Friday, 23 February 2018

The Guardian/Rob Davies : Ex-Carillion director viewed pension fund as 'waste of money'

The Guardian

Carillion
Ex-Carillion director viewed pension fund as 'waste of money'

Comment revealed in meeting minutes as MPs criticise Pensions Regulator and KPMG

Rob Davies @ByRobDavies

Thu 22 Feb 2018 11.33 GMT
Last modified on Thu 22 Feb 2018 22.00 GMT

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Graffiti at the site of the Royal Liverpool hospital, which was being built by Carillion
Graffiti at the site of the Royal Liverpool hospital, which was being built by Carillion. Photograph: Pat Hurst/PA

Carillion’s former finance director considered putting cash into the firm’s pension deficit a “waste of money”, according to the minutes of a meeting written by the pension scheme trustees.

The meeting was raised as MPs voiced concerns about Carillion’s attitude to pensions during a parliamentary evidence session in which the Pensions Regulator and accountancy firm KPMG, which audited the firm’s accounts, faced stinging criticism.

The regulator said it was investigating whether it could force Carillion bosses to hand back millions of pounds in bonuses to compensate nearly 30,000 pensioners, whose payouts are likely to be cut by up to 15% due to the company’s failure.

But it came under fire for a perceived lack of action to force Carillion to pay enough money into the schemes.
Quick guide
All you need to know about Carillion

As MPs questioned officials from the regulator, the work and pensions committee chair, Frank Field, referred to a meeting between trustees and the regulator in 2013, the minutes of which indicate that trustees thought the finance director at the time, Richard Adam, considered pension payments a “waste of money”.

Three witnesses from the regulator said they had not been at the meeting.

The regulator’s director of case management, Mike Birch, said it later threatened to impose increased contributions on Carillion, prompting an increase in payments of £85m spread over 15 years.

Documents released by MPs earlier in the inquiry showed trustees believed that far more, an extra £30m a year, was necessary to fund the scheme, which has a deficit estimated at nearly £1bn.

Field said directors instead chose to pay “mega dividends” and were boasting to the City about doing so.

He said: “They were shovelling money out to themselves, they were shovelling it to shareholders, why didn’t you get them to shovel it to pensioners?”
Q&A
What is a pensions deficit?

The regulator’s chief executive, Lesley Titcomb, who faced ridicule for failing to remember key figures, said the organisation should in hindsight have done more to extract higher pension contributions from Carillion.

Titcomb, who took the job in 2015 after the period in question, said: “We would not have continued so long in that negotiation situation,” she said. “We need to be clearer, quicker and tougher. We will change further.”

    I wouldn’t trust you to audit what’s in my fridge
    Peter Kyle MP

KPMG also came under fire for signing off the 2016 accounts just a few months before Carillion announced £845m of writedowns and issued a profit warning.

The Labour MP Peter Kyle said: “I wouldn’t trust you to audit what’s in my fridge.”

The business committee chair, Rachel Reeves MP, referred to the Guardian’s interview this week with a former Carillion executive, who said financial problems were apparent in mid-2016.

She said: “Investors seemed to know, people who worked for the company seemed to know, the only people who didn’t see what was happening were those who were paid to: the directors and the auditors of the company.”

Speaking after the evidence session, Field said auditors and regulators were “mere spectators – commentators at best, certainly not referees – at the mercy of reckless and self-interested directors”.

Reeves said the auditor’s work appeared to be a “colossal waste of time and money, fit only to provide false assurance to investors, workers and the public”.

Peter Meehan, a KPMG partner, said his team had done “the best we could”, insisting most of Carillion’s problems emerged after he signed off the company’s 2016 accounts in March last year.

He also cast doubt on a claim by Carillion’s former chief executive Richard Howson that Qatari firm Msheireb Properties had owed the company £200m, a claim the Gulf property firm also denies.

Meehan added that KPMG, which received more than £29m in fees from Carillion over a decade, warned directors they were at the “more optimistic” range when assessing the value of their contracts.

Separately, Unite raised concerns about “missing” pension payments it said had been deducted from members’ pay packets before Carillion’s collapse but had not reached the retirement scheme.

“We need to know what has happened to these payments, possibly involving more than £1m,” said the trade union’s national officer for health, Colenzo Jarrett-Thorpe.

“At present, they appear to have mysteriously disappeared into the financial abyss.”
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Topics

    Carillion

    Pensions Industry
    Frank Field
    Construction industry
    House of Commons
    Corporate governance
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Hackernoon.com/Julia Enthoven: Life after Google: A comparison to startup life


Hacker Noon

   
Go to the profile of Julia Enthoven
Julia Enthoven
Founder of Kapwing. Formerly Product @ Google, CS @Stanford. Feminist, runner, ed policy nerd, Texas → Silicon Valley.
Feb 21
Life after Google: A comparison to startup life

Seven months ago, I left my Product Management job at Google to work on starting a company. My co-founder and I have been working on Kapwing, an online video editor, for the last four months. In this post, I’ll compare life before and after so other big-company product managers know what they’re getting themselves into if they’re thinking about jumping ship.
Commute

    Google: Google shuttle, 1 hour++.
    Startup: The time it takes you to move from your bed to your desk. And occasionally Muni.

Career progression

    Google: You spend a lot of time going through the motions of performance review and pleasing your manager, both of which are annoying.
    Startup: You spend equally as much time on growth hacks and pleasing upvoters on product hunt, which is more fun but equally as obnoxious and random as Perf.

Lunch

    Google: Everyday for free.
    Startup: You still eat at Google a few times a month because the VC you’re squatting in is so close to the SF office and Googler blood runs deep.

Taco Tuesday at the Google SF office
Conversations with co-workers

    Google: “Oh, how was your weekend?”
    Startup: I already know everything about your weekend because we chatted every hour on Hangouts.

Monetization

    Google: If your product makes money, it’s probably not fun to work in your org.
    Startup: If your product makes money, everyone wants to work with you.

How search works

    Google: Even though you work on Search, you barely know about how SEO ranking works, because you’re not a ranking engineer, and does anyone really understand ranking anyway?
    Startup: SEO IS LYFE

Speed

    Google: Text changes go through eng review, product review, design review, and Ariane approvals.
    Startup: In the time it took to write this sentence, the text has already been changed in production.

Stock

    Google: Multiply by 1000 and liquify whenever you want
    Startup: Monopoly money that might be worth millions of dollars in a decade.

Press

    Google: I get multiple unsolicited emails from journalists every week and redirect them to the Comms team because that’s someone else’s job. Eye roll.
    Startup: I send hundreds of unsolicited emails every week begging journalists to care about my product.

