action. "America not only continues to outperform the EU, but the gap in performance is widening thanks to the adaptable labour markets and pro-business environment in the US. "Instead of making progress, the EU is actively heading in the opposite direction with restrictive new laws such as the Temporary Workers Directive, which would freeze up the temping industry in the UK - the most flexible labour market in Europe. "This directive is merely at the top of a pyramid of many hundreds of damaging new rules and regulations produced every year in the UK and the European Union." Liberal Democrat leader in the European Parliament, Graham Watson, said the European economic picture was one of "spluttering growth, reluctant reform and the threat of rising poverty".

He said the report showed the Commission was right to take EU governments to court for failing to penalise Germany and France over large public deficits. He said: "A favourable court ruling would help restore credibility to Europe's failing fiscal rules." Paul Hofheinz, president of the Lisbon Council, a Brussels-based group campaigning for economic reform in Europe, said: "The failure of countries like France and Germany to put their economic house in order is an embarrassing travesty for those who believe in European integration. "It is pitiful and counterproductive when large countries taunt Sweden and the UK for not wanting to be part of the single currency. Sweden and the UK might join a common currency someday - but they will never do so with proven economic laggards. The refusal to reform is harming the process of integration itself."

From The Scotsman, UK, by Geoff Meade, 21 January 2004

Public Service Must Get Rid of Its Parish Mentality - PM

St Julian's - When Malta joins the European Union, the people and especially the Public Service must eliminate their parish mentality which sometimes makes them less confident, the Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami said while addressing the opening of the National Conference about the proposed Public Service Act on Thursday morning. He stated that the Public Service officers will be those who will have the most direct contact with EU institutions, however the rest of the society including the Government's social partners must also do their part. The Public Service is also important for the country to remain competitive to attract foreign investment and to sell the local products in foreign markets. An action programme to face this challenge should be based on education and training of workers; the implementation of advanced technology which opens new markets; and the control of production expenditure. These are the priorities which should be carried out by the private sector, however entrepreneurs should find the support of the public sector.

The Prime Minister said that the Public Service together with the rest of the public sector, must continue to look for ways to increase efficiency and reduce the expenditure. The Public Service must implement the projects of every Ministry in time and without spending more than allotted. It should also focus on offering advice and analysing decision-making and ensure that when decisions are taken, these are implemented, he continued. The routine administrative work and the processing of continuous volumes of transactions should be handed over to agencies or should be carried out with the involvement of the private sector through public-private partnerships, Dr Fenech Adami said. He continued that during the EU membership negotiations, the Ministries and Government Departments learnt how to coordinate better between them on an administrative level. During the negotiations, a structure was set up to facilitate coordination. This had worked.

Other similar structures must now be set up to take care of the Government's domestic work. Thus, something which should be carried out by several Ministries or Departments would still be carried out efficiently, he said. The Act is needed because, with the changes in the career structure, the Service has also acquired some flexibility to give new training and qualifications amongst its employees, the Prime Minister stated. It is now time to take another step in this direction. The same change led to giving promotions according to merit. The heads of departments have already taken over some of the powers needed to manage their departments. It is now time to push towards decentralisation, he argued. Dr Fenech Adami expressed his belief that the proposed draft of the Public Service Act will provide an important framework for the Service in the 21st century. The Service should continue using IT to increase productivity and improve service quality, he concluded.

From di-ve.com, Malta, by Charlotte Bonavia (cbonavia@di-ve.com), 22 January 2004

Europe Targets our Public Services

The Government has been urged by the European Commission to improve the quality and efficiency of public services. Low levels of productivity must be improved and the high numbers of workers claiming sickness and disability benefits reduced, a Brussels report on the state of the European economy said. The document warned that the EU's goal of becoming the most dynamic economy in the world by 2010 is slipping, with many member states demonstrating low productivity, high unemployment and weak public finances. Four years since EU leaders' pledge to beat all-comers economically by 2010, the Commission's latest progress report said the goal is moving out of reach, thanks to "worrying" employment rates, particularly among the over-55s, and a lack of political will to make the necessary investments. Germany, traditionally the EU's economic powerhouse, is suffering from "structural weakness" in its economy, with falling employment, a rising public deficit, and a too-rigid labour market. French efforts to boost the economy have failed, with a marked deterioration in economic performance, virtually no growth last year and an urgent need to reduce deficits.

The UK, by comparison, gets a glowing economic report, citing a combination of low inflation, low unemployment and steady growth. But the Commission also said, "The key challenges for the UK include the need to improve the relatively low level of productivity, to address the high numbers of working-age people claiming sickness and disability benefits and sustain labour supply in the longer term, and to improve the quality and efficiency of public services." The leader of Britain's Conservative Euro MPs, Jonathan Evans, said the document highlighted the continuing gap between the EU and US economies. He said, "Since European leaders agreed a goal ofmaking Europe the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010, we have heard a great deal of talking but seen too little action. "America not only continues to outperform the EU but the gap in performance is widening thanks to the adaptable labour markets and pro-business environment in the US. "Instead of making progress, the EU is actively heading in the opposite direction with restrictive new laws such as the Temporary Workers Directive, which would freeze up the temping industry in the UK - the most flexible labour market in Europe."

From icWales, UK, by Geoff Meade, 22 January 2004

Civil Service Plan

The civil service plan to exploit the Hutton inquiry by demanding clearer rights to allow whistle-blowers to reveal wrongdoing by their political masters and to refuse to give personal evidence to parliamentary select committees. The First Division Association, the union representing top civil servants, is expected to point out that civil servants should not be required to give evidence to parliamentary select committees on their own behalf. They complain that the government scientist, David Kelly, was summoned before the foreign affairs select committee to give evidence about his own actions, rather than in his capacity as an adviser to ministers, the previously agreed basis on which the civil service speaks to committees. The rules on attendance, the so-called Osmotherly rules, have not been approved by parliament, but the parliamentary bible Erskine May states it has been agreed that civil servants largely give evidence on behalf of ministers and that committees should not act as a disciplinary committee.

A review by the Commons liaison committee of its handling of the Kelly affair published earlier this month conceded that the foreign affairs select committee asked "off limits questions". The liaison committee accepted that Dr Kelly was asked to give evidence "in respect of his personal behaviour, rather than as a spokesman for government policy or as an expert witness on factual matters". The decision to require Dr Kelly to give evidence was taken by the defence secretary Geoff Hoon who tried to circumscribe the questions asked, but was not in a position to enforce the rules. The FDA is also likely to use the Hutton report to press the case for a civil service act in which civil servants have clear access to commissioners to make complaints. Lord Hutton may also raise questions over the role of the cabinet secretary and his failure to organise the free flowing decision making process at Number 10. It was striking that Sir Andrew Turnbull, the cabinet secretary, gave no formal evidence to the Hutton inquiry, suggesting that he was not closely involved in the Number 10 decision making process on how to handle Dr Kelly. He is expected to be urged to ensure better record and minute keeping.

From Guardian, UK, by Patrick Wintour, 26 January 2004

Growth of E-government Slows in Europe

Cap Gemini Ernst & Young have released results of an ongoing survey on the adoption of electronic Public Services across Europe. The objective of the survey is to provide a benchmark for the different European countries to compare progress and share best practice. The survey, undertaken on behalf of the European Commission, looks at the progress Europe is making in providing online services at both the individual and business level across the 15 EU member countries, plus Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. The adoption of e-government continues to grow but the pace of this growth slowed between 2002 and 2003. The level of online sophistication grew 7% and is now at 67% as opposed to 60% in 2002 and 45% in 2001. Austria has made the most progress of any one country for the 12-month period. Due to progress in the last year, research can now focus on the number of public services that are truly fully-transactional online.

Taking this indicator to look at Europe's progress overall shows that only 45% of services are fully available on line with Denmark, Austria and Sweden the leaders. In 2002 only Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and Finland showed progress towards two-way interaction, but today almost all the countries surveyed have improved the average level of online sophistication of their public services. Twenty basic public services have been identified, eight for citizens and twelve for businesses. In almost every country more progress was made by online services for businesses than those for citizens. Services for businesses reached an overall score of 79% for online sophistication, 63% for fully available online. The services for citizens stayed at the level of 58% for online sophistication, and only 32% for fully available online. It was also noted that, for both citizens and business services, enabling the collection of taxes are more sophisticated than those where the government is required to provide a service to the recipient (eg permits, registrations etc).

From Ireland Online, Ireland, 27 January 2004

Ireland's E-government Advantage Erodes

The sophistication of e-government in Ireland has increased marginally since the end of 2002, but other EU countries are narrowing what was once a wide gap. Report from Cap, Gemini, Ernst & Young (CGE&Y) for the European Commission Information Society Directorate-General, which placed Ireland second in Europe in terms of on-line public service sophistication, with a score 86 percent. That placement ties with Denmark and is 1 point behind the leader, Sweden. Last year Ireland had an 85 percent score and in October 2001 its score was 68 percent, topping the list. Though the Republic still ranks quite high in comparison to competitor nations, many countries that once trailed Ireland by a wide margin have made impressive gains over the past year. Austria, for example, ranked fourth in terms of e-government sophistication in the most recent survey, with a score of 83 percent, compared to 56 percent a year earlier. Likewise, Finland and Norway had scores of 76 percent and 66 percent respectively in 2002, but rose to 80 percent and 75 percent in the October 2003 survey.

Meanwhile, another section of the report which tracks "complete electronic case handling" - a measure of whether a public service can be handled entirely on-line without traditional paperwork - placed Ireland fifth, with a score of 56 percent, compared to 50 percent last year. Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Finland topped this list, all posting gains of 11 percentage points or more, save for Sweden, which posted no gain. For its part, Austria had the most impressive growth, climbing from 20 percent in 2002 to 68 percent in 2003. Ireland's slowed growth is reflective of what has happened throughout Europe, the report indicated. Over all, Europe's level of on-line sophistication grew 7 points in the year to October 2003 to 67 percent.

In the previous year growth leapt 15 percent. Nonetheless, some progress was made, with Europe scoring 45 percent in the 'complete electronic case handling' metrics. Importantly, in 2002 only Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and Finland showed progress towards two-way nteraction, but now almost all the countries measured have improved the average level of on-line sophistication of their public services beyond one-way interaction, CGE&Y said. Interestingly, the report also revealed that services for business tend to be in a more advanced state than citizen-centric services, with sophistication scores for the two categories hitting 79 percent and 58 percent, respectively. On-line availability scores were 63 percent for business-focused public services, and a meagre 32 percent for citizen-focused services.

"Clearly, Europe's nation states continue to make good progress in e-government," commented Stan Cozon, CGE&Y's public sector global leader. "However, taking the measure of Europe's progress on services fully available on-line, the picture is rather pessimistic. The EC will want to encourage member states to enhance the number of public services fully available on-line, particularly those aimed at citizens." The report, which covered 15 EU member countries plus Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, broke government services into four main categories: Income-generating: services such as taxes and social contributions; Registration services such as births, deaths or marriages; Returns, or services provided in return for taxes such as public libraries; and permits & licences, for activities like home construction or business registration.

From Electric News Net, by Matthew Clark, 27 January 2004

Makes Major Upgrades to Its Europa Web Empire

EUROPA, the EU's multilingual internet site, is getting a fundamental face-lift in 2004 starting with a new-look home page which has just gone live. The aim for the EU's transformed website is to capture new audiences & will deliver continent-wide eGovernment information to citizens. The European Commission, which manages EUROPA, is making a major effort to capture new audiences, and especially to attract young people. By the end of March 2004, the emerging new EUROPA will offer many new services in a much more user-friendly way. It will feature animated graphs, interactive games, simpler navigation and an improved search function. The languages of the ten new EU countries will gradually be added . Most of the remaining planned changes will be in place by summer 2004. EUROPA is probably the world's biggest internet site.

It is a multilingual portal, giving access to all the public information and official documents produced by the European Union. Much of this material is available in all the EU's official languages. That amounts to some 2.5 million information pages and other documents, plus thousands of photos. The European Commission manages EUROPA on behalf of all the EU institutions. In November 2003, EUROPA had around 300 000 visitors per day, viewing some 4 million pages or documents. Since the site was created in 1995, its audience has increased at a rate of about 20% a year, reflecting the growing number of people who use the internet. In 2003, there were more than 150 million internet users in the EU (45% of the total population), and this figure will rise by around 10 million when the new member states join on 1 May 2004. Increasingly, people are interested in the European Union.

Yet, according to opinion polls, 72% of the EU's citizens know little or nothing about it. The new-look EUROPA targets this information gap. People visiting the site in 2004 will find witty, animated graphs presenting basic facts and figures about the EU, and interactive games that make it fun to learn about Europe's history and peoples. From the new home page they can easily access simple and informative booklets, maps and other educational material, or dig deeper for more detailed information if they want it. EU citizens wanting to study, work or retire in another EU country will be guided to very practical information about their rights and about the procedures to follow.

The traditional users of EUROPA - businesses, government departments, regional and local authorities, NGOs, universities and the media - will find the information they want presented by topic, with easier access to official documents as well as the interactive services provided by each individual institution. The whole operation will be supported by the considerable improvement in EUROPA's search facility - a service that is, at present, rightly criticised by many users. Updating a huge site like EUROPA in up to 20 languages is a daunting challenge for the European Commission. From spring 2004, the Commission will introduce modern content management tools that allow information production to be increasingly automated, and that improve cooperation among information providers, editors and translators. The goal is to continue serving the general public in all 20 official languages of the enlarged Union, and to make more specialist information available in a wider choice of languages than at present.

From PublicTechnology.net, UK, 25 January 2004

 

Dubai Offering More Online Basic Public Services than Europe

Dubai - Madar Research Group, a Dubai-based company, has conducted a study on 'Dubai Knowledge Economy 2003-2004' that shows that the online availability of basic services in Dubai is higher than in Europe. Dubai's score is marginally higher than that of Finland, which holds the fourth position in Europe. The Group carried out the study based on a methodology adopted by the European Commission, for evaluating the level of online availability of EU basic public services. The study covered 19 basic services, nine for individuals and 10 for businesses provided by Dubai eGovernment through the Internet as on October 31, 2002, after surveying 226 services. The study placed Dubai's online availability of basic public services at 76.4 per cent, against Finland's 76 per cent. Further, the online percentages of basic public services provided to businesses stood at 85.2 per cent and to individuals at 67.7 per cent.

The study also revealed that 66.7 per cent of the basic services provided by Dubai's free zones to their partners were available online. Salem Al Shair, director eServices, Dubai eGovernment, said: "The recognition earned by Dubai eGovernment in different surveys and studies, both local and international, is a reward for the hard work the eGovernment team has put in over the past two years. It is no small achievement to outperform the highly advanced European countries which have had a headstart of several years." The online business services included visas, local fees collection, engineering services, company registration, legal services, customs declarations, environment-related permits, public procurement and free zones establishment.

The online services covered in the community category were job search, payment of utility bills, car registration, declaration to the police, public libraries, birth & marriage certificates, enrolment in higher education and health-related services. "The objective of providing online services through the Net is now being extended further by channels like mDubai, which makes use of mobile devices to reach customers. We are aggressively working toward motivating the community to acquire greater competency in computers through special online and classroom learning. In this regard, our e4all project is helping thousands of people hone their computer skills with the help of competitive packages." The 'online percentage' of a service is determined by the extent to which it is possible to carry out a service electronically.

From MENAFN, Middle East, 7 January 2004

e-Governments Have a Major Role to Play in the Development of E-commerce: Dubai eGovernment

The momentum towards e-commerce is accelerating in the UAE, with government and private companies increasingly using it to drive sales and procurements. Consequently, career opportunities in the field of e-commerce are set to grow dramatically over the next few years, said Salem Al Shair, Director eServices, Dubai eGovernment. Addressing the students of Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi, on employment opportunities open to young national graduates, Al Shair said: 'E-commerce is an all-encompassing phenomenon. No company, supplier, dealer or distributor can afford to stay out of it. For companies, it is not enough to have a website; it is critically important to join online marketplaces that bring sellers together, offering great sourcing flexibility, lower costs and speedy transactions.' Explaining Dubai eGovernment's approach to e-commerce, Al Shair said: 'Dubai eGovernment, as the central gateway through which various government departments deliver their eServices to the public and businesses, has a strong role to play in the growth of e-commerce.

E-commerce fits very well with our objective of offering public services electronically through our portal www.dubai.ae. Conducting trade electronically will allow government departments to considerably improve their procurement standards and also ensure best pricing with minimum or no paperwork.' In the UAE, more and more companies are moving towards e-commerce. The tedious job of contacting suppliers, keeping inventories, updating stocks and ensuring quick delivery has been made smooth and efficient by the Web. Government departments are increasingly managing their procurement through online marketplaces like Tejari.com. This has brought numerous benefits to all parties in the chain and boosted overall efficiency. 'e-governments have a major role to play in the development of e-commerce. e-government initiatives have made governments active participants in e-commerce.

Through e-commerce activities, governments function as both consumers and suppliers of e-commerce and related services. Thus, the role of government as a regulator has changed to a more participatory one. e-government and e-commerce are, therefore, two sides of the same coin,' continued Al Shair. The career opportunities in e-commerce are diverse. 'The all-embracing nature of e-commerce has created a scenario where every company will need to employ specialists to manage e-commerce divisions. Every government department will eventually migrate its procurement processes to online platforms. Online selling could be as important, if not more important, than traditional selling. Further, we will see the setting up of more online marketplaces. With the popularity of online payment through credit cards and innovative tools like e-cash, e-commerce is guaranteed to dominate every aspect of modern business and life,' added Al Shair.

From AME Info, United Arab Emirates, 12 January 2004

Government Officers Mull System Disruptions

Bandar Seri Begawan - Government officers were briefed yesterday on all aspects of the e-Government to avoid any disruptions when the system would be in actual operation in Brunei. They were briefed on how to deal with any interference brought about by electromagnetic pulse. Lightning can induce electrical pulses and transients of incredible destructive force having thousands of volts and hundreds of joules, in a span of a few microseconds. Aside from that, lightning's activity within close proximity to electrical and electronic systems can also generate destructive and disruptive effects. Therefore, before the e-government system in Brunei is implemented any further, it is imperative to tackle this problem effectively.

Failure to do so could lead to possible destroyed power stations or generators, computers, switch systems and other computer as well as communication equipment necessary for e-Government's operation. Mr. S. K. Chong, Managing Director of LECDAS, yesterday made a presentation on the ways to prevent such phenomenon from occurring. The introduction of the e-Government system in Brunei Darussalam will also enable increased efficacy in human resources. Human Resources Management System (HRMS) in the marketplace is now evaluating the integration of biometrics as a natural replacement of the time and attendance system. Mr. Jacob Lim, Managing Director of Starvision I.T. from Singapore, further added that there is an increasing trend in the adoption of biometrics systems into business application and this system is also applicable here in Brunei. - Courtesy of Radio Television Brunei.

From Bru Direct, Brunei Darussalam, 17 January 2004

Federal E-Government Steering Committee to Finalize Strategy and Transition Plan

The UAE E-Government Steering Committee is to meet on 21 January to finalize the E-Government strategy and transition plan with a view to accelerating full implementation of the overall project. The meeting will be hosted by UAE Ministry of Finance and Industry, and will be attended senior government officials working on the project. Speaking prior to the event, the UAE Minister of State and Finance, His Excellent Dr Mohamed Khalfan bin Kharbash said that the meeting would result in the approval of priority projects to be implemented in the first phase. 'Following a process of assessing the current environment, our IT infrastructure and technical standards, we are now ready to prioritize projects for implementation based on our core activities,' he said. 'In order to achieve the key objectives of cost reduction and service enhancement, it is vital that we pursue priority projects in a structured manner that is coordinated with the overall E-Government implementation program.

This transition plan addresses all organizational aspects including business processes, organization structure, procedures and technology.' Commenting on the implementation stage of the project, Dr. Kharbash said: 'It is important that the implementation of the E-Government initiative follows a structured approach with distinct phases and clear deliverables. To ensure a successful transition, it is also imperative that government staff be actively involved in the implementation process to ensure sufficient knowledge transfer from business consultants. We are very proud to confirm that reaching this stage of approval was based on a highly consultative process involving a wide range of government entities and ministries.' The E-Government program implementation is structured in 'wave' stages whereby each wave has its own milestones and benchmarks and projects can span more than one wave or waves can overlap. The initiative was introduced as a tool to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the UAE Federal Government and is a key component in sustaining the country's competitiveness.

It supports the creation of greater transparency to introduce more liberal economic laws, cut down on bureaucratic procedures and provide better management to attract overseas investors. E-Government is just one of four initiatives being driven by MOFI with a view to creating greater efficiency and effectiveness in government operations. Total Quality Management, Performance-based Budgeting and Executive training conducted in conjunction with Harvard University, are also being implemented as part of the government's high performance program. The government's E-government project draws from the experience of other countries that have implemented similar programs. 'We have closely monitored the experience of other countries including Australia, New Zealand and the UK and acknowledge the need to leverage industry best practice in order to ensure that the UAE can be benchmarked among the best government service providers in the world,' said Dr Kharbash.

