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South Africa president improves own house with tax money

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma is being accused of ethical violations after millions of tax payers dollars were used to upgrade his home.

The Public Protector says she wants him to pay some of it back.

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OUR COMMENT:

The ANC has been accused of corruption for a long time.  The so called “presidential security improvement” is just a pretext as it is about Zuma’s own house, not the state’s presidential home.

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India’s Mumbai airport opens amid controversy

India’s financial capital Mumbai has a new airport terminal with flights scheduled to arrive in the early hours on Wednesday. At a cost of nearly cost nearly $2bn, 1,200 slum dwellers were forced to move to make way for the new project. And the people who were evicted are now accusing the government for not staying true to its promises.

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OUR COMMENT:

In China, such way of treating their citizens goes on a giant scale. The Three Gorges Dam and the Olympic City are just two of more Chinese examples. That is why we refuse to call the Chinese as a humane and civilized society. So is India.

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India’s bribing democracy

Being the world’s largest democracy does only mean that you are by words democratic, not in sense of human commitment to the society your needed votes are depended on.

In India, it’s season time for bribing democracy.

Just read this:

Just before village council elections, Southern Tamil Nadu state Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha went all out to gain favor with rural voters. Schoolgirls received laptops. Farm workers got cows and goats. Homemakers were given spice grinders and fans.

The price tag for the giveaway, which started in 2011 and continues today: 20 billion rupees ($322 million) in a state of about 70 million people.

Freebies are a fact of life in Indian politics, and items like livestock are only part of it. All three parties seen as the front-runners in upcoming elections have enticed voters with subsidies on electricity, cooking gas or grain.

The largesse could give sputtering growth a short-term boost, but there are growing concerns that the subsidize-everything mentality they represent will damage government finances and the economy. Growth is expected to be less than 5 percent in the 2013-14 fiscal year, far below the 8 percent rate the country averaged in the past 10 years. A crisis of confidence stemming from erratic government policymaking is partly to blame by deterring business investment.

India’s Election Commission said this month it plans to require political parties to explain how they will pay for any “welfare measures” announced in the run-up to the vote, to be held by May.

Economists have taken issue with a slew of new subsidies announced by the government, which is headed by the beleaguered Congress party. An expansion of India’s cooking gas subsidy will cost nearly $805 million, straining public coffers.

“If you are subsidizing 97 percent of the population, you are basically subsidizing people who are paying for it themselves,” Raghuram Raj, India’s central bank governor, said in a recent televised interview.

Campaign-season goodies are a beloved tradition in India, a country of 1.2 billion people and the world’s biggest democracy. Some 270 million people – nearly 22 percent of the population – live in poverty here, making giveaways particularly resonant for voters.

Last July, the Indian Supreme Court ruled the giveaways were not technically corrupt, but “distribution of freebies of any kind, undoubtedly, influences all people. It shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree.”

But many voters welcome the giveaways as the cost of living skyrockets.

“It is a good gesture!” said Soymyajit Singh, a 20-year-old university student who got a free laptop in October under a program organized by Akhilesh Yadav, chief minister of northern Uttar Pradesh state. “Everyone needs a computer. But how many of us can afford it?”

The laptop swayed Singh’s vote. While his family staunchly supports the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Singh says he will cast his ballot for Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.

In Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha defended her giveaways by saying they were welfare measures aimed at improving poor people’s standard of living.

Jayalalitha is among the politicians who have hopes of becoming prime minister this year. If no one party dominates elections, regional parties such as hers will play a key role in cobbling together a coalition government in New Delhi.

The most costly freebies for the government have subsidies rather than direct giveaways. In recent weeks, the Congress party and other political blocs have pressed for sweeping subsidies, often in dramatic fashion.

Sanjay Nirupam, a Congress leader in western Maharashtra state, launched a hunger strike and threatened to set himself on fire to press his demands for government subsidies that would lower electricity bills in Mumbai by 20 percent. He called off his hunger strike after four days after the party leader in his state assured him the plan would come under serious consideration.

