Monday, June 20, 2011

U.N. backs gay rights for first time ever ....

(AP) GENEVA - The United Nations endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people for the first time ever Friday, passing a resolution hailed as historic by the U.S. and other backers and decried by African and Islamic countries.

The declaration was cautiously worded, expressing "grave concern" about abuses suffered by people because of their sexual orientation, and commissioning a global report on discrimination of gays. But activists called it a remarkable shift on an issue that has divided the global body for decades, and credited the Obama administration's push for gay rights at home and abroad with helping win support for the resolution.

"This represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement.

Following tense negotiations, members of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the declaration put forward by South Africa, with 23 votes in favor and 19 against.

Backers included the United States, the European Union, Brazil and other Latin American countries. Those against included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Pakistan. China, Burkina Faso and Zambia abstained, Kyrgyzstan didn't vote and Libya was earlier suspended from the rights body.

The resolution expressed "grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity."

More importantly, activists said, it also established a formal U.N. process to document human rights abuses against gays, including discriminatory laws and acts of violence. According to Amnesty International, consensual same-sex relations are illegal in 76 countries worldwide, while harassment and discrimination are common in many more.

"The Human Rights Council has taken a first bold step into territory previously considered off-limits," said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights program at Human Rights Watch. "We hope this groundbreaking step will spur greater efforts to address the horrible abuses perpetrated on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."

"Today's resolution breaks the silence that has been maintained for far too long," said John Fisher of the gay rights advocacy group ARC International. "It's clear that the resolution will serve as an entry point for further debate at the United Nations."

The opportunity to do so comes next spring. Friday's resolution called for a panel discussion "to have constructive, informed and transparent dialogue on the issue of discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against" gays, lesbians and transgender people.

The prospect of having their laws scrutinized in this way went too far for many of the council's 47-member states.

Speaking on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Pakistan said the resolution had "nothing to do with fundamental human rights."

"We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation," said Zamir Akram, Pakistan's envoy to the U.N. in Geneva.

Nigeria claimed the proposal went against the wishes of most Africans. A diplomat from the northwest African state of Mauritania called the resolution "an attempt to replace the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right."

Indicating that Washington plans to keep up the pressure on this issue, Clinton said the U.S. "will continue to stand up for human rights wherever there is inequality and we will seek more commitments from countries to join this important resolution."

One of her senior diplomats, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Daniel Baer, told reporters the Obama administration had chosen what he described as a "course of progress" on gay rights, both domestically and internationally.

In March, the U.S. issued a nonbinding declaration in favor of gay rights that gained the support of more than 80 countries at the U.N. This has coincided with domestic efforts to end the ban on gays openly serving in the U.S. military and discrimination against gays in federal housing.

Asked what good the resolution would do for gays and lesbians in countries that opposed the resolution, Baer said it was a signal "that there are many people in the international community who stand with them, and who support them, and that change will come."

"It's a historic method of tyranny to make you feel that you are alone," he said. "One of the things that this resolution does for people everywhere, particularly LGBT people everywhere, is remind them that they are not alone."

Private Finance Initiative in Malaysia - The Concept and Philosophies.

by Ismail SYUHAIDA Md Yusof AMINAH, Faculty of Civil Engineering, University of Technology Malaysia, Johor, Malaysia.

a. Philosophies

PFI in Malaysia is defined as “involving the transfer of the responsibility of financing and managing capital investment and services of public sector assets to the private sector including the construction, management, maintenance, refurbishment and replacement of public sector assets, in return for lease charges that commensurate with the level, quality and timeliness of service provision as well as an amount sufficient to ensure returns on investment where the asset and facilities will be transferred to the public sector at the expiry of the concession period” (EPU, 2006). The level, quality and timeliness of service provision are assessed via the implementation of key performance indicators (KPIs).