From AME Info, United Arab Emirates, 19 January 2004

Corporate Culture for Public Services

Jeddah - In a wave of facts and figures, Jeddah Mayor Abdullah Al-Muallami presented the successes of Jeddah municipality to delegates at the Jeddah Economic Forum yesterday. With impressive numbers - gross expenditure up from SR544 million to over SR700 million and substantial increases in land grants and services - he described the progress as a "quantum leap in productivity." The mayor said the municipal vision for Jeddah was for the city to be efficient and attractive with comprehensive services and sustainable urban development. It was the municipality's mission, he said, "to deliver municipal services to a perceived level of quality and efficiency." New administrative structures formed along corporate guidelines had been the basis for two new departments in the city - the General Department for Culture and Tourism and the Department for Environmental Protection. The mayor listed strategies that the municipality is now using that mirror current thinking inside corporate culture - relocation of the mayor's office and new signs and badges, management by objectives and "management by wandering around." These had in fact, he said, helped produce significant results that had had a direct effect on both the municipal staff and the public. "This has restored staff morale and introduced a new team spirit," he said.

One very positive effect on bureaucracy, according to the mayor, has been to reduce the numbers of documents and procedures needed for granting licenses. This has been considerably reduced - only four documents are required now instead of 12. The number of steps has also been cut from eight to three. The time between application and issue has come down dramatically from 10 days to as little as one. "In some cases, we can do the whole job in a few hours," said the mayor. The end user of a city's services - the citizen or the equivalent of the corporate customer - is important as a source of feedback to the municipality, said Makkah Mayor Dr. Khaled Nahhas. "We have been able to introduce surveys and ask the end-user 'How are we doing?' as part of the corporate 'can do' culture," he said. "The usual answer to municipal and public inefficiency is privatization," said Abdullah Rehaimi, president of the Presidency for Civil Aviation who described the finer points of government and private sector cooperation in the airline industry. "This often provides some benefits. It is possible for government to improve the delivery of services by taking on board commercial methods."

The presentations outlined the positive aspects of corporate methodologies but seemed to skate over the controls exercised by customers in the corporate system. Given poor goods or delivery of services, they have a choice and can go elsewhere and therefore put upward pressure on executives to account for their actions or failure to perform. Asked directly what sanctions or pressures the public could apply to ensure accountable and quality delivery of services and whether in the foreseeable future elections of municipal officials may provide that, neither the moderator of the session nor the mayors responded. The question was then directed to Abdullah Rehaimi. He considered that the best option was to choose the operating system used by a public body from inside. "Whether it works or not will reflect on us," he said, "especially if we derive revenues from the market place."

From Arab News, Saudi Arabia, by Roger Harrison, 18 January 2004

Federal E-Government Steering Committee Approves Priority Projects within the Transition Plan

As part of its transition plan to efficiently put into action priority projects, the UAE E-Government Steering Committee has given the green light for the implementation of a number of e-government projects covering vital aspects relevant to federal government processes, be they intra-ministry or ministry-customer transactions. The announcement came during the Committee's meeting in Dubai headed by UAE Minister of State for Finance and Industry, His Excellency Dr. Mohamed Khalfan bin Kharbash. Commenting on the meeting, Dr. Kharbash said: 'The flexibility with which the overall project has been approved reflects the invested interest and responsibility of the Committee's members.

Today, the Committee has pursued priority projects in a structured manner that is coordinated with the overall E-Government implementation program in order to achieve the key objectives of cost reduction and service enhancement by adopting numerous e-systems, including e-Government Procurement system, e-Human Resources Management system, e-Student system, and e-Business system'. 'We aim at establishing an e-environment to help us finalize and achieve world-class UAE e-Government with cutting edge ITC technology. This objective complements our drive to achieve high performance and efficiency government, and enhances our efforts to provide corporate sector and individuals, UAE nationals and residents, with up to date solutions for any anticipated problem,' added Dr. Kharbash.

Adopting centralized design and decentralized implementation approaches; the Steering Committee approved a federal government accounting system that ensures unified financial and accountancy procedures for all government transactions. But designing and implementing the projects and allocating financial resources remain within the power of each ministry. This system is regarded as one of the main pillars supporting performance based budgeting as it strengthens auditing and financial scrutiny. And, in order to provide fast and efficient services, the Committee approved the e-Expat system, which provides a single entry point to the expatriates of the UAE to process their visa and residency services, labour permits, health cards, and other services. This will allow for a 'One Stop Shop' linking federal departments to provide a common interface through which all the citizens and business communities can identify and obtain all required information, permits, and approvals.

The Committee also approved e-Procurement, which is a comprehensive and systemic process in which governments either establish agreements for the acquisition or the purchase of products/services using IT systems. This is done through different channels such as electronic ordering; purchasing cards, reverse auctions, and automatic accounting systems. Other systems that were approved are the e-Diplomat system which provides a faster and secure communication channels for the diplomatic community to provide information and services, the e-Citizen system which provides a single entry point to the citizens of the UAE to use specific services offered by the Federal government entities, and the e-Project system that allows the Federal government to access, monitor, and manage their Federal projects. The E-Government project has been designed in such a way to allow the government officials responsible for the project to implement the programs and systems in a structured 'wave' stages whereby each wave has its own milestones and benchmarks and projects can span more than one wave or waves can overlap. The initiative was introduced as a tool to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the UAE Federal Government and is a key component in sustaining the country's competitiveness.

From AME Info, United Arab Emirates, 21 January 2004

'E-government Won't Eliminate Jobs'

Cairo - Governments that employ e-government will not eliminate jobs but will provide their citizens with a more efficient and transparent administration, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said on Sunday. In a speech to an Arab technology conference, Gates said e-government has been a "huge focus" for Microsoft. He tried to allay fears that it would drive governments to cut jobs. "It will simply allow government to provide better service. There is a lot of demand for things to be done better. This simply should contribute into that in a very strong way," Gates added. Gates and Egyptian Prime Minister Ate Obeyed launched the e-government portal in Cairo on Saturday. The founder of Microsoft is making his first visit to the Middle East. E-government aims to cut through bureaucracy and facilitate government operations by allowing people to communicate via computers. Citizens can do research, obtain information and make transactions online. Red tape is endemic in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt, a country of 70-million with a huge, multilayered bureaucracy and more than 5-million civil servants.

In a question and answer session at the conference on Sunday, Bahraini Commerce Minister Ail al-Saleh said the region needs the help of Microsoft and other computer firms. He urged the Seattle-based company to open a centre in the Middle East similar to those it has in China and the Far East. Gates responded the region could use such centres, but they should come about through a partnership between Microsoft and local companies. The Microsoft chairman said his company is engaged in various ventures in Egypt, including providing low-cost computers and "working together on e-government that creates more openness (and) creates more efficiency." "There is a lot of potential here," Gates told reporters after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier in the day. "I really think that a lot of what we're doing here is an example not just for the Middle East, but for the entire world."

During the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week, Gates announced a partnership with the UN Development Programme to provide software, computer training and cash to establish computer centres in poor communities, starting with pilot projects in Egypt, Mozambique and Morocco. He said the centres would not have to use only Microsoft products. Egypt's minister of communication and information technology, Ahmed Mahmoud Nazif, has welcomed the help, noting that about 500 to 600 centres have already been set up in his country. Nazif said Microsoft is interested in increasing the capabilities of Egyptian companies to create job opportunities and their ability to export. Gates said e-government "is a very interesting thing" whose potential hasn't been fully achieved by any country. Even the U.S. government lags behind those of smaller countries, such as Singapore and Ireland, when it comes to e-government, Gates said. "My extreme view is that people shouldn't have to do paperwork at all. They shouldn't have to stand in line at all," he said. In reply to a conference question, Gates said Microsoft was committed to ensuring that all its program tools work for Arabic content.

From Mail & Guardian, South Africa, 26 January 2004

Jordan, Microsoft Sign Deal on E-government

Zohbi says entreprise licencing accord serves Jordan's overall strategy for modernisation of government services. AMMAN - Jordan on Tuesday signed an "entreprise licencing agreement" with US software giant Microsoft as part of a drive to modernise government e-services, officials said. Fawaz Zohbi, Jordan's minister of information and communication technology, said the accord was part of Framework Partnership Agreement signed between Jordan and Microsoft in October to develop e-government, e-learning and the information technology (IT) industry. "Microsoft and Jordan are now working together to elevate their strategic partnership to a new level that focuses on new investment opportunities and cooperation for joint projects across the region," he said.

Zohbi said the partnership accord and "the entreprise licensing agreement also serve our overall strategy for the modernisation of government services through capacity building and joint investment in government e-services". Microsoft's senior vice president for business strategy, Maggie Wilderotter, said the accord will bolster cooperation between her firm and Jordan and help support IT and communication technology skills in the kingdom. Under the terms of the Framework Partnership Agreement, Microsoft will invest expertise, training and other resources to co-develop projects in partnership with Jordan's e-government programme.

From Middle East Online, UK, 27 January 2004

UAE University, Dubai eGovernment Boost Links

Dubai - Dubai eGovernment and the UAE University have signed a deal to boost mutual co-operation. UAE University vice-chancellor Dr Hadef bin Jouan Al Dhahiri said the memorandum of understanding would enable the university to achieve its goal of strengthening its focus on IT education by providing on-the-job training to the students. He said the deal will also help us bridge the gap between academic studies and the job market, he said. The MOU spells out mutual co-operation in areas such as research and benchmarking, content for e-learning and hands-on training of Dubai eGovernment systems. Hadef bin Jouan Al Dhahiri and Salem Al Shair, director eServices, Dubai eGovernment, signed the MOU at Dubai eGovernment offices. Al Shair said: 'This MOU paves the way for enhanced co-operation in research, internship and training at government departments, for UAE University students. 'It will also open doors for Government employees with bachelor's degrees to pursue masters degrees at the UAE University. 'Additionally, the recent opening of the UAE University's Dubai offices at Knowledge Village will give a further impetus to this partnership,' said Salem Al Shair. 'We are extremely pleased to sign this MOU with an institution that symbolises the UAE's highest attainments in the field of higher education, especially in IT.'

Al Shair added: 'Dubai eGovernment is keen to offer the students of the UAE University access to our cutting edge systems that have pioneered a user-friendly infrastructure to facilitate online delivery of public services. 'We are also delighted to collaborate with the UAE University in developing e-learning solutions, leveraging the expertise of both sides. 'This signifies a major development, with strong long-term benefits for the learning community, because we foresee e-learning will become an important educational channel in the near future.' 'The UAE University has one of the region's finest infrastructure for delivering IT education to students, including cutting edge wireless technology. 'We offer a variety of IT courses and focus on in-house training at private and public sector companies,' said Dr Al Dhahiri. 'We share a common vision with Dubai eGovernment to leverage technology to ease people's lives.' 'Dubai eGovernment encourages the use of advanced eServices, such as eJob which simplifies the task of job placements at various government departments in Dubai. 'Being a pioneer in the implementation of practical technology for the benefit of citizens, Dubai eGovernment will provide our students with an ideal platform to gain first-hand insights into e-governance and inspire them to leverage that knowledge to develop customised solutions for other applications.'

Under the new partnership, Dubai eGovernment will create well-defined opportunities for UAE University students and faculties to work on real results-oriented research and benchmarking projects under joint supervision. UAE University will dedicate students to work on Dubai eGovernment projects through the Capstone Course. Dubai eGovernment will offer internship programs to the university's students as well as arrange workshops and seminars for them. Both will formulate and conduct applied research and related activities, as part of the MOU. In the field of e-learning, Dubai eGovernment will provide topics, objectives and guidelines for developing a suite of e-learning courses. UAE University in turn will create, edit and provide the content for the courses. 'This MOU marks the start of a mutually beneficial partnership that will allow both organisations to boost research and benchmarking standards, through shared expertise,' said Dr Al Dhahiri. 'We are positive that the exchange of ideas between the two sides will help create innovative solutions in the selected areas of cooperation, to enhance the standards of both organisations.'

Dubai eGovernment is a pioneering initiative in the region to provide online services across the spectrum of corporate and community life in the emirate. It also has a vision to integrate individually automated government departments under the single umbrella of the eGovernment initiative, thus empowering employees across lines of businesses and levels of government, besides facilitating the lives of citizens and customers of the government. Dubai has taken a lead in the region in deploying e-government applications and is among the first few governments in the world to provide such integrated services to its citizens. The eGovernment portal (www.dubai.ae) is a single contact point masking the complexity of the bureaucratic procedures, and guiding access to all services in the easiest possible way. In addition, the eGovernment initiative seeks to improve and enhance procedures by maximising the benefit from technology, so that users from all walks of life will be able to utilize the portal for their specific needs with considerable ease.

From Trade Arabia, World, 27 January 2004

Gates Touts Work on Egypt's E-government

Cairo - Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates said Sunday his company's ventures in Egypt on e-government and other projects should serve as an example for the Middle East and the world. The Microsoft chairman said his company is engaged in various ventures in Egypt, including providing low-cost computers and "working together on e-government that creates more openness [and] creates more efficiency." E-government aims to cut through bureaucracy and facilitate government operations by operating electronically. Red tape is endemic in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt, a country of 70 million with a huge, multilayered bureaucracy and more than 5-million public employees. "There is a lot of potential here," Gates said. "I really think that a lot of what we're doing here is an example not just for the Middle East but for the entire world." During the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Mr. Gates announced a partnership with the United Nations Development Program to provide software, computer training and cash to establish computer centres in poor communities, starting with pilot projects in Egypt, Mozambique and Morocco. He said the centres would not have to use only Microsoft products. Egypt's minister of communication and information technology, Ahmed Mahmoud Nazif, has welcomed the help, noting that about 500 to 600 centres have already been set up in his country.

Gates, in Cairo for a regional Arab information technology conference, and Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Obeid launched the e-government portal in Cairo on Saturday. Gates met with President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday. In a reply to a reporter's question, he said afterward that e-government "is a very interesting thing" whose potential hasn't been fully achieved by any country. "I'm certainly a big believer that using software as a tool, electronic mail [and] spread sheets really allows you to see the trends more rapidly [and] allows you to collaborate at a distance," he said. Gates said even in the United States, the government lags behind smaller countries, like Singapore and Ireland, when it comes to e-government. "My extreme view is that people shouldn't have to do paperwork at all. They shouldn't have to stand in line at all," he said. Speaking at the same news conference in Cairo on Sunday, Mr. Nazif, the Egyptian technology minister, said Microsoft is interested in increasing the capabilities of Egyptian companies to create job opportunities and ability to export. Mr. Gates said Microsoft and the Egyptian government need to work together to "raise the visibility of local partners," saying his company's policy is for local partners to benefit more than Microsoft from the business the software giant generates.

From The Globe and Mail, Canada, 27 January 2004

 

Family Connections Key to Civil-Service Jobs, Review Finds

Ottawa - Competency, fairness at risk, morale low because of continued federal bureaucratic patronage, report says. Managers in the federal public service continue to hire spouses, siblings and cousins - people they know - rather than comply with rules to ensure all Canadians have a fair chance at government jobs, according to a report from the Public Service Commission. In a review of hiring across the public service, the commission concluded that in 51 per cent of the placements it was unable to conclude that competency and fairness were respected because key documents were missing. "In many cases, the files had no evidence at all. Attempts made to locate the missing information were unsuccessful," states the internal report, which was obtained by CanWest News Service. The commission also found numerous examples in which managers avoided open competitions to hire employees. In 115 cases where specific individuals were referred by name for a job, 110 were listed as if they had been hired through a public competition - an activity the commission describes as "misleading." The fact that managers had prepared lists of possible candidates when no competition was ever held was "particularly troubling."

The report states that a common theme in the review is that transactions seemed to have been structured from the outset with the goal of appointing a particular person. "Competency and fairness are obviously at risk in such situations," it states. Continued bureaucratic patronage is also affecting employee morale. The report includes anonymous comments submitted by public servants to the commission that are highly critical of the hiring environment in their offices. Several public servants wrote that it is an open joke that managers list job qualifications in such a specific way that employees can accurately predict who in the office will get the job. "This is done so blatantly that most staff are able to identify the 'successful applicant' from a cursory review of the poster and statement of qualifications," said one employee. "This practice has become so blatant that some managers will joke about circumventing the competitive process. Not only does this abuse prevent the best candidates from competing but tends to be somewhat demoralizing."

The September 2002 report is based on an analysis of almost 1,000 hirings across Canada at eight government departments: Fisheries and Oceans, Human Resources Development Canada, the International Joint Commission, the National Library, the National Archives, the Office of the Information Commissioner and Privacy Commissioner and Veterans Affairs Canada. While a nine-page summary of the report had been made public, the findings in the full 147-page document were only released in December 2003 through access to information to Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin. While the report did identify moderate improvement toward more open hiring in light of previous reports regarding bureaucratic patronage, it clearly indicates the challenge awaiting Paul Martin's new government. On Dec. 12, the prime minister created a new Public Service Human Resources Management Agency reporting to Denis Coderre, the president of the Privy Council. The agency is tasked with working with unions and public servants to implement sweeping new legislation passed just before Parliament prorogued that aims to reform the public service.

The Public Service Commission itself has often been criticized as one of the root causes of bureaucratic patronage because of the long delays it takes to fill government positions. The commission is primarily responsible for hiring people into the public service and for ensuring that government departments are hiring based on merit. The report states managers complained that the commission is too slow, does not keep its potential staff inventories current and does a poor job of screening employees. Several employee comments are listed in the report under the heading "Nepotism/Patronage." "We have two sisters and a first cousin, all managers, in our area," wrote one. "I was quite surprised by the amount of people related to each other in this department. There seems to be quite a few parents and children here," wrote another. A third public servant stated: "I find that in my department they hire a lot of family members and friends, which I find to be unfair. There are quite a few husband-and-wife teams along with sisters and brothers working together." For the review, commission staff visited federal government offices in St. John's, Nfld., Charlottetown, Montreal, the Ottawa region, Toronto, Kirkland Lake, Ont., Windsor, Ont., and Vancouver.

From Canada.com, Canada, by Bill Curry, 2 January 2004

Public Service Commission Wants to Freeze RG&E Rates

Rochester, NY - Rochester Gas and Electric RG & E wants to raise electric rates by fifteen percent and gas rates by seven percent. However, the New York State Public Service Commission has proposed that they freeze rates until 2005. Company officials say without the rate hikes, service could be affected. Dick Marion, spokesperson for RG&E, said, "This is only a proposal by the staff of the public service commission. It will now go before the commission itself, But we are very concerned that if the commission approves this, we will no longer be able to provide safe, secure, and reliable delivery of electricity to our customers." The state public commission is expected to make its decision on RG&E's rate hike request this spring.

From WOKR-TV, NY, 2 January 2004

Minneapolis, Minnesota Selects Accela for E-Government Services

Dublin, Calif. - New Solution Allows Regulatory Services Department To Implement A Citizen Access Portal - Accela, Inc., the leading provider of government enterprise management solutions, announced today that Minneapolis, Minnesota is adding Accela's KivaCitizen(TM) to the City's existing land management system. KivaCitizen will allow the City to offer many of its government services via the Internet. Minneapolis has been using Kiva DMS(TM) for several years to centralize the land and permit management activities of the Building and Housing Department. With the addition of a public access portal, the City will provide the community with 24-hour access to government services via the Internet.

In the near future, citizens and business will be able to apply for permits, schedule inspections, check project status, pay fees, or submit comments on-line. "With a jurisdiction of this size, our ability to provide increased public access to government services benefits both our employees and our citizens," commented Merwyn Larson, Director of Inspections at Minneapolis. "This new portal will allow us to process requests more efficiently and further streamline our business processes." "As people become more accustomed to doing business on-line, they are expecting the same kinds of services from their local government," states Robert P. Lee, Accela's president and CEO. "Our Internet solutions allow agencies to increase citizen access to services, reduce errors by automating processes, and free up valuable staff time. The end result is better, faster government that works for everyone."

Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota and is home to more than 380,000 residents. The City joins several other jurisdictions in the U.S. already using Accela solutions. These include: Atlanta, Phoenix, Maricopa County, Miami-Dade County, Baltimore, San Diego County, Charlotte, Detroit, Orange County, and Kansas City. For more information on Minneapolis, please visit http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/ .

From Yahoo News (press release), 6 January 2004

Montgomery County, Ohio Launches Accela E-Government Solution

Dublin, Calif. - New solution allows Building Regulations Division to provide permitting and inspection information to citizens via the Internet - Accela, Inc., the leading provider of government enterprise software solutions, announced today that Montgomery County, Ohio has launched Accela eConnect(TM), an application that allows the County to offer several Building Regulations services via the Internet. Montgomery County initially began using Accela to internally automate the building permit activities of the Building Regulations Division. With the addition of eConnect, the County will provide the community with 24-hour access to check the status of a permit or application or view relevant inspection schedules.

