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Prasa destroyed by corruption, maladministration: Kweyama
16 August 2019, 10:08 PM

The Board at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) has admitted to the rot within the procurement system at the rail service.

Board Chairperson Khanyisile Kweyama says it’s not a secret that Prasa has been thoroughly destroyed by corruption and maladministration.

Kweyama was speaking on Friday at a roundtable that discussed what they termed as “pertinent issues” at Prasa. These included the latest developments such as the war room that has been established, safety issues and ongoing investigations.

Prasa says its war room deals with issues of reliability, maintenance and proper contracts at the agency.

The board notes that since its appointment 18 months ago, it has been focusing on cleaning up the past.

At the same time, the Acting CEO at Prasa Nkosinathi Sishi has denied that he secretly negotiated an agreement that allows the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) to extract management fees in excess of R400 million for proposing and developing infrastructure projects for Prasa.

Earlier this week, the Daily Maverick ran an article that Prasa insiders have questioned the need for the project.

Sishi says any engagement he has had with DBSA has been with the approval of the board.

Unilateral action should be avoided: Security Council on Kashmir
16 August 2019, 8:57 PM

The Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, said on Friday (August 16) that members of the Security Council generally feel India and Pakistan should both refrain from unilateral action over Kashmir.

Zhang told reporters that the situation in Kashmir is “already very tense and very dangerous.”
Authorities, for their part, said they will begin restoring some telephone lines in Indian Kashmir from Friday night, including in the main city of Srinagar where afternoon prayers went peacefully amid heavy security, the top state official said.

Telephone and internet links were cut and public assembly banned in Kashmir just before New Delhi removed the decades-old autonomy the Muslim majority territory enjoyed under the Indian constitution.

The measures were aimed at preventing protests.

India has battled a 30-year revolt in Jammu and Kashmir in which at least 50 000 people have been killed.

Critics say the decision to revoke the region’s autonomy will cause further alienation and fuel the armed resistance.

Security forces were deployed outside mosques across Srinagar on Friday, while police vans fitted with speakers asked people not to venture out, according to two Reuters witnesses.

Hundreds of political leaders and activists remain in detention, some of them in prisons outside Jammu and Kashmir.

At least 52 politicians, most of them belonging to the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party regional parties, are being held at a hotel on the banks of Srinagar’s Dal lake.

A senior government official said authorities had booked 58 rooms in the hotel. “These leaders are locked inside the hotel rooms but are allowed to meet at dinner and lunch only in a dining hall,” the official said, who declined to be identified.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said the revocation of Kashmir’s special status was necessary to ensure its full integration into India and speed up development.

The move has raised tensions on the heavily militarised border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, where Islamabad said three of its soldiers were killed in cross-border firing.

Pakistan summoned India’s deputy high commissioner in Islamabad to condemn what it said were “unprovoked ceasefire violations”.

India has accused Pakistan of violating the ceasefire.

‘They can’t defeat the people’ – Zimbabwe opposition after protest clampdown
16 August 2019, 6:13 PM

Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader said his party backed down from planned anti-government protests on Friday to avoid bloodshed but signalled that the opposition would continue its challenge to President Emmerson Mnanagwe with changed tactics.

“They can’t defeat the people,” the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Nelson Chamisa told reporters at a news conference in Harare.

Police in the Zimbabwean capital enforced a clampdown on dissent earlier on Friday, using batons and firing tear gas and a water cannon to break up an opposition protest that authorities had declared illegal.

The street demonstration was to have been the first in a nationwide series of MDC organised protests set to continue next week.

The party accuses Mnangagwa’s government of state-sponsored violence, corruption and economic mismanagement.

 

Italian political standoff keeps rescued migrants stranded at sea
16 August 2019, 4:30 PM

A charity rescue ship carrying 134 migrants, mostly Africans, waited off the coast of Italy on Friday as a battle between former political allies in Rome stopped it docking at the southern island of Lampedusa.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has ordered his officials to prevent the boat disembarking the migrants rescued off Libya over the past two weeks, in defiance of his own prime minister and despite six European Union nations agreeing to take them.

