Showing posts with label infrastructure. Show all posts
Showing posts with label infrastructure. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Courts extend European accountability laws to private actors: Italian soccer federation, Irish wind farm

Two recent court decisions in Europe construed European directives on public accountability to reach ostensibly private actors, the Italian soccer federation and an Irish wind-power producer.

Stocksnap by Michal Jarmoluk CC0
The problem of accountability for private actors performing public functions is as old as the corporate form.  Burgeoning corporatocracy in the electronic era has rendered new challenges to the classical public-private dichotomy, in recent years, especially, in the area of social media regulation (e.g., pro and con).  I have written about rethinking this problem in the context of access to information, regarding reform in both the United States and Europe, and I continue to research emerging models in the developing world.  As a general matter, Europe has been much less reticent than the United States to breach the public-private line with accountability mechanisms such as transparency laws.

In early February, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg ruled that the Italian Football Federation, or Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), an ostensibly private entity, is sometimes a public body for purposes of the 2014 European directive on public procurement.  The directive defines public bodies within its purview:

(a) they are established for the specific purpose of meeting needs in the general interest, not having an industrial or commercial character;

(b) they have legal personality; and

(c) they are financed, for the most part, by the State, regional or local authorities, or by other bodies governed by public law; or are subject to management supervision by those authorities or bodies; or have an administrative, managerial or supervisory board, more than half of whose members are appointed by the State, regional or local authorities, or by other bodies governed by public law.

The definition is not unlike formulations in state freedom of information acts in the United States, which tend to press harder against the public-private line than the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does.  A classic example of disparate approaches in the states concerns access to the wealthy private foundations that lurk behind public universities.  My colleague Professor Robert Steinbuch has been bearing the transparency standard on this front in Arkansas and is supporting a bill there now.

At issue in the Italian case was a contract for porter services when foreign squads visit Italy.  A disappointed contractor challenged the process and won a round in Italy's high administrative court, and the appellate Council of State in Italy referred the interpretation question to the CJEU.  Both in the United States and globally, governing bodies in sport, often set up as private or quasi-public entities, have posed aggravating challenges in public accountability like the university-foundation problem.  Inapplicability of the FOIA to the US Olympic Committee has been cited as a contributing factor in sexual-assault cover-ups, and last summer, I took in no fewer than three books and a TV series on the intractable corruption in world soccer.

The CJEU opinion determined that the FIGC, constituted under private law, can act as a private body when it has autonomy to form private contracts.  However, the Italian National Olympic Committee (NOC) is a public body and has supervisory power, sometimes with a controlling stake, over some FIGC functions.  Insofar as the NOC is calling the shots on contracts, the FIGC is a public body, subject to public procurement rules.  The CJEU opinion now goes back to the Italian courts to parse the specifics. 

Cronelea Wind Farm in County Wicklow, 2008
Meanwhile, in late January, the High Court of Ireland ruled that electric company Raheenleagh Power DAC (RP) is a "public authority" for purposes of the Irish enactment of the European directive on public access to environmental information.  The law and directive define public authorities:

(a) government or other public administration, including public advisory bodies, at national, regional or local level;

(b) any natural or legal person performing public administrative functions under national law, including specific duties, activities or services in relation to the environment; and

(c) any natural or legal person having public responsibilities or functions, or providing public services, relating to the environment under the control of a body or person falling within (a) or (b).

Reversing the Irish Commissioner for Environmental Information, the High Court determined that RP came within the definition's latter terms.  The court explained, "RP is a joint-venture company which operates a wind farm in a forest in the Wicklow Mountains. The wind farm supplies electricity to the national grid."  Complicating the analysis, the RP venture includes a one-half stake by the national-monopoly Electricity Supply Board (ESB), which the court described as "an independent semi-State company."

Like in the Italian case, the court reasoned that ESB control and management of RP brought it within the purview of public accountability law.  The ruling is important for the example it sets amid the wide range of public-private hybrids providing critical utility and infrastructure across Europe and the world.

Even so, I would like to have seen the court hang its hat more firmly on the functional analysis of the cited paragraph (b), rather than resorting to the paradigm of state control.  The urgent communal interests at stake in environmental protection have been a salient inducement to the extension of transparency law in Europe and Africa.  Western social democracies have been keen to ameliorate the effects of climate change, and many African regimes have awakened to lasting environmental damage inflicted by colonial enterprises.

The Italian case is FIGC v. De Vellis Servizi Globali Srl, nos. C‑155/19 and C‑156/19, ECLI:EU:C:2021:88 (CJEU Feb. 3, 2021).  Cain Burdeau has coverage for Courthouse NewsSven Demeulemeester, William Timmermans, and Matthias Ballieu have commentary for Altius in Belgium.

