President Barack Obama moved to restore trade benefits to Myanmar, saying broader sanctions would soon be scrapped as he hosted the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the White House Wednesday.
Welcoming her for the first time since her historic election victory last year, Obama announced a series of steps to coax the rapidly transforming southeast Asian country — also known as Burma — from decades of economic isolation.
“The United States is now prepared to lift sanctions that we have imposed on Burma for quite some time,” he said, adding that the move would come “soon.”
“It is the right thing to do to ensure that the people of Burma see rewards for a new way of doing business.”
In a letter to Congress, Obama also announced plans to reinstate preferential tariffs for Myanmar that were suspended more than two decades ago amid rights abuses by the ruling junta.
The White House is keen to help the country’s economy and Suu Kyi’s administration — which is managing a difficult transition from military-run pariah to full-fledged democracy.
Although its constitution technically bars the 71-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate from heading Myanmar’s government, she received a leader’s welcome in Washington.
After talks with Obama, Suu Kyi took part in a coveted Oval Office grip-and-grin photo shoot.
Obama turned to the once-imprisoned former opposition leader, offering his “congratulations on the progress that has been made.”
“It’s a good news story in an era when so often we see countries going the opposite direction,” he said, acknowledging that much work remains to be done.
Suu Kyi is officially foreign minister and self-appointed state counsellor — a role akin to prime minister.
After spending much of the last few decades under arrest, she is now de facto leader of a skeletal government, an economy hollowed out by decades of kleptocratic dictatorship and a country riven with ethnic and religious violence.
The veteran campaigner must tackle all those problems while keeping an eye on generals who may have second thoughts about reform.
US officials, who acknowledge Suu Kyi is working under some very tough political constraints, dare not push the military or the public too far or too fast.
“She has to tackle problems one by one” said Ben Rhodes, a key Obama aide who has spearheaded the administration’s Myanmar policy.
– Leverage and sanctions –
Obama did not say when he would rescind an executive order underpinning broader sanctions that declares Myanmar a “national emergency.”
Although some curbs on ties to the military and some individuals will probably stay in place, scrapping the order would bring clarity to US companies considering business there.
Washington lifted a host of financial and trade embargoes on state-owned banks and businesses in May, but US firms have remained cautious.
Some policymakers worry lifting sanctions completely could weaken American leverage and may let the military off the hook.
There is still no civilian control of the military and officers are guaranteed a quarter of legislative seats.
Global Witness and other human rights groups have criticized Obama’s move as “a major setback for efforts to clean up Myanmar’s notoriously corrupt and abusive business environment.”
“Lifting restrictions before the new government’s reforms have borne fruit effectively invites US companies to do business with some of the worst figures from the country’s past.”
Suu Kyi has disappointed some of her more zealous Western supporters by following the junta’s lead on some issues, especially refusing to recognize the Rohingya — a persecuted Muslim minority group in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country.
Tens of thousands of stateless Rohingya have spent the past four years trapped in bleak displacement camps with limited access to health care and other basic services.
FG Awaits National Assembly’s Nod Before Take-Off of $800m Cash-Transfer to About 50m Poor Nigerians
About 50 million poor and vulnerable households in Nigeria are eagerly waiting for the take-off of the National Social Safety Net Programme Scale Up which is aimed at alleviating their poverty through monetary provisions by the Federal Government.
Data from the National Social Safety Net Coordinating Office revealed that there were about 12.06 million poor and vulnerable households in the country, totalling 49.81 million persons.
Investors King reports that the social safety-nets are part of broader social protection systems comprising non-contributory transfers in cash or in kind, designed to provide support for the poor and vulnerable people in the country.
Through this scheme, which has already been captured by the Federal Government in its 2023 Budget, thousands of poor households would be supported with cash, while others in need of material provisions would also be included.
The Federal Government has said that in order to reach out to targeted persons, especially in the rural communities across the country, it will deploy Point-of-Sales agents for cash transfers during the programme billed to commence this year.
Already, the National Social Safety-Net Coordinating Office (NASSCO) which is collaborating with the World Bank has been working on building a National Social Register (NSR) that would contain poor and vulnerable Nigerians who are direct beneficiaries of the $800million earmarked for the project.
The programme, which is to be implemented by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, has the approval of World Bank and it would run till June 30, 2024.
Announcing that POS agents would be co-opted to transfer the money to the needy, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Dr Zainab Ahmed, said the Federal Government was waiting for the approval of the National Assembly before the programme would commence.
Ahmed, who made this known while hosting the Executive Director, Angola, Nigeria, South Africa Constituency of the World Bank Group, Ms Ayanda Dlodlo, in Abuja last week Friday, said the social safety net would be expanded.
According to her, the NASSP-Scale Up has been approved by the bank and the Federal Executive Council, while the financial implications have been catered for in the 2023 Appropriation Act presented recently to the NASS by President Muhammadu Buhari.
To activate the project, the minister said the National Assembly must approve it, adding that there are efforts to expand the rapid response register to capture those who had slid into poverty of recent.