The migrants’ plight underlines the breakdown of Italy’s ruling coalition and how immigration has become central to Salvini’s plan to take his right-wing League party out of government, drag the nation to elections and return to power as prime minister.

France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg have said they will help relocate the migrants, but the reaction from Salvini’s interior ministry was sceptical.

“It is not clear that the other countries are willing,” a ministry spokesman said.

Thirteen people, some seriously traumatised and others requiring medical attention, were moved off the Open Arms boat,run by the Spanish charity group of the same name, on Thursday.

“They are self-harming and getting angry with other people in the group,” Alessandro di Benedetto, a psychologist with Italian aid group Emergency, told RAI radio after examining five of those brought ashore.

“Some of them are having suicidal thoughts, so they think it is better to die here than go back there,” he added.

Salvini’s tough anti-immigration stance has helped boost his popularity at the expense of coalition partners the 5-Star Movement, but his surprise bid to bring down the government and call an election is running into trouble.

On Friday, he tweeted a picture of himself gazing upwards and the message: “Timidity? Appeals to false notions of compassion? Open ports? Thousands of arrivals? Not in my name!Italy, hold your head up high again!”

In Brussels, a European Commission spokeswoman said the EU welcomed the other countries’ cooperation and was ready to give operational support once a solution was found for landing the rescued migrants.

LAND IN SIGHT

The Open Arms is anchored off the coast of Lampedusa, which was the scene of mass arrivals for years before Italy closed its ports to the ships who rescue people setting out from Africa in search of a better life in Europe.

Salvini argues that Italy, which lies close to the Libyan coast, should no longer be the main gateway for migrants fleeing Africa for Europe. He accuses the charities of becoming “taxis”for people-smuggling gangs.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who belongs to no political party but is close to 5-Star, accused Salvini of exploiting the issue.

This standoff is the latest in a series that have seen charity boats caught up in European political tussles over the past year, drifting at sea as states argue over who is responsible for opening their ports.

“We are living an unbearable agony on board,” Open Arms said on Twitter, posting a video of people lying close together on the deck, swaddled in blankets.

“Land in sight and no solution. The rights of 134 people are being violated with every passing minute. If European politicians are incapable of setting limits, what do we have left?”

Citizens of Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria and Cameroon are among those on board, a spokeswoman for Open Arms said.

The Open Arms boat was allowed into Italian waters on Thursday after an administrative court in Rome overruled a ban on its entering that Salvini had previously imposed.

Amid crises, frayed U.S. ties give China’s Xi political cover at home
16 August 2019, 4:01 PM

To the outside world, China’s ruling Communist Party – faced with an expanding trade war crimping an already slowing economy and spiralling protests in Hong Kong – is confronting some of its strongest political and economic headwinds in decades.

But at home, where China’s elite leaders prepare for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic this October, there are few indications that President Xi Jinping is politically embattled.

Many in Beijing believe U.S. President Donald Trump’s approach to the trade war, and the Chinese government’s effort to use Washington as a scapegoat for the Hong Kong unrest, provides Xi with convenient and effective short-term political cover.

This time last year, as Xi and other top officials held secretive talks at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, there was an unusual surge of criticism in official circles about economic policy and how the government had handled the trade war with the United States, sources told Reuters at the time.

With that same annual beach gathering likely wrapping up this week in China in the midst of the two deepening crises,there are no obvious dissenting voices. “In the early months there were some criticisms on the government for not opening up so quickly,” said one Chinese government advisor, speaking on condition of anonymity, referring to the rare internal dissent during the opening salvoes of the trade war last year.

“But right now in China, the rising consensus is that the U.S. is trying to contain China no matter what we do.”

