Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave trail of failed projects

Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave trail of failed projects

Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave trail of failed projects

By Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave trail of failed projects Julian Delia

 

Smart City Malta isn’t the only project masterminded by Dubai Holding, a subsidiary company of the UAE crown’s real estate arm, that has departed from its original terms, according to research conducted by The Shift following the Maltese government’s recent decision to change the parameters of the deal.

Similar projects in India and Morocco have also suffered the same fate – incomplete, then turned into residential projects yielding more personal profits instead of the investment in the economy and the creation of jobs promised.

The three Emirati nationals on Smart City (Malta) Ltd’s board of directors are Khalid al Malik, Jassim al Abdool, and Majed Mohammed Khamis Sabt Al Suwaidi. Dubai Holding’s subsidiary company, SmartCity Dubai FZ-LLC, owns a majority of the shares of SmartCity (Malta) Ltd.

The new terms of the deal for Smart City Malta ratified by the Labour government mean the three wealthy businessmen have been granted a much freer rein over what happens with the massive tract of land they purchased in Kalkara in 2007.

Al Malik is listed as the managing director of Dubai Holding, while Abdool is the executive director of Dubai Holding Real Estate.

Al Suwaidi is the managing director of three subsidiary companies under the umbrella of TECOM Group. TECOM Group also forms part of Dubai Holding’s portfolio of companies.

The Smart City project in Malta amounts to almost a fifth (17.55%) of Kalkara’s entire surface area – 316,000sqm from a total of 1,800,000sqm of land.

In 2007, the Maltese government first signed the deal which was supposed to lead to the creation of an ICT city, a project backed by a €300 million investment that was supposed to create 5,600 jobs, which never materialised.

From Kalkara to Kakkanad

That same year, Dubai Holding announced an almost identical Smart City pitch for an area in India known as Kakkanad.

Smart City Kochi, as the project is known, bears striking similarities with the one in Malta, albeit on a larger scale – in 10 years, the project was supposed to convert over 800,000sqm of land into an ICT city, creating 90,000 jobs in the process.

Like Smart City Malta, Smart City Kochi also lists Malik and Abdool as directors.

In 2020, the New Indian Express published an article describing how a state government representative sitting on Smart City Kochi’s board had allegedly attempted to sell off over 120,000sqm of land meant for IT development as residential real estate instead.

The attempt to sell off this land mirrors what happened in Malta with the Shoreline residential development – even though the original agreement stipulated specific parameters for ICT-related development.

Two years later, the same news portal published another article comparing Smart City Kochi with an IT hub located across the street known as Infopark, with the portal describing the promised Smart City hub as a project that “failed to live up to all the initial hype even 11 years after its launch”.

An analysis of the concept art originally showcased for Smart City Kochi compared to satellite imagery of the area on Google Maps shows that while some of the proposed projects are under construction, ten years later, the project is far from what was advertised as the end stage of the project.

Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave trail of failed projects

The conceptualisation of the Smart City Kochi project.

 

Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave trail of failed projects

A Google maps view of the region in which the Kochi project was supposed to be built (the box in red marks the location of Infopark).

The Rabat-Salé connection

Al Malik’s biography on Dubai Holding’s website states that the managing director “is also responsible for the company’s international real estate investments in places such as Malta, Kochi and Morocco as well as managing its strategic relations with local and international investors, and its government affairs”.

The Shift’s research indicates that Dubai Holding had, in 2005, announced a $2 billion project in an area known as Bouregreg, nestled between the cities of Rabat and Salé in Morocco.

Similar to the project in Kakkanad and Kalkara, the ambitious plans announced initially by the then-king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, do not match what is seen in Bouregreg today.

Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave trail of failed projects

A conceptualisation of the urban development between Rabat and Salé.

 

Wealthy sheikhs behind Smart City leave trail of failed projects

A Google maps screenshot showing the same area between Rabat and Salé as it currently stands.

