VOICE e-newsletter
February 2008


1. International CSOs Letter to Asian Development Bank (ADB) Opposing Phulbari Coal Project
2. Asserting People's Food Sovereignty: An Initiative of VOICE in Bangladesh
3. REFLECT circles: an action research to empower rural women
4. Paris Declaration in Bangla
5. Book Fair facilitates access and right to information
6. Aid dependence among major economic weaknesses: NBR chief
7. Book Review: The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein
8. Training on Economic Literacy
9. About VOICE

1. International CSOs Letter to Asian Development Bank (ADB) Opposing Phulbari Coal Project

64 International civil society organizations including VOICE stated to ADB Board of Directors in a joint statement to discontinue it's involvement with the Phulbari Coal Project, Bangladesh. The project has already raised serious concerns among the people about displacement, human rights violations, environmental degradation, as well as the violation of several ADB policies. The project is scheduled for approval by the ADB board on 3rd June 2008.

To read the full letter and the details and reasons behind the opposition to this project, click here.

2. Asserting People's Food Sovereignty: An Initiative of VOICE in Bangladesh

Food sovereignty, ecological agriculture and environmental justice are some of the major premises of VOICE. In pursuing these, VOICE strives toward empowering communities, and building capacity and sharing knowledge among farmers' groups, community people, CSOs and NGOs, and students and social movement activist groups. It critically analyses the factors that reproduce poverty and hunger and strongly raises the issue of the corporate agencies (including the international financial organizations (IFIs) and the WTO) taking control over agriculture policies, dominating local market, damaging the environment and ecology, violating the farmers' choices and rights through the introduction of hybrid and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and also threatening the indigenous knowledge, practices and diversities.

With the aim of upholding the people's choices, ensuring them rights over their own resources and ensuring food sovereignty, VOICE creates interactions between the different actors through seminars, dialogues, study circles, debates, discussions, and meetings, and organizes trainings, ecological farming, media briefings, etc. It also analyzes the global trade regime and domestic policies and builds a micro-macro to generate an increased support for the influence of the grass-root on the policy making process.


3. REFLECT circles: a VOICE initiative to empower rural women

In June 2007, VOICE started the REFLECT (Regenerative Freirian Literacy through Empowering Community Techniques) circles as a means to empower and educate women in rural villages of the Mymensingh area. The circles bring together village women, a mix of young and old, with and without children, who meet every day for 2-3 hours to participate in literacy exercises and discuss community and family-related problems, as well as pertinent environmental and political issues.

The REFLECT circles have seen remarkable success within their communities. Once-illiterate women are now able, in less than a year, to write and recognize the alphabet, numbers, basic words, and their names and addresses (important for voter registration, a task done with thumbprints before REFLECT). They are also encouraged to draw pictures as a positive form of creative _expression, and share knowledge and life experience to build the community. Each circle has an Action Plan based on the specific problems of the community, such as food rights, seed preservations, early marriage, the dowry system, domestic abuse, sanitation, etc.

VOICE sees the REFLECT circles not only as a means to empower women in their families and local communities, but as a tool to give all the villagers of Bangladesh a stronger voice. In fact, thanks to the information and knowledge acquired in the circles, some groups have successfully been able to solve domestic disputes but also to challenge the local government and claim their rights.

VOICE also uses the REFLECT circles as an analysis tool of the various lacks, problems and rights abuses in rural Bangladesh to get better knowledge and understanding of the situation. It will ultimately give VOICE a stronger stance in its demands to the government and other agencies. VOICE is in the process of visually documenting the REFLECT activities with the objective to produce a short documentary film able to spread the word about the efficiency of the circles, and thus maybe provide VOICE with the opportunity to expand the project to other villages and areas of Bangladesh.

4. Paris Declaration now in Bangla

The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness was endorsed on March 2nd, 2005, by more than one hundred signatories such as ministers, heads of agencies and senior officials, including all major donor and recipient governments. It presents a road-map intending to improve the efficiency of international aid. Along with giving the developing countries more power in the formulation and implementation of their policies, the Paris Declaration is based on 5 major principles: ownership, alignment, harmonisation, managing for results, and mutual accountability, that should, if applied, help achieve development outcomes that are more aligned with the developing countries' realities and needs.

For the first time, the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness has been translated by VOICE into Bangla, so can now be easily spread amongst the Bangladeshi community.

Click here to access the full Paris Declaration Bangla version.

5. Amar Ekushey Book Fair

VOICE participated in the 2008 annual Amar Ekushey Book Fair that ended on February 29th after one month of activity in Dhaka. For the first time, VOICE had a stall in the Fair and displayed about 40 books, reports, posters and publications, most of them written and produced by VOICE. The participation of VOICE in the Book Fair helps the dissemination of the information valued by VOICE, more specifically around the issues of globalization, trade, aid effectiveness, and agriculture. This event and the participation of organisations like VOICE help building awareness among the general public on issues that are otherwise mainly reviewed by people from specific milieus like the NGOs community.

Some publications, such as "Transparency of the International Financial Institutions", "Capitalist Globalization: Corporate Aggression and Food Security", and "Breaking the Cycle of Neo-Liberal Hegemony", deeply engage people, and on the long run will give them the information they need to ensure that their right to information is respected, and empower them sufficiently so that they can take the IFIs accountable for their actions in Bangladesh. VOICE has therefore taken the opportunity of the Book Fair to extend its horizon in reaching more readers that will hopefully help, in the future, to fight against the injustices condemned by VOICE.

