Friday, 11 January 2008

One Strike and Your Out of Business

By Sabine Hertveldt

On October 17, 1993, 16 West African states signed a treaty known as the “Organisation pour l'Harmonisation du Droit des Affaires en Afrique” or “OHADA” (Organization for the Harmonization of Commercial Law in Africa). The objective of the organization is to promote African economic integration and attract investment to the region. In an effort to harmonize laws, the member states have adopted “Uniform Acts” in areas such as corporate law, bankruptcy, accounting and debt recovery.

In 1998, the 16 OHADA countries- soon 17 when DRC Congo joins the club- adopted a “Uniform Act on General Commercial Law” which governs business registration. Article 10 of the Act states that “people who have been convicted of a crime as well as people who have been imprisoned for at least 3 months for committing economic or financial offenses are excluded from becoming an entrepreneur”. This provision was meant to protect society by excluding criminals from doing business.

The Doing Business project counts 24 countries (out of 178) that still require company founders to submit a criminal record when they want to register their business. Out of the 24, 16 are the OHADA member countries. The remaining 8 are Algeria, Kuwait, Burundi, Djibouti, Macedonia FYR, Slovakia, St Kitts, and the Czech Republic. In Kuwait for example, you cannot even hold shares in a company without a clean criminal record. These laws sharply contrast with countries like the United States and the United Kingdom where some cities have training programs and give financial support to convicts-while still in prison-to help them start a business when they get out.

The OHADA Uniform Act on General Commercial Law lists all documents and administrative procedures required to register a business- either as an individual or a company. Under articles 26 and 28, each individual or shareholder/director must submit a “criminal record” to the Commercial Registrar of the place where he intends to do business. Since the OHADA Uniform Act does not make an explicit link between article 10 and the articles 26-28, it is unclear whether submitting a criminal record to the Commercial Registrar (articles 26-28) is meant to only exclude the type of criminal convicts mentioned in article 10. Legal doctrine on OHADA law is silent on this issue. One wonders what would happen for example, when someone who has been convicted for a traffic offense wants to start a business.

Last December, I asked the Commercial Registrar in Bamako (Mali) whether he had ever refused someone a registration number based on his criminal record. My question turned out to be a theoretical one, because in Mali, as in most West African countries, the criminal courts that convict people are not computerized, let alone connected to the civil courts that issue criminal records. As a result, the large majority of criminal records in these countries are not updated.

In addition to being a useless requirement (since criminal records are not updated in the first place), obtaining such a record can also be expensive for entrepreneurs in Mali, Guinea and Togo, where local law obliges them to travel to the court of their place of birth to obtain the record. Too bad if you want to start a business in Bamako and were born 1,000 km from there...Starting a business then takes 2 weeks longer than expected.

In recent years, two OHADA countries have taken initiatives to avoid the obtaining criminal records from holding up the registration process. In March 2006 and 2007, Niger and Burkina Faso adopted a Circular Letter allowing entrepreneurs to submit their criminal records within 2 months after registering their businesses. The Commercial Registrar in Bamako- a pragmatic man-confirmed this is common practice: he issues registration numbers if the entrepreneur promises to submit his or her criminal records later. Niger and Burkina Faso demonstrate that the OHADA law direly needs revision.

When reviewing the “Uniform Act on General Commercial Law”, it might be useful to consider whether requiring criminal records for business registration still makes sense. Just like eliminating the minimum capital requirement, cutting procedures that no longer have a reason to exist can bring more entrepreneurs into the formal sector and help spur economic growth. And isn’t that what OHADA is all about?