The project was originally supposed to convert a massive 40 million sqm area into an entirely new urban district featuring 2,000 apartments, 300 retail outlets and adjacent malls, parks and theatres.

The only visible structure in the area is the Grand Théâtre de Rabat, the construction of which was completed last year, two years past its deadline.

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The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Threatening Peace & Security

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Threatening Peace & Security

An IPS‘s OPINION b

The IMF had recently sounded some alarm over growing debt sustainability problems in many low-income countries well before the coronavirus pandemic.  The MENA countries don’t escape this potential trauma in the making as more than two years afterwards, the debt situation deteriorated significantly.  A big debt crisis is brewing in the Global South because according to still the IMF, 60% of low-income countries are now at high risk of debt distress.  Together with a growing number of middle-income countries are suffering from high debt service burdens.  Could all this be the root cause of the following?

Intersecting Crises are Impeding the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Threatening Peace & Security

 

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2022 (IPS) – This week marks the mid-way point to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and with it the release of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022.

While we would like to trumpet success stories and report that we are on track in eradicating poverty and hunger and improving health and education in this report, the reality is, we cannot.

Instead, the data show that cascading and intersecting global crises are creating spin-off impacts on food and nutrition, health, education, the environment, and peace and security, presenting existential threats to the planet, and have already undone some of the initial accomplishments towards the SDGs.

In fact, the results of the report reflect a deepening and impending climate catastrophe; a war that is sparking one of the largest refugee crises of modern time; shows the impacts of the pandemic through increased child labour, child marriage, and violence against women; as well as food supply disruptions that threaten global food security; and a health pandemic that has interrupted the education of millions of students.

The report sounds an alarm that people and the planet are in serious challenges, rather than reading as the successful story of progress that we would have hoped for when launching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.

The COVID-19 pandemic has halted or reversed years of development progress. As of end of 2021, nearly 15 million people worldwide had died directly or indirectly due to COVID-19. More than four years of progress in alleviating extreme poverty have been wiped out, and 150 million more people facing hunger in 2021 than in 2019.

An estimated 147 million children missed more than half of their in-person instruction over the past two years. The pandemic severely disrupted essential health services. Immunization coverage dropped for the first time in a decade and deaths from tuberculosis and malaria increased.

 

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Threatening Peace & Security

Stefan Schweinfest

As grim as the scenario sounds, we shall set a course for achieving the implementation of the 2030 Agenda through recovery and response: enact new ways of thinking and open up new possibilities.

 

During COVID-19, responses sped up the adoption of digital technologies and innovative approaches. There are some examples of positive trends coming out of the report: There has been a surge in the number of internet users due to the pandemic, increasing by 782 million people to reach 4.9 billion people in 2021, up from 4.1 billion in 2019.

Global manufacturing production grew by 7.2 per cent in 2021, surpassing its pre-pandemic level. Higher-technology manufacturing industries fared better than lower-tech industries during the pandemic, and therefore recovered faster.

In addition, before the pandemic, progress was being made in many important SDGs, such as reducing poverty, improving maternal and child health, increasing access to electricity, improving access to water and sanitation, and advancing gender equality.

War in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine is creating one of the largest refugee crises we have seen in modern time, which pushed the already record-high global refugee number even higher. As of May 2022, over 100 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes.

The crisis has caused food, fuel and fertilizer prices to skyrocket, further disrupted supply chains and global trade, roiled financial markets, and threatened global food security and aid flows.

Projected global economic growth for 2022 was cut by 0.9 percentage point, due to the war in Ukraine and potential new waves of the pandemic.

The world’s most vulnerable countries and population groups are disproportionately impacted by the multiple and interlinked crises. Developing countries are battling record inflation, rising interest rates and looming debt burdens.

With competing priorities and limited fiscal space, many are finding it harder than ever to recover economically. In least developed countries, economic growth remains sluggish and the unemployment rate is worsening.

