#pandemic

Time to stop the world’s biggest welfare cheat

WHO are you

Being a welfare cheat is not a bad way to describe the United Nations.

In 2000, twenty-nine UN agencies employed a total of 48,500 staff. Scroll forward to the latest figures in 2018 and that has blown out to near as makes no difference, 110,000 across 38 distinct agencies. In 20 years time, one imagines the UN will be aiming to be twice the size with a whole new raft of agencies seeking new funding.

What the UN tends to do is conceive new agencies within its womb and then give birth to them leaving them to make their own way, generally by “small” under the radar voluntary payments under “trust” which grow exponentially over time. To its credit, the UN nails bureaucracy.

The more puzzling question is how can our governments be so blind as to keep encouraging this welfare cheat to claim more benefits for its ever extended family? What is the return on all that investment?

One should be disturbed at the way the UN lists the voluntary payments made by individual countries as an “honour roll.” That somehow we are not worthy unless we play ball. Cash for access? Not exactly. That all depends on who you are.

Analysing the UN “regular budget” papers reveals that prompt payment is encouraged. Australia just missed out on a podium position as it was the 4th nation to remit its full-year contribution on January 11th, 2019. All US$61 million.

China might have been a bit late to wire its 2019 contribution of US$343.7 million to the UN coffers but it is seen as the future. The United States was conspicuous by its absence from the honour roll board figures despite chipping in US$674.2 million in 2019. Mind you, this excludes all the other voluntary payments made to other UN bodies and peacekeeping units.

Is it any wonder that Trump wants to defund it. Can you name one other charity that treats its #1 philanthropic patron which contributes twice the amount of any other country in aggregate – 24% of the total – with such disdain? It is not as though the US has reduced its generosity over the past two decades. On the contrary. It has grown proportionally.

The World Health Organization (WHO) deserves particular attention. It has grown from 3,672 staff at the turn of the century to 8,153. The USA gifted WHO over $281 million in 2018 or 10% of its total income. In 2000 the US gave $148 million.

What gives? WHO has more than doubled its staff levels. In 2018, it raked in $2.9 billion in income, more than twice that of eighteen years ago. Yet with all these extra resources, it couldn’t provide superior intelligence much less improved outcomes. It reminds us of the Australian fire services during the recent bushfires.

How was it that WHO couldn’t give any sensible or consistent guidance about how the world needed to prepare for coronavirus? Why did it tell us there was no risk of human-to-human contact? Surely if those nations that volunteer 10s if not 100s of millions of dollars for a subscription service had the correct information, borders would have been shut way sooner and the devastation mitigated.

For if WHO had done its own homework in Wuhan, it would never have criticised Trump’s travel ban “on the basis of “unnecessarily interfering with international travel and trade” and “increasing fear and stigma.“, something that was lazily just dug out of the pandemic playbook from 2017. Since when have ever pandemics played to a one size fits all prescription?

Why was WHO blindly parroting whatever came out from Beijing’s propaganda ministry instead of using its $190 million annual travel budget to investigate China’s watered-down claims for itself? Why did it take so long to call a pandemic? One assumes that pandering to its future is the way to keep the gravy train going, even if it unnecessarily costs countless lives.

What do all these surplus to requirement staff across UN bodies actually do for all the extra money lobbed at them?

UNICEF has more than trebled its workforce since 2000. Over 1/3rd of its $6.7bn income in 2018 was spent on “cash assistance.” If cash transfers are the largest expense line, should we just settle for the notion that we need 3x the number of staff to administer it? Most of this cash is distributed to countries that rank amongst the worst in terms of corruption. The audited accounts talk about fraud mitigation strategies. That makes sense when only $438,000 is detected and $15,000 recovered on $2.3 billion of cash assistance. At 0.02% of funds misappropriated, any major bank would blush with performance figures like that.

To get a grasp of how children move onto their own welfare teat, the UNFCCC, aka the climate change cult, had a $99m budget in 2018 to feed 738 mouths. When it was spun out of the parent UN in 2011/2012 it had a $30m budget across 461 staff. For 2020-21, the UNFCCC is looking for $177 million. Within that, $31.2 million is set aside for “complementary activities broadly mandated as beneficial to achieving UNFCCC objectives and goals.” Another $21 million for IT and data. Of course, it requires $36.3 million in “oversight and administration

Governance and oversight have never been a strong suit at the UN. UNAIDS gave us a perfect example of how sacred cows are protected by the parent.

