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December 03rd 2015 print

Tony Thomas

Third World Kleptocrats Do Paris

If you want to make a big noise and rattle a bigger cup at the latest climate fest, it pays to be a dictator with a history of bloodshed, oppression, graft and ballot-rigging. Just ask Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe or the Maldives' Abdulla Yameen Gayoom

mugabe smallTwo important blocs posturing at the Paris climate talks are the Alliance of Small Island States bloc ( AOSIS, 44 countries) and the African bloc (54 countries). The island-states’ representative since January is the strongman president of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen Gayoom, whose democracy-friendly predecessor, Mahomed Nasheed, is now doing a 13-year term in an insanitary Maldives prison. The African bloc’s spokesman is Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, who needs no introduction.

It’s hard to plumb the depths of the hypocrisy involved, especially about the proposed $US100 billion annual green handouts to Third World despots and kleptocrats.  But I’ll give it a try.

Maldives President Yameen has sent a message to Paris  describing AOSIS as the “moral voice” of the UN Paris talks, and he has called for the $US100 billion per annum to be “scaled up in the years to come”.  And that not all that he and his AOSIS team want. In 2013, the Warsaw climate conference waffled about an extra fund for the likes of Maldives, called “an  international mechanism on Loss & Damage”. This will require further ratification in 2016 and Yameen is very keen on it.

Through 2008 to 2015, Maldives has enjoyed $US168 million in aid funds from multilateral and bi-lateral donors, such as for “clean energy”. Audit by local NGO Transparency Maldives found – as expected – that the aid spending had been highly politicized and non-transparent.

Here’s some background on the “moral voice” of Maldivian politics.

A  month ago, President Yameen declared an unprecedented  week’s state of emergency to head off scheduled mass anti-government protests and a no-confidence motion against his own vice-president. A degree of paranoia by Yameen is understandable since, in September, a blast interrupted his speed boat travels and injured his wife and two aides.

Transparency International (TI) condemned Yameen’s crackdown, saying the decree was a culmination of a year of government assault on civil rights, that “allows the government to exert complete control over civic groups and eliminate dissent.” TI warned of the risk of “impunity for rights abuse”. It said that cops had beaten up three reporters amid fresh allegations of corruption among top officials, police and public companies.

TI last year profiled the Maldives for integrity, and scored it zero out of 100 on a large number of metrics. For example:

  • “Parliament members’ conduct goes unchecked, and they appear to enjoy a high degree of impunity, with no possibility of being penalized for their wrongdoings.”
  • “There are no examples of anti- corruption legislation having been passed by the Parliament in recent years, or of any comprehensive legal reforms agenda to counter corruption having been taken up by the Parliament, though anti-corruption policy rhetoric is heard from politicians from time to time”
  • There is  general public perception of “a degree of complicity between the Judiciary and certain political quarters when it comes to prosecuting corruption cases.”
  • “Political parties, along with politicians, are perceived to be among the most corrupt institutions in the country…97 per cent of the people surveyed believed politicians to be corrupt.”
  • “Family ties, business interests, and money politics (play)  a dominant role in the electoral process.”
  • Reporters and media people have been violently attacked by assailants, and at least two journalists have   faced murder attempts. From 2010 to 2013  Maldives press freedom fell from 52nd  to 103rd rank in the world, as bad as in the pre-2008 dictatorship era.

The Maldives was run for 30 years by the current president’s half-brother and strongman, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. In 2008, Mohamed Nasheed, a human rights campaigner whose efforts had cost him five years gaol, became the Maldives first democratically elected president. He was dubbed “the Mandela of the Indian Ocean”. Nasheed was a star player in the dud 2009 Copenhagen talks, with soundbites like “ You cannot negotiate with the laws of physics. You cannot cut a deal with Mother Nature.” (This may well have inspired Kevin Rudd’s lines in Paris this week, “The planet doesn’t lie. The Earth doesn’t lie”). Nasheed was ousted in a coup by Yameen in 2012 – at gunpoint,  Nasheed claims. An election  in November 2013 validating Yameen as president was allegedly rigged.