Women have suffered a greater share of job losses combined with increased care work at home. Exiting evidence suggests that violence against women has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Anxiety and depression among adolescents and young people have increased significantly.

Climate Emergency

Low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathways will reduce carbon emissions, conserve natural resources, transform our food systems, create better jobs and advance the transition to a greener, more inclusive and just economy.

The world is on the verge of a climate catastrophe where billions of people are already feeling the consequences. Energy-related CO2 emissions for 2021 rose by 6 per cent, reaching their highest level ever and completely wiping out pandemic-related declines.

To avoid the worst effects of climate change, as set out in the Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to peak before 2025 and then decline by 43 per cent by 2030 from 2010 level, falling to net zero by 2050.

Instead, under current voluntary national commitments to climate action, greenhouse gas emissions will rise by nearly 14 per cent by 2030.

A Road Map out of Crises

The road map laid out in establishing the Sustainable Development Goals has always been clear. Just as the impact of crises is compounded when they are linked, so are the solutions.

In taking action to strengthen social protection systems, improve public services and invest in clean energy, we address the root causes of increasing inequality, environmental degradation and climate change.

We have a valuable tool in the release of The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 to understand our current state of affairs. What’s more, in order to understand where we are and where we are headed, significant investment in our data and information infrastructure is required.

Policies, programmes and resources aimed at protecting people during this most challenging time will inevitably fall short without the evidence needed to focus interventions.

Timely, high-quality and disaggregated data can help trigger more targeted responses, anticipate future needs, and hone the design of urgently needed actions. To emerge stronger from the crisis and prepare for unknown challenges ahead, funding statistical development must be a priority for national governments and the international community.

As the SDG Report 2022 underscores the severity and magnitude of the challenges before us, this requires accelerated global-scale action that is committed to and follows the SDG roadmap.

We know the solutions and we have the roadmap to guide us in weathering the storm and coming out stronger and better together.

Stefan Schweinfest is Director of the Statistics Division in the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). Under his leadership, the Division compiles and disseminates global statistical information, develops standards and norms for statistical activities including the integration of geospatial, statistical and other information, and supports countries’ efforts to strengthen their national statistical and geospatial systems.

Read more on original IPS UN Bureau

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Egypt wants to shift focus to developing countries in climate talks

Egypt wants to shift focus to developing countries in climate talks

In Glasgow’s COP 26, Egypt was selected to host a follow-up COP 27.  It intends to push for action on climate pledges with priority areas that will include ‘loss and damage’ funds.  It concedes that protests, the peaceful though, are to be allowed as per an official.

Egypt wants to shift focus to developing countries in climate talks – official

 

Egypt wants to shift focus to developing countries in climate talks

Wael Aboulmagd, special representative to the COP27 President. Picture taken May 24, 2022. REUTERS/Sayed Sheasha

CAIRO, May 25 (Reuters) – Egypt will position itself as an impartial arbiter while hosting this year’s COP27 U.N. climate summit, as it pushes other nations to act on climate pledges while promoting the interests of the developing world, a senior Egyptian official said.

Egypt, where unauthorised public demonstrations are banned, would also welcome protests within the rules of the Nov. 7-18 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, said Wael Aboulmagd, special representative to the COP27 president.

A natural gas exporter, Egypt takes over presidency of the U.N. climate talks from Britain. Last year’s summit in Glasgow, Scotland, ended with the nearly 200 countries in attendance promising to strengthen their climate pledges this year. read more

Wealthy nations also disappointed many in Glasgow by saying they would not deliver the $100 billion per year promised from 2020 until 2023 to help developing countries with their energy transition and with adapting to a warming world. read more

Delivering this financing is among Egypt’s priorities for COP27. It also wants to focus on securing separate “loss and damage” funds, or compensation payments to climate-vulnerable countries already suffering from climate-related weather extremes, Aboulmagd said in an interview.

