- Murray Horton
The Panguna copper and gold mine on Bougainville was one of the world's very biggest mines. Owned and operated by a subsidiary of Rio Tinto of Britain, the world's biggest mining transnational (it owns Comalco here), it had been opened in 1972, over the strenuous objections of the Bougainvilleans. The traditional landowners were appalled by the enormous environmental devastation, and the virtually zero level of royalties paid to them. Over the years they protested and filed huge damages claims. Finally, in the late 1980s, they started sabotaging the mine, Papua New Guinea's biggest revenue earner. The PNG military overrreacted and soon became bogged down in a losing war for Bougainvillean independence, its very own Vietnam. The mine has been closed for more than a decade now. Francis Ona, the leader of the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, told Time (10/3/97): "We truly believe that all of Bougainville is under threat of destruction by these foreign companies of mining".
By 1996, the PNG government of Sir Julius Chan had secretly decided that its own brutal and undisciplined military was incapable of suppressing the rebellion, and contracted Sandline International, a shadowy corporation of African mercenaries commanded by British officer hasbeens, to seize the mine and defeat the BRA. In March 1997, the PNG military, headed by Brigadier General Jerry Singirok, demanded that the contract be cancelled, the mercenaries expelled, and the Prime Minister and his colleagues resign. Instead, Chan sacked Singirok.The troops rebelled, backing their commander, and led a joint military/civilian blockade of Parliament which forced the resignation of Chan and others (he was amongst those defeated at the subsequent general election). This book provides an extremely detailed account of those unprecedented events (as far as the regional media was concerned, it was the "East Timor" story of 1997). See "The Dirty Dogs Of War. Privatised Killers: Mercenaries, Miners and Money", Watchdog 85, August 1997, for an extremely detailed account of these events and their global context. Ed.
According to this book, the worst thing about the detention of Sandline commander, Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, by the PNG military, was that he missed the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. Bad show! Mary-Louise O'Callaghan was a journalist who covered the crisis, the worst since PNG achieved independence in 1975, from the inside and her impeccable sources have served her well. The book reads like a thriller - too much like one. It's full of too much extraneous scene setting detail, and it veers confusingly backwards and forwards.
It is indisputably the inside story, but too much of that also. There's not enough of the outside story, the context. It is descriptive, not analytical. Don't read this book if you want to learn anything about Rio Tinto, one of the world's nastiest transnational corporations, and the owner of Comalco in this country. Don't read it if you want to learn about the African crimes of Sandline, particularly in murderously seizing and exploiting the mineral riches of countries such as Angola and Sierra Leone. Don't read it if you want to learn about how the major Powers, such as the US and Britain, have aided and abetted the privatisation of war in countries from Africa to the Balkans (it's all about profits and "plausible deniability"). Unfortunately, it does not give us The Big Picture, to use the cliche so beloved of our "globalists". This is the New World Order. Well spoken thugs killing and bombing for hire, with a nice fat cheque and (literally) a gold mine as payment.
This use of mercenaries by transnational corporations, particularly mining transnationals, and their client governments, has become common in Africa, and is the logical development of corporate feudalism. By the 1990s, there were over 90 private armies active in Africa. To give one example - in January 1993, Canadian company Ranger Oil spent $C30 million financing a "cleanup" operation in the Angolan petrochemical city of Soyo, by Executive Outcomes, a South African mercenary army ("Executive Incomes" might be a more appropriate name). These products of apartheid operated on a simple maxim throughout Africa - Harpers (February 1997) quotes the relevant order in Sierra Leone as being "Kill everyone!". According to a "renowned strategist and war theoretician" (Press, 27/2/97): "Much of the day to day burden of defending society against the threat of low intensity conflict will be transferred to the booming security business and indeed the time may come when the organisations that comprise that business will, like the condottieri of old (mercenary armies led by military entrepreneurs) take over the State".