Source: World Bank Doing Business Blog

Monday, 7 January 2008

EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD

Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a.5-6; Matthew 2:1-12

WE CELEBRATE TODAY the second of four great manifestations of God in our midst. The word 'epiphany' comes from Greek and it means a 'showing' or 'manifestation'. We call today's feast the Epiphany of our Lord but the term could equally well be applied to the other two.
The first of these four manifestations we already celebrated on December 25, when God revealed, manifested himself to us in the form of a helpless, newly-born infant. He is presented as born homeless and in poverty and surrounded by the poor and outcasts (that is what the shepherds represented). This manifestation fits in very well with the theme of Luke's Gospel and it is he who tells this story.
In today's feast, we see the same recently born baby in similar circumstances but the material and social surroundings are hardly touched on. The emphasis here, as we shall see, is different. Here are strangers, foreigners, total outsiders coming to give royal homage to this tiny child. This will be the theme of Matthew's Gospel. "Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations."
The third manifestation, the Baptism of Jesus, we will celebrate next Sunday and it closes the Christmas celebration of the Incarnation. Jesus, now an adult of 30 years or so, is seen standing in a river together with a multitude of penitents. He is solemnly endorsed by the voice of God as the Son of God. "This is my dear Son, in whom I am well pleased." This event is recorded by all the evangelists.
The fourth 'revelation' is found only in John's gospel. It is not part of the Christmas liturgy but we read it on the Second Sunday of the Year in the Year C [18th January this year], immediately after the Christmas season. This revelation occurs during a wedding banquet (symbolising the Kingdom of love, justice and peace which is to be established through Jesus). Water (symbolising the Old Covenant) is changed into new wine (symbolising the New Covenant to be signed and sealed on the cross of Calvary). Mary (representing the Church, God's people) is seen as the intermediary through whose request this is brought about. It is the first of seven 'signs' by which Jesus reveals his true identity in John's gospel.

Story or history?
Coming back to today's feast, we may ask is the story of the "wise men" a factual report or is it just that - a story? Primarily, it is a story. A report is concerned with hard facts - the temperature dropped to 10 degrees last night or there were 10 millimetres of rain yesterday. But a story, especially a biblical story, is concerned much more with meaning. In reading any Scripture story, including Gospel stories, we should not be asking, "Did it really happen like that?" Instead, we should be asking, "What does it mean? What is it saying to us?" The truth of the story is in its meaning and not in the related facts.
Certainly in this story the facts are extremely vague and not at all sufficient for a newspaper or TV news report. The standard questions a newspaper reporter is expected to be able to answer are: Who? What? Why? When? Where? How? In this story it is difficult to give satisfactory answers to these questions.
Although Jesus is still an infant and still in Bethlehem, we do not know how long after his birth, this incident is supposed to have taken place. We are not told because it does not matter; it is not relevant to the meaning of the story. (Compared to Mark, Matthew is normally notoriously short on details.)


Magi
Who were these "wise men" and where did they come from? In the Greek text they are called magoi which is usually rendered in English as "Magi". Magi were a group or caste of scholars who were associated with the interpretation of dreams, Zoroastrianism, astrology and magic (hence the name 'Magi'). In later Christian tradition they were called kings ("We three kings of Orient are...") under the influence of Psalm 72:10 ("May the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts!"), Isaiah 49:7 ("Kings shall see and arise; princes, and they shall prostrate themselves") and Isaiah 60:10 ("Their kings shall minister to you").
We are not told what their names were or how many of them there were. Tradition settled on three, presumably because there were three kinds of gifts. And they were also given names -- Caspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. Caspar was represented as black and thus they were understood to represent the whole non-Jewish, Gentile world which came to Christ.
We are told, too, that they came "from the east". This could be Persia, East Syria or Arabia - or indeed any distant place. The Asian theologian, Fr Aloysius Pieris, points out the significance for Asians that it was wise men from the East and not the local wise men who recognised the light that led to Jesus*.

A star in the east
There is talk of following a star. Was there indeed at this time a comet or supernova or some significant conjunction of planets which would be particularly meaningful to these men? Even so, how does one follow a star? Have you ever tried? How do you know when a star is "over the place" you are looking for? You could travel several hundred miles and the star could still be "over" you. Probably, we are wasting our time looking for some significant stellar happening. The star is rather to be seen as a symbol: a light representing Jesus as the Light of the whole world.
There really is not much point in trying to pinpoint facts here. We are dealing here with meaning and the meaning is very clear from the general context of Matthew's Gospel. God, in the person of Jesus, is reaching out to the whole world. More than that, the religious leaders of his own people - the chief priests and experts in the scriptures, although clearly aware of where the Messiah would be born, made no effort whatever to investigate. Yet Bethlehem was "just down the road", so to speak, from Jerusalem. King Herod, an ambitious and ruthless man (that is a fact of history), was prepared to go but only to wipe out even the remotest threat to his own position.
These pagan foreigners, on the other hand, went to great lengths to find the "King of the Jews" and "do him homage".

Gifts
As part of that homage they offered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gifts seem inspired by Isaiah 60:6 quoted in today's First Reading, "They shall bring gold and frankincense". In later tradition, the gold came to symbolise the kingship of Christ, the incense his divine nature, and the myrrh his redemptive suffering and death. They also came to signify virtue, prayer and suffering.