“There are issues that are of interest and priority to developing countries, and there are high expectations from us as a developing country to ensure that these issues are taken on board and that they achieve commensurate progress with how important they are,” he said.

But Egypt also would seek to mediate between developed and developing countries that have clashed over issues including carbon emissions and climate financing, as it tries to help steer a move from pledges to action, Aboulmagd said.

“In this particular year it is in the interest of the process that a perception of impartiality and equal distance from everyone is maintained.”

Aboulmagd said Egypt was working to launch about 17 voluntary initiatives in areas including food and agriculture and water management, hoping to inspire ideas and action to help countries meet their pledges.

Egypt is fine tuning its own updated target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, known as a nationally determined contribution (NDC). read more

“We intend to move even faster, despite very difficult circumstances,” Aboulmagd said, referring to economic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

To promote global access and representation at COP27, Egypt has sought to fast track accreditation for under-represented civil society organisations from Africa, Aboulmagd said, adding that he hoped climate campaigners and activists play a constructive role.

“There are certain rules and we’re working with the secretariat to ensure that if there are people who want to protest, they’re entitled to do that, and it’s done in a peaceful manner,” he said.

“It’s good to have people yelling at you – hopefully not throwing stuff at you, but just yelling at you and we’re accustomed to that.”

Egypt’s government had worked with hotels to provide affordable accommodation for participants in Sharm el-Sheikh, a tourist resort on the Red Sea, he said.

“What we have done to the utmost is to ensure that decent hotels and very reasonable rates are made available.”

Reporting by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Katy Daigle and Grant McCool
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Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change as generally witnessed and felt by all after the country’s latest parliamentary elections. 

Lebanese election sees significant gains for independent non-sectarian politicians

By John Nagle, Queen’s University Belfast and Tamirace Fakhoury, Aalborg University

Lebanese voters are signalling a desire for change, with Hezbollah and its allies losing ground across the country in a parliamentary election.

Just as the recent election in Northern Ireland brought a boost for the non-sectarian Alliance Party, Lebanon’s election saw significant gains for political representatives untethered to sectarian politics. Like Northern Ireland, Lebanon’s political system is set up to share power. Its new parliament will have various sectarian blocs, revolving around Hezbollah and rival party Lebanese Forces, and a sizeable non-sectarian group campaigning on economic issues, social justice and accountability.

Hezbollah, a pro-Iranian Shia-based party, emerged in 1982 largely in response to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. It gained prominence after the end of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) and its share of parliament seats started rising in the 2000 elections. After the departure of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, its alliance with key political players such as the other Shia-based political party, Amal, and the Christian-based Free Patriotic Movement allowed it to gradually block major policy processes deemed detrimental to its interests such as negotiations on its demilitarisation.

The Hezbollah bloc has lost ground to rivals across the spectrum. Results indicate that the pro-Thawra opposition candidates have made significant gains, capturing up to 13 seats. The Thawra name harks back to October 2019, as the state’s economy went into freefall, when an uprising of ordinary citizens, often called the Thawra, campaigned for all sectarian leaders to resign and for rights for foreign domestic workers, women and LGBTQ+ people.

In this election, the Lebanese Forces party has used widespread anger against Hezbollah and its allies to increase its number of parliamentarians. Lebanese Forces has positioned itself as the main faction willing to contest Hezbollah in the power-sharing government.

Opposition gains have been secured even in areas traditionally seen as Hezbollah strongholds. In 2018, Hezbollah and its allies won 71 seats, making it the biggest faction in the parliament. Hezbollah emerged from Sunday’s election weakened as many voters blame the party for hindering an independent investigation into the Beirut port explosion which killed more than 200 people.

This national election took place as Lebanon struggled with a series of crises beginning in 2019, including an economic meltdown that left more than 75% of the population below the poverty line, in what the World Bank ranks as among the three most severe economic collapses anywhere since the 19th century. The country is also dealing with the aftermath of the port disaster. More recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed millions close to starvation because of Lebanon’s heavy dependence on Ukrainian wheat.

