RAKBANK Chooses Anomali Threat Intelligence Product Suite to Detect Threats Across its Banking Infrastructure

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates and REDWOOD CITY, Calif., Dec. 08, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Anomali, the leader in intelligence–driven cybersecurity solutions, announced today that the National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah (RAKBANK), is deploying Anomali to operationalize threat intelligence across its infrastructure. With Anomali, the Bank will enable immediate detection for the most serious threats it faces, gain the ability to respond more quickly to cybercriminals, and strengthen defenses while reducing overall risk.

"As one of the prominent banks in the United Arab Emirates, we manage assets and transactions for thousands of customers. One of our main commitments to our customers is security and we achieve this through solid partnerships with industry experts such as Anomali. They are going to provide intelligent–driven cybersecurity measures and will do everything possible to avoid disruptions that cyberattacks can cause," said K.S. Ramakrishnan, Chief Risk Officer, RAKBANK. "By bringing in industry experts, we expect to gain advanced levels of security that will help us to further heighten our defenses and intercept any possible exploitation by cybercriminals."

As an Anomali customer, RAKBANK will utilize our full product suite, which includes Anomali ThreatStream, our threat intelligence platform (TIP), Anomali Lens+, our advanced threat knowledge tool, and Anomali Match, our enterprise threat detection engine. Key to the Bank's decision to choose Anomali was Match's ability to automate the detection of threats in networks by continuously correlating all available intelligence and telemetry against every event log.

"The Middle East is home to one of the most vibrant economies in the world today, which isn't lost on adversaries. This is why it's also ground zero for an array of advanced threats," said Khaled Chatila, Anomali Regional Sales Director, Middle East, Turkey and Africa. "We're honored that RAKBANK chose us to help remain protected against some of the most troubling criminals and fraudsters targeting banks today. We look forward to helping them build an effective threat intelligence program that scales alongside their security operations."

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anomali
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/anomali/
Blog: https://www.anomali.com/blog

About RAKBANK
RAKBANK, also known as The National Bank of Ras Al Khaimah (P.S.C), is one of the UAE's most dynamic financial institutions. Founded in 1976, it underwent a major transformation in 2001 as it rebranded into RAKBANK and shifted its focus from purely corporate to retail and small business banking. In addition to offering a wide range of Personal Banking services, the Bank increased its lending in the traditional SME, Commercial, and Corporate segment in recent years. The Bank also offers Islamic Banking solutions, via RAKislamic, throughout its 27 branches and its Telephone and Digital Banking channels. RAKBANK is a public joint stock company headquartered in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and listed on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX). For more information, please visit www.rakbank.ae or contact the Call Centre on +9714 213 0000. Alternatively, you can connect with RAKBANK via twitter.com/rakbanklive and facebook.com/rakbank.

About Anomali
Anomali is the leader in intelligence–driven cybersecurity. More than 1,500 public and private sector organizations rely on Anomali to see and detect threats more quickly, reduce the risk of security breaches, and improve security operations productivity. Anomali solutions serve customers around the world in nearly every major industry vertical, including many of the Global 2000. As an early threat intelligence innovator, Anomali was founded in 2013 and is backed by leading venture firms including GV, Paladin Capital Group, In–Q–Tel, Institutional Venture Partners, and General Catalyst. Learn more at www.anomali.com.

News Media Contact
Joe Franscella
EMEA–news@anomali.com

Fatima Kloub

Fatima.kloub@rakbank.ae


Open Society Welcomes African Court’s Ruling against “Arbitrary” Vagrancy Laws

NEW YORK, Dec. 08, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — On December 4, a continental court in Africa delivered a landmark opinion on colonial era vagrancy laws, which criminalize activities such as loitering, public indecency, and begging. The judgment has the potential to help reshape criminal justice policy and practice in dozens of African countries and reduce prison overcrowding.

The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights issued an Advisory Opinion in response to a case brought by the Pan African Lawyers Union and found that vagrancy laws or bylaws in nearly every country in Africa discriminate against marginalized populations including women, children, people with disabilities, and others.

"These vague and arbitrary laws, rooted in the era of empire law making, are used to arrest and imprison thousands of poor and marginalized people every day including the poor and the homeless, street children, migrants, people with disabilities, sex workers, LGBTI people, and drug users," said Louise Ehlers, of the Open Society Foundations. "This judgment has the potential to significantly reduce exposure to police violence and incarceration for these communities, both in Africa and in other places grappling with a colonial legacy of vague, discriminatory criminal law," she said.

