Stories from Quick Reads and Economics & Business
Kevin Slaten from China Labour Watch wrote on China File on the situation of labour exploitation in China — the fact that industrial safety and workers’ lives were taken for granted for economic growth, which is reflected in a notorious local Kunshan government's appeal to foreign investors: “The Kunshan people welcome your investment. The more you exploit us, the happier we get.”
As the Trinidad and Tobago government, in anticipation of national elections next year, serves up a massive budget, two political bloggers take the country's leaders to task.
Afra Raymond, whose blog keeps a close eye on politics, corruption and transparency, provided some disturbing financial context:
The Minister of Finance has just met cynical expectations by announcing Trinidad & Tobago’s largest-ever budget for 2015, with estimated revenue of $60.351 Billion in support of estimated expenditure of $64.664 Billion. This expenditure is $4.313 Billion more than the expected revenue, with 2015 being the sixth consecutive year of deficit budgets with a nominal total of just under $34 Billion in excess expenditure in that period.
While Raymond was not surprised at the “high-stakes election budget”, he maintained that there were a few key issues to be considered – the importance of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property law being passed, the government's exclusion of a billion dollar water recycling project in the country's accounts, continued ambiguity about the specific output of the state housing programme and the issue of campaign finance reform, to name a few.
Over at This Beach Called Life, the blogger had additional concerns, such as the intolerable traffic situation between south and north Trinidad (most corporate offices and state agencies are concentrated in the island's capital, Port of Spain, with nothing being done to alleviate the problem), as well as the government's latest controversial crime-fighting gimmick, the purchase of armoured vehicles that has been one of the hot topics of discussion on social media, with many netizens getting the sense that the concept of community policing has been traded for an approach that could potentially endanger civilians. The blogger summed up the situation this way:
Naturally, Kamla’s [Persad-Bissessar, the Prime Minister] amusing and often childish sounding chant ‘serve the people, serve the people, serve the people’ can no longer be heard as the Government buys fifty two armored vehicles to ‘blow up the people’ should they step out of line. Are we a nation on the verge of revolt?
Yes, a revolt might be near simply because when the Government [...] removes the unsustainable subsides on gasoline, water, electricity [...] all hell will break loose in paradise and whether party financiers get their contracts and the appropriate kickbacks paid will be the least of the Government’s concerns.
There are about 105 cities listed in all of Madagascar. The Minister of Energy Fienena Richard recently announced that 80 cities of Madagascar are curently deprived of electricity because JIRAMA, the public company in charge of providing electricity across the territory is running short on fuel. As a result, JIRAMA has to pick and choose the cities that will receive electricity. That is close to 75% of all cities in the nation, a ratio that would be unfathomable in most countries of the world. The JIRAMA company is also plagued by the threat of a general strike from employees who demand more safety measures against angry customers. One those unhappy customers was the Malagasy president himself who threatened to sue the company after an electrical malfunction at his home. Blogger Andriamihaja in Tulear (South East of Madagascar) wrote a humorous open letter to the company picturing life without power outage in his town.
The recent merger between French telcos SFR and Numericable is but another example of the broader trend that dominates today’s telecommunications market: operators are seeking to integrate their products in order to respond to their business clients’ growing desire for streamlined communications solutions. This merger also threatens the dominance of Orange, which – until now- has enjoyed a privileged position among corporate and business clients.
The merger is a major operation which is poised to radically transform the corporate telecommunications market. Each of the 2 companies already has a significant individual market presence and there have been no comparable upheavals since 2005, when Cegetel and Neuf Telecom merged to form Neuf Cegetel (which then became a subsidiary of SFR). Since 2010, many players have been ‘merged out’ of the telco market (the Club Internet, AOL, Telecom Italia and Cegetel brands, for example, have all been retired). This has been the market's way of responding to operators’ growing desire to at once be present in both the fixed-line and the mobile markets. The merger between SFR and Numericable falls neatly in line with this trend – it would appear that the companies are trying to merge in order to meet consumer expectations concerning price and simplicity.
