Tag Archives: neoliberalism

Laurentian the latest university to be mined by rich Canadians

He who pays the piper picks the tune.

This bit of folk wisdom seems not understood or ignored by many institutions of “higher learning.”

The neoliberals running Canadian public universities have signed a slew of deals with mining companies that are engaged in violently extracting resources from the Global South.

In two of the more high-profile endeavours, Simon Fraser University set up a Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, and the University of Toronto jumped into bed with Barrick Gold’s Peter Munk, establishing the Munk School of Global Affairs.

In an initiative more directly tied to a single controversial project, Laurentian University recently partnered with the University of Limpopo in South Africa at the request of Vancouver-based Ivanhoe Mines.

Over the next five years Ivanhoe will give $2.5 million US to “improve training and curriculum choices in economic geology and mineral exploration at the University of Limpopo.” As part of the agreement, Ivanhoe’s South African subsidiary Ivanplats will also “provide in-service training opportunities for students from both universities and assist them in conducting research on the Northern Limb of the Bushveld Complex,” where the Canadian company operates a massive platinum mine.

The Ontario government has put $500,000 CDN worth of scholarship money into the partnership, and Ottawa’s International Development Research Corporation added $570,000 CDN.

While a public university entering an international partnership instigated by a private corporation ought to be controversial under the best of circumstances, Laurentian’s partner has a highly questionable track record. Companies led by Ivanhoe CEO Robert Friedland were responsible for major cyanide spills in Colorado and Guyana in the mid-1990s, and throughout the first decade of the 21st century Ivanhoe did business with the military regime in Myanmar (Burma).

In April 2006, thousands of protesters in Mongolia’s capital burned an effigy of Friedland after he reportedly told an investors’ forum the country had “no NGOs” and “lots of room for waste dumps.”

In South Africa, many of those living near Ivanplats’s Platreef mine in the province of Limpopo oppose the project. Over the past five years, protesters have damaged company equipment, blocked a highway near the project with rocks and tires, and demonstrated in front of the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria. Community members were angry at the mine’s preferential access to water, lost access to their ancestors’ gravesites, and the company’s influence over local politics.

The Platreef project dates to the final days of South African apartheid when Friedland quietly began laying the groundwork for the platinum project.

In January 2015, the Globe and Mail reported on Ivanhoe’s use of “court injunctions, ultimatums to government, and digging up dirt on opponents” during a two-decade-long effort to establish operations. Friedland’s company coerced a villager into surrendering her farm and spent years wooing the chief of the Mokopane traditional council, which holds most of the area’s land in trust on behalf of the community.

Ivanhoe began making donations to the council in 2001 and in 2010 it signed an agreement with Chief Kekana for “all reasonable access” to test drill on the community’s land for a “monthly stipend” of 30,000 rand (about $4,000 US). The deal also included a laptop, use of a farm, an annual “gratuity” and a lump-sum payment to a “trust” of the chief’s choice, as well as monthly payments of 3,000 rand (about $400 US) to the chief’s adviser and five village headmen. Ivanhoe also paid 10,000 to 30,000 rand per month, in addition to computers and cellphones, to the “community mining committee” in a number of villages near its mine.

At the national level, Ivanhoe forged close ties to the former secretary general of the African National Congress, the ruling party in South Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa resigned from the Ivanhoe board of directors in 2013 after his election as deputy president of the ANC. The following year, he became South Africa’s deputy president, but for a decade he sat on the ANC’s national executive and Ivanhoe’s board.

The company’s high-level political connections helped it secure permission for Platreef. It may also have protected local partners, according to a report by the Daily Maverick. The South African news agency suggested that Ivanhoe’s support for the local Mogalakwena government led the provincial and national governments to turn a blind eye to their “serious corruption and mismanagement.”

Is this the kind of behaviour that Laurentian University wishes to be associated with?

Is it appropriate at all for our taxpayer-funded universities, tasked with serving the public interest and seeking the ‘truth,” to be taking money directly from those with such clear self-interest in limiting our musical choices to tunes that praise the virtues of neoliberalism?

This article first appeared in Ricochet

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Filed under Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Canada in Africa

Manitoba Hydro helps privatize Nigeria utility

It’s the black eye few Manitobans knew they had.

Senate Passes Motions on Unwholesome Practices by Manitoba Hydro Limited,” read one recent Nigerian press headline while another blared: “Manitoba sued over transmission contract extension.”

