Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tough on Corruption

It occurs to me that there may be more in a Nick Cohen post than previously suspected.
I'll try to keep things straight by concentrating on the part of Nick's paean t0 Paul Wolfowitz which mentions Hilary Benn because that's where the consequences of Nick's arguments become practical politics.

In a speech last week, Hilary Benn, the International Development Minister, did much better [than other critics of Wolfowitz] when he acknowledged the problem and tried to find a way out by emphasising good governance.
He opposed Wolfowitz by asking: 'Why should a child be denied education; why should a mother be denied healthcare; or an HIV positive person Aids treatment, just because someone or something in their government is corrupt?' Rather than suspend loans, the World Bank should help build responsive and accountable governments. The trouble for Benn is that regimes that inflict the greatest suffering don’t want to be responsive. For Sudan's genocidal rulers and the kleptomaniacs of Zimbabwe, reform would mean loss of power.

I hope you can see that Wolfowitz agitates so many people because he raises questions that have no easy answers. I’m not fit to provide them. All I can suggest is that it would be a mistake for the French, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Benn and all the rest of them to get into the position where it is 'neoconservative' to oppose corruption.

It doesn't seem from to me than Hilary Benn fails to oppose or supports corruption. And Johann Hari makes it clear that he thinks Benn is honest.

This decision has been greeted with some astonishingly dishonest criticisms. My colleague Dominic Lawson and my friend Nick Cohen have responded by serving up a dish of red herrings with a side-order of straw men. They have angrily asked why Hilary Benn and the Bank's critics are so keen to remove the conditionalities which prevent loans going to the corrupt and the dictatorial. There's a simple answer: we aren't. You made it up. We are in favour of removing the conditionalities that force privatisation on the poor. They. Are. Totally. Different. Things.

Nick has now responded in the Letters page of the Independent. Nick helpfully provides a link to Improving Governance, Fighting Corruption, which he describes as "a long speech by Hilary Benn on the danger that rigorous anti-corruption campaigns will stop at least some aid trickling down to the needy."
Blinks. This doesn't seem to be the point under discussion at all. Hari and Benn want there to be foreign aid (I think Wolfowitz and Cohen do so too, but I'm less sure). What Nick calls "rigourous anti-corruption campaigns" here means no more or less than turning off aid. Benn is against that - but you knew that. Being against aid being turned off, is not the same thing as being against having conditions for aid.

Walking away from our responsibilities to poor people is not, in my view, the right thing to do. If necessary, we will change the way we give our aid. ...
Corruption is an outcome; it is one of the symptoms of poor governance and can involve the abuse of public office for private gain. It can also take place in the private sector.
Thus any plan to fight corruption in a country must be part of a programme to improve governance. The two go hand in hand. The best check on corruption is to strengthen the governance with which to prevent it from happening, and to fight it when it does.
And that means encouraging demand for good governance by supporting civil society and the media, parliaments and trade unions, and communities so that people’s voices are heard and governments are held to account.

Benn here seems very keen on conditions. It seems to me that he is, as Nick says in his letter to the Independent, "opposed to the World Bank’s zero tolerance campaign". Nick wants us to believe that Hari denies this when Hari very clearly doesn't. Nick is defending himself against a charge which was not made.

Johann Hari posts another letter to the Indy - this time from James Levine.

Then Nick Cohen today claims it was "hurtful" for Johann Hari to call him "startlingly dishonest" after Cohen claimed Hillary Benn was with-holding £50m from the World Bank because its new head, Paul Wolfowitz, is "too tough on corruption." Yet Hari was absolutely right. Benn is withholding the money because of the privatisation conditionalities, not corruption. Cohen conspicuously failed to tell his readers about this, and clearly implied that Benn was motivated by anxieties about Wolfowitz’s corruption charges. For Cohen to shed crocodile tears now he has been called on this is a bit much.

Finally, Captain Cabernet noted that "Nick would like us to know that he's met Jeremy Clarkson and hates Piers Morgan". Fans of feuds may want to read Johann's post on Clarkson. I don't watch Top Gear, but my sympathies are closer to Nick's on this. I loathe Morgan and Clarkson is a far better writer than anyone in this dispute.


Blogger Matthew said...

Nick's been caught out there, hasn't he?

Depends on Clarkson. I love the show, and think his columns about cars are usually funny too. But the political stuff? Its boilerplate angry rightwingism, and that I suspect the Littlejohnesque politics are mostly an act doesn't make it any better.

9/27/2006 07:28:00 AM  

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