Eventually, the system will be expanded to allow citizens to apply for certain permits, pay fees, and schedule inspections on-line. "Part of the County's e-government plan is to make its Building Regulations Division services more accessible to the public and Accela's solution helps us achieve this goal," commented Maury Wyckoff, Building Regulations Manager at Montgomery County. "This Internet module allows our citizens to access information quickly and easily and in turn, our staff will free up valuable time to focus on more important tasks and provide better individual customer service to those who need it." "Accela's technology allows us to provide effective enterprise solutions for government agencies of all sizes," states Robert P. Lee, Accela's president and CEO. "The end result is better, faster government that works for everyone." Montgomery County is the fourth largest county in Ohio and is home to more than 550,000 residents.

The County is one of many jurisdictions in Ohio who are already using Accela solutions. These include: Carlisle, Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Hamilton County, Mason, Wilmington, Oxford, Toledo, Kettering, and Forest Park. For more information on the Montgomery County Building Regulations Division, please visit http://www.mcohio.org/bldgreg/. About Accela - Accela develops award-winning enterprise systems for asset management, emergency response, licensing, permitting, planning, public health, and many other processes for government agencies of all sizes. Accela's software solutions manage critical public sector applications for thousands of departments in major metro areas, cities, and counties such as the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington D.C., Miami-Dade County, Atlanta, Kansas City, San Diego County, as well as others. Accela is headquartered in Dublin, Calif. For more information, please visit http://www.accela.com.

From PRNewswire (press release) , 12 January 2004

Web Site Links Private Industry to World-Class U.S. Department of Veterans Research

Wheeling, W.Va. - A new Web site (http://www.nttc.edu/imprprogram/) gives U.S. private industry access to technologies developed from more than $1 billion in annual, world-class Department of Veterans Affairs research. The site is part of the Innovative Medical and Prosthetics Research Program, a partnership between the National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC) and the VA. The site was designed and is maintained by the NTTC. "The NTTC helps facilitate the transfer of VA technology, a result of research performed in their numerous hospitals throughout the United States, for the benefit of both veterans and the general population," says Joe Allen, president of the NTTC, a full-service technology management organization located on the campus of Wheeling (W.Va.) Jesuit University. The NTTC-VA Innovative Medical and Prosthetics Research Program links U.S industry with the VA to introduce important commercialization opportunities, explains Pam Torlone, NTTC program manager.

The program identifies business opportunities, facilitates agreements between the VA and industry partners and assists industry partners through the VA commercialization process. "Our site showcases the NTTC/VA Medical and Prosthetics Research Program and links U.S. industry with the VA to introduce important advances to the public. This is an opportunity for industry to tap into VA R&D technologies and capabilities to maximize their resources and leverage the VA's technology investment," says Torlone. The Web site highlights VA technologies that are available for partnership; specific research areas, including aging and age-related changes, mental illness, sensory disorders and loss and chronic diseases; and the VA Centers of Excellence. There is also a section that details the work and accomplishments of VA researchers. Torlone says the VA Centers of Excellence attract the brightest minds from academia, industry and medicine.

The centers focus on finding research solutions in a variety of areas, including spinal cord injury, visual rehabilitation, AIDS, mental health and the design and development of new technologies to improve the mobility of physically impaired individuals. She adds that the VA has produced an array of remarkable medical advances. Some of the world's most recognized medical products have resulted from VA research, such as: - Pacemaker; - Computer-Assisted Tomography Scanner (CT Scan); - Nicotine patch; - Radioimmunoassay. The NTTC helps federal agencies identify commercially promising discoveries, market them to industry and build partnerships that turn inventions into products. The NTTC offers a complete line of products and services that enables businesses to find technologies, facilities and world-class researchers within the federal labs and universities. For more information on the NTTC and the NTTC-VA Innovative Medical and Prosthetics Research Program, call 1-800-678-6882.

From Ascribe, 12 January 2004

Veneman Announces E-gov Initiatives at FB Convention

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, citing the critical role of the department's web site immediately following the discovery of BSE in Washington state, announced new Internet initiatives today to enhance the effectiveness and responsiveness of her agency in 2004. Veneman revealed a new design to the USDA's web site during remarks via satellite to the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting and convention. Veneman said actions by USDA helped assure consumers of the safety of the nation's beef supply after the discovery of the disease in a single dairy cow imported from Canada. In the first week after the discovery Veneman said more than 100,000 people viewed the agency's web casts to obtain information about BSE and USDA updates. "We acted quickly to inform the public of the situation," said Veneman. "Ninety percent of our beef production is consumed in this country, so our actions were critical to assure consumers about the safety of our beef supply. We have seen that demand for beef has not diminished." Veneman told 7,000 Farm Bureau members in attendance that USDA has launched a number of "e-Government" initiatives in 2004, including redesign of the agency's web site.

From Wisconsin Ag Connection, WI, 14 January 2004

Industry Advisory Council Seeks E-gov Leaders

The Industry Advisory Council's e-government shared interest group wants fill its ranks. The group has several leadership openings for industry representatives. The positions allow IAC members to interact with their federal information technology counterparts and weigh in on the future of e-government, IAC officials said. Group leaders participate in all meetings and decision-making, and require about eight hours of work a month. Here are the open positions: * Vice Chair - In the absence of the chair, the vice chair coordinates and conducts meetings and represents the SIG at IAC meetings and events. This position is elected at the Jan. 22 SIG leadership meetings. The vice chair serves for one year. * Program Chair - The program chair coordinates SIG public outreach and education activities.

This involves selecting program speakers and handling program logistics. The position serves for one year and is selected by the SIG chair. * Secretary - The secretary records all SIG activities and ensures the SIG Web site is updated. The position serves for one year and is selected by the SIG chair. * Best Practices Committee Chair - The committee chair coordinates activities related to studies and presentations on best practices and is involved with the SIG's annual Excellence.gov Awards program. This position serves for two years and is selected by the SIG chair. * Connecting and Collaborating Committee Chair - This chair coordinates SIG activities related to the people, process and technology challenges of working across organizational boundaries. The chair will involve IAC members across industry and government to coordinate presentations. The position serves for two years and is selected by the SIG chair.

From FCW.com, by Sara Michael, 13 January 2004

Cognos Powers E-Government Initiatives at BC Assessment

Burlington, Mass. - British Columbia Assessment, an independent Provincial Crown agency, is enabling more empowered, decisive government in BC by making critical property information available-wherever and whenever decisions need to be made. Working with Cognos (Nasdaq: COGN - News; TSX: CSN - News) the world leader in enterprise business intelligence (EBI) and corporate performance management, BC Assessment has implemented Assessment LinkBC, which is eliminating reporting delays by enabling clients to instantly access property data information using a Web browser. BC Assessment's primary task is classifying and assessing the market value of all property in the province of BC. Property assessment data is vital to the business of government at all levels in BC because it helps to stimulate regional economic development and enables fair and equitable taxation. Powered by Cognos EBI Series, Assessment LinkBC lets users interact with property assessment information in a completely self-service environment. Users are able to analyze trends in property types and values, by municipality or by neighborhood, and also observe changes in these numbers over time.

With Cognos' ad-hoc reporting capabilities, users can query against information housed in BC Assessment's Oracle data warehouse environment to get more reports that can include property owner names and addresses. "With Assessment LinkBC, provided free of charge to our local government clients, users are able to acquire vital data that's key to their operations and decision making, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," says Peter Barber, marketing manager, BC Assessment. "With a simple "point and click", a municipal tax clerk can easily develop roll data reports and roll totals specific to any whole jurisdiction or subset, addressing local governments' unique operational and business information needs with rapid access to meaningful information. We were also able to implement this solution very rapidly and cost-effectively thanks to new customized, computer-based training from Cognos." "Continuous information access, as delivered by Assessment LinkBC, is proving to be an invaluable commodity in the face of flexible work hours and the increasing demands of work environments. For BC Assessment, access to information, powerful reporting, and ease of use will be integral to solving day-to-day management and customer service-related issues, and maximizing the effectiveness of government," said Terence Atkinson, director of public sector solutions, Cognos.

From Yahoo News (press release), 13 January 2004

Knowledge Network Changes Could Include Ads

B.C.'s Knowledge Network TV could have a new operating partner as early as the middle of next month, a development that could lead to commercials on the provincial educational channel. Partnerships BC, the government-owned body responsible for setting up public-private partnerships, expects to complete its evaluation process of applicants to help run Knowledge Network by the middle of February. "We have received seven responses to our request for expressions of interest," said Steve Hollett, senior vice-president of Partnerships BC. He would not name the groups that have responded, but he said the process has been more detailed than an ordinary request for expressions of interest. A number of the respondents have confirmed their involvement in the process, although Partnerships BC has ordered them not to talk about their bids. The respondents include Learning and Skills Television of Alberta (LTA); a partnership of Insight Film and Video and Channel M of Vancouver; Paperny Films of Vancouver, in association with the Jim Pattison Broadcast Group and CBC; and Vision TV of Ontario.

Others reported to be in the running are Calgary-based A-Channel, which is owned by Craig Media Inc., and a group of B.C. educators headed by Vancouver lawyer Jon Festinger, neither of which could be reached for comment Friday. Toronto-based CHUM Broadcasting has also been rumoured to be interested in Knowledge Network, but a representative of LTA, whose majority shareholder is CHUM, denied the Toronto broadcaster had any other involvement in the process. Knowledge Network is currently owned and operated by the Open Learning Agency, a government body that is being wound down. The advanced education ministry announced in September it was looking for new operators of the educational broadcaster. "A new model - working in partnership with the private sector, public sector or a combination of both - can help deliver what British Columbians need and want from educational programming well into the future," Advanced Education Minister Shirley Bond said at the time. Knowledge Network has an annual budget of $7.4 million - $5.1 million from the government, $1.7 million from donors and $600,000 through corporate sponsorships and self-funded projects.

In terms of audience, it ranks eighth in the province, according to the most recent figures of the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement, drawing just over 1.4 million viewers a week. By comparison, top-rated Global-TV (CHAN) draws nearly 3.1 million viewers a week. Karen McDonald, communications director for the ministry, said the ministry doesn't intend to change the nature of Knowledge Network broadcasting. "We are committed to this licence still remaining committed to educational purposes," she said. Any partnership proposal that sought to change that would require the approval of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), she added. Wayne Robert, acting general manager of Knowledge Network, said he believes this process will bring a number of options, including the possibility of more commercial programming and commercials. "I think that option would not be rejected by this process," he said. "I think that a proponent could come forward and say, 'I would like to put on commercials either for all or part of the day,' and I don't think, on its face, that that would be rejected." (mbridge@png.canwest.com).

From Vancouver Sun, Canada, by Maurice Bridge, 21 January 2004

E-Gov Fund Shortchanged Again

Congress still does not get e-government. The $820 billion fiscal 2004 Omnibus Appropriations Bill that the Senate passed last night allocated only $3 million for the E-Government fund-$2 million less than last year and $42 million less than the president's request. The bill, which the House passed Dec. 8, has gone to the White House for signature. It includes $328 billion in discretionary funding and covers all civilian agency appropriations except for the Energy, Homeland Security and Interior departments. Their funding, along with the Defense and military construction bills, already is signed into law. Agencies had been working under a fourth continuing resolution since November. "We have never been convinced that the fund doesn't duplicate what already exists in other agencies or performs unique functions," said John Scofield, spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee. "It has never been well-justified, and we don't have a lot of spare cash lying around." The president announced yesterday that non-homeland security discretionary spending in his fiscal 2005 budget will be no more than 1 percent. The new budget request is scheduled for release early next month.

This is the third consecutive year congressional appropriators refused to meet the administration's full request for e-government. The White House fell well short of its e-gov goal of $100 million in three years. The appropriations also are $52 million short of what Congress authorized in the E-Government Act of 2002. Lawmakers modified previous language that would have changed the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76. The provision limits the application of new streamlined competition procedures to agencies included in the Transportation, Treasury and Independent Agencies Appropriations Act, instead of governmentwide. It also eliminates language calling for a demonstrated level of cost savings in order to outsource positions. Agencies now only have to consider cost as one factor. Congress also removed language that would have given employees, or unions acting on behalf of employees, the right to appeal to the General Accounting Office after losing an A-76 competition.

"The House and Senate voted to restrict those initiatives, but we ended up engineering a position to make the White House happy," Scofield said. "All of our guidelines were taken out for the most part." Although Congress shorted the e-gov fund, the National Archives and Records Administration received $35.9 million for its electronic archives project. Congress earmarked $88.1 million for the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy, while the Office of Personnel Management received $7 million for some of its e-gov projects. Lawmakers allocated $2.5 million for E-Payroll, $2 million for the Enterprise Human Resources Integration project, and $2.5 million to conduct program and performance measurement. GSA also received $17 million to support governmentwide financial, IT, procurement and other management initiatives. From that, the CIO Council could fund the administration's $2.5 million request for Federal Enterprise Architecture efforts. Congress, though, did not fund it separately.

From GCN.com, by Jason Miller, 23 January 2004

Share-in-savings Is One Approach to E-gov Sustainability

With many of the 25 Quicksilver e-government initiatives in their final phases, the Office of Management and Budget wants agencies to consider using a share-in-savings model to fund their operation and maintenance. Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and IT, today said share-in-savings is one approach to making sure the projects are self-sustaining. "This model has a lot of potential to realize huge savings," Evans said at a seminar sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government and the General Services Administration. "But it requires the government to open up its coat and show what is underneath." With share-in-savings contracts, a vendor pays for developing an IT system and is compensated from the savings it generates for the agency. For example, a contractor building a tax collection system would get a portion of the revenue it creates.

Evans said OMB's consolidation projects, which include human resources and financial management systems, are ripe for this type of contracting. "We want each project to look at share-in-savings," Evans said. "We have not specifically said this one or that one should use it. We are working through that now." Ken Buck, director of GSA's Share-in-Savings program office, said programs that consolidate systems, conduct recovery audits or enhance revenue are the best for this type of performance-based contracting. He said current e-government projects such as Grants.gov, E-Payroll and E-Clearance are suitable for share-in-savings contracting. The Federal Asset Sales project, which is managed by GSA, is using a type of share-in-savings contracting. Buck said the contractor, which will be selected soon, will receive payment for its work by taking a share of the fees charged to customers. "Many e-government projects have had funding issues, but with share-in-savings contracting, this is not a problem," he said. "But it is important that the projects meet certain requirements such as consolidating for agency efficiency and that there is little or no up-front cost for the agency."

GSA has developed a set of online tools to help agencies decide whether a project is suitable for share-in-savings. GSA made the business case decision tool, developed by Beacon Associates Inc. of Bel Air, Md., available in September. The simulation software lets agencies develop a business case and define the cost baseline and savings potential. The tool then rates the potential success of the project under the share-in-savings model. Buck said 25 agencies have used the tool since September. The proposal evaluation tool, which will be available later this month, ranks projects based on highest net present-value return, how long until savings are realized and how much money the government is required to offer up front. "This is a change in direction in how procurement is done in the federal government," said GSA administrator Stephen Perry. "It requires new learning and a new behavior."

From GCN.com, by Jason Miller, 22 January 2004

Lee Wants to Limit Outside Counsel for Legal Services to State

Atlanta, GA - State Sen. Dan Lee (R-LaGrange) wants to limit the use of outside counsel to provide legal services to state government, and has introduced a measure in the State Senate to do so. The legislation will limit all private counsel, special assistant attorneys general, attorneys under independent contract, or attorneys in any other capacity who are retained or compensated by the State Attorney General for the purpose of providing legal services to the state or any state government agency, officer, or employee. "Last year the state spent more than $28 million in outside legal fees," said Sen. Lee, who is himself an attorney. "That is a ridiculous amount of money even in good times - but when we are looking at cutting programs for children, the poor, and the elderly, it is time to bring this kind of government waste to a quick halt. "I am appalled that the Department of Law has been allowed to get away with spending money like this - hiring some of the most expensive law firms in the state that bill us hundreds of dollars per hour. We would be better served to hire 28 attorneys and pay them a million dollars a year at this rate. We would still save the state almost $50,000," he continued tongue-in-cheek, adding that in FY'93, the state spent only $11 million in outside legal fees.

The legislation establishes a ceiling for the total amount of professional fees incurred by the state for the payment of outside counsel in any fiscal year. The ceiling would be proposed by the State Attorney General, but could be revised by the Governor and/or by the members of the Georgia General Assembly during budget negotiations. Additionally, according to Lee's bill, no attorney may serve as outside counsel if the attorney currently is acting, or has acted as counsel in the past six months, as counsel in any civil action against the State. "Last year, the State was billed for nearly 334,000 hours of legal expertise by more than 400 attorneys throughout the state," Sen. Lee continued. "This has got to stop. The people of Georgia have entrusted their hard-earned tax dollars to us and it is incumbent upon us to spend those dollars wisely. I would much rather see that money go to protecting children and caring for the aged and infirm - I think the people I represent would too." Senate Bill 433 has been assigned to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. Dan Lee represents the 29th Senate District which includes all or parts of Butts, Carroll, Coweta, Harris, Heard, Henry, Jasper, Jones, Meriwether, Pike, Spalding, and Troup counties. He is Governor Sonny Perdue's administration floor leader and may be reached at 404.651.7738 or by e-mail at dlee@legis.state.ga.us or danlee@bellsouth.net.

From Duluth Weekly, GA, 27 January 2004

 

Global E-government

UK local councils largely on track for 2005: Local authorities in the UK are making good progress ahead of the government's 2005 deadline for the e-enabling of services. The government's publication of Implementing e-Government (IEG) Round 3 statements show that local councils expect to be 66 percent e-enabled by March 2004. Of the 399 local authorities that were invited to submit IEG statements, only 35 were deemed to have returned unsatisfactory statements and were asked to re-submit them. "The results of this third round of the IEG monitoring process are very encouraging and I'm confident we are on track to meet the 2005 target," said Local E-government Minister Phil Hope. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) announced a number of measures to help local authorities meet the 2005 target. The ODPM also published its first annual report on the progress of the national strategy for local e-government. The report says that among other areas of progress, 16 National Projects have been launched to provide access to key electronic services, more than 100 Partnerships have been established between local councils, and the Local e-Government Web site has been launched.

Scotland launches e-procurement Web site: The Scottish Executive has announced the launch of a new Web site to support its eProcurement Scotl@nd service. The service enables local government, the Scottish NHS and the Scottish central government to conduct business electronically with suppliers. It is estimated that procurement spending in the Scottish public sector reaches STG5 billion per annum. Industry benchmarks suggest that savings of between 1 percent and 5 percent can be achieved through the use of the e-procurement service. Eight public sector buying organisations already use the service, and over 300 suppliers have signed up, ranging from multinationals to SMEs. There are plans to roll out the service to other agencies in early 2004. Cap Gemini Ernst and Young was chosen to administer the service in November 2001.

California wants paper trail for e-voting: California is set to become the first US state to require electronic voting machines to produce paper receipts. By 2006, existing e-voting machines and all new machines will need to be fitted with printers to enable the creation of so-called "voter verifiable" receipts. Voters will be able to use the paper receipt to verify that their ballots have been cast correctly, but they will not be allowed to keep the receipts, which will be stored at polling stations in case of the need for a recount. Meanwhile, in the US state of Washington, Secretary of State Sam Reed has said that he intends to ask the 2004 state legislature to require all electronic voting machines to produce paper receipts.

US launches senior-friendly health Web site: The US government has launched a specially designed Web site that provides health information for older people. NIHSeniorHealth.gov is an initiative of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that aims to encourage senior citizens to use the Internet as a resource for health-related information. The site was designed using techniques developed by the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine to create a site that is easy for older adults to read, understand and navigate. The site features large print and short segments of information in a variety of formats, including video and audio, as well as consistent page layouts and navigational prompts. The health topics featured were chosen for their interest to older people and include subjects such as Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, hearing loss and exercise for older adults. The Web site also complies with government regulations for accessibility for people with disabilities.

Filipino government to allocate e-gov funding: The government of the Philippines is set to approve nine projects to receive support from its e-government fund. The Information Technology and E-Commerce Council (ITECC), which sets policy for ICT, has recommended the projects to the Department of Budget and Management, which controls the e-government fund. The nine projects will between them be given a total of PHP2 billion (EUR28.5 million), half the total e-government funding budget for the year. The largest portion of the funding is earmarked to go toward the modernisation of Bureau of Internal Revenue. Among the other projects are the Department of Science and Technology's e-library initiative and the National Computer Centre's e-government portal and e-LGU project, which aims to e-enable local government units. Other agencies that have applied for e-government funding are the Bureau of Customs, the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, and the Bureau of Food and Drugs.

