WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (June 21-27, 2010)

INTERNATIONAL

GENERAL

Bill Gates bigger funder of WHO than US govt?” By Rema Nagarajan. Times of India. June 28, 2010. In most organisations, those who are the biggest funders are also the ones with the biggest say in their running. In the case of the World Health Organisation (WHO), on the face of it, there seem to be two entities making the biggest voluntary contributions, the US government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But a closer look at the list of voluntary contributors suggests that the Gates Foundation could now be the biggest contributor, bigger than even the US. At the 63rd World Health Assembly in May, a 24-page briefing document produced by the WHO secretariat gave details of voluntary contributions for the financial period 2008 and 2009. According to this document, the US contributed $424.5 million and the Gates Foundation $338.7 million. However, a careful examination of the list of voluntary contributions and the donors shows there are several organizations like the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) — which has contributed over $85 million — and the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) that has given over $9 million to WHO. The Gates Foundation happens to be one of the biggest donors for both GAVI and PATH. A look at GAVI’s list of donor contributions and commitments shows that the Gates Foundation has given over $1.14 billion from 1999 to 2009, far more than the US, which contributed just $569 million during 2001-09. That would suggest that the Gates Foundation would have a big say in GAVI and PATH. So, GAVI’s contribution to WHO could be read as further influence of the Gates Foundation in the world body. The Gates Foundation also happens to be a generous donor to many foundations and universities making contributions to the WHO. For instance, the Johns Hopkins University, which contributed about $4.3 million to WHO, got about $88 million in 2009 alone from the Gates Foundation. The International Development Research Centre, which gave $3.7 million to WHO, was given $40 million by the Gates Foundation for advocacy and public policy in 2009. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which gave over $5.5 million to WHO, had got about $670 million between 2001 and 2009 from the Foundation. In short, the Gates Foundation could be the biggest influence in WHO.

AUSTRALIA

Macquarie uni hospital criticised by auditor.” By Heath Gilmore. Sydney Morning Herald. June 22, 2010. MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY has exposed itself to mounting financial risks with costs blowing out on its $235 million private hospital and the private partner pulling out of the project, a new report says. In his annual report to Parliament on the state’s 10 public universities, the Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, was critical of Macquarie’s process for selecting business partners. He also stressed the need for the university to reduce extra risks with the project. The university is the first Australian higher education facility to own and operate a private medical facility, which is based on the hospital and medical school attached to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The 183-bed development, due to open formally on Saturday, will have 12 operating theatres and speciality clinics in radiology, pathology, radiotherapy and radiosurgery. The university’s equity partnership with Dalcross Holdings, which was to part-own and manage the facility, with a 38 per cent interest, collapsed last year. Originally budgeted at $112 million, the estimated final building cost of the hospital and clinic is reportedly $160 million, with a further $48million needed for equipment purchases.

CANADA

Aid groups slam lack of financial support for maternal and infant health initiative.” By Howard Schneider and William Branigin. Washington Post. June 26, 2010. Canada announced on Friday a multibillion-dollar initiative to combat infant mortality and improve maternal health globally, but the aid package was far smaller than expected, undercut by a new drive toward austerity that reduced the contributions of wealthy nations. Aid groups promptly slammed the $7.3 billion effort as insufficient, having expected the world’s richest nations to follow through on a commitment to give $10 billion to their poorer counterparts. The package “failed to translate into the bold leadership needed to save these lives,” said Michael Klosson, associate vice president of Save the Children. Canada’s initiative emerged as the major development venture under discussion at a round of summit meetings here among the world’s major industrialized nations. Named after the lakeside resort where leaders of the Group of Eight nations gathered Friday, the Muskoka Initiative is part of what officials say is an effort to concentrate on core development goals. But the plan highlighted how world economic dynamics have made a sudden lurch toward less government spending. “Leaders have been very cautious in terms of the promises they made,” said Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who argued that the upside was that the commitments would almost certainly be fulfilled. The package’s smaller size also echoed how other large financial commitments made by the group have lagged. For example, a promise five years ago to deliver $50 billion in additional development assistance has produced only about half that much.

