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SA hasn’t seen greater progress in anti-corruption policies – Corruption Watch
26 January 2022, 4:13 AM

Corruption Watch says that it is disappointing that since the Ramaphosa administration took power, South Africa hasn’t seen greater progress in anti-corruption policies and the strengthening of institutions to execute their mandate.

This comes as the latest Transparency International Corruption Perception Index shows that the country’s fight against corruption has stagnated over the last ten years.

This also comes as Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA) gives President Cyril Ramaphosa seven to ten days to respond in writing to claims made by ANC MP Mervyn Dirks, regarding Ramaphosa’s alleged knowledge of the ANC’s alleged use of state money to fund party campaigning.

Executive Director at Corruption Watch, Karam Jeet Singh says: “Parliament was affected during this period of State Capture, and hasn’t fully exercised its mandate, its oversight functions. So, I think it’s encouraging that SCOPA is having these discussions. I think if we see a situation where the President is called to account before SCOPA, I think that would be a positive development, and the President shouldn’t have anything to hide.”

What threat? Russian state TV plays down Moscow’s role in Ukraine crisis
26 January 2022, 3:46 AM

NATO is scrambling to beef up its eastern flank and Western governments have warned of crippling economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, but watching Russian state TV provides little sense, for now at least, that war may be imminent.

Russian state TV – vital for the Kremlin’s public messaging over 11 time zones – has often focused in recent days on other issues such as Russian athletes’ hopes for the Beijing Winter Olympics or rising Omicron cases.

“At the moment, there’s no sense the enemy is at the door and that we’re starting a war soon… That’s not happening at all,” said one Russian media analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In their reporting on Ukraine, Russian state media say Western “panic” is fuelling the tensions, along with US troop reinforcements to the region and arm supplies to Kyiv – not the presence of around 100 000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s border.

“They’ve invented it (the Russian threat)… The Americans have been scaring themselves about a Russian invasion for months,” a reporter for the Vesti news programme told viewers.

WEST TO BLAME

Such messaging dovetails with the Kremlin’s insistence that it is the West, not Moscow, that poses a threat to regional peace and stability, a view that independent polling data shows is widely believed in Russia.

“It’s important (for the Kremlin) that it continues to look like the West is inflaming the situation,” Denis Volkov, director of the independent Moscow-based pollster Levada, said of the Russian news coverage.

Anti-Americanism and scathing commentary about Ukraine’s pro-Western governments have been staples of Russian state TV since 2014, when Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and backing for a separatist revolt in east Ukraine shattered relations with Kyiv.

Western diplomats, analysts and others are now scrutinising Russia’s state media coverage of Ukraine for any drum beats of war – and for clues as to whether President Vladimir Putin’s troop deployments are indeed the prelude to a military move or just a huge bluff to extract security concessions from the West.

Moscow has said it wants written responses this week to its demands, which include never allowing Ukraine to join NATO.

Andrei Kolesnikov, a Carnegie Moscow Centre analyst, said it would be a mistake to draw any broad conclusions from the current mood of state news coverage.

“It’s obvious there’s a kind of pause. No order has comedown from on high for state television. No one knows what decisions will be taken,” he said.

“When needed, they can switch back to hard propaganda of war any second and to explaining why it’s needed. Everything depends on the current situation. This should not be seen as reassuring,” Kolesnikov said.

According to Levada’s data, around 40% of Russians believe a war is possible.

“Judging by public opinion, (society) is already ready for war. I don’t think it needs preparing… It doesn’t want war, it wants detente, but it is convinced that nothing can be done,”said Levada’s Volkov.

On the streets of Moscow on Tuesday, passers-by said they thought Russia was acting defensively.

“I don’t think Russia will attack anyone. But I can believe there will be a huge Western provocation, which is already underway… Russia will defend itself, and it must,” said one woman who gave her name only as Olga.

Alexei, 33, said: “As for the Russian troops on the border, I’ve heard the US is also massing their troops in Europe. So the situation is not that simple – do we want to defend ourselves or attack? In my opinion, it’s unclear.”

Mekong region sees 224 new species, despite ‘intense threat’ – Report
26 January 2022, 3:30 AM

A devil-horned newt, drought-resilient bamboo and a monkey named after a volcano were among 224 new species discovered in the Greater Mekong region in 2020, a conservation group said on Wednesday, despite the”intense threat” of habitat loss.

The discoveries listed in a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) include a new rock gecko found in Thailand, a mulberry tree species in Vietnam, and a big-headed frog in Vietnam and Cambodia that is already threatened by deforestation.

The 224 discoveries underlined the rich biodiversity of the Mekong region, which encompasses Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and was testament to the resilience of nature in surviving in fragmented and degraded natural habitats, WWF said.