E-government gains ground in Malaysia: The use of e-government services by the public is growing in Malaysia, according to a recent survey. Analyst firm Taylor Nelson Sofres' Government Online (GO) 2003 report shows that around 15 percent of Malaysian citizens have accessed on-line government services in the last 12 months, up from 12 percent the year before. The majority of those who accessed e-government services were young people, according to TNS Malaysia: 25 percent were under 25, 19 percent were between 25 and 34, while 13 percent were aged between 35 and 44. Usage of government e-services was more popular in households with higher incomes and higher levels of education, although middle-income households upped their usage by 6 percent from the year earlier. Interestingly, the percentage of Malaysians who considered it safe to provide personal information to the government over the Internet decreased, from 35 percent in 2002 to 32 percent in 2003.

From Electric News Net, by Sylvia Leatham, 7 January 2004

Global E-government

IRS reorganises thanks to popularity of e-filing: The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the US is reorganising some of its operations, thanks to the increasing number of taxpayers who are filing returns electronically. The rising popularity of e-filing services means that the IRS can spend less time on manual data entry and focus more of its attention on tax enforcement. IRS Commissioner Mark Everson said the agency plans to lay off 2,400 staff who hold internal support positions in 2005 and to hire 2,200 staff for tax enforcement posts. The agency said the savings made from consolidating tax return processing operations would allow the IRS to improve enforcement operations, which have suffered from shrinking resources for a number of years. The IRS said the job cuts would not impact on the number of staff who deal directly with taxpayers. The number of returns filed electronically has increased from 4 million in 1990 to 53 million in 2003.

US responds to discovery of mad cow disease: The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has proposed a number of e-government initiatives following the recent detection of BSE (mad cow disease) in a dairy cow in Washington. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said that her department's Web site, www.usda.gov, was being revamped to provide a better service to farmers and ranchers, with greater access to information and research. Veneman has also called for the establishment of a national animal identification system, to boost the speed and accuracy of the USDA's response to outbreaks of animal disease. The government is currently inviting commentary on the development of an Animal Identification Plan (USAIP) that will use radio frequency identification tags to track livestock from birth to slaughterhouse. It is expected that the system would cost around USD600 million to implement, but it is currently unclear as to who would provide the funding.

The Netherlands trials biometric passports: The Dutch government is testing biometric technology for passports and citizen ID cards. Tests of the passports and ID cards, which will contain digital facial and fingerprint information, will take place over a six-month period in a number of communities. The government intends to introduce the new passports by October 2004, when the US will require countries eligible for the visa waiver program to issue biometric passports. The technology selected by the Dutch government is consistent with the standard approved by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) last year for using facial recognition technology to identify and screen people in airports.

Broadband could benefit Australian hospitals: Australian hospitals could yield more than AUD190 million in efficiencies over 10 years through the use of broadband technology, according to a new report. The study, titled "The Economic Impact of an Accelerated Rollout of Broadband in Hospitals," was carried out by Access Economics for the Australian government's National Office for the Information Economy. The report says that hospitals would benefit from the rollout of broadband in a number of key areas, particularly psychiatry, ultrasound and radiology. The benefits were assessed not only in terms of cost savings for the government, but also in terms of improved service to patients. The report adds that Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is viewed by many key stakeholders as one of the most important benefits of the roll out of broadband, but potential savings made through VoIP were not included in the study.

Australia helps rural communities get broadband: The Australian government is helping rural communities that want Internet service providers (ISPs) to bring broadband technology to their area. The federal government has launched an initiative to provide funding to regional organisations to hire a broker to negotiate with ISPs. The Broadband Demand Aggregation Broker Program is available to not-for-profit bodies, local education providers, health service providers, local governments and other local organisations. The brokers will help organisations to co-ordinate possible users of broadband, identify appropriate services and negotiate with service providers. The government said the scheme was a key part of its AUD142.8 million National Broadband Strategy Action Plan.

From Electric News Net, by Sylvia Leatham, 14 January 2004

Global E-government

Oracle announces new e-gov projects in India: Oracle India has announced that it started work on nine new e-government projects in 2003. Oracle is conducting the work with a number of local partners, including Tata Consultancy Services, National Informatics Centre, CMC Ltd and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing. Oracle said its technology is being used to power IT projects for the Department of Family & Child Welfare, the Tamil Nadu State Electricity Board, the East Central Railway, and the Department of Commercial Taxes, among others. Oracle said it was now involved in e-government projects in 28 states in India. According to a statement from the company, the projects are largely in the areas of "streamlining revenue generation, citizen service delivery and work flow management in government departments."

Dubai launches prison IT skills program: The government of Dubai has announced a new program aimed at equipping prison inmates with IT skills. Microsoft has established two training centres in correctional facilities in Dubai, as part of its Unlimited Potential initiative, which provides technology training to disadvantaged people. The program was set up in conjunction with Dubai Police and Dubai e-Government. Eight technical instructors from the police force are participating in IT training so that they can coach the prisoners in basic computer skills and applications. "We are giving prisoners a great opportunity to acquire a skill that can help them not only be part of society again, but also be able to positively contribute to the growth and development of the entire community they live in," said Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim, commander-in-chief of Dubai Police.

From Electric News Net, by Sylvia Leatham, 21 January 2004

 
 

Experts Urge Business Income Tax Unification

The time is ripe for the government to introduce a unified income tax policy for domestic and foreign-funded companies, experts said. "An equal tax treatment for all companies is in line with international practice, now that China has become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)," said Ni Hongri, a senior researcher with the State Council's Development Research Centre. China is now practicing a twin-track income tax policy for domestic and foreign-funded companies. The income tax rate for domestic companies is 33 per cent, while it is just 17 per cent for foreign-funded firms. Domestic companies have been bearing too heavy tax burdens, Ni said. "This situation is unfavourable for domestic companies to participate in international competition," she said. The implementation of a unified income tax policy has become a must, she said. Ni added that the exact rate remains unknown. Finance Minister Jin Renqing said the new rate should be acceptable to both domestic and foreign-funded companies.

Media reports suggest the new rate will be 24 or 25 per cent. A unified tax policy is a good news for domestic companies, said Niu Li, a senior economist with the State Information Centre. "Less taxes mean more profits," he said. Zhang Peisen, a senior expert with the Taxation Research Institute under the State Administration of Taxation, said it is urgent to unify business income tax policies. "Under the existing income tax policy, foreign companies are actually enjoying super-national treatment," Zhang said. The favourable tax policy was vital in attracting foreign investment to China in the early stages of the nation's opening and reform process. At that time, the tax incentives resulted in more advantages than disadvantages, because the incentives co-existed with such non-tax trade barriers such as higher tariffs and import quotas enjoyed by domestic companies, he said. Now that China has become a WTO member, the country will have to gradually remove these trade barriers, he said.

The country will also open up more sectors to foreign investors. "The more open market needs a fair tax environment for domestic and foreign-funded companies so that they can compete on an equal footing," he said. Professor An Tifu from Beijing's Renmin University said the government should have introduced a unified income tax policy before the country joined the WTO in 2001. The government has been considering the issue for a long time, he said, adding that it is likely to introduce the new policy sometime next year. But other experts, including Ni, said the new policy will not be implemented very soon because legislators have yet to look at the issue. Finance Minister Jin says the government is still studying the issue. "It is extremely important, therefore we have to be very prudent and give careful consideration to the issue." The government has not set a timetable for implementation of the new tax policy, he said. "We have to choose the right time to introduce the unified income tax policy," he said.

Unification of income tax policies is in line with the nation's WTO commitments and will be beneficial to China's further opening-up move, attracting of foreign investment and increasing domestic companies' competitiveness, he said. Ni said unifying the tax policy will not hurt China's efforts to attract foreign investment. "What foreign companies cherish most in China was a stable economic and social environment, not just tax favours,'' she said. China's economic miracle in recent years has made the country very attractive to foreign companies, she said. A unified tax policy does not necessarily mean the government will no longer offer tax favours to foreign-funded companies, she said. The government may offer such favours for certain foreign-funded companies at certain times in accordance with the requirements of the country's macro-economic development, Ni said.

From China Daily, China, 7 January 2004

Public Servants' Pay May Be Revealed

The Federal Government has been instructed by its own auditor to be more up-front about what it pays ministers and senior bureaucrats. The latest report from the Australian National Audit Office says it is time for the Government to set an example to the private sector by disclosing fully in its financial statements exactly what public service executives and ministers get paid. "Events over the past two years within the private sector corporate arena, and the ensuing demands for increased disclosure, continue to highlight the importance of transparency and accountability," the report says. "While the accounting standards do not currently require the disclosure of this information, its inclusion within the CFS (consolidated financial statements) would generally be seen as a positive contribution to enhanced accountability and better practice financial reporting." Publicly listed companies must disclose full details of corporate packages for executives in their annual reports, but senior bureaucrats' salaries are often shrouded in mystery.

Federal departments, in reporting executive remuneration, have only to state how many executives they have in various salary "bands" - for example, more than $100,000 a year. Departmental secretaries can earn more than $300,000 a year and it has been reported that the Government is offering an annual salary of $1 million in its search for a new chief for the Defence Materiel Organisation. A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Nick Minchin last night confirmed that the Government did not have to include details of ministerial salaries or packages of senior bureaucrats in its annual financial statements. "Information about ministers' salaries is already publicly available through the Remuneration Tribunal," she said.

But she hinted that the Government might be prepared to consider a fuller disclosure of bureaucrats' packages. "The Australian Accounting Standards Board, which is finalising new standards for the corporate world, will also be considering disclosures for public sector executives in a separate project later this year," she said. "We would have to see what they recommend." Labor's finance spokesman Bob McMullan said it was hypercritical to ask of private companies a standard of disclosure to which the Government was not prepared to subject itself. "We should apply to ourselves the same standards that we demand of others," he said. At present, precise details of senior executives' salaries in the public sector sometimes only emerge after questioning during the Senate estimates process. For example, information about the total salary of former ABC managing director Jonathan Shier emerged only gradually over several sessions.

From The Age, Australia, by Annabel Crabb, 12 January 2004

Financial Management System : A Critique

The management of government finances has always been a critical issue for any developing country. Without proper management of public finances no country can dream of a financially sound society. During the past few decades the management of government finances is in a state of continuous development. The changing responsibilities of government have contributed to this development. The changes have been all pervasive touching the very substance of economic management. Changing economic conditions have seriously affected public money management practices. After Second World War budgeting is considered to be more instrumental for economic growth than being instrumental in restraining public expenditures. In Bangladesh, we have inherited a financial management system from our colonial master that is outmoded and ineffective in terms of applicability. However, in this article I will not deal with the well-established policies or other features of our government financial management system, rather my attempts will be to deal with the problems that might be the agenda for government financial managers in the coming years. The immediate concern of this article is the cumulative problems in the broad area of our government financial management. It seeks to be realistic, not apocalyptic.

The problems of accounting in preparing budget - We recognise three major groupings of our government entities: 1) The government, including the ministries and all other entities included, and financed entirely by the national budget. 2) Decentralised entities, including independent agencies, government owned corporations, universities and "autonomous" entitles, which may be fully self-financed from operating revenues, but most frequently are partially or principally dependent on budgetary transfers from the national government to finance their operations. 3) Regional and local governments, which in many countries are financed fully, or largely through budgetary transfers from the national government. Based on the above or a similar scheme, Bangladesh government seeks to provide annual financial information and on a combined, though usually not consolidated basis at each of the foregoing levels. Thus our centralising accounting measures became extremely complicated owing to the problems of achieving uniformity to permit reporting of all government entities. Our financial management system has problems in enforcing timely reporting also. Our government has gaps in data owing to the failure of some entities to report. The traditional public accounts required by our constitution and/or law contemplate only government reporting. Bangladesh is yet to achieve timely reporting of combined information at all three of the above levels.

Lack of uniform accounting practices - There must be moves for effective annual reporting and evaluation plans so that availability of information could be improved to parliament and the public for both budgetary decision-making and for satisfying accountability requirements. In this regard our government has to overcome all the problems. For example, the absence of uniform accounting practices across all public sector reporting entities makes it difficult to make comparisons of financial performance. There are also problems in some of the traditional public sector accounting practices-such as the reliance on cash accounting in the budgeting system. Our government accounting system remained largely unresponsive to efforts to improve them. Defect in budget presentation - Our budgetary format is not up to the expectation. It needs to be more methodical, classified and communicative. The classified future public expenditure heads should be shown headwise so as to give clear picture of future government outlays. Itemwise public expenditure budget must be projected in our budgetary format. Our budget should depict all the features and techniques of management, planning and economic controls for ensuring legislative accountability and reducing expenditures or other growth rates.

Inefficient asset management - A major emerging issue is that of promoting improved asset management. The proper treatment of assets is widely recognized problem of our government financial management. All departments and many budget-dependent agencies use cash-based accounting. Under this system the cash is taken into account when the money is spent (as a full charge in that year's budget). Assets registers are maintained, but for most noncommercial organizations of government only historical values are recorded. When assets are sold all revenues paid into consolidated revenue. This system means that managers have relatively poor information and very little incentive to use existing assets efficiently. The following measures could be taken to overcome these problem: 1) Commercial and quasi-commercial agencies of government should be encouraged to prepare their financial accounts on an accrual basis and to use current costs for asset valuation; 2) Guidelines on departmental financial statements for inclusion in annual reports should require statement of assets and liabilities valued on a current cost basis; and 3) Sale of surplus assets should be encouraged in certain cases by allowing a share of the revenue to be applied to an agreed development plan.

The recording of fixed assets by our government is accorded low priority and assets are rarely compared physically with accounting records. Fixed asset records are usually incomplete, undervalued, or non existent. Obsolete and fully expended assets rarely are removed from records once recorded. Our government periodically attempt nationwide inventories of assets, the cost of which seems highly questionable in the light of the failure to establish adequate accounting records and control. Information reported on fixed assets by government is often dubious. Lack of discipline in the environment - An underlying absence of discipline permeates our government. Proper accounting and sound financial management depend on a disciplined environment under the control of disciplined officials. Failure to observe the prerequisite of timeliness invalidates whatever other benefits accounting and financial management might offer. Discipline is demanded in the daily recording of financial transactions in such a way that they can be summarized and reported in a useful format. Because transactions data are not comprehensively captured and recorded adequately and promptly, our government accounting system collapse at the very beginning of the accounting process. The historical absence of useful and timely financial information has led our public officials to learn to operate government without it or with a minimum of ad hoc data (often unreliable estimates) acquired through any means possible.

Absence of effective budgetary control - A proper system of accounting is essential for developing a satisfactory budget. The formation of the budget depends upon information largely collected from the cost accounting system. An important feature of the budgetary control is comparing actual performance with prior estimates or targets laid down in the budget to make sure that actual performance is steering in the right direction. Lack of understanding of budgetary control will misdirect the government for the subsequent years regarding its financial management. Through budgetary control the government will come to know the variance of the goals fixed in the budget and the results achieved. Variance will, ultimately, lead the national government to analyse the factors that contributed to the variance. Our government financial managers are yet to understand the implication of budgetary control. They do not possess the clear conception of budgetary accounting to account for budgetary activities and to prepare financial statements so as to reflect the status of government finances. So, our government financial managers are weak in analysing the developments in the execution of budget. As there is no well-defined budgetary control in government financial management there is no effective analysis of budgetary activities and no evaluation of results.

Uncertainty in the submission of budget - As a result of economic uncertainty and the lack of ability of systems to reckon with it, our budgets which are considered to be policy instruments and embodiments of programmes of action are submitted much too late in the fiscal year. Instead of promoting a coherent strategy, they are put together in hurry and more as a ritual, with more pray than reason. Outmoded budget structure - Owing to lack of a periodic update and to rapid changes in government policies and activities budget structures, which are supposed to promote a management bias in government, have become outmoded. Problems of Budget implementation - Due to midstream changes in allocations exacerbated the uncertainty and contributed to a rush of expenditures and to excess expenditures in several areas. That is why budget implementation suffered heavily. Allocation of expenditures - The viability of any budget depends on the information available on competing demands, costs of projects and programmes, and macroeconomic linkages and implications. Although political decisions may really be made that are contrary to economic and financial indicators, the budgetary process should be organized to generate the data needed.

Though government is supposed to decide allocation issues between public and private sectors, but our government has yet to achieve a balance among and within programmes. The allocative balance appears to have been further skewed in the context of crisis budgeting as a result of arbitrary limits imposed on budgetary inputs. Our budgetary process is also not generating data on the future implications of current policies, or on the operations and expenditures needed to maintain completed projects. Decisions are therefore piecemeal, some as part of the formal budget. Also, the revenue and expenditure budget lacks congruence, which frequently contributes to situations in which outlays are determined without reference to resources available. Lack of computerisation - Computers are already playing important role in shaping the national government financial management structure in the developed world. During the 1960s and 1970s computer technology carried the developed nations into an era of large powerful mainframe systems that were capable of handling volumes of data and numbers of transactions far beyond previous capability. Without computers many parts of the government could not function. In this regard at that time our government was lagging far behind.. We have missed that period.

The 1990s offered new opportunities through computer technology to change the financial management structure of the government. But, due to callousness of our bureaucrats we remained unresponsive to improve our financial management system through computerization in the 1990s. Our government receipts and payment system are yet to be computerized completely. The 2000s is opening for us more expanded horizon of opportunities for using new generation of computers with wide spread extensions of their uses and capacities. This time let us not fail to take the help of computers in restructuring our outmoded financial management structure. Financial reporting - If financial managers are to fulfill their responsibilities, they must have the information and resources necessary to function and to manage the affairs of the government. In addition they must demonstrate through the financial reporting process their financial responsibilities. But our government financial managers generally lack the following type of information that is used for analysis and decision-making purposes. Cost information; Periodic summary performance reports of budgeted versus actual expenditures; So in order to improve our financial manager's performance they need to be provided with the aforementioned information for good decision-making purposes.

Inflation Accounting - Our economy has been subject to inflation at varying degrees. As a result financial data from any two years are rarely comparable without adjustment. Most countries publish official indices that are used for adjusting historical values by private sector enterprises and by public enterprises as well. As our government financial reporting is not well developed our government rarely use these indices in their accounting system; although they may be used to adjust columns of comparative historical in some financial reports. Management, cost and public works accounting - Our government is yet to explore this area. Till now our government has not made any attempt to design and put into practice a cost and management system for our financial structure. Internationally financed development projects require establishment of a special project administrative and accounting unit to handle all project accounting and financial management outside the regular entity financial management in the ministries or other large government agencies. There is poor public works accounting in Bangladesh.

Austerity Management and Accounting - High inflation, increasing unemployment, and decreasing economic growth rates are the general symptoms of fiscal stress in every country, and they call for effective austerity management. The core agencies are supposed to distinguish the components of the spending department's programs in line with government's priorities and to re-examine the revenue, and internal and external borrowing projections during budget formulation and execution. Our financial agencies' performance is not satisfactory at all in this regard. Weak institutions - The financial system is inextricably bound with the economic activity of the state. And, several government institutions are responsible for maintaining soundness of the system. Our budgetary system and financial planning are developed within a comprehensive legal framework.

The main roles of the central agencies are as follows: 1) Ministry of finance : As the main executive arm of the government, it is responsible for the following tasks in the area of financial management : prepares and submits a draft of the budget to parliament; defines rules of budgetary resources utilization; and generally supervises budget administration. It manages budget administration; organizes supervision over local budget performance; submits periodic reports on budgetary performance to parliament; formulates tax system rules and standardizes financial planning and financial policy through the issuance of norms. 2) National board of revenue : Ministry of finance supervises national board of revenue. It deals with assessment and collection of taxes and other budgetary receipts, tax control and penal cases. 3) Office of the Accountant general : This organization is responsible for the audit of government transactions and reports on budgetary management to parliament. 4) Bangladesh Bank: Treasury functions of the government are managed by the Central Bank. All government accounts are kept with Bangladesh Bank. The professionals working in these organizations that support the financial management of the country are weak. Lack of adequate expertise, on the part of these professionals, has caused have on our economy. Many of them have no rudimentary concept of modern financial management.

Our government has no development scheme for the bright young stars working in the core agencies. There are few established criteria or standards for government accounting, budgeting, cash and debit management, internal control, financial reporting, or auditing. Our accounting professionals, primarily concerned with private sector, public sector financial management, are not skilled enough to discharge their duties effectively. It is a sad reality that at this dawn of twenty-first century our financial management remains largely in the hands of weak professionals. Conclusion - We do not have yet a rational financial management system framework. Antiquated legalistic provisions and practices continue to prevail in Bangladesh's financial management system, obviating the possibility of utilizing modern techniques and technology. Our financial management system is fragmented and uncoordinated. The different units responsible for budgeting, accounting, cash management, debt management, and auditing rarely communicate and coordinate their activities or share information.

The modern managerial concepts of entity wide responsibility through the organizational framework, accountability for resources and results, sound internal control structures, and the system approach to planning, recording processing, and auditing financial transactions cannot function within limitations impose by law, tradition, and irrational political decision making our financial management data lack reliability and credibility. There have been few real initiatives to improve government accounting and financial management in Bangladesh on the part of our government and on the part of international donor organizations since our inception in 1971. The present chaotic economic situation that demands many severe austerity measures of our government makes it highly unlikely that Bangladesh government will be in a position to improve the quality of its financial system without massive external assistance directed to that end. Time has changed. In order to survive in a rapidly changing world we have to change ourselves. Let us not forget only timely reform in any area of governance could help us cope up with time. The author is a financial analyst.