The whole thing was a textbook study in arrogance by public schoolboy killers - from the childishly machismo company name (ever since the Gulf War, military wet dreamers have talked of drawing "a line in the sand"), to the mentality of the mercenary commanders who must have watched too many repeats of "Dad's Army" and had obviously taken at face value Corporal Jones' mantra: "The fuzzy wuzzies don't like cold steel, they don't like it up `em". One of the more comical sequels to the whole squalid fiasco was to be found amongst the inventory of Sandline's arsenal seized by the Australians. It included several lawn mowers - which gives a whole new dimension to the long established British military tradition of mowing down the natives.To their great surprise, it was the hired murderers who found their own lives in danger (very much so in Spicer's case), comprehensively surprised, routed and kicked out by Rausim Kwik, the military rebellion headed by Jerry Singirok. To add insult to injury, they were routed by the very same PNG military which had caused so much of the Bougainville crisis in the first place. Nor had these military geniuses thought through their plan - if they had succeeded in capturing and reopening the Panguna mine, that would have been far from the end of the matter but simply a return to Square One, with militant landowners determined to close it down again by any means, including war. Nor had they considered the political ramifications - as it was, the Sandline crisis brought down the Chan government and led to the extraordinary situation of the nation's politicians being besieged in Parliament.
The region owes the people of PNG a big vote of thanks - they rose and physically chucked out the mercenaries, forced the Government to back down, and voted out the politicians (including the PM) who were responsible. The mercenaries fiasco provided the breakthrough to the present peace settlement on Bougainville. The people of one of the world's most "primitive" countries defeated the world's biggest mining company and its local agents. And they did so with a minimum of bloodshed. Not one Cruise missile or smart bomb was required."GLOBAL SPIN The Corporate Assault On Environmentalism"
Scribe Publications (Melbourne) 1997. $ 29.95.
- Viola Palmer
The rise of the corporations in the last two decades has heightened the tension between them, and those who see the need for environmental preservation.The consumer/exploiter ethic of the free market is on a collision course with the ability of the planet to sustain it. "Global Spin" reveals the sophisticated techniques used by corporations to change the way the public and politicians think about the environment. Laws of the 60s and 70s to protect the environment are being dismantled, leaving the way clear for deregulated industries to pursue their goal of maximising profits.
Sharon Beder describes how the corporations undermine and discredit the environmental movement. Strategies include:
"Global Spin" contains recent examples of these, chiefly from the USA, Canada and Australia. New Zealand gets a mention through Fletcher Challenge. Did you know that they have sued many individuals and community environmental groups who opposed logging of ancient rainforest on Canada's Vancouver Island ?
"Global Spin" is scrupulously researched and annotated. Edward Goldsmith says it is: "The most complete study so far of the elaborate multi-billion dollar propaganda machine that the transnational corporations have built up to discredit the environmental movement". It is a worthy successor to David Korten's "When Corporations Rule the World". This chilling account is a must read for all who have their eyes open about the environment, and can hopefully still do something about it.1998 WORLD INVESTMENT REPORT
United Nations Conference on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) - Wolfgang Rosenberg
This is probably the most comprehensive report on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that is available annually. At a time when former champions of social democracy (such as UNCTAD; and Mike Moore) have their eyes and minds blinded with references to "globalisation" as a good thing, and the strengthening of national sovereignty in the interests of the people within designated and inviolable frontiers as a bad thing, this annual Report is an unfortunate but clear sign of those times.
It illustrates two things: (1) the correctness of the Marxian thesis, established before 1848, that one capitalist kills many and that the result can't be but a dictatorship of an ever diminishing and more powerful class of owners of the means of production. (2) Thus the tendency towards growing monopoly either through growth of one firm or more, often through acquisition of other mega-firms and merger, is a constantly recurring leitmotif of this 1998 symphony of UNCTAD in their programme to guide States towards FDI-friendly policies. Naturally this tendency towards monopoly is called "improvement of competitive position". Globalisation is caused by this tendency towards "improvement of competitive position" of the mega firms of the USA, Germany, Britain, France, Japan and some smaller countries such as Holland and Switzerland.