Also, she disclosed that the government is working with agents network in the banking system and other financial services for the cash transfer programme.
The minister said all of the database required have been worked upon for easy disbursement of the money by banks.
With the engagement of PoS agents, Ahmed pointed out that hard-to-reach communities and villages without banks would be covered in the programme.
Speaking, the Executive Director, Angola, Nigeria, South Africa Constituency of the World Bank Group, Ms Ayanda Dlodlo, canvassed the urgent need for government to tackle food insecurity and poor power supply in the country.
Dlodlo said about 600 million people in the African continent lack access to electricity, which she described as vital element to national development.
European Union to Donate €102.5m to Nigeria, Other African Countries
An international organisation, European Union (EU) has disclosed that Nigeria and some other African countries will benefit from its €102.5m humanitarian aid.
The EU consists of 27 European countries with a common interest on issues pertaining to common economic, social and security.
Investors King reports that other countries marked to take part in the humanitarian aid of the European Union aside Nigeria are Chad, Niger and Cameroon amongst others.
The international organisation disclosed its decision during the third high-level conference on the Lake Chad Region held in Niamey on Monday and Tuesday.
According to the EU, the conference was organised to enhance regional, cross-border agreements and interactions to tackle the issues bedeviling the region.
It earmarked the assistance for the developing countries in order to provide food needs for its citizens especially those affected by conflicts or war.
This will in turn reduce the ravaging undernutrition problem in children under the age of five in the chosen African nations.
The Lake Chad region mapped out comprises the far west of Chad, northeast of Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon. It is popular for violent attacks, killings, displacement and other vices which have demoralised the region and retarded its development.
The European Union’s aid to underdeveloped countries will serve as its intervention for the social well-being of the nations hit by conflicts to reduce its awful impacts.
Investors King understands that the relationship between EU and Nigeria has been cordial through discussion platforms to address democracy, political issues, good governance, migration and security issues. Also, social-economic matters like trade, healthcare, water, sanitation, food security, climate change amongst others are jointly worked upon as need arises.
Failed Gas Deal: Trial Begins in UK Firm’s Suit Against Nigeria Over Unpaid $11 Billion
Trial into the protracted lawsuit between a British Virgin Islands-registered firm, Process & Industrial Development Ltd. (P&ID) and the Federal Republic of Nigeria over the failure of the latter to pay the firm the whooping sum of $11 billion will commence this week before a United Kingdom High Court.
Investors King gathered that the case emanated from a failed gas deal between the firm and the Nigerian government that dated 2010.
Available facts revealed that Nigeria had in 2010 entered into an agreement with the firm to provide free processed gas for P&ID within a period of 20 years in exchange for an oil refinery facility that P&ID would build for the country.
The firm is said to have bided for the gas supply in order to generate electricity with it and also sell it’s remaining to interested buyers.
P&ID had claimed it failed to build the planned refinery because the Nigerian government failed to tap its natural gas and deliver to it as allegedly agreed during their contract signing.
Explaining why the country defaulted in honouring the agreement, the incumbent Nigeria’s government had accused the P&ID of bribing previous administration officials to secure the gas contract and colluded with former government lawyers and officials to put up what it described as a “sham defense” when the matter became a subject of litigation.
Checks by Investors King revealed that the deal was made during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2010.
Its implementation was said to have got delayed till 2015 when Jonathan lost reelection to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Following the change of power, the deal was stalled as the incumbent administration alleged that the deal came about through bribes to former government officials, and that the award should be revoked.
Buhari’s administration had directed the law enforcement agencies to investigate allegations of bribery surrounding the 2010 gas contract and insisted that bank records indicated that four government officials or their family members received bribes from P&ID before the contract was signed, and that one of them has admitted to overlooking “obvious deficiencies” in the company’s proposal.
Nigeria’s anti-graft agency has also charged the lawyer that represented the state during the arbitration for allegedly bribing public officials involved in the proceedings.
Not pleased with Nigerian government’s allegations, P&ID initiated arbitration in 2012 and claimed that attempts to resolve the issue privately had failed.
Meanwhile, in 2017, a closed-door arbitration court in the UK ordered Nigeria to pay $6.6 billion to the firm to compensate for lost profits over the failed facility project. The $6.6 billion awarded against Nigeria is said to have grown to over $11 billion with interest.
Ever since, P&ID, had been pressuring Nigeria to make the payment. In 2019, the stakes rose again when a UK judge issued an order enforcing the award.
P&ID had denied all allegations and described the Nigerian government’s claims of fraud as an attempt to dodge liability.
Meanwhile, as the case resumes this week in London, Nigerian government is expected to present its case and convince the court to quash the arbitration ruling.
UK high court judge, Ross Cranston had said in a 2020 ruling that there was a strong case to be made that for it to be convinced that the gas processing contract was procured by bribes paid to insiders as part of a larger scheme to defraud the country.
It was reported that Nigeria’s economy would suffer a deeper crisis if the country loses in London as P&ID has said it wold demand legal approval to confiscate Nigeria’s overseas assets, thus making it more expensive for Nigeria to raise money in international capital markets.
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