The Irish case is Right to Know CLG v. Commissioner for Environmental Information, [2021] IEHC 46 (High Ct. Jan. 25, 2021) (Ireland).  Mr. Justice Alexander Owens delivered the judgment.  Right to Know is a transparency advocacy organization headed by activist, blogger, and entrepreneur Gavin Sheridan and former and working journalists.  Jonathan Moore and Patrick Reilly have commentary for Field Fisher in Dublin.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Book chapter examines information access in context of Polish privatization, law and development

My colleague Gaspar Kot and I have published a book chapter entitled Private-Sector Transparency as Development Imperative: An African Inspiration.  The chapter appears in the new book, Law and Development: Balancing Principles and Values, from Springer, edited by Professors Piotr Szwedo, Dai Tamada, and me (more in the next entry on this blog).  Here is our abstract:
Access to information (ATI) is essential to ethical and efficacious social and economic development. Transparency ensures that human rights are protected and not overwhelmed by profiteering or commercial priorities. Accordingly, ATI has become recognised as a human right that facilitates the realisation of other human rights. But ATI as conceived in Western law has meant only access to the state. In contemporary development, private actors are crucial players, as they work for, with, and outside the state to realise development projects. This investment of public interest in the private sector represents a seismic shift in social, economic, and political power from people to institutions, akin to the twentieth-century creation of the social-democratic state.
Contingent on state accountability, Western ATI law has struggled to follow the public interest into the private sector. Western states are stretching ATI law to reach the private sector upon classical rationales for access to the state. In Poland, hotly contested policy initiatives over privatisation and public reinvestment have occasioned this stretching of ATI law in the courts. Meanwhile, in Africa, a new model for ATI has emerged. Since the reconstruction of the South African state after Apartheid, South African ATI law has discarded the public-private divide as prohibitive of access. Rather than focusing on the nature of a private ATI respondent’s activity as determinative of access, South African law looks to the demonstrated necessity of access to protect human rights.
This chapter examines cases from South Africa that have applied this new ATI model to the private sector in areas with development implications. For comparison, the article then examines the gradually expanding but still more limited Western approach to ATI in the private sector as evidenced in Polish ATI law. This research demonstrates that amid shifting power in key development areas such as energy and communication, Polish courts have been pressing ATI to work more vigorously in the private sector upon theories of attenuated state accountability, namely public ownership, funding, and function. We posit that Poland, and other states in turn, should jettison these artifices of state accountability and look instead to the South African model, since replicated elsewhere in Africa, for direct access to the private sector. ATI law should transcend the public-private divide, and the nations of the North and West should recognise human rights as the definitive rationale for ATI in furtherance of responsible development.
Gaspar Kot
With Mr. Kot's help, this chapter extends to a European context my previously published comparative work on private-sector information access. Gaspar's expertise was invaluable for Polish legal research, to be sure, but moreover to help me to understand Poland's richly complex, on-again-off-again courtship of privatization.

In earlier works, I compared the South African approach with the United States FOIA and with Indian RTI law.  I am excited about this approach in access-to-information law, which is now gaining traction elsewhere in Africa, because I believe it to be a potential game-changer in saving democracy and human dignity from corporatocracy. I am spending some of my sabbatical time this semester in Africa and other parts of the developing world studying how this approach is especially salient in the context of problems in social and economic development.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Zimbabweans still await their development moment

Robert Mugabe airport.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.
In Harare, Zimbabwe, my host (whose identity I am protecting) brought me up to speed on national politics and the present fuel shortage. I had been under the impression that the exit from nearly 30-year rule of President Robert Mugabe, with subsequent electoral fanfare, marked a turning point for the southern African nation. Alas, my host reported that the new regime of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is same story, different day.

Zimbabwe imports its oil, but there is no ready explanation, such as a natural disaster or embargo, to explain the latest (nor the prior) bottleneck and long gas lines. My host blames politics as usual, which means control of the country's oil market awarded to cartels in exchange for lucrative kickbacks to politicians. A business owner dependent on vehicles to move assets, my host explained the strategies he employs to keep his fleet in service, including foreign currency purchases, which can bypass gas lines; fuel storage for a rainy day; the occasional financial inducement to a fuel seller; and, when all else fails, waiting in the interminable lines.

A gas line runs along the road.

A Total station is closed except for its 'Bonjour' shop.
The high ratio of pedestrians to vehicles on the streets of Harare is like none I've seen elsewhere in a major city, as even minibuses are in short supply for want of fuel. There are taxi stands, but the cabs are decidedly parked and not cruising for customers. My host said that the aforementioned politicians never seem to be wanting for fuel, though. Indeed, around Parliament and the executive administration building, I saw many official vehicles, and early in the morning, I saw workers filling their gas tanks from fuel cans. Entrepreneurial roving street merchants, who might be selling bananas, nuts, or newspapers in another city, hawk fuel cans and funnels in Harare.