Relatives of victims of the August 2020 Beirut port blast carry their pictures during a protest near the port. Reuters/Alamy

Lebanon’s political power-sharing system is deliberately designed to protect the entrenched interests of the state’s powerful sectarian leaders. All seats in the 128-member parliament are reserved on a sectarian basis and the powerful factions have often functioned on behalf of other powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

For its supporters, the power-sharing system gives guarantees of political representation to the main groups and ensures that no faction can control the government.

Critics point to a number of drawbacks with the system. Some Lebanese people are reliant on their sect leaders to distribute basic services, such as healthcare. Lebanon is further crippled by paralysis and dysfunction, with the government rarely passing any new laws.

Yet, despite many barriers to change, we may be beginning to see cracks in the system to allow anti-sectarian and independent opposition candidates to emerge as a serious force in Lebanon.

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have voiced dissent by taking to the streets to demand an end to the state’s corrupt leaders, branded by protesters as “thieves”.

While the protests eventually ran out of steam, it built a platform for a political movement that has now gained independent parliamentary seats.

While it is tempting to suggest that Lebanon’s election has ushered in significant change, caveats are required. Voter turnout was 41%, lower than in 2018. This may point more to apathy and disillusionment than hope.

Obsolete electoral laws have not kept pace with people’s lives, and may have been a factor in the low turnout. In Lebanon, people must vote in the constituencies where they were born. With fuel prices rising and a crumbling transportation system, many could not travel to their birthplace hours away.

This result could lead to political stalemate and confrontational power-sharing. The parliament could turn into a polarised arena where parties with opposing agendas are supposed to share power. The main factions are likely to disagree on the new speaker of parliament and on the allocation of executive ministerial positions, making it difficult for the council of ministers to address the disastrous economic situation.

Factions are also likely to disagree on the new presidential candidate set to replace current president Michel Aoun five months from now at the end of his term.

Yet there is still room for optimism. The success of these independent candidates demonstrates that anti-sectarian politics can succeed in an environment designed to prohibit it flourishing. Unlikely breakthroughs in sectarian strongholds represent notable and exceptional gains.

Independent candidates have not had the array of tools at the disposal of the major sectarian parties. They do not have the economic clout to court votes or have links to powerful media networks to echo their message. They also can’t ask for support from powerful states, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Their candidates are more likely to be harangued and attacked by sectarian factions.

Nevertheless, their victory in Lebanon’s elections has powerful implications. It is one of the key achievements of the 2019 Thawra movement, a landmark episode that many had dismissed for not having achieved very much.The Conversation

John Nagle, Professor in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast and Tamirace Fakhoury, Associate Professor of Political Science, Aalborg University

Read the original article.
The Conversation

Iraq food protests echo early stages of the Arab Spring

Iraq food protests echo early stages of the Arab Spring

Iraq’s discontent has like for most countries of the MENA, been there for all to see. In effect, many of these depend on Russia and Ukraine, the two warring parties for their wheat supplies. How to fix that or how to begin fixing it is not exactly a downhill walk in the park. Here is Bamo Nouri‘s explanation.

Iraq food protests against spiralling prices echo early stages of the Arab Spring

Iraq has been seeing protesters take to the streets as food prices spiral upwards because of the Ukraine war. Around 500 people protested in Iraq’s southern city of Nasiriyah a few days ago as flour suddenly rose in price by nearly a third. With food-related protests subsequently taking place in Albania and Sri Lanka, the ripple effects of the war are spreading.

Iraq’s markets were largely unaffected by the surging inflation in months gone by. But Iraqi officials have confirmed that the Russian invasion has massively increased the cost of the region’s food and is also causing shortages. Flour prices are up from IQD35,000 (£18.29) for a 50kg sack to IQD45,000 (£23.52), rice by 10%, and cooking oil has doubled in price. Iraqi consumers have been stocking up fast because of fears of further shortages and price rises, and Iraqi traders have capitalised on the situation to increase their profits.

