Land deals stir discontent in Sierra Leone as ...
New Jersey doing best on anti-corruption measures
Political problems may not have a political solution but a cultural one. We trim, blend, and append three 2012 articles from: (1) CBS, Mar 19, on corruption; (2) IRIN, Mar 20, on land deals; and (3) a frequent contributor, J.S. Hirschhorn, on Congressional obstruction.
by CBS News, by IRIN, and by Joel S. Hirschhorn
NJ doing best on anti-corruption measures
State governments lack transparency and accountability to citizens and remain at high risk for corruption. Of all 50 statehouses, the one doing the best? New Jersey.
Not a single state received an A in the State Integrity Investigation ranking, a product of the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International, and Global Integrity.
Caitlin Ginley, a project manager on the study, said, "In every state, there's room to improve the ethics laws, the level of transparency on government proceedings, the disclosure of information, and -- most importantly -- the oversight of these laws. Even when ethics laws are passed, they are difficult to enforce and lack meaningful consequences for violators."
Only five states got rankings of B, led by a surprising recipient: New Jersey. It got a B-plus, with an overall score of 87 out of a possible 100.
Because of recent corruption scandals, New Jersey passed tough ethics and anti-corruption laws.
New Jersey has a tradition of corruption in government, including a congressman taking a bribe from an FBI agent posing as a wealthy Arab sheik, a Jersey shore councilman caught on tape bragging to an undercover officer that he would never get caught because "I could smell a cop a mile away," and a decade-long string of 150 state and local officials who were either convicted or pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges. The cases ranged from Motor Vehicle Commission employees selling fraudulent licenses to politicians peddling their influence for kickbacks.
Eight states got an 'F,' with grades of 59 or lower: North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Georgia.
To read more, click here .
JJS: As long as some people feel more powerful than others, some powerful people will abuse others and misuse whatever political offices they may hold. It happens everywhere, in the over developed world and in the under. And a major factor is too many accept the notion that one may legally deprive others of land and that absentee ownership of land is OK.
Land deals beginning to stir discontent
In February the Chinese Hainan Natural Rubber Industry Group signed a US$1.2 billion deal with the government of Sierra Leone to lease 135,000 ha for rubber and rice plantations.
The US-based policy think-tank the Oakland Institute’s 2011 country report on Sierra Leone counted 15 large-scale land deals totaling 500,000 ha.
In 2011, the government signed a 50-year land lease with the agro-industrial company Socfin Agriculture Company Ltd., a subsidiary of the Belgian company Bolloré, to produce palm oil on 6,500 hectares of land in southeastern Sierra Leone’s Pujehun’s Malen chiefdom.
Murmurs of protest and unrest are cropping up among local populations who are unhappy with the way the deals are done without any transparency; and civil society groups are growing increasingly concerned that foreign land deals are not producing win-win scenarios.
In October 2011 residents of Malen blocked Socfin’s operations in protest over low labor costs ($2.30 per day) and the amount paid for compensation and surface rent. The 15 Malen residents who were charged with “riotous conduct” for their protests over wages await court hearings.
Sierra Leone ranked 180 out of 187 countries on the UN human development index in 2011.
Land tenure reform must take place before large land deals can benefit local communities, says UNDP. A draft land reform policy is currently under review by parliament which UNDP hopes will lead to laws to regulate the practice.
To read more, click here .
JJS: One way to address corruption is through better laws. That’s not easy, though, when corrupt lawmakers resist reform.
Losing Constitutional Competition
“The U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere,” according to the study by David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia.
That’s quite a come-down from what was proclaimed in 1987, on the Constitution’s bicentennial, by Time magazine which calculated that “of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”
Why has the US Constitution lost standing abroad even though Americans cling to their belief that it is sacred and the world’s best?
The new study examined the provisions of 729 constitutions adopted by 188 countries from 1946 to 2006, and they considered 237 variables regarding various rights and ways to enforce them. This is what they found: “Over the 1960s and 1970s, democratic constitutions as a whole became more similar to the U.S. Constitution, only to reverse course in the 1980s and 1990s. … the constitutions of the world’s democracies are, on average, less similar to the U.S. Constitution now than they were at the end of World War II.”
A Supreme Court Justice has also weighed in. Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.” She recommended, instead, the South African Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or the European Convention on Human Rights.
The core shortcoming of the US Constitution? Noted legal authority Sanford Levinson wrote in 2006 in his book “Our Undemocratic Constitution” that “the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today.”
All over the country diverse groups are advocating for reform, such as getting all private money out of politics, creating term limits for Congress, removing personhood for corporations, and imposing a balanced budget requirement on Congress.
The obstacle is Congress. All states but one have sent applications for a convention of state delegates, more than the single requirement of two-thirds of states in Article V. But Congress refuses to obey the Constitution.
Thomas Jefferson, in a 1789 letter to James Madison, noted that every constitution “naturally expires at the end of 19 years” because “the earth belongs always to the living generation.” He nailed it: Other nations routinely replace their constitutions on average every 19 years.
The US Constitution needs to be updated. We the people must pressure Congress to convene the first Article V convention. Meanwhile, more and more democracies will operate under better constitutions.
To read more, click here .
JJS: Politicians will behave corruptly as long as people do too and the most elemental way ordinary people behave corruptly -- albeit without knowing it -- is by regarding land as an object of speculation. Since everyone needs land, anyone who charges another to use land is in a way practicing slavery, getting the fruits of another’s labor without providing recompense. Unduly benefiting from location not only robs the individual but also robs the commons, which American Founding Fathers understood.
Something else Jefferson said is that the land belongs to us all. He did not mean that nobody would have any private property. What he meant was that when we pay for land, we would pay our community. And one way to pay rent to our neighbors is via a tax on land value. It’s an idea gaining traction outside America.
A new video shows how the tax structure -- by taxing jobs and business instead of collecting the economic rent of land -- perpetuates and aggravates income disparity. The tax system penalizes enterprises and employment, and rewards those who own land to the exclusion of half the population. Scottish Green Party Glasgow Councilor Stuart Clay, who supports levying land, is interviewed at minute 10. To see it, click here .
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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