This market pattern has also been driven by the fact that operators need to invest heavily in new infrastructure to maintain their quality of service. The SFR-Numericable merger, for example, will help both of the merging companies to meet their needs in this field. Lionnel Piar, Telecommunications vice-president at CGI Consulting stated :
Industriellement, ce qui est intéressant dans le rapprochement, c’est qu’on a d’un côté un SFR qui a plutôt des offres mobiles, et de l’autre un Numericable plus sur la partie câble. Avec ce rapprochement, on est plus dans la notion d’opérateur global qui va être capable de proposer l’ensemble des services à une entreprise.
From an industry perspective, the interesting thing about this merger is that, on the one hand, you have SFR which offers mainly mobile products; and, on the other hand, you have Numericable which is more about cable. With this merger, we are moving towards the notion of a unified operator which can single-handedly offer corporate clients a full suite of services.
And it is precisely this new notion that threatens the hegemonic dominance that Orange currently enjoys on the B-to-B market . Orange currently holds a 70% market share and, while SFR and Numericable currently hold 20% between them, the newly merged entity is hoping to attain 30%.
Meet Peter Owiti, coffee shop entrepreneur in Nairobi, Kenya:
The story of Peter Owiti, the brains behind Pete’s Coffee shop, speaks volumes of the great deal of effort that is spent when setting up a successful business. In the brief video below, Pete, who is a father of three, talks to Kuza Biashara about the challenges he encountered when he set up shop in 2004.
Peter resigned from a well-paying office job and, left with nothing other than his lifetime savings that amounted to Ksh500,000 ($6,000), he resolved to tread a path he was barely familiar with. Today, his business is valued at Ksh5,000,000 ($60,000). This admirable growth was recorded despite the scourge of Kenya’s Post Election Violence (PEV) in 2007/2008 which threatened to break his sequence of success.
Bangladeshi blogger Raad Rahman tells the story of a girl in rural Bangladesh who avoided a forced child marriage after she started a grocery shop using a small grant from a local non-government organisation. She was going to be married off to her neighbour's son because her family could no longer support her financially.
Trinidad and Tobago's Finance Minister yesterday delivered what many are calling a “welfare budget”, but prior to its unveiling in Parliament, blogger Afra Raymond had hoped that “a more restrained approach might be taken.”
In examining the country's national budgets since 2005, Raymond found it telling that “many of the key issues identified a full decade ago are still at the fore of the more recent budgets.” There have been recurring themes: the need for economic diversification, better infrastructure, more effective crime fighting and tactics to help reduce the incidence white-collar crime. The figures revealed a tendency towards increased expenditure, with only occasional surpluses, leading him to conclude:
The reality that we are on the verge of a national election which is sure to be strongly-contested, leaves me in little doubt that the 2015 budget is also likely to be a deficit budget, with the State spending more than it earns.
Making the point that “the extent to which our Treasury is protected from being plundered by criminal elements is a serious question which should concern every citizen”, the blogger notes that adding insult to injury is the fact that corruption goes virtually unpunished in the country.
But how to stem the tide? Raymond is convinced that passing the long overdue Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Bill “would play an important part in greatly reducing the scope for waste and theft of Public Money.”
Google Chrome finally becomes “legal” in Cuba and blogger Yoani Sanchez says that she gleans great satisfaction from “knowing that the opinions of citizens interested in the free flow of information and technology influenced the elimination of this prohibition.”
Chris Akor's investors’ guide to Nigeria intends to demonstrate how the negatives reports about Nigeria have no basis in reality and that investors who have ignored the reports have been making huge returns on their investments:
Undue clatter has trailed the release of Nigeria’s rebased GDP figures – a purely technical matter devoid of politics – from some groups in Nigeria. These groups are mainly opposition politicians, whose electoral appeal hinges on their ability to paint a grim and gloomy picture of abject poverty, underdevelopment, helplessness and the current government’s culpability in bringing about such a situation. Some civil society groups, who have been making a living from the ‘poverty status’ of Nigeria and who’s survival and funding are now threatened by Nigeria exiting the lower-income category. Ignorant social media activists, whose popularity come from insulting the government and the establishment and putting their country down, and some so-called experts on Nigeria, who make a living out of the ills of the Nigerian society and have been cleverly feeding and sustaining the ‘corrupt, fraudster, never-do-wells’ image of the country in the international community and discouraging well-meaning investors from coming to do business in Nigeria.