Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Senator Ozouf’s Eastern promises….

Winning the star prize in the raffle even before leaving London must have seemed a good omen for Senator Philip Ozouf so far as the latest India project is concerned.

But we should bear in mind that a £10,000 holiday trip is not on the agenda for most of that huge country’s billion plus residents and that grinding poverty is their everyday reality - and we raise such issues in this 2 part blog interview with Jersey’s Finance Minister.

So why are we now trying to sell our latest Finance Foundations to India’s wealthy minority or encouraging them to buy expensive properties in London? Surely we could be better and more usefully engaged in addressing some of India’s social problems rather than creaming off new wealth from the most fortunate few?

Even if the Jersey cattle breed is no longer the international force that it once was – surely there is still some local farming expertise that could be sold in places like India OR why not utilize our financial knowledge and contacts to promote genuinely beneficial projects? It doesn’t have to be done on a charitable basis – expertise can be sold and partnerships formed which can boost our own economy just as much as helping the world’s poorest peoples.

In Maharashtra region, over 1,000 poor farmers have killed themselves per month because they cannot pay back the money-lenders who financed the purchase of GM seeds. In Chattisgarh, 125,000 have killed themselves and Prince Charles has launched the Bhumi Vardian Foundation in Delhi to help alleviate the suffering. But it’s not just about lack of rain or even the 1000% increase in the cost of GM seed over more usual local variations. The problems are tied to the whole IMF initiative of making huge loans to India in the 1980’s and 90’s to stimulate the development bonanza that is now taking place around the cities and their techno-parks and to pump-up agricultural production too.

Not only have rivers been dammed and forests cleared so that the traditional water tables have dropped in rural areas but the American suppliers of seeds and petro-based technologies have been encouraged as part of the IMF development package and the farmers are desperately trying to keep up and produce more. Gandhi’s vision of a sustainable future and the country’s Socialist ideology, look doomed in the face of the international capitalist demands of growth and profit.

On paper, India’s projected economic growth rate of 7% looks good on the IMF/OECD balance sheets and there are many other finance centre vultures circling but somebody surely has to intervene on behalf of the poor millions and to speak out against the horrendous human rights violations against men, women and children that are still commonplace in this diverse and troubling country.

Of course, Jersey’s own human rights record so far as signing up to Human Rights conventions is deplorable and we have no claims on the high moral ground – but is this latest carpet bagging initiative really the best that we can do for the world?

What is the benefit to the majority of Indians if we open yet more finance based offices – whether in St Helier or Delhi – and what does the Jersey balance sheet for Dubai and the rest of the Middle East bonanza of yesterday now look like?

About 20 local leaders of the Finance sector went on this latest jolly which was a confusing and worrying mix of commercial promotion with official Jersey government support and regulatory (JFSC) participation. Senator Philip Ozouf was accompanied by Martin De Forest Brown from the Chief Minister’s Department together with Wayne Gallichan for the Economic Development Department, at tax payers expense.
John Harris represented the JFSC with the Commission paying his costs – which really means taxpayers too.

We thank Philip Ozouf for his time and assistance in preparing this blog and would welcome any comments - especially from those who took part in the India trip.

Submitted by Thomas Wellard.