In New Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man Party, cut electricity bills in half this year for poorer households. The party rose to power the Indian capital Delhi last year on a wave of populist promises and an anti-corruption campaign, and leader Arvind Kejriwal is widely considered to have his eye on the national stage.

The Bharatiya Janata Party promised grain at cheaper rates for the poor in central Chhattisgarh state, where the party has been in power for years. The party leader, Narendra Modi, is considered a top candidate for prime minister in the upcoming national vote.

Nationally, the Congress party pushed for an $805 million plan that allows families to buy more subsidized cooking gas cylinders. The government approved the expanded subsidy following demands by Rahul Gandhi, the likely Congress candidate for prime minister.

Analysts say the giveaways may be a time-honored practice, but the government is hard pressed to pay for them. At the end of September 2013, India’s long-term external debt was $305.5 billion. India will have to pay back a short-term debt of $172 billion by March 31, according to government statistics.

In New Delhi, though Aam Aadmi is lowering the electric bills of poor households, it is not making up the difference. New Delhi state has no cash surplus and had a fiscal deficit of 29 billion rupees ($471 million) in 2012-13.

Private distribution companies have told Kejriwal’s government that they are running out of money to pay generation companies. The Business Standard newspaper reported that the companies are already sitting on losses worth 110 billion rupees ($1.7 billion). The suppliers have warned residents to be prepared for 8 to 10 hours of daily power cuts in parts of the city if the new government doesn’t raise electricity rates and lend them money to buy power from state-run utilities.

India followed a socialist-patterned economy until 1991, but the progress of reforms has been unsteady. And sometimes the government has been forced to raise prices on items such as grain soon after giving out a slew of subsidies because it needs the money.

Even when the government is offering freebies, as the Congress party is now, that doesn’t guarantee votes. The party’s stock is low, battered by corruption scandals and inability to unblock bottlenecks in crucial sectors like land, power and food.

“What helped the Congress party in the last election in 2009 was a reasonable economic growth,” economist Surjit Bhalla said. “What will hurt them the most in the next elections is a lack of growth in the past five years.”

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OUR COMMENT:

How can a Indian politician say that he or she wants to fight corruption when he or she already is doing at the beginning: during the election campaigns by giving free bees while leaving the voters in their poverty for the rest of the coming four years.

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QATAR: slavery mentality still not gone

World Cup organisers in Qatar have responded to FIFA’s demand for more detail regarding their workers’ conditions.

Qatar has sought to allay widespread concerns about conditions for migrant workers on World Cup building projects by detailing how their rights must be protected by contractors.

The committee managing preparations for the 2022 World Cup said on Tuesday it would penalise contractors who violated the welfare of its construction workers, Reuters news agency reported.

“The committee reserves the right to penalize contractors who are non-compliant, or in extreme cases, terminate its contract with a company that is continually in breach of them,” the organizing committee said in a statement.

The Supreme Committee said it had worked closely with the International Labor Organisation on the 50-page document, which included more detailed measures on workers’ wages and accommodation compared to a guideline charter that was issued by the committee last year.

Within it are the requirements for employment contracts, payment, medical care and living conditions, including the meals and bedrooms that must be provided.

But International Trade Union Federation (ITUC) called the charter a “sham for workers,” and complained that 2022 World Cup leaders have not demanded changes in Qatar’s labour laws despite mounting criticism from rights groups.

Other measures said that employers must also allow workers to retain their passports and cover the cost of their costs to return home at the end of their contract.

Only companies directly building World Cup venues must abide by the charter, rather than those with government contracts for the wider infrastructure projects that are required to handle an influx of players, fans and media.

And organizers insisted that just 38 construction workers are currently employed by them, building the Al Wakrah Stadium south of the capital Doha.

Pressure on Qatar

Pressure on Qatar increased after a report in the UK newspaper The Guardian in September which found that dozens of Nepali workers had died during the summer.