From The Daily Star, Bangladesh, by Ahmed Ali, 10 January 2004

Public Service Money 'Not Wasted'

NSW Premier Bob Carr has rejected claims his government has squandered more than $17 million a year on almost 300 idle public servants. The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported today that 292 "displaced" public servants were earning an average of $61,000, despite having no official duties. But Mr. Carr said most readily deployed public servants were performing necessary duties which would otherwise have to be performed by new recruits from outside the government sector. Asked why his government was apparently warehousing bureaucrats, Mr. Carr replied: "We're not, we're not." "We're only doing it where they will be fulfilling a real job ... "If you didn't re-deploy public servants then you'd be recruiting people to do the job they're doing." However, the Premier conceded there could be some Sydney Water employees who were still drawing a wage despite being told they may be made redundant and would not be re-deployed.

From The Australian, Australia, 12 January 2004

Plan Panel, IMF Warn over Rising Deficit

International Monetary Fund on Friday warned the Centre of high fiscal deficit that could come in the way of sustaining high growth in the economy, which clocked 8.4 per cent rise in the second quarter of 2003-04. Supporting IMF's view, Planning and Finance Commissions have asserted that the government needs to raise revenues and step up developmental expenditure to foster growth while at the same time keep fiscal and revenue deficits under check. "If India is going to sustain high growth, its fiscal deficit has to come down. The government has to raise tax revenues and rationalise expenditures," Anne Krueger, deputy managing director of IMF, said on the sidelines of a conference organised by IMF and NIPFP in New Delhi. She said the Tax:GDP ratio in India was low and so the government has to take measures to widen the tax base. Many of the expenditures, which appear to be pro-poor, are not actually benefiting the poor, she added. While endorsing prospects of over 7 per cent growth, high forex reserves and nominal interest rates in the country, Finance Commission Chairman C Rangarajan said high fiscal deficit and low domestic investment was a matter of concern for long term sustained growth.

While Tenth Plan estimated fiscal deficit of Centre and states at 6.8 per cent and Finance panel pegged it at 6.5 per cent by 2004-05, it was close to 10 per cent in 2002-03. "Failure to step up expenditure on necessary items (like physical and social infrastructure) or failure to achieve fiscal consolidation will dampen growth momentum," he added. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman K C Pant said the focus should be on reducing the revenue deficit. While fiscal deficit rises in times of recession, Pant said it should come down in times of high growth period. He said the declining trend in Tax:GDP ratio appears to be reversed and the ratio of government salaries to GDP ratio has started to decline. "A process of fiscal correction has begun and we need to consider the implications of accelerating the process," he said, while indicating the Centre should reduce the deficit further from 5.6 per cent estimated for 2003-04.

Instead of stressing on fiscal deficit, he said the focus should be on revenue deficit, which always has a negative effect on growth since it implies diversion of funds from investment to current consumption. He said the Indian financial sector was still "fragile" as interest rates have fallen and banks were offering credit at sub-PLR to many sectors, despite the fact that private investment was less than the savings. When fiscal deficit starts falling, there would be over-supply of savings and a further reduction in interest rates leading to a distress in the financial system and possibly a systemic collapse, Pant said. The Plan panel deputy chairman also pointed to the need to reduce the regional disparity and macro economic stability and said, "We will have to evolve fiscal structures and transfer modalities and device methods by which fiscal imprudence at all tiers of government can be held in check." Rangarajan said an overall programme of restructuring of public finance must include other elements such as expenditure prioritisation and better expenditure management, improved tax administration and widening the tax base and reducing exemptions.

From Rediff, India, 16 January 2004

World Bank Criticises Pakistan's Poor Finance Management

Islamabad - World Bank Chief Economist Sadiq Ahmed said on Thursday that the biggest disadvantage Pakistan faced was in the delivery of public services and the heavily centralised and inefficient governance system. Mr. Ahmed said that despite recent progress in financial management, there was a need for a long-term agenda to strengthen financial management and accountability, especially at the local levels. He was presenting his paper on "Budgetary reforms for growth and poverty reduction in Pakistan" at the PIDE conference. He said the establishment of an adequate oversight of a non-functional parliamentary committee and follow-up to the recommended actions would be particularly important. He said that without strong political and adequate autonomy to the Central Board of Revenue, progress in tax reforms would not be fruitful. "Much attention is required to strengthen tax administration at the provincial and local levels," said Mr. Ahmed, who has served in Pakistan as the World Bank mission head.

He said the interest costs and defence spending eats almost 70 percent of total revenues, thus leaving very little for expenditures in social sectors and development of infrastructures. "There is a glaring contrast in military expenditures and the spending on health and education, however donors pressure had led to a decline in military allocations and focus is turned towards social sector development," he added. He criticised the revenue collection, which he said, had not increased from 12 to 13 percent of the gross domestic product, despite efforts to address this challenge, including successive 10 programmes of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Mr. Ahmad said the management of the government budget had been a major challenge for Pakistan and added the fiscal expansion fuelled rapid growth during the 1970s and 1980s, but led to serious macro-economic imbalances in the 1990s, disrupting the growth.

He said the quality of spending had been a major problem with low spending on human development and on essential infrastructure and added that low spending on human development along with poor service delivery had resulted in very little improvement in human development indicators. "Weak management of the budget, in turn, reflected a number of major institutional constraints relating to debt management, tax administration, expenditure planning, assignment of responsibilities by government, monitoring and evaluation and financial controls and accountability," Mr. Ahmed said. He said fiscal management improved in the 1990s and the fiscal deficit was significantly reduced, defence spending was cut and spending on health and education was increased. Appreciating the efforts of the military government, he said it has taken systematic and comprehensive steps to address many of the institutional constraints to improve budgetary management. "The strategic objective of the reforms is to restore the growth momentum, reduce poverty and improve human development." He said the overall progress on tax administration has been slow due to many anti-reform lobbies and the opposition of vested interests.

From Daily Times, Pakistan, 16 January 2004

Iran Plans to Build $1Billion Oil Refinery in East Java

Jakarta - Iran plans to build and operate a US$1 billion oil refinery in the East Java province to accommodate Indonesia's increasing demand for oil-based fuel, Iran's ambassador said on Thursday. Iranian Ambassador to Indonesia Shaban Shahidi Moaddab said the planned project would be carried out jointly by the state-owned National Iranian Oil Co. and Indonesia's state-owned oil and gas company PT Pertamina. "We have been observing developments for one year and the right investment is in oil and gas. We have discussed the idea with the government and Pertamina," Moaddab told reporters in a press conference after opening a seminar on the Indonesian-Iran oil and gas joint-venture. "It is important for us to have Pertamina present in this project," he said. The project was also open to other investors. Iran is gathering the capital and technology for the project. Moaddab did not give details of the extent of Pertamina's presence in the project or its timeline.

He said the refinery, which is expected to process up to 150,000 barrels of crude oil a day, would help supply Indonesia's high demand for oil-based fuel. "I understand that Indonesia presently still imports 20 percent of its oil-based fuel. (The refinery) is expected to compensate that," he said. There are seven oil refineries in Indonesia with a combined capacity of about 1 million barrels of oil per day (bpd). However, this capacity only covers 80 percent of the country's oil demand, which has reached 1.2 million bpd. Indonesia imports the remaining 20 percent from various countries, including Iran. Indonesia imported 5,538 and 3,667 barrels of oil in 2001 and 2000 from Iran. The country's oil-based fuel consumption reached 57.4 million kiloliters last year.

Moaddab said the refinery was likely to be built near Pertamina's petrochemical industry PT Trans Pacific Petrochemical Indotama (TPPI) in Tuban, East Java. The main reason for selecting the area was because there was no oil refinery yet in East Java. Turban was also an industrial area. Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Purnomo Yusgiantoro said constructing an oil refinery close to the petrochemical industry was an good decision, allowing synergies in production. Development of the Tuban petrochemical industry was halted in 1998 following the regional economic crisis. The project, in which Pertamina has a 15 percent stake, received a $400 million loan from Japan's Sumitomo Mistui Banking Corp. and Mitsui & Co last year. The plant has a production capacity of 500,000 tons of paraxylene a year and 100,000 tons of orthoxylene and toluene a year.

From Jakarta Post, Indonesia, by Fitri Wulandari, 8 January 2004

Civil Service Group Criticises Finance Department

The Association representing thousands of top civil servants has criticised the Department of Finance for pushing ahead with plans for decentralisation without consultation. The Association of Higher Civil and Public Servants has described a job advertisement for a senior post as coercive in tone. The advertisement states that candidates must be prepared to be transferred to any location under the Government's decentralisation programme. The AHCPS General Secretary, Sean Ó Riordain, said it was unacceptable that the job advertisement had been published without consultation. The Association's Executive met today to decide on a date for a special delegate conference to discuss the decentralisation issue. Mr. Ó Riordain said there was still a great deal of concern amongst its 3,000 members about a number of aspects of the plan. The AHCPS will also consult with other civil service unions about what action to take as a result of the recent job advertisement.

From Jakarta Post, Indonesia, 18 January 2004

India Astounds Public Finance Gurus

India continues to astound and amaze international public finance gurus and fiscal purists. On the one hand, as the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Dr Kalpana Kochhar notes, the country's fiscal deficit (Centre and States combined), at 10.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), is below just that of Turkey (19.2) and Argentina (12.8), while being higher than other crisis-prone emerging market economies. These include Hungary (9.5), Philippines (8.3), Brazil (4.7), Indonesia (1.8), Chile (1.4), South Africa (1.2), Russia (minus 0.7) and Ecuador (minus 0.8). Equally disturbing, by end-2002, India had accumulated a sovereign debt-GDP ratio of 80.6 per cent, representing 441.2 per cent of annual governmental revenues. The corresponding percentages are better for Russia (34.7 and 92.9), Ecuador (57.8 and 223.9), South Africa (39.9 and 149.4), Hungary (49.9 and 135.8) and Turkey (81.2 and 289.4), while being comparable or worse than only Brazil (95.1 and 127), Argentina (174 and 668.2) and Philippines (99.4 and 573.8).

According to Dr Nouriel Roubini of the Stern School of Business, New York University, the fiscal deficit and debt-GDP ratios for India are way above the corresponding averages of 3.9 per cent and 61.2 per cent for countries with similar Moody's credit rating of `Ba1 to Ba3'. Worse, even lower rated economies (`B1 to C') enjoy better average fiscal deficit (4.5 per cent) and debt-revenue (372 per cent) ratios. "In most developing countries, these numbers would presage an immediate currency crisis, with investors demanding an ever-increasing risk premium on their sovereign bond holdings, forcing Governments to raise interest rates, shorten their debt maturities and denominate them in foreign currency to hedge against prospective inflation and devaluation," says Prof Ricardo Hausmann of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. But India, as always, seems 'different'. The markets clearly do not find the debt levels excessive, as nominal interest rates are declining, gilt maturities are elongating, foreign capital inflows are large and banks have ample liquidity to fund the private sector.

Further, forex reserves have crossed $100 billion and the central bank is having to sterilise excessive inflows in order to prevent the rupee's undue appreciation! So, why is India then `shining' and not `crashing', as per dire textbook model predictions? Prof Hausmann's explanation is simple. The authorities have, no doubt, sinned by engaging in an unsustainable borrowing binge. But unlike in other countries, they have committed only the `domestic original sin' and not the `international' one of borrowing excessively in foreign currency. The ratio of India's external debt to total sovereign debt is only 10.4 per cent, whereas it is 81.9 for Russia, 80.9 for Ecuador, 64.4 for Argentina, 55.8 for Indonesia, 51.6 for Chile, 46.5 for Hungary, 43.4 for Philippines, 40.1 for Turkey, 26 for Brazil and 20.1 for South Africa. In this sense, India is more like the industrialised market economies, which predominantly borrow in their own currencies. Since the country's public debt has a very small foreign currency component exchange rate movements do not have any significant adverse fiscal impact. Conversely, piling up of sovereign debt in rupees does not also generate balance of payments vulnerabilities, leading to currency crises a la Brazil, Argentina or East Asia.

From Walletwatch, India, 19 January 2004

Property Tax Policy Anti-poor: Arya

New Delhi - Leader of Opposition in MCD Subhash Arya today criticised MCD's property tax policy and alleged that the Delhi government is bent upon taxing the poor people and providing tax benefits to the rich. He added that implementing Unit Area Method for assessing property tax without consulting elected representatives would only affect the poor. Arya described the state government's decision as an undemocratic act. He further alleged that Delhi government has not sent the reports of the two expert committees constituted to recommend changes in the property tax system. He added that the councillors who have a detailed knowledge of development works and geographical conditions of their areas have been ignored completely.

Giving examples of the owners of huge properties getting more benefits from the MCD, Arya said that the 17 properties of the A category shown in the annexure-C are now paying Rs 3,70,26,634 under the existing system. But after the Unit Area Method will be introduced, these people will only be paying Rs 66,99,411. According to Arya, going by this system, the affluent will be paying 5.5 times less than what they are paying now. Arya added that the categorisation of properties in the unit area method is not based on scientific principles and said that the self-assessment policy being introduced by the MCD is an eye-wash. He suggested that the expert committees on property tax should be handed over to the municipal councillors since they know their areas better. Arya said a special meeting of the House should be called to discuss he recommendations given by the expert committee.

From Delhi Newsline, India, 19 January 2004

Japan Techs Tap Equity Finance on Improved Outlook

Japanese technology companies are expected to tap the stock market for $15 billion this year to finance expansion and mend finances, taking advantage of revived buying interest among global investors. The trend, helped by an overall market upturn, is driven by a profit turnaround after years of corporate streamlining and investor excitement about new consumer electronics. "Keeping pace with the earnings recovery, we are set to see more convertible bond and public share offerings," said Ichiro Ouchi, executive director of UBS's Equity Capital Markets Group. "The technology sector, in particular, is likely to remain a major player in equity financing." Besides restructuring, Japanese high-tech firms' expertise and dominant market share in hot-selling digital consumer electronics are adding lustre to their share and convertible bond offerings. "In the United States, globalisation in the corporate sector, massive restructuring, and dominance in personal computers led to high growth in the 1990s," said Eishu Kosuge, general manager of corporate finance at Daiwa Securities SMBC. "Japanese firms are shifting to global operations and have been active in restructuring in recent years.

If products like digital cameras and DVD recorders sell as widely as PCs of the 1990s, we may come close to the US growth of the last decade." Japan's four top brands - Sony Corp, Olympus Corp, Canon Inc and Fuji Photo Film Co Ltd - dominate the global digital camera market, while Matsushita Electric Industrial and Sony lead DVD recorder production. Oversupply - Bankers expect tech deals this year to jump around 50 per cent to $15 billion, generating an estimated $600 million in fees. Japan saw a rush of equity financing in recent months, such as Sony's $2.4 billion convertible bond (CB) issue and a $1.8 billion share sale by NEC Corp. Other major tech firms such as Fujitsu Ltd and Oki Electric Industry Co Ltd are ready to jump on the bandwagon, while chip makers Renesas Technology and Elpida Memory also are set for $1 billion-plus offerings, market sources said. Renesas, a venture between Hitachi Ltd and Mitsubishi Electric, is the world's third-largest chip maker behind Intel Corp and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd Elpida Memory is a venture between Hitachi and NEC.

The steady stream of IPOs, secondary offerings and CBs could pressure the market, especially if the government goes ahead with plans to sell one million shares in Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (NTT) currently valued at 500 billion yen ($4.72 billion). "Of course, the (stock) market cannot be left unaffected. It has a certain chilling effect. But as long as trading remains as active as now, the impact should be minimal," said Yoshihisa Okamoto, senior vice president at Fuji Investment Management. Banker Bonanza - The value of Japanese equity and equity-linked issues shot up almost 80 per cent to $36.69 billion in 2003, according to research firm Thomson Financial. Computer and electronics firms were the largest group of issuers, accounting for 28 per cent of Japan's equity financing by value, or around $10 billion, research firm Dealogic says. Morgan Stanley was first in tech-related equity underwriting last year, having managed NEC's share issue and initial public offerings by NEC Electronics and Seiko Epson, Japan's two largest IPOs in 2003.

Nomura Holdings was the overall top dog in equity-related underwriting in 2003 with $12 billion in deals, followed by Nikko Citigroup, Daiwa Securities SMBC, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanely, Thomson Financial says. Nikko Citigroup is a joint venture between US Citigroup and Nikko Cordial Corp, while Daiwa Securities SMBC is the investment banking arm of Japan's second-biggest brokerage, Daiwa Securities Group. Offerings of new or existing shares, including IPOs, of top Japanese firms usually generate underwriting fees of about five percent, while commissions for increasingly popular euroyen CB issues typically bring two-2.5 per cent fees. Profits Return - For foreign institutional investors, CBs and new shares issued by Japanese technology firms are a good bet because of a turnaround in profitability. "Japanese technology companies are perhaps best positioned to generate earnings growth," said Christopher Mothersill, managing director of Morgan Stanley Japan. "The benefits of recently completed or ongoing restructuring efforts are just now starting to show up in their financial results." In comparison, their US and European counterparts have already gone through their own restructuring efforts, limiting their earnings growth potential.

From Hindustan Times, India, 26 January 2004

 

Germany Introduces New "Minimum Tax" Policy

London - Analysts at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein mention that the new German tax policy would lead to higher cash tax payments in the short-term. In a research note published this morning, the analysts mention that according to the new "minimum tax" policy, a minimum of 40% of the domestic profits of companies are taxable. The German government will introduce the new policy from January 2004, the analysts say. Although the absolute tax payments are unlikely to rise, cash tax payments are expected to increase significantly in the short-term, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein believes.

From New Ratings, by Dresdner Kleinwort Wasser. 17 December 2003

Hungarian Finance Minister Forced Out over Deficit

Budapest - Hungarian Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo bowed to pressure from Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy and stepped down following the announcement of a higher-than-forecast public deficit. "I asked him to resign. The figures are worse than were predicted by the finance ministry. The difference is so big that it has personal implications," Medgyessy told journalists on Wednesday. The finance ministry announced early Wednesday that Hungary's public deficit for 2003 had reached 5.6 percent of gross domestic product. It had earlier forecast a deficit of 5.2 percent of GDP. "It is for this reason that I demanded the resignation of Csaba Laszlo," Medgyessy said, adding that the minister would leave his post on February 15. Hungary, which is due to join the European Union in May, hopes to adopt the euro in 2008. That would require Budapest to maintain a public deficit of no more than 3.0 percent of GDP. Under the rules for joining the euro, it needs to achieve this target at least two years before joining the eurozone.

From Servihoo, Mauritius, 7 January 2004

Financial Analysts Predict Reforms Will Help Business Environment

Strong growth of gross domestic product will continue and the Slovak crown will gain value; deregulated prices will rise, lightening consumers' pockets and putting pressure on the standard of living. In 2004 the Slovak economy should experience an economic growth similar to that of last year. However, the average citizen will still not fully feel the positive effects of the recent economic and social reforms, analysts say in their prognosis. In its latest official Monetary Programme, the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS) predicted middle year-on-year growth of the 2004 Slovak gross domestic product (GDP) at 4 percent, in a range between 3.7 and 4.3 percent. This is one of the highest figures among European states, many of which are suffering from an economic recession. Membership in the European Union; the tax, pension, and health care reforms; and the process of curing public finance are the factors that should most influence the Slovak economy in the forthcoming years. But, at the same time, the impossibility of a precise prediction of the results of reforms represents a certain risk for the economic future of the country.

According to analysts, economic growth this year should sprout from implemented reforms and investments. The introduction of the flat income tax rate at 19 percent will enable companies to invest money saved by the cut from the previous level of 25 percent. NBS governor Marián Jusko also sees potential for domestic demand to recover and contribute significantly to GDP. In 2003, GDP was mainly pulled forward by external demand. Tatra banka analyst Róbert Prega agrees: "Unlike in 2003, domestic demand should become a significant source of economic growth this year. We expect that household consumption will start to grow this year and, thanks to recovering investment demand, the generation of gross fixed capital should become the most dynamic part of GDP." Analysts and the central bank have not hidden the fact that price deregulation and the recently adopted restrictive steps aimed at cutting the public finance deficit will affect households as well as domestic demand, but the negative impacts should be less painful than they were last year. Acknowledging this, Marek Gábriš of CSOB then added: "Moreover, tax reform and the potential easing of monetary policy could stimulate corporate investment activity. We can predict some level of recovery in household consumption due to the expected [favourable] development of real wages."