Travel

    Google: Business trips to Zurich, Delhi, Tokyo, and Tel Aviv on the corporate card because you have partner engineering teams in remote offices.
    Startup: It’s exciting to walk to the food truck park for lunch.

1 million users

    Google: Probably noise. Did you flip the launch bit yet?
    Startup: An unbridled future fantasy.

Engineering

    Google: Why are the engineers taking so long? They’re so sllloooww.
    Startup: Why am I taking so long? I’m so sllloooww.

Mission statement

    Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
    Startup: WIP, but I think it’s written on the first slide of the pitch deck.

Perks

    Google: Makes six figures but still annoyed when they don’t give you a holiday gift.
    Startup: You make less in a week than you used to make in a single peer bonus.

Offices with climbing walls vs lucky to have an office at all
Success

    Google: Level 8
    Startup: 30 under 30

Growth

    Google: All you need to do is ship a great product. If it’s a great product, people will use it, and monetization doesn’t matter.
    Startup: You have to build a great product AND get people to use it AND make money from it. You can have a great product that people don’t use and a great product that people use and doesn’t make money. Either way, your product will die despite its greatness.

Day-to-day

    Google: Build awesome software, work with amazing people, dream about the future, and have a lot of fun on the way.
    Startup: Same :)

Sun setting on the Googleplex

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your thoughts about what it’s like to leave the Man for a tech startup. If you enjoyed the post, let me know by giving us some Medium love, checking out our video editing website, or following our startup journey on the Kapwing blog.

    StartupStartup LifeTechTech StartupsGoogle

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Go to the profile of Julia Enthoven
Julia Enthoven

Founder of Kapwing. Formerly Product @ Google, CS @Stanford. Feminist, runner, ed policy nerd, Texas → Silicon Valley.
Hacker Noon
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how hackers start their afternoons.
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Responses
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Go to the profile of Jeff Cunning
Jeff Cunning
Feb 22

Love this article. I left my PMM job at Twitter a year ago to lead product for a startup. Very similar experiences:

    I miss Twitter lunches.
    Why am I so sllloooowwww???
    Startup world is exhilarating, daunting, inspiring, suffocating, freeing all at the same time. You can…

Medium.com/Anjali Ramachandran: 5 Things I Learned Running a Global Network for Women in Tech

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Go to the profile of Anjali Ramachandran
Anjali Ramachandran
Editor — Partnerships & Syndication at @HowWeGetToNext, co-founder at @AdasList
Sep 22, 2017
Listen to this story
11:10
5 Things I Learned Running a Global Network for Women in Tech

By Anjali Ramachandran, co-founder of Ada’s List

When I was invited to be a co-founder of a community for women in technology, about four years ago, my first concern was that there was no need for another community for women in tech. I thought there were plenty already, doing excellent work.

How wrong I was.

The need for a place like Ada’s List is real. That has been, and sadly continues to be, reiterated by the existence of the gender pay gap, the lack of women in leadership roles across most technology verticals, and sexual harassment cases just this year that have thrown men like Travis Kalanick, Dave McClure and Justin Caldbeck (previously in leadership roles at Uber, 500 Startups and Binary Capital, respectively) under the bus.

It’s not even restricted to Silicon Valley, where all the men I just mentioned are based. The UK has no shortage of sexism-related incidents, and it would be naive to imagine that the rest of the world is clear either.

Ada’s List is a global network for women and non-binary people, committed to changing the technology industry for the better. It is an email-based community where members can talk off the record about professional issues, share jobs, announce conference panels and calls for proposals, find talented women to feature in news pieces, find support (especially for those who are entrepreneurs, freelancers or innovators who are blazing their own trails without an organisation to back them up), get informal mentoring, and announce tech-related events. The goal was to create a tight-knit group of people who were powerful individually, and even more powerful together.

We started small as a Google group on Ada Lovelace Day in 2013, naming our network after the computer programming pioneer. There were a few dozen UK-based members to start. I don’t think it would be amiss to say that at the time we had no idea what it would grow into. Here are five things I’ve learned over the last four years, as Ada’s List has become a global network, with over 4000 members and growing.
1) A lot of people need professional support but aren’t in situations where they easily have access to it

The daily rigor of a 9-to-5 job (or early morning-to-late at night, more likely for the technology industry) doesn’t suit many people: freelancers come to mind, but also entrepreneurs or part-time employees who prefer flexibility for caring for young children or elderly family members. There are also many women who aren’t necessarily based in the technology hubs of London, New York, or the Bay Area. For these people, online communities are a boon; it gives them access to people and resources they wouldn’t have otherwise. One of our members, for example, lives in rural Yorkshire in the UK and values Ada’s List as a source of inspiration, given the lack of people in her field where she is based.

Ada’s List brings together women from all kinds of backgrounds who have been through similar experiences. For example, where women decide to take up technology-related degrees (we form only 16 percent of undergraduate degree takers in computer science in the UK and 17 percent in the US) and make it through to their first jobs, they often aren’t mentored to the next level, mid-career. Where they’re mid-career and may be struggling with fertility issues, or deciding to have kids, they’re not often supported through the stresses of fertility treatment, pregnancy and parental leave. Where they do receive adequate support, they may find things are different when they get back to work — they might be demoted, passed over for promotion or given tasks below their skillset that make them want to leave.

Where they finally make it through to leadership, they are now one of a hallowed few in what is often a boys’ club (women hold only 12 percent of board seats globally, with only 4 percent chairing these boards). There’s a clear need, therefore, for women to turn to others who might not be right where they are physically (i.e in the same company, or the same city even) but understand where they are professionally, and are willing to give valuable advice or mentoring that they don’t otherwise have access to. Peer-to-peer mentoring is too often overlooked as a source of support.
2) Setting the right tone for a community has to be done at the start.

We were very clear about what we did and didn’t want the community to model when it came to behavior. We wanted it to be confidential, supportive, inclusive and encouraging. That didn’t mean we wouldn’t brook criticism — we very much do, as long as it’s constructive criticism that helps people (and us) be better. But we wanted our members to know that if they wanted to air their grievances about something that happened to them, or ask for solutions to tricky workplace problems, then they could do so confidentially. The last thing people want when they are airing sensitive topics — that often take a lot of courage to bring — is to be put in the spotlight by someone else who wrongly thought they had a right to do that. This is a very tricky line to walk where you have journalists as part of a community of more than 4000 members, but by and large everyone respects this guideline.