Independent experts concluded that UN AIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé,  had been responsible for creating a toxic environment that promoted “favouritism, preferment and ethical blindness.” Sidibé accepted no responsibility for any sexual harassment, bullying or abuse of power that occurred under his watch.

The investigation started after Sidibé’s deputy was accused of forcibly kissing, groping and trying to drag a colleague into his Bangkok hotel room in 2015.

In a survey of the 670 staff members at the UN agency conducted by independent investigators, 18 admitted they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the previous year and a further 201 said they were on the wrong end of workplace abuse.

One staff member went on the record saying, “U.N.AIDS is like a predators’ prey ground…You have access to all sorts of people, especially the vulnerable: You can use promises of jobs, contracts and all sorts of opportunities and abuse your power to get whatever you want, especially in terms of sexual favours. I have seen senior colleagues dating local young interns or using U.N.AIDS resources to access sex workers.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who made it clear he had a zero-tolerance policy with regards to sexual harassment when he took office,  refused to fire him. Despite his term ending in January 2020, Sidibé has offered to quit in June 2019 in order to ensure a stable transition period! In what world does a person outed for turning a blind eye to such a poisonous culture get to leave on his own terms?

Perhaps the economic devastation that will result from coronavirus will be the perfect excuse for countries to drastically wind back payments to these UN bodies. There appears overwhelming evidence that more money doesn’t always buy better outcomes much less lift ethical behaviour. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

If only we could find a cure for both

Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) reared its ugly head in the attached video. Yes, we get many people hate President Trump. If only the producers actually cared about the facts of what has actually been done in dealing with COVID19 compared to previous pandemics they may have reconsidered. Even if he had managed a perfect delivery the nitpickers would have found fault.

We do not deny that Trump’s unnecessary and flippant deliveries could be more presidential but none of it is remotely out of the bounds of expectations. This is the nature of the beast. Perhaps it would be more concerning if he stepped out of character?

For the record, Trump announced a ‘national emergency‘ on March 13th after 41 deaths had been recorded. WHO had declared a pandemic just two days earlier. Trump had restricted travel from China on January 31st, despite media outrage that this move was based solely on xenophobia. Where have the retractions been now that so many countries are following his lead?

When swine flu (H1N1) got out of control, WHO announced a level 5 pandemic on 29th April, 2009. Obama announced a ‘national emergency‘ on October 24th, 2009, when the death toll was over 1,000. A full 6 months after WHO.

CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations and 12,469 deaths in the United States due to H1N1. The death toll for coronavirus in the US has just gone north of 4,000.

An estimated 151,700 to 575,400 died from H1N1 worldwide in 2009. 47,000 have died so far from COVID-19. Preventing death by discovering advanced antiviral treatments should be front and centre of the media’s attention, no? Shouldn’t a cure be all that matters?

People’s lives are being materially impacted. Losing loved ones. Being put under financial stress due to job losses. Real-world problems. Yet the social and mainstream media are obsessed with fuelling TDS narratives for purely clickbait purposes. Trust in the media continues to slide.

Ironic that Trump’s approval rating continues to climb despite the media onslaught.

Whether the media wants to confect stories of a rift between Trump and Dr Fauci or drum up racist narratives, all of it takes priority over finding a solution. 

Perhaps the producers might make a video about the Democrats trying to block an emergency $2 trillion rescue package unless aircraft emissions standards, corporate board diversity targets or wind/solar tax credits were included. Who knew the latest March 2020 Gallup ‘Trust in Congress’ poll fell to 22% from 27% in December?

Perhaps we will have journalistic integrity when the media learn to love America more than they hate Trump.

WHO’s official 2017 pandemic playbook says it all

WHOTWO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has bungled its response during the coronavirus crisis. Politics always seems to trump principle. This cartoon is particularly blunt.

In mid-January, WHO happily parroted Chinese propaganda which said, “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in Wuhan, China.” This, instead of independent verification by WHO.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China’s “transparency” despite whistleblower doctors being silenced by the propaganda machine. Several have sadly ended up dying.