CATHOLIC SEX ABUSE SCANDAL

Chilean Archbishop Refers Child Abuse Case Against Priest to Vatican.” By Pascale Bonnefoy and Alexei Barrionuevo. New York Times. June 20, 2010. The archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, has asked the Vatican to decide the fate of a prominent Chilean priest who has been accused by several former parishioners of sexually abusing them when they were teenagers. On Friday the cardinal sent a report prepared by the Roman Catholic Church in Chile regarding the priest, the Rev. Fernando Karadima, to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. In a statement on the Web site of the archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Errázuriz said he asked the Vatican to lift the 10-year statute of limitations for accusations of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest. That would permit the opening of a three-judge canon law trial to determine whether Father Karadima abused at least four boys who were parishioners at El Bosque parish, where he is based. In a statement released Friday by his lawyer, Father Karadima, 79, spoke publicly for the first time since a criminal complaint was filed against him in April. He said he was innocent of the accusations and was “grateful” that the church investigation was being referred to the Vatican.
Related Stories:
Alleged son of Legion’s priest-founder sues order.” Washington Post/Associated Press. June 21, 2010.
Sex abuse victim accuses Catholic church of fraud.” USA Today. June 24, 2010.
Belgian Police Raid Offices of Church in Abuse Case.” New York Times. June 24, 2010.
Belgian Catholic Church Offices Raided Amid Sex Abuse Allegations.” Huffington Post. June 25, 2010.
Vatican ‘indignant’ over Belgium police raids.” BBC News. June 25, 2010.
Vatican Criticizes Raid on Belgian Church Offices.New York Times. June 25, 2010.
Vatican Criticizes Belgian Officials for Raid; Police Investigating Sex-Abuse Claims Question Top Bishops, Look Into Tombs.” Wall Street Journal. June 26, 2010.
Belgium condemned for archbishop raid.” Independent (UK). June 26, 2010
Vatican ‘Outraged’ Over Police Raid Of Archbishops’ Graves In Sex Abuse Probe.” Huffington Post. June 26, 2010.
Vatican No. 2 increases criticism of Belgian raids.” Washington Post/Associated Press. June 26, 2010.
Abuse Loosens Church’s Culture of Silence in Italy.” New York Times. June 26, 2010.
Pope calls Belgian sex abuse raids ‘deplorable’; Benedict’s message, issued to the head of the Belgian bishops’ conference, refers to raids targeting the home and office of a retired archbishop and also the graves of two prelates.” Los Angeles Times/Associated Press. June 27, 2010.
Pope Lashes Out at Belgium After Raid on Church.” New York Times. June 27, 2010.

GAZA

Women armed with ‘faith’ plan aid voyage to Gaza.” By James Hider and Tom Coghlan. Times of London. June 25, 2010. Less than a month ago, Israeli navy commandos found themselves being beaten by Turkish civilians when they stormed an aid ship bound for Gaza. Now they face the prospect of tackling a new shipload of women armed only with faith. No departure date has been set for the new blockade runners but there are fears that ships from Lebanon and Iran could trigger a dangerous sharpening of tensions. The bloodbath that ensued when Israeli commandos pulled their guns on the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara has already sunk a strategic alliance between the Jewish state and Turkey. The deaths of nine passengers prompted an international outcry against Israel’s three-year blockade of the Hamas-held Gaza Strip, forcing Israel to agree to ease the siege and allow a freer flow of goods into the territory. It has refused to end the naval blockade, and a new confrontation at sea seems inevitable. In Beirut organisers of the latest attempt claim to have 400 female volunteers from across the world to crew the ship Mariam, named in honour of the Virgin Mary. The crew are said to include a Lebanese pop singer, nuns and peace activists from Europe, America and India. The organisers told The Times that the women “all represent themselves”, are without political affiliations and include adherents to all the world’s big religions, including Judaism.

ITALY

Cardinal denies corruption allegations.” No by-line. Boston Globe/Associated Press. June 22, 2010. A cardinal under investigation in a sprawling corruption scandal denied wrongdoing and insisted yesterday that he acted for the good of the church while handling real estate transactions for the Vatican office that funds missionary work abroad. Naples Cardinal Crecenzio Sepe said he forgave his accusers and was going ahead serenely while accepting the “cross’’ that the investigation had brought on him. Prosecutors are trying to untangle an alleged web of kickbacks involving billions of dollars worth of contracts for such megaprojects as preparing 2000 Holy Year events in Rome, the 2009 Group of Eight summit, and rebuilding the earthquake-shattered town of L’Aquila. Sepe’s real estate transactions at the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples are under scrutiny because they involved some of the key figures implicated in the inquiry, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s disaster chief, Guido Bertolaso.
Related Story:
Pope issues ‘profit warning’ as Archbishop is drawn in to bribes inquiry.” Times of London. June 23 2010.

UK

Rebel scientists force Royal Society to accept climate change scepticism Polar bears in Alaska.” By Ben Webster. Times of London. May 21 2010. Britain’s premier scientific institution is being forced to review its statements on climate change after a rebellion by members who question mankind’s contribution to rising temperatures. The Royal Society has appointed a panel to rewrite the 350-year-old institution’s official position on global warming. It will publish a new “guide to the science of climate change” this summer. The society has been accused by 43 of its Fellows of refusing to accept dissenting views on climate change and exaggerating the degree of certainty that man-made emissions are the main cause. The society appears to have conceded that it needs to correct previous statements. It said: “Any public perception that science is somehow fully settled is wholly incorrect — there is always room for new observations, theories, measurements.” This contradicts a comment by the society’s previous president, Lord May, who was once quoted as saying: “The debate on climate change is over.”