However, Pavol Ondriska with Slávia Capital thinks domestic demand is at risk, as he is not sure whether the reformed business environment is presently strong enough to stimulate the investment activity of firms: "Unfortunately, household consumption will probably decrease again." He emphasized economic recovery in Europe as the main support for the predicted strong growth in Slovakia. The expected economic success of business partners in neighbouring countries, which should pull Slovak exports forward next year, also appears in the Monetary Programme of the NBS. The foreign trade that so pleased economic experts last year should thus also play a positive role in the economy in 2004. "We suggested that exports would have a strong effect on GDP last year. But the final result is much better that we had thought. And it happened despite the weak economic growth of other European countries. Exporting capacities built in recent years were probably the most helpful [for that process]," said Gábriš. Slovak exports were, for example, almost 27 percent higher in November 2003 than they had been in the previous November. However, analysts have said that the year-on-year growth of exports this year should not be as surprisingly high as it was in 2003. The NBS predicted: "After the significant growth in automotive industry exports in 2003, we can expect a milder increase in 2004.

In line with the export limits of the European Union, we should anticipate a stagnation in the export of iron and steel. "Imports should also show a slower growth rate, but generally, in 2004 the deficit of the current account of the balance of payments will grow." According to economic experts and the NBS, the growing deficit will particularly result from stronger economic and investment activity; thus it should not cause much concern. Generally, this means that companies and investors in Slovakia will spend more on equipment, know-how, production capacities, and the strengthening of their international competitiveness. The NBS predicted the trade balance deficit to be Sk38.2 billion (€931.4 million) in 2003 and Sk46.1 billion (€1.1 billion) in 2004. The current account deficit of the balance of payments on GDP should have reached 2 percent last year and should reach 2.3 percent in 2004. In 2002 this rate was at 8.1 percent. According to analysts, the year 2004 should be successful for the Slovak crown as well. "We expect that the positive trends characterized by the strengthening of the Slovak crown and the lowering of exchange rates will last this year as well," Prega said. The strong crown exchange rate should be based on an overall favourable evaluation of the Slovak economy by foreign investors, the strong growth of GDP, and the inflow of foreign investments. Prega predicted that the crown would strengthen this year to Sk40 /€1.

Unlike economists, citizens of the Slovak Republic, unfortunately, do not have any big reason to celebrate the coming of 2004. They will feel the reforms and price deregulation intensely in their wallets. Benefits from the flat income tax rate and higher tax deductibles will substantially diminish as a consequence of the higher value-added tax (VAT), excise taxes, and higher energy prices that will influence literally every economic sector. Energy prices were in the past subsidized by the state. According to the government and the highest energy regulation body, the Office of the Regulation of Network Industries, the prices did not fully reflect costs for energy production. Because Slovakia is trying to create a free-market environment and the state is suffering from a lack of money for further subsidies, price deregulation was inevitable. The price deregulation started several years ago and it has been carried out gradually. Last year's government measures, which took effect from the beginning of this year, should draw the prices significantly closer to the market level. "Gas prices will rise the most - by 27.8 percent for households. Heat prices, which depend on gas, will be hiked by 2 percent. Electricity will be 8.3 percent more expensive. We will pay about 30 percent more for water distribution. In addition, the prices will be even further increased by the higher VAT," said Gábriš. According to the analyst for CSOB, the new VAT is one of the highest within the European Union.

The former 14 and 20 percent VAT rates were unified at 19 percent at the beginning of this year. "Even countries that have similar or higher rates use a lower VAT on selected goods," added Gábriš. By entering the European Union in 2004, Slovakia will adopt the common EU agricultural policy. According to analysts, this will probably bring another price hike on selected foods. The NBS also foresees a negative impact on food prices due to the unified VAT and 2003's weak harvest caused by droughts. "Food prices should increase this year by 1.2 - 5.7 percent," predicts the central bank. In May this year, the date when Slovakia becomes a member of the EU, the excise tax on cigarettes will take effect. This will increase the price of a cigarette box by Sk1 (R.02). In line with the expected price hikes and the government's measures, the central bank predicts inflation at the end of 2004 in the range of 5.5 - 7.3 percent and average inflation at 7.2 - 8.2 percent. Ondriska said: "An evaluation of 2004 will depend upon the viewpoint.

A common citizen will have to face new pressures on the deterioration of his living standard and so he will have pessimistic expectations. "A deeper view will show us that reform steps move the Slovak economy closer to macroeconomic stability, which is one of the foundations for long and sustainable economic growth and, consequently, for a rising living standard. Thus, expectations for financial markets will be positive," he continued. The most important political event in 2004 will definitely be Slovakia's joining the European Union in May. As analysts have said, from an economic point of view, the short-term impacts will not be that visible. The preparations for Euro-integration have been the impetus for the economic and political changes of the last 10 years, and the most important reforms have largely been completed. It is likely that Slovak companies may experience difficulty withstanding tougher competition in a united business environment. "The long-term effects will be positive - the opening up of the market to know-how, the possibility of working and studying abroad, and increased foreign investments. This moment should lead to the increase in sophisticated production and services and consequently to a rising living standard in Slovakia," said UniBanka analyst Viliam Pätoprstý.

From Slovak Spectator, Slovakia, by Marta Durianová, 12 January 2004

Tough Few Months Ahead for New Finance Minister

New Finance Minister Tibor Draskovics faces a tough test in his first few months in the job, according to analysts. His appointment last week was followed by an initial strengthening of the forint against the euro. However, the currency, bond and stock markets all declined last Friday, after Finance Ministry announcements suggested that 2008 might be abandoned as the target date for Hungary to adopt the euro. "Overall, I remain negative on the forint and expect a sell-off in bonds," said Ozgur Yasar Guyuldar, emerging markets strategist at K&H Equities Rt, commenting on the immediate short-term fall-out of the change in minister. His concerns were echoed by Jeff Gable, vice president for emerging markets at Deutsche Bank AG, who spoke to the BBJ from London. "Draskovics starts in a very difficult environment," he said. "This week, we need clear statements on public finance during 2004, the current forint environment, and communication between the Finance Ministry and the central bank, which must improve." Péter Makray, an equity analyst at Erste Bank Investment Rt, said that both the timing and the reasoning behind Csaba László's sacking surprised him. However, he predicted that Draskovics will be "no worse and no better than László." Commenting on the effect on the local equity market, he said that Draskovics' first comments suggested that the likelihood of Hungary joining the euro in 2008 was receding, and that this was creating uncertainty for stock prices.

Most market commentators have long given up on the idea of 2008 as the date for euro entry, Makray noted. He also said it was much easier for an incoming finance minister to publicly abandon the date. Zoltán Bereczki, a fund manager at Raiffeisen Fund Management Rt, professed to be unsurprised by László's firing. "László's departure wasn't a big surprise. He was under fire from every political side," he said. "Draskovics' appointment itself is a neutral thing, as he must have been closely involved in previous policy-making. Nevertheless, Bereczki detected signs of a change in policy."Some of Draskovics' first comments point to a different direction than his predecessor's," he said. "He commented on the base rate, which - coupled with the latest Socialist demands that [central bank president Zsigmond] Járai should resign - may again lead to a fight between the ministry and the central bank." A fine time - Opposition party Fidesz said in a statement last Thursday that it would like to know the "real causes" behind the dismissal of Csaba László.

Yet according to Gable, both the timing and reasoning seemed perfectly correct, not least since László had managed to hang on until the 2004 budget had been passed. "The timing makes sense. We had public support for László before Christmas, and he managed to get the budget through. Nothing happened in the interim, then we have the poor deficit figures come out, a specific data event on which to make a decision," he said. "Whether or not this is a political decision rather than a policy decision is up for debate, but it does draw a line under 2003," Gable continued. "As for the overshoot itself, the government revised its target in December to -5.2%, and we've still overshot that by a large degree." He added that for the whole of 2003, there has been a large gap between market consensus forecast and the ministry's own targets, and that this has contributed to the mistrust between the market and the fiscal authorities. "The actual figure of -5.6% is pretty much in line with what the market has been forecasting all year. To start 2004 with this continued discrepancy between [official and market forecasts] is not healthy," he explained. "Something needed to be done from the side of the government, and changing the finance minister is headline stuff. I think the Socialists were looking to hang the blame on someone, and that someone was László."

From Budapest Business Journal, Hungary, 12 January 2004

Structure of Public Spending in the CEEC

In 2002, the budget situation of the acceding countries deteriorated, mainly through an increase in spending. Their average spending level, which accounted for 43.6% of GDP in 2002, however remains lower than in the European Union (47.4% of GDP in 2002, also greatly increasing since 2000). A closer look at the different items of expenditure shows that the structure of public spending in the CEEC is roughly similar. Several specific characteristics can however be discerned with regard to certain countries: o the total level of spending is lowest in Romania and Lithuania, two of the poorest countries in the area. o social and welfare payments constitute a very significant part of public spending in Poland and to a lesser extent in the Czech Republic and Slovakia (spending on healthcare, child allowances and income support). o The ratio of the public wage bill to GDP reaches Union level (10% of GDP) in Cyprus, Slovenia and also Hungary where recent rises were massive.

In the Czech Republic, on the contrary, public service salaries are particularly low. o In Estonia, spending is maintained at a moderate level (the law requires that Parliament adopt a balanced budget ex ante), although spending allocated to purchases of goods and services, excluding wages, is relatively high. A comparison by function also shows that spending on health and public administration (% GDP) is relatively lower in the CCEC, whereas it is comparable in education and defence. Conversely, the portion allocated to economic affairs, in particular transport, exceed those of the Union, which is explained by the pressing need for investment and modernisation of infrastructures. In their pre-accession economic programmes, published last autumn, the majority of the acceding countries announced an ambitious aim to reduce the budget deficit and to prepare for their entry into the ERM II. The mandatory nature of most types of public expenditure and the existence of sometimes rigid mechanisms of wage indexation (as in the case of Slovenia) could however delay the timetable for rationalising public spending.

From EurActiv.com, Belgium, by Christian Gianella and Elsa Henry, 16 January 2004

Key Tax Policy Measure Is Lower Social Tax Rate

"From our point of view, the most significant measure is not the lower profit tax or even VAT cuts, but the decrease in the uniform social tax rate," which is foremost done because of the necessity to make companies' finance transparent, PRIME-TASS quoted Dvorkovich as saying at a round table meeting on Wednesday. Many Russian companies pay less than half of taxes due, he noted. Dvorkovich did not elaborate on the mechanism to decrease the uniform tax rate. The basic variant was approved by a Cabinet meeting last autumn. Under the decision, the tax rate will be reduced to 26 percent. "This issue is still open; the final decision is due to be taken before the end of the State Duma's spring session," the deputy minister said.

From ITAR-TASS, Russia, 21 January 2004

 

Sources: Finance Ministry Will Have to Submit Multibillion Shekel Budget Adjustment within Months

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: "Why is it necessary to pass a budget every year, rather than relying on a multi-year budget?" Likud Speaker: Sharon was speaking in jest. Senior economic officials in Jerusalem do not rule out the possibility that the Ministry of Finance will have submit a new economic plan to the Knesset within three to four months. The plan would include measures to encourage growth, centered on a multibillion shekel budget adjustment. The measures are necessary due to Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu's concessions and changes on the budget, and the virtual ultimatums by Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz for a NIS 3 billion budget supplement, and by Minister of Public Security Tzachi Hanegbi for a NIS 500 million budget supplement for the police.

From Globes Online, Israel, by Zeev Klein and Zvi Lavi, 7 January 2004

 

Fitch: U.S. Public Finance Rating Changes Mixed During 4th Quarter; Credit Forecast Still Cautious

New York - During the fourth quarter of 2003, Fitch Ratings downgraded $33.5 billion in municipal par and upgraded $5.4 billion, for a downgrade to upgrade ratio of 6.2:1. The par amount downgraded was dominated by the State of California, which accounted for over $29 billion, or 86% of the total par downgraded. Without the California downgrade, the ratio drops to 0.8:1. While credit ratings continued to decline during the fourth quarter 2003 in terms of par, it actually improved in terms of number of issuers. Eighteen issuers were upgraded and 12 were downgraded in the fourth quarter, for a ratio of 1.5:1, reversing the previous four quarter trend from Oct. 1, 2002 to Sept. 30, 2003 in which the ratio of the number of issuers downgraded to those upgraded was 1.5:1. There were 18 credits on Rating Watch Negative as of Dec. 31, 2003 vs. 23 as of Sept. 30, 2003. During that period, two of these credits were downgraded and kept on Rating Watch Negative, three were downgraded and taken off Rating Watch Negative, seven were taken off Rating Watch Negative in conjunction with a rating affirmation, and five new credits were added. The one credit that was on Rating Watch Positive at the end of the third quarter was affirmed with no upgrade, and as of Dec. 31, 2003 there were no credits on Rating Watch Positive.

The ratio of the number of credits with a Negative Rating Outlook to those with a Positive Rating Outlook held steady during the fourth quarter at 1.9:1. Certain economic indicators improved in 2003, particularly gross domestic product, personal income, and housing starts. However, Fitch's forecast for the municipal market is cautious. This view is based on fundamental analysis of the credits Fitch rates, continued slow growth in employment, and general observations that anti-tax sentiment and the need for increased spending in areas such as health care and retirement benefits will continue to pressure state finances and, consequently, local funding. It is also consistent with findings from Fitch's municipal default study, in which it was observed that, historically, municipal default rates peak the year after an economic slowdown hits bottom. In the tax-backed sector there were seven upgrades in the fourth quarter vs. four downgrades. Four credits were taken off Rating Watch Negative (zero downgrades vs. four affirmations) and one new credit was added to Rating Watch Negative. T

he ratio of tax-backed credits on Negative Rating Outlook to Positive Rating Outlook increased to 1.3:1 at year end from 1.1:1 at Sept. 30, 2003. This is significantly more negative than the ratio at March 31, 2003, when there were approximately two tax-backed credits with a Positive Rating Outlook for every one credit with a Negative Rating Outlook. The health care sector was responsible for five upgrades and three downgrades during the fourth quarter of 2003. This positive trend was in stark contrast to the total of 34 downgrades and only five upgrades in the sector during the first three quarters of 2003. Fitch now has a stable forecast for acute care facilities, but its forecast for non-acute care remains negative. In other revenue sectors, there was one upgrade and no downgrades in higher education, one upgrade and one downgrade in transportation, one upgrade and two downgrades in water and sewer, one upgrade of a municipal loan pool, one upgrade of a child care facility, one upgrade of a solid waste facility, one downgrade of a port facility, and one downgrade of a prison. Fitch will be publishing a comprehensive report on credit trends in public finance later in January.

From Business Wire (press release), 7 January 2004

W-B Council, Mayor United at First Meeting

It was clear on Tuesday night things were going to be different. When Wilkes-Barre City Council's work session started at 5 p.m., Mayor Tom Leighton and three upper echelon members of his administration were on hand to answer council's questions. City Administrator J.J. Murphy, Finance Officer John Koval and Leighton's assistant, Jason Dongas, were with the mayor when he entered council chambers. Former Mayor Tom McGroarty and his staff were frequently no shows at the council meetings, much to the chagrin of the legislative branch. "The I is gone," Leighton later told council. "We're in this together, and we're faced with the monumental task of turning this city around financially." Leighton answered most of council's questions himself, which included inquiries about the department of public works, finances and the city's latest loan. Council authorized a $4 million tax anticipation note on Tuesday. It carries a 2.32 percent interest rate and is due Oct. 31, 2004. Leighton called the TAN "normal procedure," but did say proceeds of this loan will cover operating expenses at the beginning of 2004. They will not be used to pay off any of the $6.3 million owed on the two 2003 TANs.

The mayor hinted a plan to restructure that debt could be released at a special council meeting in seven to 10 days. Council also gave Leighton approval to hire Public Financial Management. The firm has gained national recognition for helping small and large cities manage their debt and recover from fiscal distress, according to the mayor. "We're not going to get better unless we get some financial advice," stressed Leighton. "We're trying to avoid coming back in October and saying we're broke." P.F.M. is also helping Leighton and his staff to prepare a revised 2004 budget. The company will charge a fee, but Leighton said until they know how much work P.F.M. will perform, they cannot put a dollar figure on the service. "Just like I said, we are going to go out and surround ourselves with people who are knowledgeable," Leighton said. "I'm not going to lie to you, this (city's financial problem) is way above my expertise." The mayor took feedback from council as well. Councilman Tony Thomas presented him with information on two projects that could benefit the city.

Thomas explained for about $2,000 the city could eliminate the duck and goose problem at Kirby Park. If the system did not work, Thomas said it is fully refundable. The second project would be to create a "Healing Field" in Wilkes-Barre. It should take place between the start of the Fine Arts Fiesta in the middle of May and Memorial Day weekend. Approximately 3,400 American flags will be spread out over a 2-acre parcel. The flags are sold for $30 each to local sponsors and the proceeds go to a local charity or organization. Thomas suggested the Osterhout Free Library as the recipient and estimated it could raise $150,000. "That's great," Leighton told Thomas. "Good job." Thomas also made a resolution requesting a police officer be present at every council meeting.

Leighton said that was not a simple request. "We're damned if we do, damned if we don't on this one," the mayor noted. Leighton indicated he did not want to be criticized for taking police officers off the streets. Councilman Michael McGinley suggested calling the desk sergeant at police headquarters in the event of a problem. Leighton said he would meet with Police Chief Gerry Dessoye to work something out. In other business, council authorized a resolution allowing city officials to remove city property in deplorable condition. It includes desks, cellular phones, chairs and radios. City employees have described the basement of city hall as being overwhelmed by clutter and debris. "Who is going to take care of the basement?" Chairwoman Kathy Kane asked jokingly. "Let's hope city council," Leighton responded.

From Wilkes Barre Citizen's Voice, PA, 7 January 2004

L'ex vice-ministre des finances américain Peter R. Fisher rejoint la société BlackRock

New York - Son expérience unique dans le domaine des marchés de capitaux internationaux va améliorer la gestion des investissements, la gestion du risque ainsi que les capacités de conseil BlackRock, Inc. (NYSE : BLK) a annoncé ce jour que Peter R. Fisher, ex vice-ministre des finances américain, avait rejoint la société BlackRock en qualité de directeur général et de membre du comité de direction. Mr. Fisher will help build BlackRock's investment and risk management business, and have primary responsibility for expanding the balance sheet advisory services the firm offers to public and private financial services organizations worldwide. In addition, he will serve as a member of the firm's Investment Strategy Committee, contributing his unique insights on the global capital markets to the assessment of investment opportunities and development of portfolio management strategies for the firm's substantial and growing clientele. Mr. Fisher recently served as Under Secretary of the Treasury, where he had primary responsibility for U.S. debt management. He previously worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where he most recently was responsible for all of the Federal Reserve's open market and foreign exchange operations.

In his public sector experience, Mr. Fisher dealt with complex asset and liability management issues, and he has been an outspoken advocate of comprehensive risk assessment and disciplined balance sheet management. 'Peter's expertise and BlackRock's investment and risk management capabilities represent a powerful combination,' commented Laurence D. Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock. 'We have long been recognized for our highly disciplined investment process and unique risk management systems. With Peter joining, we will be better able to leverage our considerable resources and his vast experience to help address a variety of asset-liability management challenges faced by financial organizations throughout the world, including banks and savings institutions, insurance companies, monetary authorities and others.' Keith Anderson, BlackRock Managing Director and Fixed Income CIO, added: 'Having worked with Peter as a member of the Treasury Department's Borrowing Advisory Committee, I have grown to appreciate both his keen intellect and unique insight into the complexities of the global capital markets. I have every confidence that Peter's perspective will be of enormous value to BlackRock and our clients.'

Mr. Fisher said, 'I am tremendously excited to be joining the BlackRock team, which has long demonstrated a commitment to working with clients to solve complex financial challenges utilizing the firm's established investment management and risk management capabilities. I am eager to begin working with my new colleagues to build on the successes they have already achieved.' Highlights of Mr. Fisher's Career - Mr. Fisher served as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance of the U.S. Treasury from August 2001 to October 2003. Prior to his service at the Treasury, Mr. Fisher worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. At the U.S. Treasury, he was involved with all matters of domestic finance, banking, fiscal policy and operations, financial regulation and capital markets with oversight responsibilities for the Offices of Financial Markets and of Financial Institutions, and the Office of Fiscal Service including the Bureau of Public Debt and the Financial Management Service. During his tenure at the Treasury, he was responsible for leading several critical initiatives, including a broad restructuring of Treasury debt management practices, which encompassed a re-articulation of government objectives for debt management, suspension of 30-year borrowing and expansion of inflation-indexed issuance.

Mr. Fisher took a leadership role in reopening financial markets following 9/11, the implementation of the post-9/11 airline loan guarantee program and Administration policies on FDIC reform. Mr. Fisher also played a key role in the Administration's defined benefit pension policies as the Treasury Board representative to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Before joining the Treasury Department, Mr. Fisher spent 15 years at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As the Manager of the Federal Reserve System Open Market Account, he was responsible for the management of banking system reserves and the maintenance of the Fed Funds rate, Discount Window lending by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the conduct of all foreign exchange operations and the investment of the foreign currency reserves of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury, as well as for the provision of account services to foreign monetary authorities. Among other accomplishments at the Federal Reserve, Mr. Fisher played key roles in encouraging a private sector resolution of the failure of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998 and in resolving the extraordinary year-end pressures in money markets in connection with Y2K.