Ghebreyesus even took potshots at governments looking to close borders to quarantine themselves on the basis of “unnecessarily interfering with international travel and trade” and “increasing fear and stigma.”

The interesting thing is that Director-General was reading straight from WHO’s very own 2017 playbook, ‘Pandemic Influenza Risk Management [PIRM]- A WHO guide to inform and harmonize national and international pandemic preparedness and response‘.

On travel, the report noted,

The International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) seeks to limit the public health measures taken in response to disease spread to those “that are commensurate with and restricted to public health risks, and which avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.” This aligned with China’s rhetoric.

On member state cooperation,

Under the Framework, Member States are responsible for (1) ensuring the timely sharing of influenza viruses with human pandemic potential with Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS); (2) contributing to the pandemic influenza benefit-sharing system, including by working with relevant public and private institutions, organizations and entities so they make appropriate contributions to this system; and (3) continuing to support GISRS.” p.16

China covered up the extent of the problem by destroying lab samples taken in December causing the unexplained viral infections in Hubei province. Imagine what might have happened if China had been open and honest at the offset? How lucky to have a WHO that pushed China’s narrative that the spread of COVID-19 was slow?

Indeed it is the chief of WHO that calls the Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) and for declaring a pandemic. The PIRM report stated,

The responsibility of determining a PHEIC lies with the WHO Director-General under Article 12 of the IHR (2005). The determination of a PHEIC leads to the communication of temporary recommendations…During the period of spread of human influenza caused by a new subtype, based on risk assessment and appropriate to the situation, the WHO Director-General may make a declaration of a pandemic.”  p.14

Why did it take till March 10 for the Director-General to declare a pandemic? 64 days after the start. 118,000 people had caught COVID-19 by then. Now the number stands at 351,000.

At least there is a get out of jail free clause in WHO’s 2017 PIRM report,

Ethics do not provide a prescribed set of policies; rather, ethical considerations will be shaped by the local context and cultural values.” p.18

We guess it must be ok in WHO’s mind that China’s ethics are shaped by the culture of the Communist Party.

As to the question of the effectiveness of social distancing? WHO concluded with this vague paragraph,

Nevertheless, measures that have been associated with containment such as social distancing, hand/respiratory hygiene and judicious use of antiviral drugs may be effective in mitigating the impact of outbreaks of a new influenza subtype in individual countries. These measures are most likely to be successful and are better supported by data demonstrating effectiveness when implemented in specific local (smaller scale) circumstances, e.g. households and closed or semi-closed institutions. Although there is no evidence of any wider population-level containment effect, these measures may reduce the spread and overall impact of the pandemic and could be considered as part of a country’s national preparedness plan, depending on available resources.” p.62

Has there been an overreaction on social distancing which is likely to produce catastrophic economic side effects? If hygiene and antiviral drugs are effective, does social distancing have any impact at all? If not, aren’t governments submitting companies and employees to unnecessary hardship?

Assuming one self-isolates for 14 days, if one catches COVID-19 the first day out of quarantine was there any point to the first 14?

In Japan, peak hour trains to work remain as crowded as normal yet the country isn’t registering a severe outbreak of the disease. Close quarter drinking parties below the cherry blossoms are in full swing, yet no real signs of mass contagion. Japanese are meticulous with hygiene. Is it a factor? Japan has 1,046 cases and 44 deaths so far.

South Korea’s success would seemingly be driven by the sheer number of tests conducted on its population (270,000) which has made controlling out who needs to be isolated easier, as opposed to social distancing and hoping for the best. South Korea has tested 5,200 people per million population vs America at 74, according to the Centre for Disease Control. We don’t profess to hold any expertise in virus containment, but the data seems to bear out highly inconsistent results.

Yet it doesn’t escape the immutable fact that UN bodies, in general, have terrible track records. Why do so many countries want to entrust sovereign laws to UN groups that can’t keep their own houses in order?

In the last audited set of accounts (Dec 2018), WHO operates on a $2.9bn budget of which $931.22 million is paid in salaries across 8,153 staff or an average of $118,000 each. Although in the FY2018 financial year, expenditures totalled $2.5 billion, leaving a $442 million surplus after financial revenue. 