The Open Society Justice Initiative filed an amicus brief in the case, citing the urgent need to decriminalize vagrancy laws in light of the COVID–19 pandemic because the laws over–incarcerate poor and marginalized people, putting them at greater risk of contracting the virus.

"It is in the interest of African states to implement this advisory opinion by repealing all vagrancy laws, which reinforce structural discrimination and penalize poverty," said Stanley Ibe, associate legal officer for Africa at the Open Society Justice Initiative. "Since vagrancy laws contribute to dangerously overcrowded prisons, a hotbed of COVID–19, failing to do so could have disastrous consequences."

British, French, Portuguese, Dutch, and Belgian colonists used vagrancy laws to control the streets. They were intentionally broad and vaguely defined, giving law enforcement wide discretion to arrest and detain just about anyone.

These laws are still in place in many former colonies. For example, the very same language introduced to British colonies through the English Vagrancy Act of 1824 is still in use today in some places. In Botswana, the Gambia, Nigeria, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, you can still be cited for being a "rogue and a vagabond." The penal codes of at least 18 former French colonies, including Algeria, Burundi, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Senegal, and Togo contain a similarly worded offense of "vagabondage."

This African Court opinion provides clarity on the discriminatory nature of these laws. This will bolster efforts to strike them down in domestic and regional courts across Africa and provide a foundation to limit their enforcement by the police in the short term. This pronouncement, coming from Africa's apex court will also add legal weight and moral authority to broader efforts to address the legacy of slavery, colonialism, and structural racism on the continent.

"This is a significant legal victory as it sends a clear message to policymakers across Africa," added Ehlers. "These arcane laws have no place in open, inclusive societies and need to be repealed."

The Open Society Foundations, founded by George Soros, are the world's largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights. We provide thousands of grants every year through a network of national and regional foundations and offices, funding a vast array of projects""many of them now shaped by the challenges of the COVID–19 pandemic.

Contact:
Office of Communications
Open Society Foundations
media@opensocietyfoundations.org
(212)–548–0668


Syntax Earns Amazon Web Services Managed Service Provider (MSP) Designation Through Demonstrated Proficiency Deploying and Maintaining AWS Environments

MONTREAL, Dec. 08, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Syntax, a provider of cloud–managed ERP services, announced today its acceptance into the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Managed Service Provider (MSP) Program. This designates it as an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner that helps customers solve complex business needs at any stage of their cloud adoption journey through innovative, end–to–end AWS solutions.

To earn this distinction, Syntax exceeded several milestones that showcased its proficiency managing AWS cloud environments. One of these milestones was its creation of the Syntax AWS Academy, launched in July 2019. In this six–month program, recent college graduates are immersed in the platform's environment through shadowing and training opportunities before becoming certified as AWS Solutions Architects at Syntax.

"Syntax's top priority is to help our customers migrate and manage their mission–critical applications and ERP workloads in the cloud, especially now, during this time of rapid digital transformation," said Christian Primeau, Global CEO at Syntax. "With our extensive ERP on AWS managed services experience, and our unique, serverless platform built on top of AWS, our customers can feel confident that their ERP cloud migrations are in experienced, knowledgeable hands. Being accepted into the AWS MSP Program confirms and solidifies our standing as a dependable, technical and functional services provider that can support customers through their entire digital transformation."

Other milestones Syntax achieved to earn this designation include:

  • Building the Intelligent Autonomous Platform (IP), a serverless mission–critical business application platform, on top of AWS by combining the power and scale of the public cloud with Syntax's ERP expertise.
  • Presenting a well–defined and highly detailed customer satisfaction survey that demonstrated positive customer experiences with Syntax's management of AWS environments.
  • Developing a robust and highly detailed ERP–focused AWS Well–Architected Framework methodology that has been embedded into the Syntax migration practices.
  • Creating a Cloud Center of Excellence comprised of highly experienced and skilled personnel to work as a very effective and efficient team.

"In today's remote work environment, organizations are relying on their cloud infrastructure more than ever," said Marcelo Tamassia, Global CTO at Syntax. "Our new AWS MSP designation demonstrates our undisputed strength when it comes to using enhanced solutions to navigate the constantly evolving business environment. Our AWS and ERP System Architects are committed to deploying a consistent data migration methodology and delivering world–class monitoring and automation support to modernize our customers' IT infrastructures."