From Le Revenu, France, 7 January 2004

Tight Days Ahead - Omar Davies Says Ministries Will Have To Do More with Less

Dr. Omar Davies, Minister of Finance and Planning, has indicated that Government Ministries and departments will have to learn to do more with less in the upcoming fiscal year. "What has to be apparent is that every ministry, every department, has to seek to do more with less resources. It can't be business as usual," Dr. Davies told journalists at Jamaica House, Hope Road, St. Andrew yesterday. The Minister's comments came the same day the Council of Presidents of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) called on Government to exercise greater cost constraints. "Fundamental to going forward is the importance of the Government taking the necessary steps to realise its goal of achieving a balanced budget by 2005/2006," the PSOJ Council of Presidents said in its new year's message released yesterday. "Management of the country's fiscal deficit to reverse the growth trend of the national debt is critical to this outcome and should include, among other measures, exercising cost constraints, reducing the size of government, while improving the efficiency of the public sector, and divestment of public sector assets."

The PSOJ said that there is need for the merging of the informal into the formal economy and to support the widening of the tax net. "If this is successful, it can ultimately lead to lower rates of taxation," the council said. NO DRASTIC TAX MEASURES - Speaking with reporters yesterday, the Finance and Planning Minister suggested that the public should expect no drastic new tax measures when the Government presents the 2004/2005 budget in April. He was responding to queries about the possibility of a major tax plan being announced in the wake of last year's widening of the tax net and the subsequent escalation of the country's financial crisis. "No (to new taxes). That I can say with some confidence," Dr. Davies remarked before a specially convened five-hour Cabinet meeting. He, however, was unwilling to give any details on the continuing discussions be-tween the Government and the trade unions on future economic policy moves. "The first agreement we had with the trade unions is that we don't discuss any details.

They have honoured it and I am obliged to honour it," he said. Dr. Davies' assertion that the Government would have to 'do more with less' was shared by president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Michael Ammar. Speaking to The Gleaner, Mr. Ammar said: "We're hoping to see a more pragmatic approach to expenditure. We (the country) cannot continue to spend as we have been spending." He added: "We also want them (the Government) to look at the tax side. There are a lot of inequities that need to be worked out." Yesterday's Cabinet meeting was a continuation of the regular Cabinet meeting held the previous day. Both the Finance Minister and the Minister of Development, Dr. Paul Robertson, indicated that the meeting was being held to look at the national budget. According to Dr. Robertson, the meeting was 'part of the budget process' for the upcoming fiscal year. "We have started that cycle and we are beginning to look at the budget in detail," he said.

He added: "It is the first special meeting. We took the first brush a week ago, we had regular Cabinet yesterday (Monday), and we have a special meeting today (yesterday) to continue that work." The Development Minister noted that the process will include all ministries receiving the budget parameters from the Ministry of Finance. The Ministries will then begin to work at how they can fit within the parameters and 'then it goes on to the end of the fiscal year'. Referring to the 2004/2005 Budget, the Finance and Planning Minister said that the country faces a dilemma in that 'there is a general cry for fiscal restraint and simultaneously a cry for additional expenditure'. "One good thing is that the country is much more aware of the constraints," he said. Yesterday's Cabinet meeting precedes a retreat scheduled for this weekend, in which the governing People's National Party (PNP) will be assessing the nation's struggling economy. Speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum in December, PNP general secretary Senator Burchell Whiteman said the party would be looking at what policy changes are required to turn the economy around.

From Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica, by Robert Hart, 7 January 2004

Privatization: The Ultimate "Lockbox" for Social Security

"Younger workers should have the opportunity to build a nest egg by saving part of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account. We should make the Social Security system a source of ownership for the American people." - President George Bush, 2004 State of the Union Address. With those innocent words, spoken in an election year, President Bush launched a debate over Social Security privatization that I fear is going to be ugly and misleading to the American people, and the real benefits of privatization will not be discussed. I do not blame the President. Social Security is an issue on which otherwise respectable economists abandon objectivity for rabid partisanship. Below are two examples, one from each side of the debate.

Transition "Cost" - Bush-hating economist Brad DeLong has praise for the following argument against Social Security privatization, from Mark A.R. Kleiman: "privatization proposals actually add hundreds of billions of dollars in extra expenses to the federal budget per year. Which means, of course, hundreds of billions of dollars in additional taxes or national debt. Far from being a free ride, privatization will cost taxpayers dearly." This is known as the "transition cost" argument, and it is completely bogus. Below is a table that explains why. It shows how Social Security obligations would be paid for, both under the present system and under transition to a system where today's workers are given private accounts instead of paying Social Security taxes.

Social Security Obligations Source under Current System Transition to Privatized System
Obligations to current retirees Today's Taxpayers Future Taxpayers
Obligations to today's workers Future Taxpayers Today's Taxpayers

Under the current system, the payroll taxes collected today go to pay benefits to people who are currently retired. So where is Social Security going to get the money to pay benefits to today's workers? From future taxpayers, just as today's taxpayers fund the retirement of yesterday's workers. Under 100 percent privatization, or under any transition from today's "pay as you go" system to a fully-funded system, today's payroll taxes would not go to pay current benefits, but instead would be used to fund the retirement benefits of today's workers. As a result, the government would have to find another source of revenue to pay current retirees. In practice, this means that the government would issue debt, putting the burden of repaying that debt onto future taxpayers. A complete privatization plan is a swap: instead of having future taxpayers fund the obligation to pay today's workers when they retire, future taxpayers would fund current retirees. Conversely, instead of requiring today's workers to pay for today's retirees, today's workers would take care of their own retirement. This swap adds no economic cost to Social Security.

Essentially, today's taxpayers and future taxpayers are no better off and no worse off than before. The "transition cost" argument is generated by ignoring the second row of the table above. What the left-wing demagogues do is look at the first row of the table, and point to the borrowing that will be necessary, with the consequent liability for future taxpayers. What they overlook is the second row of the table, which shows a huge liability for future taxpayers being lifted. That liability is the obligation to pay retirement benefits to today's workers. In accounting terms, it is true that the government debt liability in the first row appears on the government's balance sheet, while the obligation to pay Social Security in the second row does not. However, no one, particularly on the left, would suggest that future Social Security payments are not obligatory. The fact that the government balance sheet counts debt as a liability but does not count future Social Security payments as a liability is an accounting charade.

The "transition cost" argument is derived from that charade. It has no basis in economic reality. The Stock Market Scenario - If the anti-privatization left's favorite bogus argument is "transition cost," then the pro-privatization right has its own dubious idea. This is what I call the "stock market scenario," in which shifting funds into the stock market produces high enough returns to wipe out large portions of the Social Security obligation. In a TCS essay last year, privatization architect Peter Ferrara wrote - "For most workers in the younger half of the work force today, the real rate of return they would receive from the program under current law is around 1% or less. For many it is zero or even negative. By contrast, the real rate of return paid on corporate stocks over the last 75 years is over 7%." The stock market scenario is one in which the return on investment greatly exceeds the growth rate of the economy. Typically, the economy is assumed to grow at 2 percent per year, but the stock market is predicted to provide returns of 7 percent per year.

This disparity is expected to last for fifty years or more. To see the flaw in the stock market scenario, start with the algebraic fact that the ratio of the value of common stocks (P) to the total economic output of the country (Y) is the product of the price-earnings ratio of the stock market as a whole (P/E) and the share of corporate profits in economic output (E/Y). That is, P/Y = (P/E)(E/Y). If stock prices grow at 7 percent per year while the economy grows at 2 percent per year, then the ratio of stock prices to GDP (P/Y) fifty years from now will be more than ten times what it is today. How could that happen? If the price-earnings ratio of the stock market (P/E) stays constant, then in order for P/Y to increase tenfold, the ratio of earnings to GDP (E/Y) has to increase tenfold. However, corporate profits are over 10 percent of national output today, so that if the ratio increases by tenfold, then corporate profits will be more than 100 percent of national output. That is impossible. Alternatively, suppose that the ratio of corporate profits to national output stays constant. Then we need the P/E ratio to increase by tenfold in order to get a tenfold increase in P/Y.

So, if the P/E ratio today is about 25, then in fifty years it will be 250. That would require investors to almost ignore risk and the time value of money in valuing stocks. No one believes that this is possible. Historically, investments in the stock market have yielded 7 percent. That is because early in the twentieth century price-earnings ratios were in single digits. Over the course of the last century, the stock market went from being dramatically undervalued to being valued fairly, and along the way investors earned extraordinary returns. This idiosyncratic past cannot be extrapolated into the future. As I see it, there is a plausible scenario in which stocks yield a 7 percent return for many years going forward. That scenario is one in which Moore's Law, biotechnology, and nanotechnology prove fruitful. In such a scenario, the economy will see growth closer to 7 percent than to the 2 percent commonly forecast, and that growth will in turn provide enough earnings to fuel a comparable rise in stock prices. If such a techno-utopian scenario plays out, then the question of how to finance Social Security will seem trivial - our wealth will be abundant. This is a nice scenario for daydreams, but not one which anyone would suggest as the basis for conservative planning.

Ferrara and I would agree that a fully-funded system is sounder than a pay-as-you-go system, and that privatization is better than a government system. Where he and I disagree is on the need to cut future benefits. My fear is that unless the stock market scenario plays out, the burden on future workers of meeting the cost promises already built into the system is too high to be affordable. To address this risk, I would like to schedule increases in the retirement age in the future, so that we have more people working and fewer people collecting benefits. The True Benefit of Privatization - The real benefit of Social Security privatization is never discussed by either side in the debate. That benefit would be that Congress could no longer arbitrarily raise benefits and thereby increase the obligations of future taxpayers. Today, Congress can pass a benefit increase, such as the recently-enacted prescription drug benefit for Medicare, without specifying how to pay for it.

The incentive will always be to expand benefits to the point where the system is bound to collapse. The problem today is the unfunded nature of future entitlements. If we had a system in which future entitlement promises had to be funded today, then politicians could not get away with their arbitrary expansion of benefits. To stop the nonsense, we need a transition from "pay-as-you-go" financing, in which future promised benefits are paid out of future taxes, to a fully-funded system, in which what you get in the future is what you pay into the system today. Privatization would facilitate the transition to a fully funded system. Partial privatization only takes us part way there, but it is a good start. Thus, what the Left sees as the biggest drawback of privatization - the "transition" from pay-as-you-go to fully-funded - is what I see as its most attractive feature. Privatization is the ultimate "lockbox" for Social Security, in that it would keep Congress from expanding future benefits without setting aside money to pay for them. Now, if we could only do the same thing with Medicare...

From Tech Central Station, by Arnold Kling, 21 January 2004

 
 

LDP Pols' OK Sought for Postal Privatization Plan

In contemplating its plan to privatize postal services, the government hopes to make the plan acceptable to many Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers who are opposed to the sell-off. The idea of maintaining the state-run Japan Post's mail-delivery operations as a single entity operating nationwide, for example, is one of the government's efforts aimed at quieting opposition to the plan. But some speculate that the government's idea to set up several regional postal savings companies and post office life insurance companies may lead to the curtailment and eventual abolition of such services. It remains to be seen whether the government and the LDP can reach agreement. In September 2002, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's panel on the privatization of the three postal services operations made its final report.

Three plans were proposed in the report: Establishing a single, special-purpose company to provide Japan Post's three services - mail delivery, postal savings and post office life insurance; establishing a single, private company to provide the three services; and privatizing mail delivery services and abolishing postal savings and insurance services. The plan currently being considered most closely resembles the first plan in the report that suggests transforming Japan Post into a special-purpose company. A special-purpose company is a joint-stock company financed by the government. The aim of such a company is defined in the law concerning its founding, and the government would control and oversee its operations. Initially, the government is to hold a 100 percent stake in the company, but may subsequently sell the stock in stages. Similar cases include NTT Corp., privatized from Japan Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation in 1985, and the Japan Railway companies, privatized from Japanese National Railways in 1987.

Setting up such a special-purpose company may face opposition from some LDP lawmakers as a mere transition measure. Concerns about splitting the three postal service operations into subsidiaries of the special company also are likely to intensify among Diet members representing vested interests in the postal services. Although mail delivery services are to be operated by a single company nationwide under the plan, it urges the splitting of postal savings and insurance services into several regional operations. Also under debate is a reduction in the maximum postal savings deposit and the maximum amount of postal insurance policies, currently both 10 million yen, which could lead to curtailment and abolition of both services. Whether the government can quieten those Diet members opposing the privatization and radically reform postal savings and insurance services is likely to be the key to the success of the privatization of postal services.

From Daily Yomiuri, Japan, by Yomiuri Shimbun, 5 January 2004

Private Sector to Get its Act Together

The paradox in Brunei's private sector was recently revealed at a meeting amongst prominent members of the business community. The discussions and debate exposed wide gaps between the government's optimism in their declared plans and policies against what appears to be a lack of common shared visions with the private sector. There is a divergence of expectations, attitudes and opinions. The private sector allegedly has a lack of will, and there has been an erosion in business confidence. The confidence gap is like an open wound. "Unless it is treated, it could become a serious problem," said one member at the meeting. "Confidence" or the lack thereof was the main issue openly discussed in a closed meeting convened by the Malay Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Its background paper was reports of the Brunei Economic Development Board presented by the Monitor Group in July 2003. "We should plant this confidence and promote the positive side of our country for doing business in Brunei," asserted Sheikh Abas, the Deputy President of the Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This positive sentiment expressed by the local Brunei businessman is in contradiction to the discouraging survey reports presented by the Monitor Group.

The "opinion" survey carried out by the Monitor Group on the investment competitiveness index, places the business climate in Brunei to be among the underdeveloped, backward and socially inequitable economies of Bangladesh and Nigeria. This survey compiled opinions from samples of people in Brunei's business community. "We are not trying to pick holes in the report or blame and criticise the consultants. We are not killing the messenger for bringing bad news but listening to the message itself. "We are very concerned with the underlying messages resulting from the opinion survey. It indicated that in spite of a decade of resolute pronouncements and assertions by government to cut down red tape, improve incentives and review outdated rules and procedures, the private sector collectively through the opinion survey has not appreciated or noticed any improvements in the investment climate. "The local private sector has low opinions of the business climate in Brunei as to be clustered among the underdeveloped, unstable social and unpredictable business environment," asserted a member of the meeting. "I am very concerned with the continuity and sustainability of my business which I have built up over 20 years.

With the small market, I am losing my business to new entrants and new players, who are unscrupulously undercutting prices," commented one of the members. "I have been offered to build and operate one public facility on a five-year lease. I cannot do it because the duration is far too short for reasonable return on investment, continuity and meaningful business," said another. The meeting recognised the dilemma in the fairness of sustaining existing business and opening opportunities for entrepreneurs and new entrants. There were no easy answers put forward in the meeting but all agreed that constant consultations between policy makers, licensing authorities and franchise regulators and the interested players should be instituted so that transparency and trust can be built in getting fair and good business dealings for all. But what was commonly agreed by all is that the duration of term contracts, the lease periods of the facilities and the validity period of the franchise should be sensible as a continuing business and reasonable from perspectives of investment. The meeting scanned through the summarised report of Monitor Group.

They all accepted the prioritisation of the four clusters that included the financial services, the hospitality and tourism, business services and the transportation and logistics. The general comment was that these are not new areas but identified by previous studies and recommendations. What was lacking was the implementation. Hj Mohammad Said expressed optimism that this time round it could be better if the programme and plans set clearer selection criteria for investor partners and a more tangible and deliverable measures of progress and development. Hj Rezali Johari, President of the Malay Chambers of Commerce and Industry, concluded the meeting by announcing that this is the start of many more discussions, forum and symposiums which will be organised and coordinated by the MCCI. "We have to get our acts together in the private sector so that we can have converging views and a more coherent plan of actions to promote our businesses, attract investors and generate confidence in the economy. "We can begin to develop a meaningful partnership with the public sector through constant dialogue and consultations. We will be proactive in seeking and sharing information. We will be more forthcoming with our inputs and recommendations for improvements and reforms."

From Bru Direct, Brunei Darussalam, by Bakar Jair, 7 January 2004

What's Wrong with Privatization in Uzbekistan?

Tashkent - Privatization of public enterprises by private companies in Uzbekistan has not been well thought-out, thinks economist Victor Ivonin. Ten years ago he headed an expert group preparing the laws regulating private enterprise in Uzbekistan. Here is what he told the TCA. "I would compare the Uzbek economy to a game of chess in which the level of the players is determined by the number of moves they can think ahead. Unfortunately, sometimes our "chess players" can only see half a move ahead while making important decisions. As to general economic strategy guidelines, we can discern a grandmaster's hand. But when it comes to tactical issues, we see poor play. Take, for instance, the recent shutdown of markets selling consumer goods. Being correct strategically, this campaign had many tactical mistakes, which caused a very negative response. Recently the Uzbek government issued a decree on the sale of low-profit and loss-making enterprises at zero cost.

The document has many drawbacks. In principle, the idea is correct - to pass loss-making enterprises over to new, efficient owners who would make them profitable and preserve jobs. This actually repeats the privatization experience in East Germany where many public companies were sold for nothing. I think that each privatization case requires making a purchase/sale act, at least at a symbolically low price. Otherwise, if a new owner fails to fulfil some of its privatization commitments, the state might easily claim this property back at the very same zero cost. By the government's decree, business people must prove that they have money for investments. However, no businessmen has free money. The document suggests that Uzbek business people have a lot of money in reserve. As a rule, business people never have free investment resources since all of their money is utilised, and a lack of circulating capital is their eternal problem. Let's return to the experience of East Germany.

The country did have investment resources that were concentrated in banks which granted credits for certain projects. It was not the State Property Committee that considered a project, but a bank that estimated the risk of a proposed project. So during the privatization in East Germany western banks came to the country in search of business people seeking credits. The same must occur in Uzbekistan. We must carry out the privatization through banking capital. We should have planned privatization depending on the amount of money available at local banks. What is happening in Uzbekistan most of whose business people are engaged in primary capital accumulation, not production? A businessman learns about free dispensing of loss-making public enterprises. To take one, he must meet two requirements only - to show that he has money and promise to revive this enterprise. No problem. After the privatization, the new owner would sell everything that could be sold from this enterprise and then return it to the State Property Committee at zero cost. So tactical mistakes ruin the right strategy because our "chess players" can not see further than one move ahead.

From The Herald, UK, 9 January 2004

Uzbekistan Announces Privatization Tenders for 2 Chemicals, 1 Cement Plant

Tashkent - Uzbekistan's state property committee is offering foreign investors state stock holdings in two chemicals and one cement plant. A committee administration source told Interfax that 49% of chemicals plant Elektrokhimprom (Tashkent region), starting price $15.68 million, and 57.7% of Dzhizakplastmassa (Dzhizak region), starting price $3.13 million, will be on the auction block. So will 25% of the stock in cement company Akhangarantsement (Tashkent region), starting price $4.5 million. Bids for the three will be accepted until March 10. This is the second time Akhangarantsement is being offered, since an auction last September for the 25% stake attracted no bidders. Elektrokhimprom produces around 35 different chemical products, including liquefied technical ammonia, nitric acid, ammonium nitrate and carbamide. The government will retain a 51% stake in the enterprise. Britain's Maxwell Stamp PLC is the financial consultant for the company's privatization Dzhizakplastmassa makes polyethylene film and polymer pipe, producing up to 30,000 tonnes a year.

The government will hold onto 25%, the company workforce 8.9% and small stockholders 8.4%, aside from the potential foreign investor. The financial consultant here is the Russian audit-consult firm BDO UniconRuf. Akhangarantsement, Uzbekistan's second largest cement-maker, can turn out 1.736 tonnes of the product annually. The government will retain 25%, the company workforce 24.4%. Switzerland's Holderbank Group owns 25.6% of the stock. The financial consultant for this outfit's privatization is European Privatization & Investment Corporation of Austria. The Akhangarantsement stock sale is part of a program for privatizing major Uzbek enterprises with the support of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The IBRD extended Uzbekistan a $28 million credit to this end back in 1998. The official exchange rate on January 8 was 980.18 sum/$1.

From Interfax, Uzbekistan, 12 January 2004

Malaysia PUAS Declines Comment On Privatization Plan

Kuala Lumpur - Malaysian water distribution agency Perbadanan Urus Air Selangor, or PUAS, Monday declined to comment on whether it will be pushing through with its privatization. ""It's the state government's prerogative to (announce the privatization)," PUAS Chief Executive Mohd Sinon Mudzakir said at a news conference. He declined to elaborate. Mohd Sinon's comment comes amid speculation that a consortium of European investors and local businessmen have jointly made a bid for PUAS through KL City Water Sdn. Bhd., a locally-incorporated company. There is also speculation of another bidder - Syarikat Bekalan Air Selangor or Syabas, controlled by companies owned by Puncak Niaga Holdings Bhd. (6807.KU) Chairman Rozali Ismail. Selangor state officials weren't immediately available for comment.