More than anything, however, it was the Agenda that we published in 2015 that clearly set out the tone for who we were, and who we wanted to be. It clearly outlined the action-oriented nature of the community, charting out how people could change their environment for the better through small micro-actions at an individual level (overcoming stage fright to speak at conferences and become a visible role model, for example), a workplace level (by supporting colleagues and hiring more diverse teams if in a position to do so) and an industry level (recommending other women for opportunities, changing policies as a part of industry bodies and making non-diverse conferences politely realize the folly of their ways). We received very positive feedback when our Agenda was released, and many members have acknowledged that it is a key part of why Ada’s List consists of people who share common values. (That also doesn’t mean common opinions, not necessarily, as that leads to groupthink — but we do have common values).
3) Be there for people when they raise issues, but know where your priorities lie

I’d be lying if I said community management was easy. It isn’t — especially not when you’re doing it in addition to a full-time job and other personal responsibilities — but it is absolutely crucial. If anyone is running a community without responding to members’ needs, then they have a problem, and the cracks will begin to show sooner rather than later.

Having said that, it’s important to know what your priorities are, because there will be times when you won’t be able to resolve issues to everyone’s satisfaction. In the beginning, it was easier to say “yes” to almost all member requests and answer questions quickly, but as the community grew from a couple of hundred to 20x that size, that became difficult and impractical to sustain. This is a common startup problem.

I’ve been through plenty of startup pitch decks as a mentor and advisor, and those who succeed in growing past a small group of users are those who listen to most community concerns in the beginning but ruthlessly learn to prioritize as they grow bigger and bigger. With Ada’s List, our challenge was similar, though admittedly we are not a for-profit startup but more a social enterprise.
4) If everyone doesn’t approach teamwork in the same way, progress will stall.

Some of the biggest movements in the world have been built on the shoulders of people who feel strongly about a cause — from the Occupy movement, to the Arab Spring, or even something as crucial to modern democracy as political parties. Ada’s List would not have been able to achieve what we have without our team of dedicated volunteers. A friend of mine once said that if you are passionate enough about something, you will find the time to do it no matter how busy your life already is. Our volunteers are all incredibly talented people with growing careers and personal lives, and we are very grateful for the time they put aside to help us move forward in our goal of making the technology industry a better place.

The best way to allow people to contribute is to let them choose the pace. We tell our volunteers that it’s OK for them to dip in and out of responsibilities, as long as they let us know in advance, so that we aren’t taken by surprise. We respect their time but equally we are working on an important mission, and it’s important for all to acknowledge that.

Equally important for smooth and rapid operations is something we realized a little late in the game: rather than have specific committees and give people set tasks, we found it more useful to for people to choose specific “projects” to take on. This automatically meant quicker action and more frequent communication. The subtle difference in framing created a visible change.
5) There is no time like the present

The biggest enemy of change is inertia. The easiest thing with Ada’s List, which has a growing membership body primarily through word of mouth, despite hardly any budget to speak of, would be to let things stay as is. Things are technically going well — the group is growing — without having to do too much. So why try to do anything?

I’ll leave you with why I constantly feel the need to move things along with Ada’s List, by borrowing the words of Theodore Roosevelt:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

If the technology industry is to become a more conscientious, fair place, then we need Ada’s List to do all it can, we need our many male allies to support us, and we need the financial and personal resources of anyone who believes in us enough to invest in us — individual, corporate, government, non-profit all included.

Here’s to a better future for the technology industry as a whole.



If you’re a woman (or identify as one) who works in technology, join us at adaslist.co/join

If you’d like to support our work, get in touch at feedback@adaslist.co
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Editor — Partnerships & Syndication at @HowWeGetToNext, co-founder at @AdasList
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Orange and OpenClassrooms have combined forces to train young Africans in digital technology

Digital training centres will be established based on the OpenClassrooms diploma with “Guaranteed employment” commitment, with the help of local partners

PARIS, France, February 23, 2018/ -- Orange (www.Orange.com) and OpenClassrooms (https://OpenClassrooms.com) are pleased to announce the signing of a broad-based partnership to provide digital training in Africa. Several Orange subsidiaries in Africa are already working on the launch of training centres providing online courses via OpenClassrooms.

To rise to the challenge of the digital revolution in Africa, students and teachers alike need to be trained in the new technology. There are two objectives for countries in Africa: to use digital technology to boost growth, and to focus on new sectors of business that create jobs. In both cases, it is essential to train young Africans to ensure the economic development of the continent in the decades to come and avoid the brain drain of strategic skills for its development. By 2050, the African population will double to reach 2.5 billion, half of whom will be under the age of 25, according to estimates by the UN. Investing in education, in particular e-education, is an absolute priority to overcome the lack of physical and technical infrastructure.

To support Africa in this major project, Orange and OpenClassrooms, leader of French-language online education, have combined forces to form a broad-based partnership to train young Africans in digital technology.

The partnership between Orange and OpenClassrooms will be formed on two levels:

    The students will have access to the OpenClassrooms courses via the mobile network. The courses can be followed on the student’s smartphone for subjects that don’t require a computer (Understanding the web, The network, Big data, Bitcoin, etc.), or on a computer with internet access via the user’s smartphone for instance, for courses on programming.

    Digital training centres will be established based on the OpenClassrooms diploma with “Guaranteed employment” commitment, with the help of local partners, whose premises will be used as training and examination centres.

The courses are made up of series of texts, videos, and quizzes. The smartphone courses are easy to access, encourage the sharing of knowledge between students, and also user friendly and optimised for data consumption.

“The digital revolution is an exceptional opportunity for Africa, both as an accelerator for development and for new sectors of activity where it can excel. Africa needs to train hundreds of thousands of young people in digital technology in order to seize this opportunity. Our partnership with OpenClassrooms once again illustrates Orange’s support in reaching the objective” explains Bruno Mettling, CEO of Orange Middle East and Africa.

“We are proud to contribute to the development of digital skills in Africa via this unique partnership with Orange. Backed by the quality of the Orange network in Africa, our educational expertise will boost development and the creation of jobs" adds Pierre Dubuc, CEO of OpenClassrooms.

After providing access in Africa to educational content via smartphone in association with the CNED (https://goo.gl/LiLXpS), the partnership illustrates a new stage in the “Orange Digital School” project targeting students, teachers, universities and schools.

The cooperation will rely on local Orange entities in Africa and the Middle East, in association with African partners such as the Virtual Universities and young African startups. Other agreements will follow with other institutions and partners in the field of education and online digital technical and professional training in French.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Orange.