To learn more about Syntax's AWS–powered workload enterprise cloud modernization and migration services, visit: https://www.syntax.com/enterprisecloud–powered–by–aws/

About Syntax

Since 1972, Syntax has been providing comprehensive technology solutions to businesses of all sizes with thousands of customers trusting Syntax with their IT services and ERP needs. Today, Syntax is a leading Managed Cloud Provider for Mission Critical Enterprise Applications. Syntax has undisputed strength to implement and manage ERP deployments (Oracle, SAP) in a secure, resilient, private, public or hybrid cloud. With strong technical and functional consulting services, and world class monitoring and automation, Syntax serves corporations across a diverse range of industries and markets. Syntax has offices worldwide, and partners with Oracle, SAP, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, IBM, HPE, and other global technology leaders. Learn more about Syntax at www.syntax.com.

For press inquiries and more information, contact:

Matthew Royse
Tel: 919–287–4873
Marketing Director, Syntax
matthew.royse@syntax.com
Katy Hoeper
Tel: 312–964–9110
PR Manager, Walker Sands
katy.hoeper@walkersands.com


How Artificial Intelligence Could Widen Gap Between Rich & Poor Nations

At a joint meeting of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and its Economic and Social Committee, a robot named Sophia had an interactive session last year with Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By Cristian Alonso, Siddharth Kothari, and Sidra Rehman
WASHINGTON DC, Dec 8 2020 – New technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, big data, and networks are expected to revolutionize production processes, but they could also have a major impact on developing economies.

The opportunities and potential sources of growth that, for example, the United States and China enjoyed during their early stages of economic development are remarkably different from what Cambodia and Tanzania are facing in today’s world.

Our recent staff research finds that new technology risks widening the gap between rich and poor countries by shifting more investment to advanced economies where automation is already established.

This could in turn have negative consequences for jobs in developing countries by threatening to replace rather than complement their growing labor force, which has traditionally provided an advantage to less developed economies.

To prevent this growing divergence, policymakers in developing economies will need to take actions to raise productivity and improve skills among workers.

Results from a Model

Our model looks at two countries (one advanced, the other developing) that both produce goods using three factors of production: labor, capital, and “robots.” We interpret “robots” broadly, to encompass the whole range of new technologies mentioned above.

Our main assumption is that robots substitute for workers. The AI revolution in our framework is an increase in the productivity of robots.We find that divergence between developing and advanced economies can occur along three distinct channels: share-in production, investment-flows, and terms-of-trade.

Share-in-production: Advanced economies have higher wages because total factor productivity is higher. These higher wages induce firms in advanced economies to use robots more intensively to begin with, especially when robots easily substitute for workers.

Then, when robot productivity rises, the advanced economy will benefit more in the long run. This divergence grows larger, the more robots substitute for workers.

Investment-flows: The increase in productivity of robots fuels strong demand to invest in robots and traditional capital (which is assumed to be complementary to robots and labor). This demand is larger in advanced economies due to robots being used more intensively there (the “share-in-production” channel discussed above).

As a result, investment gets diverted from developing countries to finance this capital and robot accumulation in advanced economies, thus resulting in a transitional decline in GDP in the developing country.

Terms-of-trade: A developing economy will likely specialize in sectors that rely more on unskilled labor, which it has more of compared to an advanced economy. Assuming robots replace unskilled labor but complement skilled workers, a permanent decline in the terms of trade in the developing region may emerge after the robot revolution.

This is because robots will disproportionately displace unskilled workers, reducing their relative wages and lowering the price of the good that uses unskilled labor more intensively.

The drop in relative price of its main output, in turn, acts as a further negative shock, reducing the incentive to invest and potentially leading to a fall not just in relative but in absolute GDP.

Robots and wages

Our results critically depend on whether robots indeed substitute for workers. While it may be too early to predict the extent of this substitution in the future, we find suggestive evidence that this is the case. In particular, we find that higher wages coincide with significantly higher use of robots, consistent with the idea that firms substitute away from workers and towards robots in response to higher labor costs.