The position is now that 53,000 transnational corporations (TNCs) and their 450,000 foreign affiliates provide 33% of international exports. The reason that 53,000 TNCs (frequently connected by a network of commonly owned firms) can thus control almost two thirds of the world's trade, production and commerce catering for five billion people (about 100,000 per person alive in 1998) is among others that globalisation is only partial. It relies largely on industries which are protected by "intellectual property". In this world of doublespeak "free trade" and "competition" are shouted loudly from the one side of the capitalist media's mouths and "intellectual property" from the other.
"Intellectual property", in the form of "research and development", and international trademarks, such as Coca-Cola, Adidas etc, are forms of international monopoly. Thus, the globalised industries which employ only a small minority of the world's business. The average of "Value Added" to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is about 7%. But it is much more formidable in the following industries:
Lenin looked at the Marxian analysis of tendency towards giant monopoly under capitalism in his "Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism" and explained the origin of capitalist wars and rivalry by the need of these monopolies to secure their raw material supplies and expand markets based on the cheapness of large scale production. The suicide of the Soviet Union and other countries following the Soviet model has created a rich source for inter-capitalist TNC rivalry. While the Report describes the appropriation of Soviet industry by TNCs, it does not throw any light on developments on, for instance, oil pipelines which make the domination of the whole of South East Europe by imperialist states a necessity. Much of the recent imperialist aggression against the Serbian state and nation, as well as of the principle of State sovereignty in general in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan, finds its explanation in the growth of monopoly, called "globalisation". Amongst the 100 largest TNCs enumerated by the Report can be found some of the largest contributors to armament production of all types.
A Guidebook To National Suicide
While the first part of the Report is devoted to as complete a description of the size and variety of the TNC sector of the world in developed countries (USA, European Union, Japan), as well as in what was euphemistically called "underdeveloped countries" but is now euphemistically called "developing countries", there follows a very exciting description of the criteria which TNCs require to establish themselves, if only temporarily, in "developing" countries, but in fact anywhere. New Zealand, although nowhere mentioned analytically, is counted in some tables as a "developed" country (New Zealand occupies a world leading place in the acceptance of FDI).
The policies required to attract TNCs are described as inner ring measures and outer ring measures. Inner ring measures are concerned with special concessions to TNCs and exclusion of all policies which may damage the functioning of their local labour, social, distribution and production strategies.
Outer ring policies are the general policies of the host country which are all summarised under the name "liberalisation" and are known to us as "New Right policies". Earlier volumes of the Report put great emphasis on such policies as free trade and absence of burdensome social legislation including low taxation of TNCs. But since transnationals derive their ideologies from the USA, EU and Japan, their head office governments have for many years now followed these "dry" policies with great enthusiasm, to the point where a former NZ Labour Prime Minister (albeit for two months only), Mike Moore, now acts as supreme judge of the World Trade Organisation, which is the world's tribunal in favour of free trade. We need not mention Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder of similar hue.
Thus the Report notes: "The accelerating progress of FDI liberalisation has led countries into industries long considered sensitive, eg telecommunications, rail transport, air transport and to permit forms of FDI entry previously considered less desirable, such as the establishment of fully owned subsidiaries, mergers and acquisitions and PARTICIPATION IN PRIVATISATION (emphasis added. WR). This has supplied TNCs with an ever increasing choice of locations and they have been more selective and demanding as regards other host country determinants...." (p.97).
Much more could be added as to policies to attract and keep TNCs in the host country. Exchange rates and taxation (low and indirect of course) are mentioned. Political "stability" is another pre-condition. The attack on Yugoslavia's president for maintaining aspects of a planned economy contributed no doubt to the sudden "philanthropic" bombing attacks by the US and satellite air forces on his country. In short, a sub-title of the Report could be: "A Guidebook to National Suicide"! The new freedom to bomb and annihilate which the US has introduced first in Sudan and Afghanistan and then in Serbia, with its ignoring of the United Nations Charter, may well be better understood after reading the Report.