Demonstrators to protest against cuts in university education.” By Nicola Woolcock. Times of London. June 21 2010. Academics and students will hold a national day of action today against funding cuts across universities and colleges, calling on George Osborne to protect education spending in his Budget tomorrow. Demonstrations will be held at more than 70 institutions across Britain, organised jointly by seven unions, while new research shows that record numbers of children want to go to university but almost half would change their mind if tuition fees rose to £7,000. The findings come as a review of higher education funding is expected to conclude that universities can increase their fees. Currently all universities charge £3,225 — the maximum allowed — but Lord Browne of Madingley, the former BP chief executive who is leading the review, is likely to say that the cap should be raised or lifted altogether. University funding is being reduced by £1.2 billion over the next three years, with four in five institutions having to make savings. Union leaders say up to 7,000 jobs are at risk and that more than 200,000 people will miss out on a university place this year. Many courses have been axed and some universities have announced the closure of whole departments.
Related Story:
University leaders criticise coalition’s £300m cuts.” Times of London. June 26 2010.

Quangos slammed over public sector awards.” By Craig Woodhouse. Independent/Press Association. June 21, 2010. Controversial quangos set up to boost England’s regional economies award almost two-thirds of all grants to other public sector groups, research found today. Of a total £2.9 billion in grants paid out by regional development agencies (RDAs) in 2007-08 and 2008-09, £1.8bn (62%) went to public sector organisations or projects, an investigation by the TaxPayers’ Alliance revealed. The research also found that £3.1m was awarded to trade unions, with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and its regional divisions handed £2.6m, while large private companies such as E.on, BAE Systems and JP Morgan also received funds. TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Matthew Elliott said the findings called into question the RDAs’ claims to be focused on supporting local business as he accused them of lacking “either success or legitimacy”. RDAs were set up under Labour to “spread economic prosperity and opportunity to everyone in the nine regions of England”, according to the bodies’ website, but the coalition Government pledged to scrap them. The RDA website also says the bodies “take a business-led approach and bring vitality and expertise to the task of economic development and regeneration in the regions”.

Sweden’s free schools model has ‘limited impact’.” By Alison Kershaw. Independent/Press Association. June 23, 2010. The Swedish model of schools championed by Education Secretary Michael Gove has not transformed the academic achievement of the country’s pupils, a report suggests today. The biggest beneficiaries tend to be students from highly educated families, rather those from low educated backgrounds, it says. The paper, published in the latest edition of Research in Public Policy, reviews the evidence on so-called “free schools” in Sweden. Under the Swedish system, different non-profit and for-profit organisations are able to set up and run schools funded with public money, but independent from Government control. Mr Gove revealed details last week of plans to allow parents’ groups, teachers, charities, and voluntary groups to set up and operate schools, which would be taxpayer-funded, and non-fee-paying, but independent from state control. He has previously highlighted the Swedish model, as well as the charter schools system in the United States as examples of successful free schools policies. The report’s author Rebecca Allen, of the Institute of Education, found Sweden’s experience of free schools is limited in predicting the impact of similar reforms in England. It adds: “The evidence on the impact of the reforms suggests that, so far, Swedish pupils do not appear to be harmed by the competition from private schools, but the new schools have not yet transformed educational attainment in Sweden.”

The arts don’t need to pick the public pocket.” By Richard Morrison. Times of London. June 24 2010. Would civilisation collapse if the arts lost their taxpayer handouts? Let’s travel back 100 years to a time without subsidy to find out. Long predicted, long dreaded, the cuts have started to whammy the arts. By raiding its own piggy-bank the Arts Council of England has limited its initial trim to a half per cent reduction in everyone’s grant. That doesn’t sound catastrophic, but most people expect far worse after the Government’s spending review. Meanwhile the Culture Department has axed the British Film Institute’s grandiose plan for an arthouse multiplex. And around the country there are already tales of local authorities withdrawing most or all of their arts support. If you talk to a lot of arts folk, as I do, you can easily form the impression that any further reduction in subsidy would mean the end of civilisation. But would it? Suppose the Government withdrew from supporting the arts altogether — as is largely the case in the United States. Would that trigger the closure of concert halls, theatres, opera houses, museums and galleries, and make hundreds of thousands of musicians, actors, writers, composers and dancers permanently unemployed? One way of answering that question is to look at a period when the arts in Britain did survive without public subsidy.

Tories used misleading data to promote academies, say head teachers.” By Joanna Sugden. Times of London. June 26 2010. Head teachers have accused the Government of publishing misleading data to bolster support for its academies programme. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, had claimed that more than 1,000 schools applied to be freed from local authority control in the first week of the offer. But heads say that many of those had merely “expressed an interest” in becoming academies and were pressured to submit their details so that the Government could add them to application figures. One consultant head teacher who manages ten schools told The Times that Mr Gove had “misled Parliament” by stating that such large numbers had applied. The head, who did not want to be named, said: “They were schools that just wanted to know what the deal was.” Under pressure from teaching unions, and in a change of rhetoric, the Government was forced yesterday to publish the list of those “interested” in becoming academies — a decision that heads told The Times was “a disgraceful abuse of trust”. Just days before the names were released, the Department for Education (DfE) sent a letter to the heads indicating that they could ask for their schools to be removed if they did not want them made public.

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