Implications

Improvements in the productivity of robots drive divergence between advanced and developing countries if robots substitute easily for workers. In addition, those improvements will tend to increase incomes but also increase income inequality, at least during the transition and possibly in the long run for some groups of workers, in both advanced and developing economies.

There is no silver bullet for averting divergence. Given the fast pace of the robot revolution, developing countries need to invest in raising aggregate productivity and skill levels more urgently than ever before, so that their labor force is complemented rather than substituted by robots.

Of course, this is easier said than done. In our model, increases in total factor productivity—which account for the many institutional and other fundamental differences between developing and advanced countries not captured by labor and capital inputs—are especially beneficial as they incentivize more robots and physical capital accumulation.

Such improvements are always beneficial, but the gains are stronger in the context of the AI revolution.

Our findings also underscore the importance of human capital accumulation to prevent divergence and point to potentially different growth dynamics among developing economies with different skill levels.

The landscape is likely going to be much more challenging for developing countries which have hoped for high dividends from a much-anticipated demographic transition. The growing youth population in developing countries was hailed by policymakers as possibly a big chance to benefit from a transition of jobs from China as a result of its graduating middle-income status.

Our findings show that robots may steal these jobs. Policymakers should act to mitigate those risks. Especially in the face of these new technologically-driven pressures, a drastic shift to rapidly improve productivity gains and invest in education and skills development will capitalize on the much-anticipated demographic transition.

Source: IMF Blog

 


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Urgently Needed Deficit Financing No Excuse for More Fiscal Abuse

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury
KUALA LUMPUR and SYDNEY, Dec 8 2020 – Fiscal and monetary measures needed to fight the economic downturn, largely due to COVID-19 policy responses, require more government accountability and discipline to minimise abuse. Such measures should ensure relief for the vulnerable, prevent recessions from becoming depressions, and restore progress.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

They should help the most helpless, especially in the informal sector and casual employment. Efforts should also seek to accelerate structural transformation towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Progress was already falling behind before the pandemic, e.g., on mitigating global warming.

Unconventional measures
The pandemic and policy responses have created a most unusual situation, demanding extraordinary policy responses to mitigate threats to livelihoods and incomes. Bold initiatives are needed to overcome obstacles to sustainable development.

Unconventional solutions need to be considered as the conventional wisdom is part of the problem, especially since the neoliberal counter-revolution against Keynesian and development economics four decades ago.

In recent decades, counter-cyclical fiscal policies over business cycles have been replaced by annually ‘balanced budgets’ and ‘fiscal consolidation’. This has involved spending cuts for public, including social services, and social protection more broadly.

Taxation has become more regressive, with lower direct tax rates, on wealth as well as corporate and personal income, as indirect taxation, mainly on consumption, has grown. Such tax reforms and regressive government spending have worsened inequality.

Deficit financing inflationary?
Publics often presume that governments tax first in order to spend. In practice, they usually spend first, and then tax. Government spending typically requires more borrowing and debt, traditionally by selling bonds and other securities, including to the central bank.

Selling government treasury bonds to the central bank increases money supply, unless the monetary authority correspondingly reduces its other liabilities. Neoliberal critics insist that increasing money supply, popularly referred to by the media as ‘printing money’, must inevitably worsen inflation.

Anis Chowdhury

However, there is overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary as the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan greatly increased money supply over the last decade. They mainly did so by buying private securities, and getting commercial banks to lend more at lower interest rates.

As such unconventional monetary policies, including ‘quantitative easing’ (QE), in the last decade did not raise prices, there is no reason to presume that central banks buying treasury bonds – to pay for relief, recovery and building a better future – will be inflationary.

Deficit spending ineffective?
Governments can also borrow from the public, e.g., by selling bonds to them. But according to neoliberal beliefs, borrowing from the public will raise the interest rate, ‘crowding out’ private borrowers who cannot afford the higher ‘costs of borrowing’. Hence, they claim, investments will fall, slowing growth.

But for Keynesians, government spending is not inflationary when economic resources are not fully employed or utilised, i.e., as long as there is idle excess capacity, e.g., unemployment.

Keynesians also reject the neoliberal claim that public investment will ‘crowd out’ such private spending. Keynesians stress that economic stagnation discourages private investment. By boosting demand and sales, government spending increases private profits and investment.