WHO spent $191.7 million on travel, $178 million on operating expenses and $177 million on medical supplies and materials. Medical supplies and materials are mainly purchased and distributed by WHO including vaccines, medicines, medical supplies, hospital running costs, fuel, as well as related shipping costs.

Contracted services look an interesting line item at $781 million. Medical research activities and security expenses are also included in contractual services. 

Despite Ebola in 2014, MERS in 2012, H1N1 Swine Flu in 2009 and SARS in 2002 it is hard to ignore the fact that with over 8,150 well-paid staff members WHO can’t construct a better policy prescription in limiting the spread other than provide sketchy anecdotal data on what methods seemed effective in containing the spread? Perhaps China can loan some propaganda ministry staff to better shape the responses. That’s right, they already have.

Let’s not forget that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus proposed former Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe as a WHO ambassador in 2017. It is not hard to see where the lack of judgment comes from.

HK Int’l Airport traffic for Jan 2020 – Inbound Asia -43%

HKIA just published figures for January air traffic. It notes,

Traffic figures at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) saw decreases in January 2020. During the month, HKIA handled 5.7 million passengers and 33,210 flight movements, representing year-on-year decreases of 11.7% and 9.1%, respectively. Cargo throughput dropped 10.4% compared to the same month last year, to 359,000 tonnes.

Overall passenger traffic to/from Mainland China, South Korea and Southeast Asia recorded the most significant decreases in January. Visitor traffic remained weak, showing a year-on-year decrease of 43%. However, travel by Hong Kong residents saw a surge during the Chinese New Year holidays, amounting to a monthly growth of 25% year-on-year.

Cargo throughput declined due to closure of factories and businesses in Mainland China during the Chinese New Year holidays. The decrease in cargo was mainly attributed to the 15% and 10% drops in imports and transshipments, respectively. Exports decreased by 9% compared to the same month last year. Amongst key trading regions, traffic to/from Southeast Asia and North America decreased most significantly in the month.”

That’s got to hurt. It is strange how markets are behaving so positively to the impacts here. Depending on the length of such a slowdown, how long can company cash flow last and when do we see the first bankruptcy of a travel/cargo company- land, air or sea as a result of coronavirus.

Expect that cruise companies report mass cancellations after the horrendous optics of passengers being confined to their quarters for weeks on end.

Coronaveristy Cash Crunch will lead to cost-cutting

FS1

Almost 1 million foreign students attend Australian educational institutions.  Of that 28% are from China according to the Dept of Education.

FS3

New commencements are at half a million. These are not small numbers. We are already seeing universities start to fret over the economic impacts.

The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that in 2017–18, international education was worth $32.4 billion to the Australian economy, up from $18.9 billion in 2008–09.

FS2

In fees alone, foreign students have forked over $7.4bn in the 2017/18 year from $2.9bn in 2008/09.

FS6

As a % of total university fees, foreign students now represent over 23% from  15.5% in 2008/09.

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By university, we can see where foreign students are most concentrated. Victoria holds 5 of the top 10 destinations for foreign students.

FS4

By number, Victorian universities hold the top 3 places for absolute foreign student numbers, and 31% of the national total. NSW has 25% of all foreign students inside Australia.

FS5

Things will undoubtedly settle down. It is unlikely all of these students will pull the plug and not turn up at Australian universities when Coronavirus issues eventually come under control. As far as attrition rates go in Australia, local kids are far more likely to drop out than overseas students.

FS8

We are already seeing some universities announce they are tightening the purse strings until the situation normalises.

An interesting side topic is a fall-off in permanent residency visas offered by the Dept of Home Affairs to foreign students that graduate in Australian universities. The decadal low numbers don’t seem to have affected foreign student interest.

FS9

Graduate visas have picked up sharply. It will be fascinating to see the post-Coronavirus trends of visas from the DHA.

FS10

Ultimately, Australian schools have been living high off the hog. While the trend of international students has been robust, have any of these schools conducted proper contingency planning if a global recession, pandemic or shock was to ensue?

After 28 years of uninterrupted economic growth, something suggests that most universities have not seriously considered what might happen if the well dried up. Sadly, when such an action plan should have been in place, we will probably see knee jerk cost-cutting in all the wrong places. So much for the educators preparing their customers for the future…