Five pages of this 428 page Report are devoted to the Balance of Payments problem in South America, although without solution. This problem is every year aggravated by rising profits sent out of the host country. I can only conclude with a short summary from Le Monde Diplomatique (supplement to the Guardian Weekly), June 1999, "The Economics of Future Chaos":
"The technological revolution eliminates thousands of workers and tons of materials. And this happens when most developing countries experience a rapid population explosion. This selection process with its emphasis on cost cutting works to the detriment of companies with a low technological input that used to rely on local cheap labour. In many countries such companies represent the first stop to industrialisation.... And the gurus of the free market have the gall to refer to such countries as the `emerging economies'. The World Bank and IMF reforms have made the world's poorest countries the world's least viable, often plunging them into a state of endemic violence".
- Liz Griffiths
This book is a punchy collection of the work of two investigative weekly columnist journalists - editors of the Corporate Crime Reporter and Multinational Monitor, respectively. For many years they have tracked the growth of today's behemoths - the transnational corporations - and their increasing accumulation of wealth, and power. This book documents their style of operation and the price the rest of us are paying to live in such a world.
These writers are well informed about the seedy underbelly operations of the large corporations - their consistent successes in kneeing legitimate unions, their truly blatant abuse of power and overt manipulation of democratic systems, including that of the law, for their own advantage. Most of all, the insidious infiltration of these organisations into every aspect of our daily lives, is of grave concern to these writers. Not only have the corporations increased ownership of major infrastructural assets - banking, energy, transport, telecommunications, cereals, seed and other food production, retail outlets, advertising, media - but they are rapidly taking over all essential services delivery - from rubbish collection, health delivery, education to water supply.
Their section titles - including "Global Hunt for Mega-Profits"; "Corporate Crime and Violence"; "Merger Mania of the 1990's"; "Commercialism Run Amok"; "Sweatshops and Union Busting" - indicate the thrust of these articles. Some of the revelations are scandalous, some well-known, all of them displaying trends that should be of great concern to us all - the McCain Bill which, rather than bankrupting the tobacco industry, deliberately caps its' liability, and makes any reparations tax deductible!; Big Boys uniting into even greater giant organisations - Daimler-Benz' takeover of Chrysler, BP buying up Amoco, Deutschebank acquiring Bankers Trust; rogue contracts in health insurance scams. It goes on. Meanwhile the media focuses on the rising street crime stories! Teeny tiny petty crime in comparison. In an age of low inflation, with high unemployment and job insecurity, contracts and low wages, the average chief executive officer (CEO) salary can still rise about 500% in the last decade in America. And this they call democracy.
The frustration of this book, for me, is that it is a compilation of recent articles, grouped under headings, that are more just sound bites. And they were primarily written for the local US market. Some articles are written in very colloquial style and consistently I found them frustrating to read because each raised more questions than gave satisfactory explanation. Each topic could have been fleshed out to fill in the many gaps. I am used to essay style writing rather than brief snap shots. However if it is a quick read you are after where you can run your hands through your hair and say 'The B'stds' every short while, then this is a brilliant start into an overview of our world as it is fast becoming. Be warned - it doesn't look too good for us lesser mortals.
Freedom For The Few
- Dennis Small
In April 1995 a petition with "an amazing 33,000 signatures of Napier residents, collected in six weeks in a city with a population not much more than 50,000", was submitted to Parliament. The petition wanted the city hospital to be retained. Yet as Robin Gwyn goes on to observe in his book, "The Denial of Democracy", the Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Hawke's Bay, Mark Flowers, later told a visiting university group that, "we didn't ever regard the petition seriously" (p.47).
In fact, local health authorities were involved for several years in a sham consultation with the public since a decision had already been made to close Napier hospital. This decision had been taken in conjunction with central government: the result of secret collaboration between the ruling National Party and some likeminded locals. The whole episode is all too symptomatic of what has gone on in the country since 1984, a year that has indeed an appropriate Orwellian ring.
A Dying Democracy?
There is now quite an accumulating literature on the decline of democracy in Aotearoa/NZ. As globalisation bites deeper some concerned academics have taken a more active role in opposition to what they see as increasing anti-democratic trends. Among the general quiescence and sometimes eager participation of academia in market-led subversion (the widespread "trahison des clercs"), this is a heartening sign and we can only hope for more such response. In the case of Robin Gwyn we have a specialist in the rather refined subject of Huguenot history (16th & 17th century French Protestants. Ed.) who sets an admirable example by directly confronting the central issue of globalisation and its corporate agenda - the assault on democracy. The "free market" is all about freedom for the few at the expense of the majority.