Declining private spending or demand thus requires government spending to boost aggregate demand. Government spending on infrastructure, health and education also improves productivity, and hence profitability, offsetting higher borrowing costs. Thus, government spending serves to ‘crowd-in’, not ‘crowd-out’ private investment.

Incoherent, unsupported objections
The ‘Ricardian equivalence’ objection is very different, claiming that when governments borrow, people spend less, in anticipation of higher taxes. This supposedly undermines the intent of greater government spending to raise aggregate demand. But again, there is no strong supporting evidence for this effect.

This argument is not only quite different from the earlier ‘crowding out’ and inflation objections, but also implies that the three neoliberal arguments against deficit financing are mutually contradictory and cannot be coherently sustained.

In contrast, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that “debt-financed projects could have large output effects without increasing the debt-to-GDP ratio, if clearly identified infrastructure needs are met through efficient investment”, accelerating recovery from the global financial crisis (GFC).

Similarly, in response to the pandemic induced recessions, the IMF argues that “increasing public investment … could help revive economic activity from the sharpest and deepest global economic collapse in contemporary history”.

‘Sound finance’, fiscal rules
Unfortunately, expansionary fiscal policies are often abused by ‘short-termist’ governments of the day, little concerned about the long- and even medium-term consequences of increased spending, borrowing and debt.

In response, neoliberals invoke ostensible ‘sound finance’ principles. Sound finance seems desirable when spending abuse, wastage and leakages are widespread. However, it has become a pretext for dogmatically opposing bold fiscal measures, however much needed. Neoliberals want fiscal rules to straight-jacket governments, obliging the authorities to balance budgets annually or keep fiscal deficits minimal. Many advocate independent fiscal boards, akin to politically unaccountable ‘independent’ central banks, ostensibly to minimise political influence on government budgetary decisions.

Even when fiscal rules or boards allow some flexibility in times of crisis, or in response to severe shocks, biases towards ‘fiscal consolidation’ and pro-cyclicality run deep, undermining development efforts. Hence, fiscal rules typically hinder, rather than help development.

Counter-cyclical, developmental ‘functional finance’
Instead, ‘functional finance’, proposed by Abba Lerner to mitigate prejudice against fiscal policy activism, is needed. Government spending and taxation policy should instead be consistent with counter-cyclical and developmental fiscal needs.

This was recognised by the Development Committee of the World Bank and IMF in Fiscal Policy for Growth and Development: An Interim Report which observed:
“the problem of fiscal policy design is a reflection of the choice of the fiscal deficit as the policy target. The fiscal deficit is a useful indicator …, but it offers little indication of longer term effects on government assets or on economic growth… There is clearly a need for fiscal policy to incorporate…the likely impact of the level and composition of expenditure and taxation on long-term growth while also maintaining a focus on indicators essential for economic stabilization”.

Oppose abuse, not more spending
Poorly accountable governments often take advantage of real, exaggerated or imagined crises to pursue macroeconomic policies to secure regime survival and to benefit politically well-connected cronies and financial supporters.

Undoubtedly, much better governance, transparency and accountability are needed to minimise the likely immediate and longer-term harm due to ‘leakages’ and abuses associated with increased borrowing and spending.

There has to be much greater discipline and stricter scrutiny of government borrowings, spending and debt, as well as of government-guaranteed liabilities. Consistently counter-cyclical fiscal policy over the course of business cycles provides useful guidance.

Publics and their political representatives, especially in developing countries, must develop more effective modes of disciplining fiscal policy conduct to ensure space for responsible counter-cyclical and developmental spending. However, that task should not block the efforts urgently needed to finance relief, recovery and sustainable development.

Central banks must support governments’ fiscal stimulus packages for relief, recovery and building a better future. This requires complementary fiscal and monetary policies working in tandem for sustainable development.

 


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Phytosciences Ghana Publishes Report on How Cannabis Affects Anxiety, Depression, ADHD, and Schizophrenia

ACCRA, Ghana, Dec. 08, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Phytosciences Ghana Limited, a subsidiary of Phytosciences GmBH, published a report titled Therapeutic Potential of Cannabinoids in Mental Disorders: Evidence from Pre–clinical and Clinical and studies. The detailed summary includes all available and relevant data pertaining to understanding how cannabis intake affects those with anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and ADHD.