6. Press Release:
Aid dependence among major economic weaknesses: NBR chief

External aid dependence, mismanagement in handling public resources and lack of vision are the major economic weaknesses of the country, said National Revenue Board chairman.
Development partners and multilateral lending agencies impose conditions and the country has to pay a huge amount in interest and principal, Mohammad Abdul Mazid said at the quarterly luncheon meeting of the Bangladesh Leasing and Finance Companies Association.
Citing an example of lack of vision, he said Bangladesh is crisscrossed by rivers, but all the governments since the independence had been investing in road network instead of development of waterways. 'Donors have given us money for the development of the road network so that cars produced in their countries can be sold here,' he explained.
Interest payment on internal and external debts is the second highest allocation in the national budget and highest in the revenue budget, the top revenue boss said. 'In the near future, the interest payment would see the highest allocation in the national budget,' he feared.
The government allocates 13.5 per cent of the whole national budget for interest payment, which accounts for over 20 per cent of the revenue budget. The highest allocation of 14.5 per cent goes to the education sector. Bangladesh received about $50 billion in external funds in the last 36 years and many qualitative changes have taken place in the country so far. 'But the country is still far away from being self-reliant,' he regretted.
The government has invested about 19 per cent of the aid money in energy sector, which is still reeling under severe problems, he said. Rich countries are not interested to provide bilateral aid, instead they advise the poor countries to take loans from multilateral lending agencies, Mazid said.
Officials of the lending agencies carry out the policies formulated by their boards and 'human factor' is missing in their negotiations, he said. 'The agencies do not care about whether we are in trouble or not, they are only interested in implementing the policies,' he added.
Cyclone Sidr and twin floods destroyed almost all aman crops, leaving the country with a severe food supply shortage as the previous government did not invest much for the development of agriculture sector, he pointed out.  'This year we have to take food aid to meet the shortfall,' he said. The government has taken us strategies to ensure smooth supplies of agriculture inputs for bumper boro crops, the NBR chairman said.
He stressed that remittance inflow should be channelled into productive investments. 'Embassies and all policies should be aimed at sending skilled human resources abroad.' Industrialisation is another option for increasing production, he said, asking financial institutions to pump more money in small and medium enterprises.
He also emphasised the need for increased domestic savings for more investment.  Bangladesh Leasing and Finance Companies Association chairman Anis A Khan also spoke at the luncheon meeting at the Sheraton Hotel. The association groups 29 leasing companies that offer industrial, trade, housing and consumer credits.

Ref : www.newagebd.com

7. Book Review:
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism -Naomi Klein

The well-known Canadian journalist and writer of bestseller No Logo Naomi Klein, now considered as one the most important intellectuals of her generation, has published in September 2007 her latest book entitled "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism".

A neo-liberal conspiracy or capitalist economic terror, that is how Klein illustrates the Bush Administration, Milton Friedman's "University of Chicago Boys" and multinational corporations. In her 558 page book, she uses many examples from different countries (Chile, Argentina, Iraq) to show how the neo-liberal doctrine, especially in the United States, not only contributes to the impoverishment of Third World countries, but make use of natural, human or political disasters to increase their domination over the World's economy. A new form of terror: governments and corporations profit from crises (or even create them) to push the neo-capitalist ideology and laissez-faire market reforms throughout the world.

Naomi Klein offers an ambitious critique of the capitalism of the modern days in this meticulously research book that, despite drawing a pretty somber world and future, represents a wonderful tool for the anticorporatist crowd to fight against injustice and domination.

8. Training on Economic Literacy

A TOT (training for trainers) on Economic Literacy and Budget Analysis for Governance (ELBAG) was held in Dhaka, from February 24 to 28 2008. The TOT, organized by ActionAid Bangladesh, brought together many different NGO actors of Bangladesh, including VOICE. The main objective of the TOT was to start an ELBAG process in Bangladesh to promote greater social mobilization, and the bringing together of various groups to focus on areas such as economic literacy, budget analysis, public distribution and the functioning of local services. The TOT learning process focused on a participatory method, with group discussions on the local economy, the household political economy, aid regime and its implications on the structure of budget, budget analysis, etc, and various activities like a budget exercise. The main facilitators of the TOT were Ravi Duggal, consultant from India, Thao Hoang, Regional Coordinator for Governance, ActionAid Asia, and Asgar Ali Sabri, Sector Head for Social Development and Economic Justice, ActionAid Bangladesh.

VOICE already published, in June 2007, a manual on economic literacy, to support the ELBAG process by making the economic literacy notions understood at the grassroots level.

9. About VOICE

VOICE is an activist, rights based research and advocacy organization working around the issues of corporate globalization. It critically works/campaigns on neo-liberal economic hegemony, the role of International Financial Institutions (IFIs), WTO and TNCs, aid conditions, food sovereignty, media, communication rights and information and communication technologies, governance and human rights, policy research and advocacy etc, both at local and national levels. It strategically works through networking and partnership for a new development paradigm to establish a micro-macro linkage in order to generate increased support to influence policy for creating a just society. It believes in promoting the capacity, knowledge and empowerment of the people, and the voices of the unheard. For more information on our different activities, programmes and publications, please visit www.voicebd.org.

VOICE is currently working on a completely new edition of its website, which will be more comprehensive, up to date, and easier to navigate through. Please continue visiting www.voicebd.org, and we will inform you as soon as the new website is online.

VOICE will regularly publish a newsletter on the subjects of IFIs, globalization, social movements, trade, and social, economic, justice, and communication issues. Its objective is to disseminate information in order to build awareness and solidarity for ensuring rights and economic justice, and aims to raise a voice for constructing a new world by challenging the so called mainstream development discourse and neo-liberal economic order. This newsletter challenges and counters hegemonic approaches and promotes people's power and authority on the decision making process and on their own resources. We invite you to send news, comments, and suggestions that could enrich our newsletter at the following address: exchange.voice@gmail.com