No outsiders
All in all, today's feast is telling us that for God there are no foreigners, no outsiders. From his point of view, all are equally his beloved children. We all, whatever external physical or cultural differences there may be between us, belong to one single family which has one Father, "our" Father. It means that every one of us is a brother and sister to everyone else. There is no room for discrimination of any kind based on nationality, race, religion, class or occupation. There cannot be a single exception to this position.
The facts of today's story may be vague but the message is loud and clear. We thank God today that there is no "Chosen People" whether they be Jews or Christians (or even Catholics). Let us try to understand more deeply God's closeness to us which is also a reason for us to be close to each other. There are no outsiders. All are called - be it the Mother of Jesus, the rich and the poor, the privileged and the lonely, the healthy and the sick, the saints and the sinners.
Yet, we can become outsiders. We do that every time we make someone else an outsider, whether we do that individually, as a family, a community, or an ethnic grouping. To make even a single other person an outsider, that is, to deny them the love and respect which belongs equally to all, is to make an outsider of oneself. It is to join the ranks of the Pharisees, the chief priests and every other practitioner of bigotry.

Where are the stars?
Finally, we might ask ourselves, What are the stars in my life? The wise men saw the star and followed it. The people in Jerusalem did not. How and to what is God calling me at this time? Where does he want me to find him, to serve and follow him? Some have their priorities already fixed and so have stopped or have never even started to look for the real priorities, the God-sent stars in their lives. That is like first making a right turn at a crossroads and then wondering where you should be going. Saint Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises speaks of people who get married first and then ask, "What does God want me to do?"
This very day, let us stop in our tracks. Obviously, at this stage there are many things which, for better or worse, we cannot change, some decisions, right or wrong, which cannot now be undone. But it is not too late to look for our star and begin following it from where we are now.
The wise men did not know where the star would lead them. They just followed it until it brought them to Bethlehem -- and to Jesus. They never, I am sure, regretted their decision. If we can only have the courage and the trust to follow their example, I doubt if we will have regrets either. If we have not already doneso, today is the day to make that start.

Source: Sacred Space

Friday, 4 January 2008

Acrimony as Intel exits One Laptop project

By Chris Nuttall in San Francisco

An uneasy partnership between Intel and a non-profit project providing cheap laptops for third-world children has ended acrimoniously with the world’s biggest chipmaker being accused of “shameless” behaviour.

An Intel spokesman on Thursday described the split between the company and One Laptop Per Child as being caused by a “philosophical impasse”. But OLPC responded on Friday with a 10-point list of complaints, accusing Intel of constantly criticising the project’s XO laptop and promoting instead its own Classmate laptop for developing countries.

The two sides temporarily settled their differences last July, after Intel had publicly criticised the OLPC effort and Nicholas Negroponte, OLPC’s founder, had accused Intel of selling the Classmate at below cost to drive the XO out of the market.

Intel agreed to help with development and marketing of the XO and join the OLPC board. It joined 11 other companies as partners, including its rival Advanced Micro Devices, provider of the XO’s processor.

The XO went into full production in October, costing $185 rather than the $100 initially envisaged. OLPC expects the price to fall and has sold XOs to US buyers for $400, pledging to donate one for free to a child in a developing country for each US sale.

OLPC claimed on Friday that Intel was about to be thrown out of the project, but both sides had agreed on a joint statement saying there had been a mutual agreement. Intel had reneged on this by saying it was quitting, it claimed.

The Intel spokesman said OLPC had asked it to end its support for the Classmate PC, a request it could not accommodate.

“Intel has been shameless,” OLPC said in a statement on Friday. “Intel has violated or not lived up to any part of their written agreement.”

“OLPC welcomes, always has, other low-cost laptops. Our goal is to get laptops into the hands of kids, not necessarily XOs.”

OLPC accused Intel of disparaging the XO in countries from Peru to Mongolia and said its criticisms had increased in frequency and volume after it joined the board.

It said it hoped to introduce an XO based on an Intel microprocessor but “the best Intel could offer in regard to an ‘Intel inside’ XO laptop was one that would be both more expensive and consume more electric power.”

The project alleged that Intel had not contributed any engineering effort or even a single line of code during its six months of membership.

An Intel spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the OLPC allegations.

The unfavourable publicity for Intel came on a day when the company suffered its second analyst downgrade of the week, sending its shares 6.7 per cent lower to $23.02 in midday trading in New York.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008