"A comprehensive review of this nature was extremely necessary," said Dr. Pritesh Kumar, the Managing Director of Phytosciences GmBH. "In countries where cannabis is legally available, many people are self–medicating to treat conditions such as depression and anxiety. Medical professionals need to be further educated about crucial issues published in this report, such as the findings on the opposing effects of high and low dosing. In countries where cannabis legality and the value it may bring medicinally is still being debated, this information is pertinent to understanding the effects it might have on public health. Our goal in generating this report and its data is to make it available to medical professionals, scientists, regulators, and anyone in government in Ghana who wishes to be educated on the topic."

Despite the commonality of mental health conditions, the pathological mechanisms that underlie their development are still not understood. A high percentage of people with mental disorders do not respond to first–line clinical treatments, adding to a worsening public health crisis. There is a strong need for alternative therapeutic approaches for these conditions. While more research is needed, the medicinal use of cannabis has shown to hold medicinal value.

Phytosciences Ghana Solutions Limited is a subsidiary of PhytoSciences Consultants GmBH, a global consulting firm with a vast resource base of proprietary knowledge, methodologies, and experience. They provide clients access to an international network of scientists and subject matter experts. PhytoSciences Ghana also offers access to their global knowledge management system, a proprietary network that provides start–up cannabis companies and regulators strategic support in developing, strategizing, and executing commercial and policy objectives. PhytoSciences Ghana is helping develop a viable framework for legislative change and offers tailored solutions to local companies so they can strategically maneuver the market as it emerges.

For access to the Therapeutic Potential of Cannabinoids in Mental Disorders: Evidence from Pre–clinical and Clinical and studies, contact kathleen@elevated–pr.com. To learn more about PhytoSciences Ghana, visit the website at pghsolutions.com, office@pghsolutions.com.

PR Contact
Kathleen Gonzales
kathleen@elevated–pr.com
Elevated Public Relations


What Indonesia’s Local Elections Mean for National Politics

Posters of rival tickets for mayor of Depok, a commuter city 40 minutes by train south of Jakarta where many of its 2.4 million residents work.Credit: Warief D. Basorie

By Warief Djajanto Basorie
JAKARTA, Dec 8 2020 – In just over a day, on 9 December, Indonesia holds 270 simultaneous local elections for executive office. This involves nine of the republic’s 34 governors, 224 of 416 bupati (district chiefs) and 37 of 98 mayors. The polling was initially scheduled for 23 September but the independent KPU (General Elections Commission) put the date back to 9 December due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this batch of local polling, 105 million Indonesians aged 17 and above in this nation of 268 million people are eligible to vote.

Like the national election for president, local office elections are rigorously contested since the end of the 32-year authoritarian rule of President Soeharto in 1998.

During his prolonged regime, Soeharto appointed the country’s governors, mayors and district chiefs to maintain unopposed power through office loyalty. Many active military officers got such appointments in line with the-then dwifungsi (dual function) concept of the armed forces. Uniformed personnel concurrently had a military and a social-political role.

In post-Soeharto Indonesia, with the passing of a democratic election bill, the president no longer makes such arbitrary appointments. Moreover, the dual-function practice has ceased. Now, the run for legislative and executive public office is highly competitive.

Dynasty

What has aroused attention in this election-cycle is not so much how the coronavirus scourge affects the electoral process but more on who are in the running. The move of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s first son to enter the political arena has drawn public attention and apprehension.

Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the elder of Jokowi’s two sons, is running for mayor in Surakarta, Jokowi’s hometown in Central Java and where he himself was a mayor.

At present there are 117 heads and deputy heads of local government in Indonesia tied into a dynasty-making relationship.

The Constitutional Court permits politics by affinity, notes Khoirunnisa Nur Agustyati, executive director of election watchdog Perludem, the Association for Elections and Democracy.

“What must be done is that its bad effects must be prevented where the space for competition becomes unequal,” she stated.

Banner of Depok City elections commission calls on residents to vote for mayor 9 Dec 2020. Top middle line in Bahasa Indonesia reads: Let’s vote for Depok City. Credit: Warief D. Basorie

“It is not seldom when long-time party cadres must be bested by those who have a kinship with party elite. For sure, this is unhealthy for democracy. Internal party reform must be undertaken to allow for recruitment with integrity,” she asserted.

“The meritocracy principle with the aspects of worthiness and competence is an absolute condition to back a candidate of quality,” states political communication scholar M. Jamiluddin Ritonga at Esa Unggul University.