View multimedia content

Orange press contacts: +33 1 44 44 93 93
Nathalie Chevrier; Nathalie.Chevrier@Orange.com
Tom Wright; Tom.Wright@Orange.com

OpenClassrooms press contacts: +33 6 77 23 85 98
Thomas Meister; Thomas.Meister@OpenClassrooms.com

About Orange
Orange (www.Orange.com) is one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators with sales of 41 billion euros in 2017 and 152,000 employees worldwide at 31 December 2017, including 93,000 employees in France. Present in 29 countries, the Group has a total customer base of 273 million customers worldwide at 31 December 2017, including 211 million mobile customers and 20 million fixed broadband customers. Orange is also a leading provider of global IT and telecommunication services to multinational companies, under the brand Orange Business Services. In March 2015, the Group presented its new strategic plan “Essentials2020” which places customer experience at the heart of its strategy with the aim of allowing them to benefit fully from the digital universe and the power of its new generation networks.

Orange is listed on Euronext Paris (symbol ORA) and on the New York Stock Exchange (symbol ORAN).
For more information on the internet and on your mobile: www.Orange.com, www.Orange-Business.com or to follow us on Twitter: @orangegrouppr.

Orange and any other Orange product or service names included in this material are trademarks of Orange or Orange Brand Services Limited.

About OpenClassrooms
OpenClassrooms (https://OpenClassrooms.com) makes education accessible for everyone, everywhere.
OpenClassrooms is the leading online education platform in Europe with a passionate community of 3 million of students around the world. Its mission is to make education accessible to all by offering more than 30 fully-accredited online diplomas, based on the skills and jobs of the future.
OpenClassrooms revolutionizes learning with a unique approach based on individualized mentoring and real-life projects. This proven method brings the most sought-after skills in the job market of the future to everyone: web and mobile development, UX design, data science, digital marketing, cybersecurity, as well as digital expertise for HR and Marketing.
The platform offers a worldwide Job Guarantee: if our students don’t find a job within 6 months of their graduation, tuition fees are fully refunded.
To ensure the highest quality, most relevant content, OpenClassrooms partners with prestigious universities, engineering schools, and leading tech companies, including Google and IBM, to create its degree programs.
https://OpenClassrooms.com

SOURCE
Orange

Our Myopic Vampire-Elites Still Fail To See The Giant-Sized Writing On The Wall

Valerie Sawyer is a brilliant writer. She undoubtedly would make a very good African novelist -  if she puts her mind to it. She is also a quintessential middle-class Ghanaian: well-educated; born into a priveleged background; hard-working; and often minded to give back to society when the opportunity to do so presents itself.

In her case, she chose to give back to society by accepting the position of deputy chief of staff at the presidency, during the years the National Democratic Congress (NDC) governed Ghana under the leaderships of presidents Atta Mills and John Mahama.

Alas, the trouble about most middle-class Ghanaians, is that they do not realise that there is a lot of disenchantment and anger amongst many of Ghana's less privileged younger generations - who daily see people from their strata of society paying for the petty crimes they commit by being sentenced to serve jail terms in law courts across Ghana: whiles those engaged in the high-level corruption slowly destroying Ghana manipulate the system and get away with grand larceny that ought to be severely punished with long jail sentences with hard labour meted out to the super-wealthy culprits involved in it.

What the Valarie Sawyers in our midst do not seem realise, is that today, it is Martin Amidu who actually stands between them and the anarchy that will follow the social explosion that is bound to occur, if retribution is not exacted for the egregious thievery engaged in by the sundry vested interests milking Mother Ghana dry. For their information our country sits on a massive powder keg. Only Martin Amidu's work as Special Prosmyecutor will  prevent that ticking time-bomb  from exploding. Our myopic vampire-elites still fail to see the giant-sized writing on the wall. Ebeeii. 

SWI swissinfo.ch/Frédéric Burnand: Swiss banks should be scrutinised for dirty money, says Venezuelan opposition activist


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Petroleos de Venezuela
Swiss banks should be scrutinised for dirty money, says Venezuelan opposition activist
By Frédéric Burnand

    Law and order

    Reuse article

This content was published on February 22, 2018 6:48 PMFeb 22, 2018 - 18:48
Oil rigs

The Swiss financial watchdog is currently investigating potential violations of anti-money laundering standards in connection with Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)
(Keystone)

Maria-Alejandra Aristeguieta, the Swiss representative of Venezuela’s opposition alliance Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), wants Switzerland to take a stronger stance against the Maduro regime and scrutinise its banks for money laundering offences.

Speaking to swissinfo.ch at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy organised by the NGO UN Watch on Tuesday, Aristeguieta said that the Swiss foreign ministry and the country’s parliamentarians “remain cautious” when called upon to denounce the regime of President Nicolás Maduro.  

“We find support from European, Canadian and Latin American parliamentarians, but not from Switzerland. Venezuela is no longer an important country for Switzerland,” she said.

According to Aristeguieta, who is also the Swiss coordinator of the Iniciativa Por Venezuela group, Switzerland and other countries “need to recognise that money from corruption, extortion and drug trafficking in Venezuela is coming into their banks”. She suspects that politicians and other members of the government have hidden money in Switzerland and called for their accounts scrutinised to ensure there is no “dirty money”. She pointed out that the former attorney general Luisa Ortega, who was recently in Switzerland, had indicated that that Venezuelans linked to the scandalous Brazilian group Odebrecht have accounts in Switzerland.
Money trail

The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) is currently investigating potential violations of anti-money laundering standards, including in connection with the Venezuelan state-owned oil group Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The financial watchdog "is examining the extent to which Swiss institutions are involved and how the provisions of supervisory law have been enforced," a spokesperson told the Swiss Press Agency on Wednesday.

A recent U.S. federal indictment accused five former Venezuelan officials of soliciting bribes to help vendors win favourable treatment from PDVSA and stashing the money in banks, including in Switzerland. According to the Tages-Anzeiger paper, two businessmen allegedly transferred $27 million in bribes to the Venezuelan officials into a Swiss bank account. The paper said the US indictment claimed that the $27 million was redistributed from the Swiss account to other local bank accounts.

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RenewEconomy/Giles Parkinson: Battery storage: Are Australian households about to charge into market?

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Battery storage: Are Australian households about to charge into market?
By Giles Parkinson on 23 February 2018
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The expected boom in battery storage in the Australian household market has been predicted for a couple of years. But now, it seems, thanks to a crucial state political battle, a move to local manufacturing, and soaring grid prices, the time may finally have come.

Talk to any installer and battery storage manufacturer and they will tell you there is no doubting the public interest. Apart from the early adopters, most of the public have been making enquiries and waiting for a significant price signal. It seems that might have arrived.