Officials from Qatar and Nepal denied the report.

The labour force will rapidly rise as a dozen stadiums and training camps for the 32 competing teams are built from scratch or renovated.

The ITUC is troubled by the charter’s failure to address the sweltering summer working conditions when temperatures can hit 50 degrees (120F).

“It promises health and safety but provides no credible enforcement,” he told Associated Press news agency.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “It promises employment standards but gives migrant workers no rights to collectively bargain or join a trade union. It promises equality but does not provide a guarantee of a minimum wage.”

FIFA executive committee member Theo Zwanziger, who is working with the ITUC to resolve concerns about Qatar, will face questioning on their progress at the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday.

Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of the World Cup organising committee, insisted that the tournament will be a catalyst for change in Qatar.

“(It) will leave a legacy of enhanced, sustainable and meaningful progress in regards to worker welfare across the country,” Al Thawadi said.

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OUR COMMENT

Africans still confronting the west for their slavery past as they have learned from behind the school seats. What they do not have learned is that the Arabic world has a similar past as well.

The same Africans do not realize that slavery is also on their own content and practiced by Africans as well. So it is still in the Middle East.

But, there is a difference between then and now.

Today it is called “exploitation of humans” because underpaying or not paying workers at all, is a kind of slavery.

Keeping the construction cost as very low as possible even at the cost of the worker’s life, is also slavery but at a criminal level. That is what we see in Qatar.

But, you need to go to Saudi Arabia for barbaric slavery as domestic workers are simply the suspect and the Saudi goes free even when worker’s body clearly show signs of beating and torture.

In Saudi Arabia, the police do not look at who had started but who have ended the domestic abuse violently. That is why too many foreign domestic workers never come home even after beheading.

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Fake-food scandal: third of products mislabelled

Consumers are being sold drinks with banned flame-retardant additives, pork in beef, and fake cheese, laboratory tests show.

Consumers are being sold food including mozzarella that is less than half real cheese, ham on pizzas that is either poultry or “meat emulsion”, and frozen prawns that are 50% water, according to tests by a public laboratory.

The checks on hundreds of food samples, which were taken in West Yorkshire, revealed that more than a third were not what they claimed to be, or were mislabelled in some way. Their results have been shared with the Guardian.

Testers also discovered beef mince adulterated with pork or poultry, and even a herbal slimming tea that was neither herb nor tea but glucose powder laced with a withdrawn prescription drug for obesity at 13 times the normal dose.

A third of fruit juices sampled were not what they claimed or had labelling errors. Two contained additives that are not permitted in the EU, including brominated vegetable oil, which is designed for use in flame retardants and linked to behavioural problems in rats at high doses.

Experts said they fear the alarming findings from 38% of 900 sample tests by West Yorkshire councils were representative of the picture nationally, with the public at increasing risk as budgets to detect fake or mislabelled foods plummet.

Counterfeit vodka sold by small shops remains a major problem, with several samples not meeting the percentage of alcohol laid down for the spirit. In one case, tests revealed that the “vodka” had been made not from alcohol derived from agricultural produce, as required, but from isopropanol, used in antifreeze and as an industrial solvent.

Samples were collected both as part of general surveillance of all foods and as part of a programme targeted at categories of foodstuffs where cutting corners is considered more likely.

West Yorkshire’s public analyst, Dr Duncan Campbell, said of the findings: “We are routinely finding problems with more than a third of samples, which is disturbing at a time when the budget for food standards inspection and analysis is being cut.”

He said he thought the problems uncovered in his area were representative of the picture in the country as a whole.

The scale of cheating and misrepresentation revealed by the tests was described by Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, as unacceptable. “Consumers deserve to know what they are buying and eating and cracking down on the mislabelling of food must become a greater priority for the government,” she said.

A Defra spokesperson said: “There are already robust procedures in places to identify and prevent food fraud and the FSA has increased funding to support local authorities to carry out this work to £2m.