Gwyn was formerly a Reader/Associate Professor in History at Massey University who "relinquished academic life in order to oppose the damage being done to education and society in general throughout New Zealand". He is an Alliance activist and candidate. In "The Denial of Democracy", Gwyn presents a very incisive analysis of a range of political conflicts, focused in particular on some provincial regions, especially Hawke's Bay. Issues covered include Sunday trading; the fate of Napier hospital; the sale of Trust Bank; the demise of the Hawke's Bay conservancy; and even the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). There is also a very good chapter on the politics of power in Taranaki by Heather Marion Smith. All this is set within a broader, critical perspective on national and international politics.
A recent Massey University Study of Values survey has found that public cynicism about politics is more pervasive than ever, with confidence in political parties at 6% and in government at 16% (Press, 8/10/99). Of special interest to CAFCA is the finding that "70% of respondents said the country was run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, up from 54% in 1989. Fewer than one in five thought the country was being run for the public's benefit". It is true that given all the other beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and values that people can have - often inconsistent, crosscutting and varying in strength - that this particular perception may still mean relatively little in terms of concerted, constructive action. But "The Denial of Democracy" is a book (less than 100 pages in length) that should be read and vigorously promoted to help remedy this situation. Its' straightforward style should have considerable appeal. There is clearly a growing potential for effective counter-attacks on the trends and practices so well exposed by Gywn.
Ever since the advent of Rogernomics and its calculated campaign to coerce democratic resistance to globalisation, the political system has been under unprecedented strains. From Labour's burial of a Sunday free from commercialism to National's manipulation of health services, Gwyn shows how democracy is being subverted in sector after sector of NZ social and economic life. By drawing the links again and again between the operations of national government and their local operatives, he continually grounds the meanings of the very vague sounding process of "globalisation" in the realities of specific local experience: the loss of a hospital; the loss of a conservation district; the cutback of disability support for disadvantaged people; etc.
Hospigate and Subversion
Gwyn's chapter on the demise of Napier Hospital - "Hospigate" - cuts away the layers of deceit to reveal the very ugly and quite remarkable depth of government chicanery involved in this particular issue. A quite hilarious concern of Prime Minister, Jenny Shipley, is that for her integrity. As Minister of Health, Shipley wrote categorically, in June 1995, that, "Napier Hospital will remain as an active community hospital with a comprehensive range of services" (p.40). In reality, on 1 July 1993, "the Healthcare Hawke's Bay Board and the Shareholding Ministers (the Government Ministers of Crown Health Enterprises and Finance) had entered into a secret funding agreement to assist in funding the consolidation of existing services onto one site" (pp.38/89). Furthermore, "events since 1996 allow one to conclude with certainty that the real intention was from the beginning the abandonment of the Napier site . . ."(p.39). For example, in 1994 Peter Wilson, Chairman of Healthcare Hawke's Bay, acknowledged the existence of "a draft statement of intent" to abandon Napier Hospital and that this had not been formally abjured in any Board minutes.
In his scathing examination of Hospigate, Gwyn ably identifies some of the standard tactics employed by Ministers and their agents to subvert democracy. As indicated above, of course, there are the secret dealings that let wellmeaning members of the public indulge in unwitting charades of so-called "participation" when the real decisions have already been taken. These days governmental rituals of liaison with non-government organisations (NGOs) often take this form, carefully contrived to impart the illusion of meaningful involvement.
In the early 1990s I attended some meetings of this sort that included treatment of the relationship of trade and the environment. It was soon very evident in this regard that these meetings were largely a waste of time and that the Government was just "stringing" people along. This is indeed what could have been easily anticipated and NZ's known negotiating record on the trade/environment nexus only too well confirms the ideological rigidity of the official mindset - free trade rules!