Bruce Mountain, a leading Australian energy analyst who heads CME, sparked huge interest earlier this week with his latest analysis which shows that the combination of a 5kW rooftop solar system and a Tesla Powerwall 2 battery storage unit was “significantly cheaper” than grid power.

That’s not to say it is significantly cheaper to quit the grid, but it shows that – thanks mainly to the soaring cost of grid power -– a household installing solar and batteries would achieve significant savings, and quickly pay back the cost of purchase.

This is confirmed by one of Tesla’s big rivals, the German battery storage manufacturer sonnen, which has just announced plans to build Australia’s first large battery storage manufacturing plant, in Adelaide, with plans for 50,000 units in the first five years.

It’s a sure sign that the company expects the local market to finally take off and Chris Parratt, the head of sonnen Australia, says rooftop solar is “running hot”, and the interest in public forums held by the company in recent weeks is immense.

“Everyone wants a battery,” he tells RenewEconomy. “The payback is awesome in states like South Australia and Queensland, well under what we expected it to be. It’s under a 7 year pay-back.”

LG Chem, the maker of what appears to be the most popular battery storage unit in Australia, has long held this to be the case, saying

The economics, however, have been given added momentum by the fierce political battle in South Australia, which is witness to a three-way contest between the two major parties and the Nick Xenophone SA Best,

Both major parties, knowing that electricity costs and reliability are a key focus for voters, have unveiled  major battery storage incentives.

Labor has unveiled a Tesla-inspired virtual power plant that will seek to install rooftop solar and a Tesla battery in 50,000 homes – firstly in social housing and then in privately owned low-income households.

The proposal is to provide the equipment at no upfront cost, but to charge the household for the use of the rooftop solar and storage. It will slash the annual electricity bill by 30 per cent, Tesla and the SA Labor government claim.

The battery storage units, and through them the rooftop solar panels, will be linked to create a “virtual power plant” that could, in theory, deliver up to 250MW of capacity, and 650MWh of storage, to the market operator, or at least offer that as a reduction in peak demand.

Labor has followed up with a separate scheme to provide $100 million to provide another 10,000 households with “interest free” loans to buy solar and storage.

Well, not exactly interest free, it will be a 7-year interest holiday. But if Mountain and Parratt’s estimates are right, then the savings on the electricity bill should have easily made up for the capital cost of the equipment by that time.

The program will favour local products, which has prompted sonnen to announce the creation of its own manufacturing operations in Adelaide, and a new headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region. It remains to be seen which other battery manufacturers follow.

The SA Liberals have their own $100 million scheme, offering a $2,500 grant for 40,000 “means-tested” households, although these units, unlike the Tesla power plant or sonnen installations, will not necessarily be linked into a virtual power plant.

Chris Williams, the head of Natural Solar – a leading installer of solar and battery storage systems – says the South Australian initiatives will double or treble the battery storage market in that state within the next year.

“Much like the solar boom that took place from 2009-2012, this will be the move that will bring battery power into the mainstream market and make this form of technology available to the masses,” Williams says.

He says customers are being driven by three factors: attractive pricing; reliability of supply offered by battery storage; and independence from the grid.

“This rebate will mean that South Australian residents, who crave this reliability the most, will no longer need to pay any money upfront to have their solar and battery solution installed and will reap the benefits of savings from day one.” 
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RenewEconomy/Giles Parkinson: Tesla big battery results suggest local storage better than “monster” projects

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Tesla big battery results suggest local storage better than “monster” projects
By Giles Parkinson on 23 February 2018
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New analysis of the performance of the Tesla big battery in South Australia suggests that distributed local battery and pumped hydro projects could offer better value to the grid than a single “monster” project like Snowy 2.0.

The analysis, from energy analyst Hugh Saddler, in his quarterly update of the National Electricity Market for The Australia Institute, will make a useful contribution to the debate over the future of storage in Australia.

The Tesla big battery, known as the Hornsdale Power Reserve, has impressed all observers since it was switched on in early December, with the notable exception of the federal government which wants instead to build the massive Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project at a cost of $8 billion or more.

Saddler’s analysis confirms earlier reports – see our story Tesla big battery moves from show-boating to money-making – that its speed and flexibility allows it to intervene in high-priced events and “take the straw off the camel’s back.”

Already, the battery’s has eliminated significant price gouging in the small FCAS market, as we reported here. Premier Jay Weatherill confirmed this week that the Tela battery had “smashed” the gas cartel’s hold over the FCAS market, which provides network security.

Its influence on the bigger wholesale electricity market is less marked, because with only 30MW of capacity dedicated to arbitrage, it is still just clipping the peaks of a local grid that can consume up to 3,000MW or more at times of peak demand.

Still, Saddler says, its impact is clear.

“The graph shows a consistent pattern of charging up overnight, when prices are very low (well below $100 per MWh on all three days) and discharging in the late afternoon, when prices are very high ($8,000 per MWh between 4.00 and 4.30 pm local time on 7 February, which is 3.30 to 4.00 pm NEM time, as shown in Figure 11, somewhat lower on the other two days).”

Saddler notes that battery storage sceptics (yes, there is such a thing) often point out that 30MW is hardly more than 1 per cent of the peak demand of 2.9GW on 7 February.

“This is true, but not particularly relevant,” Saddler says.

“The Hornsdale battery is the first of its kind. Planning for a number of others in South Australia, Victoria and elsewhere is well underway.

“Since the capacity requirement for frequency control services is limited, it is almost certain that a number of subsequent battery projects will devote a larger proportion of their capacity to energy arbitrage.”

And, Saddler says, Hornsdale is clearly making the case for distributed storage.

“The experience of operating Hornsdale Power Reserve already demonstrates that multiple smaller energy storage facilities, which will certainly include both batteries and small pumped hydro projects, located close to wind and solar generators, are almost certainly better suited to matching variable supply with varying demand than a single monster project located a thousand kilometres or more away.” he says.

This is a clear reference to Snowy 2.0, which he also notes will only be able to deliver its service via multiple transmission lines “which often reach saturation capacity when demand for electricity reaches peak.”

Snowy Hydro has tried to turn the case for its big pumped hydro project into a battle between its project and battery storage. But its costings of battery storage have been contentious, see The case against Tesla and battery storage just hit peak stupid and so has its estimates of the value chain.

Note: Saddler also defended the AEMO and its Integrated System Plan Consultation, which has been used by critics to call for the closure of the key market institution.

“AEMO is required to think long term, and therefore to consider a wide range of possible futures, in order to do its job of managing the evolving electricity system,” Saddler notes.

You can see live updates of Neoen’s Hornsdale Power Reserve, as the Tesla big battery is know, on its home page here.