The source, who closely follows U.S.-China trade talks, said Trump’s threat in early August to impose 10% duties on Sept. 1 on another $300 billion of Chinese imports was evidence to many in China that he was not sincere in wanting a deal.

On Tuesday, Trump backed off that deadline for tariffs on cellphones, laptops and other consumer goods, in the hope of blunting their impact on U.S. holiday sales.

But this month heal so branded China a currency manipulator, despite the International Monetary Fund’s view that the value of China’s yuan was largely in line with economic fundamentals. “Many people will feel it is worthless to negotiate with Trump,” the advisor said.

‘CALLED TRUMP’S BLUFF’

That message fits with the unapologetically nationalist policies that Xi has pushed since coming to power in 2012, and has found an outlet in state media, which has ramped up a daily war of words towards the United States.

” U.S. trade war has greatly squeezed pro-U.S. thoughts inside China, making it easier for the Communist Party to unite Chinese society,” editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times Hu Xijin wrote on Twitter last week.

One American executive in China said he thought the manner in which Trump has handled the 10% tariffs would backfire and give Xi a boost. “It plays right into Xi’s hand as he goes into Beidaihe. He can look around the room and say, ‘see, you can’t negotiate with these people’. Xi called Trump’s bluff,” the executive said.

Jude Blanchette, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said while Xi was facing a challenging external environment,particularly over the protests in Hong Kong, he was not significantly weakened at home.

“Xi Jinping is lucky insofar as he has a mercurial United States president who is making the case for him that the reason U.S.-China relations have turned in such a dire direction is because there is an unpredictable U.S. leader,” Blanchette said.

In mainland China, amid tight internet censorship, there is little apparent popular solidarity for the Hong Kong protesters, whom increasingly vociferous state media have condemned as “violent radicals”.

China has also painted Washington as a “black hand”fomenting months of increasingly violent demonstrations in the former British colony. Still, Trump’s unpredictability on trade has created a big headache for Chinese leaders, policy insiders said, while higher U.S. tariffs have pinched the word’s second-largest economy.

Xi has few good options to deal with the trade war – seen in Beijing as one front in Washington’s long-term goal to stifle China’s development – or the Hong Kong protests, the more immediate shock to the country’s short-term political stability.

Nonetheless, years spent consolidating his power among China’s ruling elite – including the removal of terms limits to his presidency and a sweeping corruption crackdown – means analysts do not see such crises imperilling his leadership.

Blanchette said Xi could be fully secure in the office of general secretary, his post as head of the party, yet be finding it difficult to move forward with policy because he has a”scattered or unhappy coalition”.

“This is precisely why you secure allies in the military and the security services, and in the central guard bureau and within the politburo, to buttress your leadership in a time of challenges,” Blanchette said.

RISK TO REFORMS

Both Chinese and foreign analysts agree that the drag on the government’s ability to adapt and implement needed market reforms due to tightened political controls under Xi poses a serious long-term risk that could derail the economy. “Reforms are not moving forward and not going backward.

The problem for the economy will not be big this year. We need to watch next year. It will definitely be troublesome,” said a second Chinese government advisor.

A Chinese government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Chinese leaders were “nervous” about the situation, adding “controls are very tight”.

Evidence of those controls: officials across the bureaucracy, in government agencies, state media, academia and at state-owned enterprises, including senior executives, have told Reuters of increased study sessions in recent months of party ideology.

Numerous foreign ministry officials said diplomats were being called back from holidays to participate in the sessions,and one official from the People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, spoke of working overtime to finish papers on Xi’s eponymous political thought.

The same government advisor who said early criticism of Xi’s handling of the trade conflict had tapered off, also warned that Chinese officials were nonetheless paralysed or issuing conflicting policy signals in the face of the external challenges, and that China’s own lack of implementation of economic reforms was a bigger problem than the trade war. “The government needs to take some action, but now they don’t have the space,” he said.

“They don’t have the appetite to take action. So many restrictions. So many risks. So we just wait.”

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