Party cadre development is important. Give at least 10 years before a party cadre becomes a candidate for an executive or legislative office, insists political communcation lecturer Emrus Sihombing at Pelita Harapan University.

Political corruption

Corruption is on watchdog radar screens.

Candidates may need as much as USD1.5 million to USD7.5 million for their individual campaigns, according to one estimate. Cash-short candidates may get help from political financiers. If the candidate wins, the financier demands pay-back in the form of business concessions.

Elected office-holders have been caught in political corruption. KPK (Corruption Eradication Commission) has detected and prosecuted 21 governors entangled in corruption from 2004 to July 2020. For the same period, 122 district chiefs, mayors, deputy district chiefs, and deputy mayors also got ensnared.

Stationary democracy

Single-ticket contests is also a searing issue. This is when a candidate faces no challenger. KPU identified 25 such tickets. The election law states a party or a coalition can field a candidate if they have at least 20% of the legislative seats won in the previous election.

Say, the candidate mayor garners the support of parties that jointly have more than 80% of the seats in the local legislature. Thus, any remaining parties together don’t have the minimum 20% seat-count to support a rival ticket. When this happens, that single ticket competes with a kotak kosong (blank box).

If the empty box wins the contest, the local KPU office would hold a new election that would have more than one ticket.

An empty box won the contest for mayor of Makassar in a 2018 local election. The KPU Makassar office is holding a second election this year with four tickets.

Single-ticket polling does not foster democracy as democracy thrives and throbs through competition.

With political party failure to promote meritocracy, corruption and unchallenged electoral contests, Indonesia’s democracy is not marching forward.

Significance

Indonesia’s democracy is imperfect. The local election process is wanting. However, the significance of Indonesia’s local elections is that they are a proving ground for national leadership. Surakarta city mayor Jokowi succesfully ran to be Jakarta governor in 2012. Two years later, in 2014 Jokowi stood for president and won.

Local election winners can stand for president in 2024. Front runners are Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, and Central Java Ganjar Pranowo.

Competition would be tough with established national-level figures. One is Prabowo Subianto, Jokowi’s opponent in 2014 and 2019. Another is businessman and former Jakarta vice-governor Sandiaga Uno who was Prabowo’s running-mate in 2019. A third is DPR speaker Puan Maharani.

Puan is daughter of Megawati Sukarnoputri, general chair of the Indonesian Democratic Party in Struggle (PDI-P), the largest party in parliament. Megawati was the nation’s fifth president (2001-2004). Puan is also granddaughter of Indonesia’s founding father and first president, Sukarno. If Puan makes it, she would be a dynastic third-generation president in the making.

Warief Djajanto Basorie is Instructor, Dr Soetomo Press Institute (LPDS), Jakarta

 


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La Niña Weather Phenomenon Could Endanger Colombia’s Food Security

Family in a flooded village on the banks of the Atrato River in Chocó, Colombia. Credit: Jesús Abad Colorado/IPS

By Carmen Arroyo
NEW YORK, Dec 8 2020 – After ten years without a strong La Niña weather phenomenon in Colombia, the climate pattern, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, could create a vacuum in food production and supply. Multilateral organizations, along with the Colombian government, are trying to implement measures to reduce malnutrition risk. Still, the population is already overwhelmed by a year of struggles that have deepened socio-economic differences.

Starting in March this year with the COVID-19 pandemic and followed by the hurricane IOTA in November, Colombia has seen its malnutrition levels rise dramatically. The pandemic has left over 37,000 deaths and an increase of 6.4% in unemployment in October compared to the same month in 2019. (This percentage doesn’t account for informal workers—47% of the population, according to the country’s statistics department DANE).

“[The socio-economic crisis] is coherent with a deepening poverty situation as highlighted by the latest official figures—35.7% of Colombian households were in poverty in 2019, already some 660,000 more than in 2018,” says Lorena Peña, the communications coordinator for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Bogota to IPS, going back to the numbers before the pandemic.

Those data points are likely to increase—especially in La Guajira, Norte de Santander and Bolivar,—as the country prepares for the expected La Niña-caused heavy rains, which the Colombian Weather Institute (IDEAM) estimates to last until May of next year.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), La Niña is a cooling of ocean surface temperatures that generates winds and rainfalls in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In 2020-2021, the phenomenon is expected to be moderate to strong, as it was in the period 2010-2011. That time, La Niña claimed 300 lives and left an equal number of people injured.