 
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RenewEconomy/Sophie Vorrath: Flying taxi, anyone? Solar Impulse co-pilot launches new electric aviation venture

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Flying taxi, anyone? Solar Impulse co-pilot launches new electric aviation venture
By Sophie Vorrath on 23 February 2018
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Imagine hopping on to an electric airplane on top of a building that transports you to the other side of the city in less than 10 minutes, with no impact on the environment, at the cost of a regular car?

It may sound far fetched, but no more so than circumventing the globe in an all-solar and battery powered airplane called the Solar Impulse.

And that is exactly what André Borschberg did, alongside co-pilot Bertrand Piccard in 2015-16: 42,000km in 17 legs using only the power of the sun.

Having ticked that off his list, however, Borschberg and a number of former colleagues have turned their focus to bigger things – including, but not limited to the cross-town electric air travel mentioned above – with a new company, called H55.

The company’s key goal is to further develop the potential of electric propulsion for existing airplane designs, as well as for “new aviation solutions” such as flying cars, drones and vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

And it has just completed its first financing round, through Silicon Valley and Swiss based venture capital firm NanoDimension, to help make this happen.

According to a media update this week, H55 has already developed its first-generation electric propulsion management system, and using “an experimentally certified electric acrobatic demonstrator aircraft” – aEro1 – successfully flown more than 50 hours with a battery endurance exceeding more than 1 hour.

The company is now working on electrifying its second aircraft, aiming to fly two hours only on batteries. Flight tests of this technology are expected to begin flight in the European summer of 2018.

“Electric air transport will drastically improve the way we live and move,” Borschberg said, in a statement in the media update.

“New concepts, which are only possible with electric propulsion, will soon allow for aircraft to take-off and land vertically and quietly.

“Imagine boarding an electric airplane on top of a building which can bring you to the other side of the city in less than 10 minutes, with no impact on the environment, at the KM cost of a car?

Borschberg said his team at H55 – which includes Sébastien Demont as chief technology officer and Gregory Blatt as head of business development – viewed the VC funding as invaluable to its cause.

“NanoDimension’s investment is our window to the Silicon Valley and as an accelerator to H55’s strategy in being a key player in changing the way people will travel in the future,” he said.

And the feeling from venture capitalists is rather mutual.

“(André) has more experience of flying electric aircraft than any other pilot or company in the world,” said NanoDimension founder and CEO Amyric Sallin.

“He trusted his life with the technology developed by his team to enable perpetual flight. Aviation regulators trusted them as well and certified SI2 allowing them to fly over cities, continents and oceans.

“When I saw aEro1, H55’s first electric aircraft, I was impressed and convinced. We are honoured to join this venture and to help them to become a leading provider of electric propulsion for the aviation industry,” Salin said.

“In 2003 Solar Impulse was told that building an airplane with the wingspan of a jumbo jet having the weight of a car was impossible,” added NanoDimension’s Patrick Aebischer, who is also President of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).

“A few years later the first electric airplane was flying day and night on solar energy. Unquestionably, the H55 team has the right DNA to bring aviation into a new era,” he said.
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RenewEconomy/Mark Hand: Renewables, not natural gas, are cutting US power sector emissions

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Renewables, not natural gas, are cutting US power sector emissions
By Mark Hand on 23 February 2018
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The growth of clean energy in 2017 was one for the record books: Last year was the first time a reduction in U.S. power sector carbon emissions could be attributed more to renewable energy and energy conservation than the nation switching from coal to natural gas to generate electricity.

Carbon emissions from the power sector dropped 4.2 percent in 2017, this time on the back of declining load and greater renewable generation, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). In 2016, switching from coal to natural gas for power generation was the primary driver of the 5.8 percent downturn in carbon emissions.

Power-sector emissions are also declining compared to other parts of the U.S. economy. For decades, the power sector had been the nation’s biggest sourceof carbon emissions.

But as emissions from the electricity sector plummeted again in 2017, transportation retained its place as the largest carbon-emitting sector for the second year in a row, BNEF researchers wrote in the 2018 edition of the “Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.” BNEF produced the publication for the Business Council for Sustainable Energy.

With the near-record deployment of renewable energy resources across the country, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions hit a 25-year low in 2017. Power-sector emissions now sit 28 percent below their 2005 peak, which puts the U.S. only 4 percentage points away from achieving its former Clean Power Plan target of 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, according to BNEF.

The rapid emissions reduction also helped to bring the nation halfway to its Paris climate agreement target of slashing economy-wide emissions to 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Last summer, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would initiate the formal process to withdraw from the Paris agreement. In response to the proposed withdrawal from Paris and fading federal-level climate action, sub-national actors have created alliances to support continued progress on U.S. greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The most recent “State of Green Business Report” noted that 71 Fortune 100 companies have a public target for renewable energy. Of those companies, 21 have committed to using 100 percent renewable energy, Andy Bilich, a clean energy analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund, wrote in a blog post about the BNEF report.

“Despite attempts by the Trump administration and the coal industry to limit clean energy in favor of fossil fuels — including a tariff on solar energy, a thinly disguised bailout for coal and nuclear power plants (that was rightly rejected), and a dramatic proposed cut to energy research — we are accelerating the transition to a cleaner electric grid,” Bilich said.

Renewable energy generation, including hydropower, climbed 14 percent to an estimated 717 terawatt hours in 2017, from 628 terawatt hours in 2016. The growth brought renewables to 18 percent of total U.S. generation, double their contribution a decade ago.

Renewables set new highs in 2017 due to a rebound in hydropower as reservoir levels on the West Coast recovered after a prolonged drought. Also, the large number of wind and solar projects built in 2016 had their first full year of operation in 2017, boosting non-hydro renewable energy generation by 15 percent to 413 terawatt hours, according to BNEF.

Cost also is contributing to the rapid growth of wind and solar energy. According to a separate study released late last year, building and running new renewable energy is now cheaper than just running existing coal and nuclear plants in many areas.

A widely-used yearly benchmarking study — the Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE) from the financial firm Lazard Ltd. — reached this conclusion: In many regions “the full-lifecycle costs of building and operating renewables-based projects have dropped below the operating costs alone of conventional generation technologies such as coal or nuclear.”

According to BNEF, renewables’ rise in 2017 came as natural gas-fired generation decreased by an estimated 8.1 percent. Natural gas’ share of total U.S. generation dropped from 34 percent in 2016 to 32 percent in 2017. Higher natural gas prices may have also contributed to the decline in natural gas-fired generation, BNEF said.