Largely unbeknownst to its owners, Manitoba Hydro International (MHI) has stirred significant controversy in Africa’s most populous nation. Over the past four years the Nigerian press has published hundreds of articles about MHI’s diplomatic backing, conflicts with local officials and disputes over its four-year contract to manage the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN).

As part of its role in overseeing the privatization of Nigeria’s electricity system, Ottawa-based consultancy firm CPCS Transcom contracted MHI to manage TCN, which was the only part of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria supposed to remain public. But MHI worked with a Nigerian power minister intent on privatizing the country’s sole transmission provider.

A Nigerian electricity analyst pointed out how strange it was for Manitoba’s public utility to facilitate what would be illegal at home (the Manitoba Hydro Act requires a provincial referendum for privatization). Policy Chair on Energy, Infrastructure and Technology at Nigeria’s NDI think tank, Tunji Ariyomo called “it a bit ironical that while Manitoba [MHI] remains solely a government owned company in Canada with a legislative protection to prevent its privatization, the company has announced that one of its key objectives is to reorganize Transmission Company of Nigeria such that its function as a Transmission Service Provider (TSP) could be separated and for the TSP to become a private commercial company.”

MHI’s plans were resisted by the workforce, elements of the government and much of the population. The electricity workers union demanded all outstanding labour issues be resolved before MHI took control of TCN. In August 2012 they blocked MHI managers and power Minister Bart Nnaji from entering the corporate headquarters until their picket lines were broken up by dozens of armed military personnel. The  Daily Independent reported “the workers were beaten to a pulp” but refused to back down and “proceeded to make the environment a living hell for the Canadian firm.”

MHI’s $24 million contract to manage TCN created conflict within the government and power ministry. While power minister Nnaji supported it, the Daily Trust reported “some powerfulinterests in the Ministry of Power were reportedly unimpressed with the arrangement to transfer the management of the transmission plants to the Canadian firm.” They questioned its impact on knowledge transfer and job creation and expressed fear that a private monopoly over the country’s electricity transmission would lead to collusion.

Four months after taking control of TCN, MHI’s contract was cancelled by President Goodluck Jonathan. With the workforce protesting and many in the government opposed to MHI’s plans, Director General of the Bureau of Public Procurement Emeka Eze highlighted irregularities in the process that led to MHI’s selection. According to This Day, Eze sent a memo to the president “pushing for its [MHI’s contract] cancellation on the premise that it did not pass through due process as provided under the Public Procurement Act.”

Canadian officials condemned the cancellation of MHI’s contract. In an article headlined “How Canadian Govt Forced [President] Jonathan to Make U-Turn” the Abuja Leadership reported that Canadian High Commissioner Chris Cooter contacted the minister of finance, vice president and president, telling them “that the Canadian government was unhappy with the issue and may be reluctant in supporting Nigeria in other sectors due to the way Manitoba has been treated.” Cooter suggested the decision would impact Canadian investment. “The message I am conveying back to Canada is that Nigeria is open for business, and that the Manitoba Hydro contract proves it.”

The Canadian lobby was successful and within a week MHI regained its contract. Six months later, during a meeting in Ottawa, International Trade Minister Ed Fast personally thanked Nigerian Vice-President Mohammed Namadi Sambo. This Day reported that “Fast expressed Canada’s gratitude over the manner issues surrounding Manitoba Hydro were resolved.”

Eight months after its contract was restored the chairman of TCN’s supervisory board resigned in protest. Hamman Tukur accused MHI of a domineering style and denounced it for appointing a new director to the TCN board, which should have been the government’s prerogative. Tukur told an interviewer: “Can you imagine this! Somebody from Manitoba in far-away Canada appointing a managing director and chief executive officer of the Transition Company of Nigeria owned by the Federal Government of Nigeria.” In December the Nigerian Managing Director of TCN resigned in a dispute over MHI’s authority.

Tukur was critical of his government for allowing MHI to usurp its authority. But, the Nigerian government was under significant pressure from the World Bank and foreign governments to privatize its electricity network, which has led to protests over massive price increases.

How would the people of Manitoba feel if a Nigerian company came here to privatize their publicly owned power system?

This article was submitted to the Winnipeg Free Press perspectives and politics editor who edited it and asked me to look over her changes. A second editor then asked me to clarify/rewrite a sentence, which was done. The story was then spiked and to the best of my knowledge, Manitoba’s leading newspaper has yet to mention the controversy at all.

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Filed under Canada in Africa