PUAS is the water distributor for central Selangor state, one of Malaysia's most developed states, where demand for water is growing rapidly. Analysts estimate PUAS's privatization to be worth 4 billion ringgit ($1=MYR3.80). The privatization is also expected to settle a portion of the group's outstanding debt, Mohd Sinon said. Analysts estimate the group's debt around MYR3 billion, of which MYR800 million is owed to water supplier Puncak Niaga. "We have a substantial amount of water bills from water producers and under our restructuring (privatization program), we should be able to solve it by this year," Mohd Sinon said. PUAS distributes 3.6 billion liters of water daily in Selangor state and that amount is expected to rise by 200 million liters a day annually. Of the total treated water supply, 42% is lost annually due to leaking pipes and water thefts, costing the company MYR600 million a year.

From Yahoo News, 12 January 2004

Japan Highway to Set Up Privatization Panel

Tokyo - The state-run Japan Highway Public Corp (JH) will set up a preparatory panel on Feb. 1 ahead of its planned privatization in fiscal 2005, JH President Takeshi Kondo said Wednesday. The panel, which will be headed by Kondo, will study the introduction of corporate accounting methods and how to divide the privatized company by region, he said.

From Japan Today, Japan, 21 January 2004

Highway Privatization Panelists Face Off

One sees 40 trillion yen debt payable in 45 years, the other begs to differ - Monday's start of the ordinary Diet session renews Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's scrum with vested-interest Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers and bureaucrats as he pushes through a watered-down plan to privatize four heavily indebted expressway firms. The government plans to submit a set of bills in March to privatize the corporations in fiscal 2005. Koizumi hopes part of the package will lead the privatized entities to clear off their 40 trillion yen in accumulated debt in 45 years. But instead of following the repayment focus of his reform panel, the plan largely favors completion of a costly, and contentious, 9,342-km expressway network. This plan serves road-construction interests and puts a nearly half-century-long repayment period in doubt, because borrowing for construction will continue, with tolls used as collateral. The watered-down plan, agreed upon last month by the government and ruling coalition, not only runs counter to his five-member advisory panel's recommendation to prioritize debt repayment, but it effectively idled the panel - two of its members quit and another boycotted the meetings in protest. In a recent interview with

The Japan Times, administrative reform expert Kazuaki Tanaka, former acting chairman of the panel, said he could not remain honest with himself if he stayed on. "We were betrayed by the prime minister," Tanaka said. "Despite all his repeated pledges to respect the panel's proposals, he failed to keep his promise." In a separate interview, writer Naoki Inose, one of two panel members who endorsed the government plan, said the panel can still serve as a watchdog to keep the privatization from being further diluted. Tanaka branded Inose a "fixer" who helped the government draw up the plan the way he wants, while Inose blamed the two who resigned for being too idealistic and irresponsible by abruptly bowing out. "I'm not perfectly satisfied with the government scheme either," Inose said. "But that doesn't mean that we should give up all our rights to make direct approaches to the government to realize a better privatization." The plan will turn Japan Highway Public Corp., Metropolitan Expressway Public Corp., Hanshin Expressway Public Corp., and Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Authority into six privatized firms and an asset-holding, debt-servicing administrative organ that will then lease the expressways back to them.

Although Koizumi claims 80 percent of the panel's proposals are reflected in the government plan, Tanaka said the scheme lacks the crucial point of having the privatized expressway operators take over both the assets and debts of the administrative organ 10 years after privatization so they can exercise full autonomy as private firms. Aware that the assets and debts will be held by the administrative organ and thus in the end the government, Tanaka believes the privatized firms will never be able to exercise autonomy or have an incentive to lower construction costs by scrapping planned routes already known to be unprofitable. "People tend to believe privatization will do wonders," he said. "But autonomy will not work if there's no incentive or responsibility." Inose figures the 40 trillion yen debt can be repaid in 45 years with the four expressways entities' annual toll revenues of 2.6 trillion yen. But Tanaka doubts this will happen, saying the privatized firms will continue borrowing to build unprofitable routes, using toll revenues as collateral. "In my view, the debts could be reduced to 30 trillion yen or so in 45 years, but they will never be cleared," Tanaka said. "The government would have only two choices then: either amend the legislation to further delay the debt repayment or clear them off at taxpayers' expense," he said.

Since the plan doesn't mandate a "level payment" scheme, the debt-servicing agency will not be bound by a yearly fixed repayment amount and thus will have a lot of leeway in delaying repayment and accelerating construction, Tanaka said. But Inose believes that if the panel keeps lobbying the government to guarantee the debt repayment, an optimum solution can be reached by the time of the fiscal 2005 privatization. Inose met with Koizumi on Jan. 13 at the Prime Minister's Official Residence and got him to pledge to the media that the expressway companies will clear off their debts by making level payments. Land minister Nobuteru Ishihara said Friday that the 40 trillion yen will definitely be paid off in 45 years but that it will be hard for the expressway firms to make equal yearly payments over 45 years because interest rates and traffic volumes will change over time.

Inose also said the expressway firms will have autonomy as long as they have the right to say no to government requests to build expressways, even if they do not own the road assets. Inose claims his last-ditch efforts to negotiate in person with Koizumi and top government and LDP officials led the government to craft a framework that allows the expressway firms to consult with the government in deciding whether and how to build unfinished routes, instead of just following administrative orders. "While I sweated to keep the government from coming up with the worst-possible privatization scheme, those who made no such effort have ended up ruining the panel," Inose said, citing how Tanaka called off the last meeting two days before it was slated to take place Dec. 19. The government and ruling coalition agreed on the plan Dec. 22. Inose believes the meeting would have been a key opportunity for the panel to have its say. But Tanaka blamed the government for not presenting a workable plan by the time of the meeting.

Inose's private talks with Koizumi and senior officials infuriated Tanaka, who wanted the land ministry to unveil the government plan to the panel well in advance, as requested. "The ball was in the land ministry's court, and we should have waited to see its plan," Tanaka said. "Inose dumped that strategy and helped the government come up with an undesirable scheme through closed-door negotiations." Inose said it would have made matters worse if the panel waited the ministry out. But Tanaka figures Ishihara would have been held responsible for neglecting the panel's proposals, adding that the government effectively took Inose's move as the panel's green light. Despite their differences, both Inose and Tanaka believe the expressway privatization plan will serve as a test of Koizumi's ability to carry out other reforms, including privatization of the postal services. Tanaka wants Koizumi to find a Cabinet better suited to carrying out his reforms. Inose meanwhile wants him to articulate his intentions on each reform and for panels to serve these ends.

From The Japan Times, by Tetsushi Kajimoto, 20 January 2004

Japan Highway to Create Privatization Preparatory Panel

Japan Highway Public Corp. will set up a preparatory panel Feb. 1 ahead of its planned privatization in fiscal 2005, Japan Highway President Takeshi Kondo said Wednesday. He said the panel, to be headed by Kondo, will study the introduction of corporate accounting methods and how to divide the privatized company by region. The secretariat of the panel will consist of related departments and divisions centering on the Bureau of Privatization, established in May by former Japan Highway President Haruho Fujii. Kondo said Japan Highway will also set up restructuring headquarters Feb. 1 to cut costs related to the construction and management of expressways and other operations. He said he plans to invite top officials of private firms to take part in both the preparatory panel and the restructuring headquarters.

From The Japan Times, 22 January 2004

Thai Cabinet OKs Airports Agency's Privatization Plan

Bangkok -(Dow Jones)- The Thai Cabinet Tuesday approved a partial privatization plan of the state-owned Airports of Thailand PCL, which includes fund-raising via an initial public offering and a listing in the Stock Exchange of Thailand. Under the plan, the government will sell 428 million new shares to the public, or around 30% of the airport operator's outstanding equity. The finance ministry will maintain at least a 70% stake after the IPO, the government's statement said. Of the 428 million shares, 360 million will be offered to the public, while 54 million will be reserved as a greenshoe option in case of oversubscription. The remaining 14 million shares will be offered to AOT employees. Some 60% of the shares allocated for the public will be offered to local investors; the rest will be sold to foreigners, said the statement.

Thai Transport Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit said the indicative price range would be announced Feb. 6 and the final price would be fixed March 1, after the book-building period scheduled for Feb. 26-March 1. AOT shares are expected to commence trade on the Stock Exchange of Thailand on March 11. The company has appointed Phatra Securities as its financial adviser and underwriter for the IPO, said Suriya. Proceeds from the sale will be used to fund the construction of Bangkok's new international airport, scheduled for completion in September 2005. By Phisanu Phromchanya, Dow Jones Newswires; 662-266-0744; phisanu.phromchanya@dowjones.com - Edited by Dawn Lye.

From Dow Jones Newswires, 27 January 2004

 

France Telecom Poised for Privatization

Paris - The French government has received the official green light to privatize national phone operator France Telecom, but analysts said Friday that the task remains a delicate one. A new law entered the state books on Jan. 1, allowing the government's stake in France Telecom to fall below 50 percent, formally ending France Telecom's era as the country's public operator. But how and when the heavily indebted French state plans to cash in part of its 54.5 percent holding, currently valued at euro30 billion (US$37.8 billion), remains a closely guarded secret. Jean-Pierre Raffarin's government managed to avoid a major showdown with trade unions over France Telecom's impending privatization by rushing the new law through parliament in the week before Christmas. Nevertheless, its introduction prompted demonstrations around the parliament building and a brief strike by telecom workers. Observers say the government is most likely to hold off from selling any of its holding until its stake falls below 50 percent through dilution, when France Telecom issues new shares - for example to buy out the shares it does not already own in its Internet arm Wanadoo.

Finance Minister Francis Mer hinted at that solution last month when he told parliament he would not privatize France Telecom "by stealth." He said the law would "create the conditions to allow France Telecom to do ... what it considers necessary in terms of acquisitions or mergers." However, with a national debt topping 62 percent of gross domestic product, analysts say the government is also keen to sell off a sizable chunk of its stake. "Given the government's budgetary obligations, we think it too will need fresh cash" from France Telecom, said one Paris telecommunications analyst, who asked not to be named. "But politically, it will clearly be better for the government if the 50 percent threshold is broken first by a dilution." France Telecom denied that a Wanadoo buyout was imminent. "It's not currently on the agenda," a company spokeswoman said Friday.

Analysts say, however, that a move to buy out Wanadoo minorities would make sense for France Telecom, which recently carried out a similar operation to delist its mobile arm Orange. A Wanadoo buyout would make it easier to compete with rival operators offering phone, television and broadband Internet in one package, as well as giving a much-needed boost to the parent company's shareholder equity and its ability to raise funds. France Telecom currently has a "BBB" credit rating from Standard and Poor's - the weakest among European operators. Spain's Telefonica leads the pack with an "A" rating. Instead of selling shares in France Telecom, the government could choose to sell convertible bonds that can be exchanged for stock later. The move would follow the recent examples set by Germany and Switzerland with their own operators Deutsche Telekom and Swisscom. But market watchers say the government's final decision will depend on evolving market conditions. "If the market is strong, there's more chance we'll see a simple stock issue," the analyst said.

From Puerto Rico Wow, Puerto Rico, 2 January 2004

Russia Plans Privatization Probe

Moscow - The review could be bad news for tycoons who made fortunes by possibly bending laws. Russia plans a sweeping review next year of the much-criticized privatization of state property, a move that analysts said yesterday might signal more trouble for tycoons who made fortunes after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The government's Audit Chamber has given no details about what its analysis would entail, but it comes amid increasing signs that some 1990s post-Soviet deals may be at risk. "Next year, (we) plan to analyse the results of the privatization of state assets over the past 10 years," said the Audit Chamber, Russia's highest auditing body. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said he would not reverse the sale of state-owned enterprises, but he warned for the first time this week the government will crack down on those who broke the law during the privatization process.

Without mentioning names, he said "five or seven or 10" moguls might have violated the law. Investors are jittery over the government probe into Russia's largest oil company, Yukos, which culminated in the October arrest of its chief executive and Russia's richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on tax evasion and fraud charges. Yesterday, prosecutors won a court order to keep a major Yukos shareholder, Platon Lebedev, in custody another three months pending his trial on fraud charges. Putin met Thursday with the official in charge of auditing Russian companies. The Audit Chamber noted plans to analyse the privatization results were discussed during the meeting - a signal that the impetus is coming directly from the Kremlin. Previously, reviews of privatization tended to happen on a case-by-case basis, often driven by prosecutors.

Analysts said this review might suggest something broader and centrally controlled. "I think it is another link in the chain. In my memory, this is the first time that someone plans to review all of privatization going all the way back," said Steven Dashevsky, director of research at Aton Capital Group. Analysts also noted the presidential election, which Putin is expected to win, is only three months away. Parties that spoke about using some of the nation's material wealth to benefit the public did well in last month's parliamentary elections. "There have been a lot of statements flying around," Dashevsky said. "But this seems to be another indication of what the future political course will be: It is not going to be very friendly to big businesses, especially those that were privatized." Since the privatization deals, many of the business leaders have transformed their prizes into more transparent, western-style businesses that foreign firms have eyed for possible acquisitions and mergers. But the probe into Yukos has cooled investment interest.

From London Free Press, Canada, 27 December 2003

New Law Needed 'To Restore Public Trust in Government'

The Prime Minister was today urged to champion a civil service bill to help restore public trust in government. Sir Nigel Wicks, the chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said the new law could be "a big step" in winning back lost confidence in public institutions. Sir Nigel said Britain had high standards of conduct in public life and they had risen in recent years. But he added: "It is with considerable regret that as I am coming to the end of my three years as chairman of the committee there does seem to be a lack of trust in public office holders." The committee was set up by John Major in 1994 after allegations of sleaze. Sir Nigel told the epolitix.com website that a civil service bill to regulate the relationships between ministers, civil servants, special advisers and Parliament could help address public mistrust. He said he expected the Government to bring in such a bill. And it was vital that it was based on a firm consensus. Sir Nigel said the Prime Minister should champion the bill because he was in overall charge of the Government.

Without a dedicated civil service minister there was a risk that the bill could otherwise be "squeezed out". The Commons' Public Administration Committee has drawn up a draft bill which would give Parliament the power to limit the number of special advisers appointed by ministers. The move is aimed at preventing the politicisation of Whitehall. The issue of civil service impartiality has come to the fore in recent years, partly because of the proliferation of politically-appointed special advisers under the current Government. The Bill - believed to be the first ever drafted by a parliamentary select committee - would also create statutory codes of conduct both for civil servants and special advisers. And it would make clear in law that no special adviser - with the exception of two senior Downing Street aides appointed by the Prime Minister - has the power to give orders to civil servants or authorise the spending of any public money. Whitehall's watchdog, the Civil Service Commission, would be given new powers to launch its own inquiries into how the codes of conduct are operating.

From The Scotsman, UK, 12 January 2004

Speaker Denies United Russia's "Privatization" of Duma

Moscow - Speaker of the State Duma lower house of the Russian parliament Boris Gryzlov denied accusations by the house opposition that the United Russia faction he leads had "privatized power". "The word 'privatize' is not used with reference to legislative activity," Gryzlov told parliamentary reporters on Tuesday. When asked to comment on the intention by independent lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov to challenge United Russia's receiving all the key house posts at the Constitutional Court, Gryzlov said "you can hardly comment on such things." United Russia, having won the parliamentary election, formed a faction of Constitutional majority in line with the law, he said. The number of votes at the disposal of the faction which has 205 members, will be sufficient to change not only house regulations and the charter, but also adopt constitutional bills, according to the speaker. Gryzlov also said the 4th State Duma had "practically resolved" all personnel issues.

At a plenary meeting on January 23, lawmakers will only have to adopt one resolution appointing first deputies and deputy chairpersons of house committees. As for the rests, the Duma begins a normal and effective legislative activities, Gryzlov said. The speaker reminded that the Duma would have to discuss 22 government lawbills in the nearest future. Of those, ten are already under consideration at the State Duma, he said. Gryzlov also stated that the United Russia faction intended to preserve the effective Constitution. Commenting on the talk about removing limitation on the head of state's term of office, he noted that the faction's efforts would be directed at preserving the effective legislation.

From ITAR-TASS, Russia, 20 January 2004

 

Government Plan in Order to Expedite Privatization

Tehran (Mehr News Agency) - In line with the privatization plan and in order to expedite it, the government has planned to cede or transfer the stocks of the governmental companies valued at Rls1,000 billion to the unemployment insurance fund in the first three months of the next Iranian calendar year 1383 (March 20, 2004- March 21,2005). According to Mehr News Agency, the ceding process would be started from companies with a good solvency margin, and could easily be liquidated. Also the liabilities of the government to some public institutions and governmental organizations, are to be settled through transfer of the movable and unmovable properties of the government up to the limit of Rls.4,000 billion, as well as transfer of the stocks of the governmental companies, mother companies and semi-implemented projects. According to the budget bill on Iranian year 1383, the decisions to cede the stated properties would be made through a group consisting deputies from Economic Ministry, health ministry, management and planning organization (MPO) and ministry of social affairs and employment.

From IranMania News, Iran, 7 January 2004

Anchors Aweigh for Zim's Privatization

The Israel Corporation announced yesterday that it would be offering to buy out the state's 48.9-percent holding in Zim, the international shipping company. The announcement followed an agreement reached last week on workers' rights after privatization. Idan Ofer, chairman of The Israel Corporation, and Yossi Rosen, CEO, commented that under the terms of their 2001 agreement with the government, the company was entitled to buy out the state, or alternatively sell it all the company's shares in Zim. The state had attempted to offer its holding for sale, but as of December 2003, no buyer had come forward other than The Israel Corp. Apparently the two sides have only the price to settle. The Israel Corp. values the shipping company at $170-200 million, while the state seeks a much higher price tag. The decision is a strategic one for The Israel Corporation, part of the Ofer Brothers Group, which prefers to part ways with the state and, according to Rosen, "to develop Zim as a commercial enterprise in an increasingly competitive market." Zim is headquartered in Haifa, and is ranked 13th among the world's container shipping companies.

From Ha'aretz, Israel, by Hertzel Laks and Ora Coren, 12 January 2004

Privatization Plan Questioned Shariatmadari

Tehran - The Minister of Commerce Mohammad Shariatmadari has asked the cabinet to reconsider a part of the privatization plan in the next fiscal year budget (March 2004-2005) whereby a number of state-owned entities were to be sold off to the Welfare Organization, the Retirement Fund Organization and Astan-e Qods Razavi (a major foundation). The government owes these organizations in the sum of millions of dollars and the plan was meant to pay the amounts outstanding by turning over proprietorship of some economic entities over to these organizations. According to the government spokesman Dr. Ramezanzadeh the cabinet has agreed to Shariatmadari's request. He added that the issue should be reviewed by the Ministers of Commerce and Economy as well as the Director of the Management and Planning Organization (MPO) for inclusion in the Fourth Five Year Economic Development Plan starting on March 2005. Other cabinet members that should be a part of the discussions on this issue should be the Labor as well as the Industries and Mines ministers.

From IranMania News, Iran, 21 January 2004

Biggest One Day Privatization in Iran

Tehran - Today is the biggest single day in Iran's drive toward privatization, and 35% of the shares of the shipping giant "Sadra Company" will be offered through the Tehran Stock Exchange (TSE). The total value of the stock sale is estimated at 334.4 trillion rials. The per share value of Sadra stock is projected to be 19,500 rials. It is notable that among the chief opponent of this move is the Minister of Industries and Mines Ishaq Jahangiri. Sadra belongs to IDRO, a subsidiary of this Ministry. Mr. Jahangiri believes that privatization of such a large chunk of this highly successful company all at once is inappropriate. TSE watchers expect intense competition today on the floor of the exchange for Sadra's much sought after stocks. The Welfare Organization is one of the main parties that highly covets the stocks of Sadra. It is notable that the Welfare Organization name is itself a majority owner of the Islamic Republic Shipping Company.

Other interested buyers include three investment companies named Qadir, Rana and Tadbir, the two main auto manufacturers, namely Iran Khodro and Saipa. Moreover, rumor has it that the South Korean giant Samsung has obtained a permit from the Ministry of Economy & Finance and intend to bid for Sadra's stocks. Undoubtedly, because of Sadra's distinguished reputation there will be many others who will try to bid in this public offer. Sadra is a renowned and professional public-owned company specified in marine structures, heavy oil and power industry equipment, etc. For instance, at present, the company has over $1.5 billion in ongoing contracts. Among its latest projects is building 5 ships for the Islamic Republic Shipping Company at a cost of $320 million.

The project is high priority for the government meaning that the client can procure the funding of the project from the hard currency reserve fund, on priority basis and without the customary bureaucratic games. It is interesting to remind that a while back Sadra purchased 34% of a major equipment manufacturer named Azar Ab. Furthermore, reports suggest that Sadra intends to buy shares in another major manufacturer, Machine Sazi Arak. Experts say that in such a case Sadra will become an industrial giant in its specialized field. No wonder competitors are drooling and jumping over