Natural gas, though, retained its position in 2017 as the top producer of electricity in the United States. After decades of dominance by coal, natural gas surpassed coal for the first time in 2016 — providing 34 percent of total electricity generation — to become the leading generation source. 
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The Conversation/Owen Skae: Efforts to get South Africa’s economy moving are no more than a patch up job

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Efforts to get South Africa’s economy moving are no more than a patch up job
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South African finance minister Malusi Gigaba could have done better in his 2018 budget speech. Reuters/Mike Hutchings

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Its obvious that the South African government approached the 2018 budget from an extremely tight spot and with limited options. The country has been staring at the perfect storm of low economic growth and widening fiscal deficits set against huge expectations and needs. These include fee-free higher education for poor students, troubled state-owned enterprises and a growing base of the unemployed.

The saving grace may have been the recent change in presidency from the disastrous Jacob Zuma to the promising Cyril Ramaphosa. The new president has triggered a wave of optimism and there are signs that the economy is picking up. This will be needed if Treasury is to find a way of closing a revenue gap of R48.2bn.

The focus by Malusi Gigaba, the minister of finance, on free education, developing industrialists and small to medium sized enterprises are to be welcomed. But one gets the sense that without the right policies in place, this is just more of the same.

Assuming that government is able to achieve the expenditure reduction of R85 billion, fund the R57 billion earmarked for higher education via increased Value Added Tax (VAT) and marginal adjustments to personal income tax, the question remains; has it addressed the real reasons why the country has been limping along. It all sounds like a patch up job to me.

The increase in VAT from 14% to 15% is bad news, despite the promised offsets through social grants. VAT is generally known to be a regressive tax which means it tends to hit the poor people the hardest.

On top of this, the budget just didn’t go far enough. Perhaps the finance minister was caught up in the euphoria of Ramaphosa’s widely welcomed state of the nation address. Gigaba’s speech didn’t do enough to highlight the consequences of not doing what needs to be done. He had a great opportunity to set the path, but there wasn’t an integrated outline as to what is needed, and how the changes proposed will be implemented in a way that makes sure they complement each other.

He had the chance to set the vision, but didn’t.
Thin on detail

The budget is very thin on detail. The power utility Eskom is clearly a great concern as reference to this was highlighted quite early on in the budget speech. The minister said:

    we have demonstrated our resolve by strengthening Eskom’s board and management with highly capable, ethical and credible leadership.

Other than a brief mention of South African Airways (SAA), Gigaba made no reference to other stressed state owned enterprises such Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa and Denel. I was expecting more detail on how government plans to sort out the state owned enterprises mess.

The debt situation is frightening. The debt-service cost projections have gone up from R163.155 million in 2017/18 to R213.859 million in 2020/21. Even though he acknowledged that government debt is on an unsustainable path, he didn’t provide a clear outline about how the stabilisation of gross debt-to-GDP at 56.2% of GDP in 2022/23 will be achieved. This is just a case of kicking the can down the road.
The fate of state owned enterprises

Gigaba made a bold statement when he said:

    State-owned enterprises are expected to fund their own operations.

The only clue as to how this will be achieved is that government would help them develop robust turnaround plans.

Gigaba also mentioned that non-core assets could be sold, strategic equity partners brought in or possible injections of direct capital.

This is all well and good. But the minster wasn’t clear about the time frame, who will drive the process or how it will be done. The lack of detail doesn’t inspire confidence that there is real political will to address the dire situation of state owned enterprises.

Gigaba did touch on the systemic issues like the unacceptably high levels of corruption. But he did not do so credibly enough. He didn’t demonstrate loudly and clearly that the government wouldn’t tolerate any more transgressions in the running of public funds.

The fact that he has a cloud hanging over his head does not help the situation. One can’t help but wonder if his proposals can be taken seriously.

What people want to see is the minster drawing a line in the sand and making it abundantly clear that it can no longer be crossed. As the person who controls the public purse, this message should have been loud and clear.
Next steps

Ramaphosa has the opportunity to assemble the most respected cabinet this country has ever known. The various summits that he is calling for – such as the one on jobs – and the social compact he’s intent on securing are absolutely essential to kick start South Africa on a growth path that is able to realise inclusive economy and socioeconomic transformation.

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Thinking of taking a walk everyday? Six reasons why it’s good for you
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The Conversation/Janet Viljoen: Thinking of taking a walk everyday? Six reasons why it’s good for you

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Thinking of taking a walk everyday? Six reasons why it’s good for you
February 22, 2018 10.42am SAST
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    Janet Viljoen

    Course coordinator for postgraduate level Certificate in Ergonomics, Rhodes University

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Janet Viljoen does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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Rhodes University provides funding as a partner of The Conversation AFRICA.

The Conversation is funded by Barclays Africa and seven universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. more
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South Africa’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa has been the talk of social media with his early morning walking routine. In addition to personal walks along a Cape Town beachfront, Ramaphosa has also led a walk in the city from the townships of Gugulethu to Athlone to promote exercise as a key part of healthy living.

While many South Africans have been bemused by the fact that the busiest man in the country has time for a morning walk, studies show that walking is a good way to tackle burgeoning rates of obesity and other lifestyle diseases. These have reached epidemic proportions in developed countries and are dangerously on the rise in developing countries like South Africa which has the highest levels in Africa. With more than 8 million people diagnosed as obese it’s joined the likes of global heavyweights such as Mexico and the US.

These diseases are linked to specific dietary and lifestyle changes which includes patterns of increased eating, drinking and smoking along with reduced physical activity, and a shift to a diet high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.

There is no doubt that movement is essential for well being. The general guidelines are that 30 minutes or more of walking every day at a speed of between five and eight kilometres per hour can improve health.

And studies show that even when people don’t quite manage to walk for the recommended 30 minutes a day the benefits can still accrue. This proves that some walking is better than none at all.

For those who still need convincing, here are six reasons to take up a daily outdoor walk.
It doesn’t cost a thing

Walking outdoors is ideal when resources are limited, as a study in low income communities in South Africa shows. The community the research focused on was a high risk area for chronic lifestyle diseases.

The study showed how physical activity that promoted participation of rural communities is feasible – and accessible. The activities in turn addressed the growing burden of chronic diseases.

Walking in groups also adds an important element of safety. And it helps with motivation, as another meta-analysis which evaluated 42 studies found: when people walk in groups outdoors, they are less likely to give up too easily.
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa takes a morning walk in Cape Town. Twitter
It prevents (or delays) Type 2 diabetes

The American Diabetes Association provides strong evidence of the benefits of walking for people who have pre-diabetes, Type 2 Diabetes, or even Type 1 Diabetes.