This year, the phenomenon could lead to landslides, floods, diseases, and pests, say Jorge Mahecha, communications coordinator, and Martina Salvo, in charge of agricultural resilience, at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Bogota to IPS.

A drawback in Colombia’s nutrition achievements

In the past five years, Colombia has established itself as the leading middle-income country in sustainable agriculture and food nutrition, according to the Food Sustainability Index, developed by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition and the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Colombia achieved top performances in the use of land, air, and water in the ranking. It was second, out of 23 counties, in tackling nutritional challenges, such as undernutrition and hidden hunger, notes the report. It was also well above some of its peers, such as Mexico, regarding food nutrition indexes.

The Colombian flag flying over the castle San Felipe de Barajas in Cartagena de Indias, Bolívar, Colombia

However, the pandemic has meant a drawback for Colombia. Before La Niña, WFP was already estimating that 52.6% of the population had problems accessing food “of which at least some 3.5 million people [were forecast to be] severely food insecure,” told Peña from WFP to IPS. She added that food insecurity was more prevalent in Arauca, La Guajira, Norte de Santander, and Bolivar.

Now that La Niña is reaching Colombia, food security could further deteriorate, depending on the intensity of the weather pattern.

“The La Niña phenomenon tends to be associated with heavy rainfall in Colombia, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that the crops will be harmed,” says Carmen González Romero, country manager for Colombia in the ACToday (Adapting agriculture to Climate Today for Tomorrow) project. The project is led by the International Research Institute, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. “If the intensity of the rain is high enough, yes, it could destroy them.”

The impact could be felt throughout the food production system. “On the one hand, heavy rains could destroy the crops of subsistence farmers. This would not only impact their access to food in the present but also in the near future threatening their basic grain reserves,” explains González Romero. “On the other, large producers, associated with a guild and higher technological capacity, could also see their business endangered. This would generate a vicious cycle, laborers that work for them would lose their jobs and their income. Additionally, heavy rains could impact civil infrastructure, limiting the access to markets, which are essential for food security in the country.”

The FAO predicts that among the crops to be impacted by the torrential rains are the “pancoger crops [crops that meet a family’s nutritional needs] such as plantain, corn, yuca, and beans.” Other crops that Colombia exports, such as cacao and coffee, could also be harmed by the changing weather forecasts, add Mahecha and Salvo, from FAO.

Farmers and institutions prepare for La Niña

The Colombian government, its weather institutions, and farmers will have to face the consequences of La Niña soon.

Asked how farmers can prepare themselves for weather patterns, González Romero responds: “Farmers need access to climate services to optimize crop management and resources.” She adds that their capacity to prepare themselves for weather patterns also depends on their economic resources and the time they have to prepare.

Moreover, explains González Romero, there are financial instruments for climate risk transfers, such as index-based insurances, that could mitigate the harm of adverse climate events, be it floods or droughts. “They exist, but they are not widely available in Colombia, nor South America.”

At an institutional level, the government could create forecast-based financing systems that would trigger cash transfers to impacted workers if droughts or floods harm their crops, notes González Romero.

Multilateral organizations are also preparing for La Niña while they still try to alleviate the pandemic’s consequences. To ensure that malnutrition is not widespread, the FAO argues that food supply systems should be prioritized. However, some roads have become unusable, tells Peña from the WFP to IPS, adding that, for example, in-kind food transport to Alta Guajira was delayed in October.

The population that is expected to be impacted by La Niña is the most vulnerable, say the FAO representatives, adding that the same sector has also suffered the most during the pandemic.

The WFP is mobilizing “cash-based transfers where possible, and in-kind is also planned for areas where markets are not fully functional,” says the institution. They are working in Arauca, Bolívar, Chocó, La Guajira, and Norte de Santander, where food insecurity is widespread.

On its part, UNICEF is prepared to provide nutritional supplements to children under five years of age in the sites where WFP delivers food support.

As institutions and farmers try to grapple with the possibility of La Niña, stakeholders fear the weather phenomenon will deepen the socioeconomic differences already sharpened by the pandemic—especially in rural areas.

Still, it’s hard to predict the consequences of the phenomenon until it hits the country. “We have yet to see what La Niña brings,” concluded González Romero on a cautionary note.

 


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