Mandatory Reporting of Corruption

New Orleans        Soon I will be in Honduras for the annual general meeting of Honduras ACORN and will get to visit with our leaders and organizers in San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, Marcela, and La Ceiba.  Doing the preparation calls, all the talk and chatter on email is about the conviction of the President’s brother for drug trafficking and lying to the Drug Enforcement Agency in a trial in New York.   Reports spoke of the trial exposing a network of money at the highest ranks of Honduran government buying protection and immunity.  The President denies everything and is publicly deriding the trial as unfair.  The President was an unindicted co-conspirator in this proceeding, so his position is more personal than just blood being thicker than water.

This is the same president who was elected after the golpista or coup when a democratically elected president was overthrown.  The country is still divided sharply on this issue.  More recently he was in the news during his re-election when early reporting of the results indicated he was losing, but then there was silence and no returns for over a day, and he suddenly emerged with more votes.  In each case the United States has backed this mess, first with Hilary Clinton supporting the original coup and then with the Trump team backing the widely reported election fraud and his re-election.  The rationale:  he would help us in the drug and immigration wars.  The result:  not so much.

Corruption is corrosive.  We see it everywhere.  A surprising op-ed pointed out that most states, New York being the exception, do not make reporting graft and corruption a legal mandate for public employees.  That’s not whistleblowing.  That should be a plain and simple part of the job description of any public employee.

Logically, anyone with knowledge of a crime or participating in a coverup of a crime, as  we all know from a million television crime procedurals, is an accessory either before or after the fact.  Before, if they were helping in the heist by driving the car, standing watch, or any number of other things that facilitated the crime.  After, if they kept quiet, hid the criminal or the evidence, lied about it, or whatever.

When it’s graft or corruption and involves taking or stealing millions rather than robbing a neighborhood store or bodega for a couple of hundred, why is it different?  Why would one act put you in Rikers or your local jail and the other either gets you deniability as an “unindicted co-conspirator” or completely off the hook as someone who saw, but didn’t tell?

This would seem to be an easy legislative fix requiring reporting of all acts of corruption a worker either observed or knew about.  Stopping it at the local and state level, might also make it easier to stop at the national and global level as well, where we know it’s not just Honduras, Malaysia, and those “other” countries, but a problem in the good ol’ USA, too.


Zero Waste, Plastics Everywhere, and Developing Countries Pointing the Path

New Orleans      ACORN India’s Dharavi Project has long focused on recycling in the Mumbai mega-slum where we work.  Organizing young waste pickers has led us to create a cooperative of sorts employing scores of recyclers.  ACORN has struck deals with many schools, including the French and American schools there, as well as with the Bloomberg office building to handle and sort all of their recyclable waste.  In Katmandu, Vinod Shetty reported that we also have been able to negotiate being able to operate booths on zero waste at several conventions and trade shows in Mumbai where our recyclers also handle all recycling.  Dharavi has long been famous as a model for integrating work and living arrangements for lower income families in India.  Prince Charles several years ago held the slum up as a model of sustainability.

It is interesting to see developing countries in the global South leading the way in this most fundamental environmental task.  A recent article in Science (September 20, 2019 by Bilikiss Adebiyi-Abiola, Solomon Assefa, Kareem Sheikh, and Jeannette Garcia) highlighted similar work in Africa and steps taken there to deal with plastic pollution that might be the envy of other countries around the world.

The article, written by both recyclers and academics, points out that there are a higher percentage of African countries than elsewhere around the world that have plastic bans.  Rwanda led the way in 2008 by banning nonbiodegradable polyethylene bags as well as their manufacture with strict punishments and enforcement.  Tanzania has a ban, and Kenya is trying a tax.  Kenya is also experimenting with “incentivizing community-led collection that is turning plastics into mattresses and eco-friendly asphalt, bricks, fencing posts, school bags, and shoes.”

Mr Green Africa

Looking at Africa’s largest city, Lagos, Nigeria, and its production of waste of all kinds, the Science authors argue that it represents a huge opportunity for building plastic recycling plants, but limited electrical power and formal and informal workers inability to sufficiently fulfill the demand of such plants for product are stunting the prospects.  It’s a situation of water, water everywhere without a drop to drink, where plastic is equally ubiquitous, but there’s no system that creates enough to keep plants at full capacity yet.

Experiments in Lagos with incentive-based programs include RecyclePoints and Chanja Datti are promising.  In these situations, individual collectors deliver plastic and have their work redeemed by cash or “points” that can be converted into consumer use.  Elsewhere, Mr. Green Africa in Nairobi has built a network of 2000 waste collectors and recycled more than 2000 tons of plastic waste and rerouted it to manufacturers.  Another operation called Plastic Bank is “a social enterprise deployed in Asia, with plans to expand into South Africa.”

As an organizer, I’ve argued solving community sanitation issues is a critical path to power, if achieved.  The crisis in handling plastic in the developing world coupled with population growth and inadequate disposal systems, may force the creation of some innovative solutions that point the path.