Nasheed got his 13 year gaol sentence for allegedly ordering, while president in 2012, the arrest of a judge. He was acquitted last  February but peremptorily convicted a month later under terror charges. Amnesty International said the second trial was a travesty. Nasheed is sick and apparently denied medical aid and family visits.

New president Yameen and his ministry have so far

  • Arrested their own defence minister and sacked the chief justice and another judge
  • Imprisoned key political opponents
  • Allegedly opened the islands’ coral reefs to offers for oil drilling
  • Threatened, beaten and ‘disappeared’ local journalists
  • Allegedly consorted with international gangsters and drug-dealers
  • Dumped the islands’ vaunted 2020 carbon neutral  policy and
  • Encouraged Islamic extremism, with hundreds of locals heading off to Syria to join Islamic State.

The US is fretting that the Maldives, its climate poster-state, is getting too pally with China for comfort. China for decades has been seeking a submarine base on Marao Island in the Maldives, and nearly succeeded in 2001 but for US pressure on dictator Maumoon.

Maldives comprises 1200 small low-lying islands and for decades has been the pin-up state allegedly imperiled by the (slightly) rising seas of climate change. The fervor of compassionistas for the supposedly drowning Maldives reached its apogee in October, 2009, after  Nasheed’s cluey PR man, Mark Lynas, orchestrated a scuba-and-togs clad underwater cabinet meeting.

There is not a tittle of evidence that climate-caused sea rises are hurting the Maldives – its case is all based on IPCC-modelled future damage. The spate of new tourist infrastructure and airports on the islands suggest that leaders past and present don’t take the ‘drowning’ meme seriously. But regardless, Maldives has leveraged its global political status, acquiring influence way beyond its tiny population of 350,000, fewer than the citizens of  Canberra.

Apart from founding (1989) and currently heading AOSIS,  Maldives in October was elected a vice-chair of Working Group 111 (Mitigation) of the IPCC. It was  previously a vice-chair of WG11 (Impacts, Adaptation).  Maldives leaders have grandstanded on their climate fate from a myriad of global pulpits including Rio (1992), Kyoto (1997) and Rio +10 and 20.

Maldives has garnered in the grants but as Nasheed himself  put it when in office: “The money is rarely spent on what it should be. Even that which isn’t stolen is spent on the wrong thing. The contract is given to a minister’s relative, rather than to a reputable company.”

Maldives is not the sole bad apple in AOSIS. At a glance, a third of  the members are basket-cases, though few are as violent and autocratic as the Maldives.

As for the Mugabe-led African Union bloc, Mugabe on Paris opening-day accused the West this week of being miserly with its climate-money reparations to the likes of Zimbabwe. The African members meanwhile, he says,  ought to emit whatever CO2 was required in their aspirations to “eradicate poverty”. Many domestic opponents of Mugabe no longer emit any CO2, being dead.  Those include the  20,000 killed in Matabeleland by his feared North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade  in the 1980s. Mugabe’s mental agility at age 91 was thrown in doubt in September when he spent 25 minutes in Parliament delivering the  same speech he had given them a month earlier in a state-of-the-nation address. During that address, seven opposition members got SMS threats that if they booed, they’d be killed outside Parliament.

Mugabe and his wife Grace are   the last Zimbabwean leaders subject to EU travel bans, but they  dodged that by travelling on behalf of the African Union.

In other UN-climate news: IPCC’s co-founder Maurice Strong has died after staying safe from extradiction in Beijing over a $US1 million cheque from a crooked South Korean business man in 1997; and the UN’s 2013-14 President John Ashe  is on bail in New York over allegedly failing to declare for tax purposes  $US1.3m in gratuities from a billionaire developer in Macau. The boss of the IPCC for 12 years to 2015, Rajendra Pachauri, is on New Delhi police charges of sexual predation of a young woman employee at his think tank but is back at his desk there and   junketing internationally as though the police charges don’t exist. It’s all planet-saving business as usual, there’s no need to get cynical.

Tony Thomas blogs at No BS Here (I Hope)