“These species are extraordinary, beautiful products of millions of years of evolution, but are under intense threat, with many species going extinct even before they are described,” said K.Yoganand, WWF-Greater Mekong’s regional lead for wildlife and wildlife crime.

The area is home to some of the world’s most endangered species, at risk of habitat destruction, diseases from human activities and the illegal wildlife trade.

A United Nations report last year said wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia was creeping back after a temporary disruption from coronavirus restrictions, which saw countries shut borders and tighten surveillance.

 

Coup d’etats will remain a very unfortunate event on the African continent if governments don’t act – Expert
26 January 2022, 3:08 AM

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres once referred to the phenomenon in 2021 as an epidemic of coup d’etats.

This was after four coups took place in Africa last year, including Mali, Chad, Guinea and Sudan.

Barely a month into the new year, Burkina Faso has also joined the ranks of African countries that have witnessed the military overthrow of governments, with the country’s armed forces confirming to have seized power on Monday.

International Law expert, Professor Hennie Strydom who is from the University of Johannesburg says these kinds of problems will persist in Africa unless we look at the root causes for coup d’etats in Africa and other instances of political tension and military interventions.

“I think Burkina Faso is one the latest examples of this. We are dealing with countries with a history of political tension, dissatisfaction, weak government institutions, poor service delivery, and many of them are situated in regions of Africa where we have unrest, where we have terrorist activities, organised crime, weak border controls and all kinds of activities that destabilize these countries.”

Strydom adds: “I think Burkina Faso unfortunately is one of those countries apart from its internal and domestic problems it also has to deal with other problems on its borders. I think this might be one of the outcomes of the situation that cannot be tolerated and I think institutions like the African Union and others like ECOWAS should look at this in a hard way and think about the consequences for the regions in which these countries are situated.”

Euro falls to one-month low as Ukraine tensions simmer
26 January 2022, 1:08 AM

The euro fell to a one-month low on Tuesday as tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine drew investors to the dollar, a day before the Federal Reserve is expected to reveal details on its plans to tighten monetary policy.

Western leaders stepped up preparations for any Russian military action in Ukraine while Moscow said it was watching with great concern after 8 500 US troops were put on alert to deploy to Europe in the event of an escalation.

Tensions remained high after NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets in response to Russia’s troop build-up near its border with Ukraine.

The rouble rebounded to strengthen 0.54% to 78.62 per dollar after earlier weakening toward a more than 14-month low.

Ukraine tensions have exposed the euro and Europe, especially regarding energy, but the dollar’s strength has more to do with Fed policy tightening, said Alvise Marino, director of FX strategy at Credit Suisse.

“The market was pricing in one hike by the Fed in 2022. Now we’re pricing four. That is ultimately the major driver of the dollar strength we’ve seen the past three months,” he said.

“This accelerated a bit on the back of weakness in the broader equity markets and risk appetites that you’ve seen in particular since last Wednesday,” Marino said.

The dollar’s strength indicates its role as the ultimate safe-haven currency, said Marshall Gittler, head of Investment Research at BD Swiss Holding Ltd.

Currencies usually gain when rates are expected to go higher and fall when expectations of future rate hikes increase, Gittler said. “It’s not just that (the dollar) rose during a risk-off period but also that it rose even as expectations for Fed tightening were pared back.”

With other central banks poised to raise rates too, dollar volatility has abated as the Cboe volatility index for the S&P 500 stocks has doubled so far in 2022, Marino said.

The dollar index pared some gains to rise 0.097%, with the euro down 0.23% to $1.1297.

The Japanese yen strengthened 0.01% at 113.92 per dollar.

The Fed could firm up plans to raise interest rates and shrink its holdings of US Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, which have swollen its balance sheet to about $9 trillion.

The Fed’s two-day meeting ends Wednesday.

Analyst views of the meeting are mixed, with Deutsche Bank flagging a potentially hawkish surprise over the coming months,with as many as six or seven increases this year.

But ING analysts say that if the Fed’s balance sheet reduction does the heavy lifting of policy normalisation, that could scale back forecasts for the number of rate hikes.

Fed funds futures have fully priced in a quarter-point tightening for the Fed’s March meeting, plus three more for 2022.

The Swiss Franc fell 0.29% against the euro at 1.0379, just off the 1.0298 it hit recently for its strongest since 2015.

Bitcoin, which has almost halved in value since touching a record high of $69,000 in November, rebounded about 0.78% to trade at $37,010 as the S&P 500 and Nasdaq pared steep looses.

Ether, the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency, rose 0.47% at $2,454.91.

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