In 1999, CAFCA, GATT Watchdog and other allied groups stuck to a non-engagement policy vis-a-vis the Government over APEC. If the degree of engagement has to be decided according to the nature of the issues and wider strategy, the risks of cooptation or of being simply taken for a ride are today certainly higher than ever. In Hospigate, the great majority of the population of Napier and its near environs were clearly taken for a ride. No doubt the Napier Hospigate also served as a model for similar actions elsewhere. However, it certainly should not be thought that Gwyn is suggesting non-engagement. Far from it - he is seeking ways of improving democratic participation and this is certainly vital as a general approach; in his own words, he wants to "reclaim a genuine working democracy" (p.88).
Another standard tactic identified by Gwyn is the game of "changing the goalposts". The governmental ploy is to start a consultative process going with a set of apparent goals and principles. Then these goals and principles are altered not in response to democratic input but in line with commercial expediency or some other factor. In Hospigate, considerations like bed and staff numbers were critical such elements. A major shift in the goalposts occurred in the estimates of costs. So, as Gwyn says: "Not only was there a lack of genuine consultation with the public, there was not even the provision of adequate information on key issues"(p.46). The obvious conclusion to be drawn was that the Government and health authorities were either "incompetent" or "duplicitous". Ever since 1984 we have had governments that have been both!
Blitzing the Public
Then there are the welltried tactics of inducing "public impotence and confusion", the tactics adopted by Sir Roger Douglas - of which he has blatantly boasted - in his blitzkrieg on NZ democracy and way of life. This is the "revolution" that Rightwing ideologues have praised so much as the market reaps rewards for its corporate beneficiaries. One of the specific techniques used in Hospigate "is that when an awkward issue comes up one body bounces the responsibility to another: the Crown Health Enterprise (CHE) to the Regional Health Authority (RHA), the RHA to the Government, the Government to the CHE, and so on" (p.48). This not only causes confusion and despair at public meetings but "also makes it impossible for true responsibility to be sheeted home where it belongs", since it is rare for all the relevant official bodies to be represented at the same meeting. So there is a "merry-go-round" deliberately designed, or at least manipulated ad hoc, to undermine and forestall any meaningful democratic involvement.
Ever since 1984 systematic duplicity by the ruling authorities has risen in tempo and scale. While "accountability" has been a watchword for the New Right, their whole approach is aimed at obviating any accountability to the citizenry, at sabotaging democracy.The examples are now legion: from the deliberate strategy of the fourth Labour Government to mislead their own constituency to specific cases like the Department of Conservation's Cave Creek tragedy and the INCIS police computer project. Again and again, both politicians and civil servants have strenuously resisted being held to account. A whole parasitic industry of consultants, media manipulators and other public relations agents has developed with an agenda of propaganda and deceit. An armoury of tactics and gameplaying has been devised to deceive the people and support the ruling elite.
In the present Government we have had various issues like former Minister of Health, Simon Upton and the problem of contaminated blood; the farce of the Fire Service Commission; the satirical question of Shipley's integrity; and, overall, the extraordinary repeated situation of Ministers regularly escaping any responsibility for a series of departmental blunders and mismanagement. Gwyn cites the signed pledge by Lockwood Smith as Minister of Education in 1990 that student fees instituted under the Labour Party would be scrapped by the start of the 1992 year, and that his future was on the line over it. As student fees continue to escalate Smith stays "an accredited member of cabinet right through to the present day" (p.77). "Integrity" takes on ever new dimensions.
"The Denial of Democracy" is a fine contribution to the democratic cause in Aotearoa/NZ. This reviewer had only a couple of little reservations - in regard to the use at one point of a politically suspect source. Otherwise, the book is excellent and would even make a most useful textbook for university courses on NZ politics, interest group behaviour, and related topics. Its real value, though, lies in its emphatic reinforcement of the central issue at stake in the struggle against the New Right, globalisation and the free market.
In sum, Gwyn gives a readable and well presented overview of what is happening with a range of illuminating, indepth case studies. The book provides some detailed examination of market forces as well as serving as a call for positive response.
Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. December 1999.
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