Although the aforementioned definition of PFI conceptually demonstrates that PFI stands under the umbrella of concession based on Merna, and Smith (1993) who suggest concession as “an agreement based on granting a concession by a principal, usually a government, to a promoter, sometimes known as the concessionaire, who is responsible for the construction, financing, operation and maintenance of a facility, at no cost to the principal, a fully operational facility where during the concession period, the promoter owns and operates the facility and collects revenues in order to repay the financing and investment cost, maintain and operate the facility and make a margin of profit”, (Abdullah, 2006) in Yong, and Chew (2006) claims that PFI that Malaysia promoting today is a different animal from the concessions of the past. Nevertheless, the differences conferred are subjected merely on the implementation processes, not on the conceptual and philosophical of PFI.

In terms of the PFI evolution, PFI in Malaysia is rooted from the privatisation of the Forth Malaysia Plan (4MP) Incorporated Policy, the Fifth Malaysia Plan (5MP) Privatisation Policy 1985 and the Sixth Malaysia Plan (6MP) Privatisation Master Plan 1990 (Syuhaida and Aminah, 2007) before being streamlined as the Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the Eighth Malaysia Plan (8MP). Then, in the Ninth Malaysia Plan (9MP), PPP, the broader ownership structure of PFI (Yong, and Chew, 2006) is re-branded as PFI given that PFI is the most frequently used initiative of PPP (Khairuddin, 2007) that specifies a method in providing financial support for PPP (Infrastructure,2007). Based on the fact that PFI is originated from privatisation, PFI in Malaysia context is also perceived as the extension of the previous privatisation implementation (Abdullah, 2006) although theoretically privatisation focuses on the utility and transport sectors as well as on selected services of local governments whilst PFI serves wider economic sectors of utility and transport, education, health, office accommodation, housing, defense equipment and other types of public buildings and infrastructures (Khairuddin, 2007). Nevertheless, the terminology of “extension” here means that PFI continues in providing the on-going privatisation projects where the procurement method and financing tool (if any) of privatisation are concurrently changed to PFI during the transformation period. In addition, the most important is that the continuation of privatisation projects via PFI retransforms the private monopoly from initially public monopoly in the traditional procurement approach to the increased competition of private enterprise (Jomo,1995) especially the Bumiputera participation.

Having conferred the PFI as a procurement method which is referred to by many e.g. (Construction Industry Council, 1998; Duffield, 2001; Leiringer, 2003; Broadbent and Laughlin, 2000; Syuhaida and Aminah, 2008), procurement method as defined by (Duffield, 2001) is “a method selected to achieve the creation of, or improvement to, an infrastructure asset, which includes, but is not limited to, the arrangements adopted for the design, construction and commissioning of the asset”. It is apparent that there is a strong correlation between PFI as a procurement method and infrastructure asset as the mechanism created or improved by the procurement method, thus the deliberation on the features and characteristics of infrastructure provided via PFI is significant.

b. Concepts

PFI in Malaysia is currently preferred in delivering all kinds of work for the public sector although other countries around the globe have initiated the implementation for other individual’s, private sector’s and semi-government’s projects. Despite providing services of financing, constructing, managing, maintaining, refurbishing and replacing the public sector assets to the government as the client, PFI also provides the associated operational services at no cost to the government. In return, the private sector receives payment from the end-users, above the price that the public sector could have achieved the work, linked to its performance in meeting the agreed standards of provision (Syuhaida and Aminah, 2008). Therefore, in achieving these win-win situation advantages between the private concessionaire, government as well as the members of the public as the end-users, a detailed and transparent procurement process with competitive tenders that demonstrates value-for-money (VFM) is crucial in increasing the healthy competition among the Malaysian private enterprises.

In attracting the participation of private concessionaires especially Bumiputera, the fair allocation of risks to the party best able to manage and bear which is one of the fundamental features of the archetypical PFI has been revised. Most of the risks including the construction risks are borne by the government or other third parties e.g. EPF as the financier as the government came out with the idea of utilising the EPF in attracting private constructors undertaking public projects although under the pressure of curtailed expenditure. Nevertheless, given that the EPF refuses to expose themselves to any construction risks whilst at the same time provide financial assistance to the private enterprise in carrying out PFI projects, the status of whether the Malaysian employees’ money in the EPF will be used or vice versa is vague until the establishment of the PFI guidelines by the EPU.