“We will continue to work closely with the food industry, enforcement agencies and across government to improve intelligence on food fraud and clamp down on deliberate attempts to deceive consumers.”

Testing food is the responsibility of local authorities and their trading standards departments, but as their budgets have been cut many councils have reduced checks or stopped collecting samples altogether.

The number of samples taken to test whether food being sold matched what was claimed fell nationally by nearly 7% between 2012 and 2013, and had fallen by over 18% in the year before that. About 10% of local authorities did no compositional sampling at all last year, according to the consumer watchdog Which?

West Yorkshire is unusual in retaining a leading public laboratory and maintaining its testing regime. Samples are anonymised for testing by public analysts to prevent bias, so we are unable to see who had made or sold individual products. Many of the samples were collected from fast-food restaurants, independent retailers and wholesalers; some were from larger stores and manufacturers.

Substitution of cheaper ingredients for expensive materials was a recurring problem with meat and dairy products – both sectors that have seen steep price rises on commodity markets. While West Yorkshire found no horsemeat in its tests after the scandal had broken, mince and diced meats regularly contained meat of the wrong species.

In some cases, this was likely to be the result of mincing machines in butcher’s shops not being properly cleaned between batches; in others there was clear substitution of cheaper species. Samples of beef contained pork or poultry, or both, and beef was being passed off as more expensive lamb, especially in takeaways, ready meals, and by wholesalers.

Ham, which should be made from the legs of pigs, was regularly made from poultry meat instead: the preservatives and brining process add a pink colour that makes it hard to detect except by laboratory analysis.

Meat emulsion – a mixture in which meat is finely ground along with additives so that fat can be dispersed through it – had also been used in some kinds of ham, as had mechanically separated meat, a slurry produced by removing scraps of meat from bones, which acts as a cheap filler although its use is not permitted in ham.

Levels of salt that breached target limits set by the Food Standards Agency were a recurring problem in sausages and some ethnic restaurant meals. The substitution of cheaper vegetable fat for the dairy fat with which cheese must legally be made was common. Samples of mozzarella turned out in one case to be only 40% dairy fat, and in another only 75%.

Several samples of cheese on pizzas were not in fact cheese as claimed but cheese analogue, made with vegetable oil and additives. It is not illegal to use cheese analogue but it should be properly identified as such.

Using water to adulterate and increase profits was a problem with frozen seafood. A kilo pack of frozen king prawns examined contained large quantities of ice glaze, and on defrosting the prawns themselves were found to be 18% added water. Only half the weight of the pack was seafood as opposed to water.

In some cases the results raised concerns over immediate food safety. The herbal slimming tea that was mostly sugar contained a prescription obesity drug that has been withdrawn because of its side-effects.

Making false promises was a dominant theme among vitamin and mineral supplements. Of 43 samples tested, 88% made health claims that are not allowed under legislation because there is no science to support them or were mislabelled as to their content in some way.

Even when fraud or mislabelling is found, it is not aways followed up. Once it has detected a problem with a product, a council is required to refer it to the home authority in which it was originally made, which may or may not take enforcement action.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, called for more effective use of resources and tougher penalties.

“No one wants to see another incident like the horse meat scandal happen again and the rigorous enforcement of standards underpinned by effective levels of food testing is essential for restoring consumers’ trust in this industry,” he said.

• This article was amended on 8 February to include a Defra comment which had been omitted.

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Malaysia supreme court to hear ‘Allah’ appeal

The argument about who can use the word ‘Allah’ continues in Malaysia, as one Catholic church was firebombed last month for writing it on a banner.Malaysia’s Catholic newspaper, the Herald, has not used the word for seven years since it was ordered to stop.Since then, calls to not even utter the word have spread to the wider Christian community.The government says the Arabic word for God is reserved for Muslims, but Christians say that violates their rights.The Supreme Court will hear an application to appeal the ban in March.Al Jazeera’s Stephanie Scawen reports from Penang.

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