Iraq food protests echo early stages of the Arab Spring
Unrest over food prices is growing. EPA

The Iraqi government has already put measures in place to tackle shortages, distributing food to those in most need, as well as rationing food during the upcoming month of Ramadan. Rapid government measures also include a monthly allowance of around US$70 (£53) for pensioners with incomes of less than one million Iraqi dinars (£522) per month to help them afford food, as well as for civil servants earning less than half a million Iraqi dinars.

Additionally, a temporary suspension of customs charges on consumer goods, construction materials and international food products has been introduced for a period of two months to help keep prices down. In Iraq’s Kurdish region, the Kurdistan regional government has introduced emergency measures including store closures in Erbil, the region’s capital, to stop rogue traders overcharging.

Turkey and Iran restrict exports

Imports from Russia and Ukraine, two of the world’s largest exporters of energy and agricultural products, have been massively reduced. The situation has also been exacerbated by neighbouring Iran and Turkey, which according to Iraqi sources have restricted food exports to Iraq to prioritise their own national stocks.

Despite Iraq being part of what is known as the fertile crescent, a region famed for its high-yielding farmland and access to water, a series of interventions in the last three decades have depleted the area’s water supply and crops. These range from Saddam Hussein formally drying out Iraq’s marshes, to water flow restrictions from Turkey and Iran causing severe drought. These events had already put pressure on Iraq’s agriculture sector and reduced internal production of food.

Iraqis have been holding demonstrations regularly since the US occupation of 2003, mostly against government corruption, the lack of basic services, mass unemployment and in recent years the interference of Iran. Iraq’s latest prime minister, Mustafa Kadhimi, an independent, was elected after protests in October 2019 as Iraqis rejected the old parties. https://www.youtube.com/embed/O2_PUPyzvqY?wmode=transparent&start=0 Food protests in Iraq.

Distrust in the political system continues. In Iraq’s latest October 2021 Iraqi parliamentary elections, the lowest-ever voter turnout in post-2003 Iraq was recorded at 41% – creating a legitimacy crisis for Iraq’s yet-to-be-announced next government.

A legacy of the US occupation of Iraq is an elitist political system. Iraq’s political leaders compete to portion out the country’s income, giving favours to friends and family.

The key issue is that there is no clear progressive national government strategy, which in turn severely impedes development and weakens the Iraqi state, especially in the face of challenges such as global food price rises. However, what makes this particular protest noteworthy is that it comes at a time when all governments may be expected to do more to support their populations as prices spiral worldwide.

Protests start to spread

Given that two of the key drivers of the Arab Spring were the high cost of food and other goods, and restricted access to water, the latest protests may have worldwide significance. Iraqis may be the first in a global movement of protests over price rises as the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues.

Albania became the first country to follow in Iraq’s footsteps with protests, then Sri Lanka, amid warnings from the World Bank that Ukraine war-related inflation could drive other protests and riots.

While some other governments have already intervened with subsidies, there is also an argument that energy providers should act more responsibly in such times of crises. For example, Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell recorded their highest profits in seven years in 2021, which they attributed to surging oil prices as post-pandemic demand increased but suppliers struggled to keep up.

The cost of food has provoked outrage throughout history. The 2007 and 2008 food crises triggered riots in Haiti, Bangladesh and Mozambique. Even in the French revolution, when Parisians stormed the Bastille on July 14 1789, they were not just looking for arms, they were looking for grain to make bread.

Highlighting these important lessons from history to drive more responsible government and corporate power may be pivotal in preventing political unrest and instability. There is little doubt that both governments and corporations need to do more to make sure that food is affordable for their citizens, or face the consequences.

Bamo Nouri, Research fellow, City, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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