Type two diabetes is the most common and is linked to insulin resistance (or a lack of it). Type one diabetes occurs when the body does not naturally produce sufficient insulin, and generally presents in childhood. It is not necessarily related to lifestyle habits.

About 7%, or 3.85 million South Africans between the ages of 21 and 79, have diabetes. A large proportion remain undiagnosed.
Decreases blood pressure

High blood pressure is a direct risk for stroke and heart-related illnesses and threats. Walking demonstrably reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the “first number” obtained when blood pressure is measured, and represents the pressure in the arteries at the moment the heart is actively pumping blood into the system.

Diastolic, the “second number”, represents pressure in the arteries during the heart’s rest period. In other words, it stands to reason that this pressure should be considerably lower than systolic and if it isn’t, it represents certain risk for cardiovascular event.

The reduction can be statistically significant enough to save a life. For example, if a person’s diastolic blood pressure is 90 mm Hg they would be at considerable risk of blood pressure related events. Reducing the figure by 5 mm Hg shifts them from the “mild hypertension” category of risk to “high normal”.

Current statistics show that one in three South African adults have high blood pressure. Ten South Africans suffer a stroke every hour.
It decreases body fat

Humans were designed to move for optimal functioning, and were designed to handle walking great distances over many hours.

Walking can contribute to improved body composition, with statistically significant reductions in body fat. To put this into perspective, this doesn’t include any dietary changes, and evidence shows that exercise combined with a change in diet produces greater changes to body composition than exercise alone.
Reduces symptoms of depression

Rates of depression have risen 20% globally in a decade. This places depression as the one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

Walking has been recommended for managing symptoms of depression for a long time. It’s been identified as an effective strategy, particularly when combined with the positive effects of sunshine and fresh air, as well as the social cohesion experienced when in a group.
No adverse side effects

Probably the best news: when individuals around the world participated in various walking programmes based on the review of these studies, no notable adverse side effects were reported.

Walking is safe for children, adults and older adults alike. The take home message here is that there is nothing to lose from trying it out, and plenty to gain.

    Exercise
    Lifestyle diseases
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    Wellbeing
    Hypertension
    high blood pressure
    Exercise therapy
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    Cyril Ramaphosa
    South African health
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The Conversation/Henry Zakumumpa: Beyond donor dollars for health care: how Uganda is thinking outside the box

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Beyond donor dollars for health care: how Uganda is thinking outside the box
February 22, 2018 4.14pm SAST
Author

    Henry Zakumumpa

    PhD Candidate, Makerere University

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Henry Zakumumpa does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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The Conversation is funded by Barclays Africa and seven universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. more
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Donor funding for HIV treatment has saved millions of lives in sub Saharan Africa. Shutterstock

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Over the last 15 years, there’s been a rapid increase in the number of patients receiving HIV treatment in sub-Saharan Africa. This has largely depended on foreign aid, particularly from global aid organisations such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and The Global Fund.

Millions of lives have been saved and the quality of life of those living with HIV has been improved dramatically.

In recent years there have been persistent reports of a decline in the amount of international assistance that governments are getting for HIV treatment. This has happened at the same time as there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of people who need HIV treatment. The numbers spiked significantly after the World Health Organisation announced in 2015 that everyone diagnosed with HIV should start treatment immediately.

African countries have become dependent on foreign aid to meet the escalating demand for HIV treatment. In Uganda for example, foreign aid accounts for 85% of the national HIV response.

This is a dangerous place to be. Changes in the governments of donor countries can affect foreign aid commitments. And countries receiving aid are susceptible to donors using aid as a political tool. In 2015 for example, donor aid to Uganda was temporarily halted after an anti-gay law was passed in the country.

What’s become increasingly clear is that there’s funding gap for the scale-up of antiretroviral treatment as well as service delivery. The gap is for the ongoing services that people living with HIV need, like having their viral loads tested regularly or getting multivitamins to build their immune systems.

In our research we looked at how Uganda is attempting to plug this gap with a range of innovative approaches involving different donors and for different aspects of HIV treatment.

We found that the initiatives have resulted in multiple funding streams, which in turn has increased access to the support services that people on ARVs need.
What’s not covered

In Uganda there are about 1.7 million people living with HIV. More than 750 000 of them are on antiretroviral treatment.

As part of its national HIV and AIDS strategic plan the country has committed to enrol 80% of the people living with HIV on antiretroviral treatment by 2020. Although the government has increased its domestic spending on HIV in recent years, large international funders still finance vital components of the HIV programme such as HIV drugs.

But a large part of the drive requires scaling up services and there are a number of critical areas that aren’t covered. This includes, for example:

    Medication that is administered to HIV patients for the numerous opportunistic infections they can get.

    Buying food for patients to make sure they don’t take their medication on empty stomachs.

    Paying for multivitamins and the additional nutrition support patients need to ensure they stay healthy.

    Funding community HIV outreach activities in all districts of Uganda without exception.

We looked at close to 200 health facilities across Uganda that provided emergency roll-out of HIV treatment between 2004 and 2009 to see how they coped.

Our study shows that these gaps were funded by private individuals and foundations.
How funding gap is being closed

In the Masaka region of South Western Uganda the majority of HIV clinics are funded by the California-based African Health Care Foundation. But several health facilities didn’t solely depend on foreign aid. To cover their costs they introduced innovative funding strategies.

Some introduced ‘VIP’ clinics where higher-paying patients were treated after normal working hours. They paid what was called ‘Robin Hood’ pricing because the extra money was used to support the costs of poorer patients.

Some clinics had also developed a special ‘HIV’ medical insurance scheme to help patients manage costs because these can fluctuate with HIV. By expanding private insurance coverage clinics could potentially reduce the outpatient burden in public facilities by redistributing some of the patient loads.

Several public hospitals behaved like NGOs to source funding, and had a team of grant writers on board.

Most health facilities in our survey no longer depended solely on PEPFAR and The Global Fund. They had managed to attract at least two additional funders, with many having as many as five donors.
Reducing dependency on donors

Governments in Africa should all be moving closer to fulfilling the Abuja Declaration which commits them to spending 15% of their annual budgets on the health sector. At the moment the average is no more than 5%. This would reduce the current very high levels of dependency on foreign aid.

And there are other alternatives that should be explored. In Zimbabwe, for example, HIV services are funded by a 2% levy on beer and soft drinks. Uganda has a similar initiative. But it hasn’t been implemented yet even though it’s been in the pipeline since 2014.

On top of this, as our study shows, it’s also possible to find local alternative mechanisms to improve access to HIV services.

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    Uganda
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    HIV/AIDS
    HIV stigma
    PEPFAR
    Health in Africa
    HIV SDG

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