Customers wait for the grocery store to open in the morning.
Another curiosity that struck me in Harare was crowds of people around and in the grocery stores. Outside a CBD branch of the popular market chain OK were a score of peddlers bearing cardboard signs showing numbers. My host explained that, in tandem with Zimbabwe's economic woes, and also a function of corruption, he asserted, runs the country's currency shortage. Indeed, I paid always with U.S. dollars, received change in same, and never saw other than inflationary Zim notes being sold as touristic novelties. In part because of the currency shortage, and to prevent a run on banks, people are restricted in bank withdrawals. That means one must go more often to the grocery store. But people have adapted, and they do have access to their money through electronic devices. The peddlers outside the stores are brokers, or internet-age money changers, who, for a competitive cut, convert electronic bank balance into hard currency to spend on groceries that don't directly accept debit or public assistance payments.

My host lamented: Zimbabwe is a country rich in natural resources and natural beauty to rival regional neighbors such as Tanzania and South Africa. Yet in 55 years since independence from the UK, the country inexcusably has failed to mature domestic productivity or the touristic sector. Sadly, coup d'etat and the long-anticipated exit of Mugabe seem not to have precipitated meaningful change.

Just wait, my host said: if the people don't see improvements, they'll change leadership again; and again, until someone gets it right.

Zimbabwe Parliament building sits on Africa Unity Square.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Poor development choices may bolster quality-of-life disparity on Tanzania's Msasani Peninsula

 Coco Beach, Msasani Peninsula, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.


The short length of Coco Beach is the touristic gem of Tanzania's largest city, Dar es Salaam, which, for all its rugged charms, is not rich with touristic gems. Coco Beach sits on the eastern, Indian Ocean, coast of the ritzy Msasani Peninsula, just a few kilometers northwest of the CBD.

Msasani says a lot about wealth stratification in Africa. The worsening wealth gap is an issue that vexes me in the United States. But we've got nothing on many an African country. Where subsistence living is the norm, and social safety nets are nearly non-existent, the disparity between haves and have-nots gets closer at each end to all and nothing. And as on Msasani, the extremes are often abruptly juxtaposed. The peninsula is home to subsistence fishermen, and the polluted beaches of the slipway, in the west, and the luxury condominiums of posh Oyster Bay, in the east.

Luxury condo building on the road from Oyster Bay to Sea Cliff Village
I walked the peninsula from west to east and saw, in the span of just a few kilometers, ramshackle wood dwellings on potholed dirt trails without plumbing, in the west and center, and gated condo complexes with marble-esque, statued facades, in the east. While the former teemed with human life, the latter were eerily vacant, deserted of all but the occasional maintenance worker. I assume the condos are mostly second-home getaways and vacation rentals for the well-to-do in high season and on weekends. (I was reminded of the dark-windowed high rises that loom over Central Park West, New York.)

Qatar's is the most modest of the beachfront embassies.
At that, the most striking residences of the eastern Msasani are not luxury homes, but foreign embassies, including those of Qatar, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. (The U.S. embassy and others are in Oyster Bay, but in the interior.) They line the main coastal road that runs between Oyster Bay and Coco Beach, which runs on northward to swank Sea Cliff Village and the Yacht Club.

Present service structures on Coco Beach, astride road construction.
At present, it isn't easy to cross this road, because a massive construction project runs all along the length of Coco Beach. I had hoped that this construction would improve the beach for touristic use that might fuel economic development to benefit the peninsula's have-nots. What passes for services on the beachfront now are wood shacks of dubious hygiene, selling drinks and snacks that might prove hazardous to foreign GI tracts. One municipal toilet building has seen better days and is now inaccessible anyway because of the construction. Alas, no, a local on the beach informed me: The purpose of the construction is to convert the shoulderless, two-lane, asphalt coast road into a four-lane highway, because, he said, the embassies want better and more secure access.

Nearly completed end of beachfront highway entering the CBD.
Many an American city can today tell tales of costly woe for having built transportation and utility infrastructure along prime waterfront property. It's bad enough that embassies, with their high, secure walls, occupy this land on the peninsula to begin with. Their inefficient use of prime real estate, distant from the administrative offices of the CBD, and in the company of Tanzania's "one percent" and cloistered ex-pats, sounds an awakward echo of colonial elitism.  To boot, now, the embassies and luxury homes will soon be served by a four-lane road that will further limit public access from the peninsula to the already underdeveloped beachfront.

Tanzania in 1974 moved its capital de jure to central Dodoma, in an effort to broaden economic opportunity in the country beyond Dar es Salaam. Nevertheless, concentration of development in Dar is still a problem that plagues the country. A businessman in the northeastern town of Arusha told me there's mounting resentment there about rural taxes paying for big-city infrastructure. (Boston says hello, western Massachusetts.) Maybe foreign nations can help Tanzania take a step forward by transferring their embassies from walled beachfront luxury to central locations with better access to government, whether Dar or Dodoma, on condition that appropriate public development of the Msasani Peninsula be left in their wake.  After all, foreign diplomatic posting is supposed to be a hardship, and it's compensated accordingly.

The new highway runs in front of the historic Ocean Road Hospital, where a street sign bears a familiar name.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Social-science saucebox opines on bike-bridge closures

A reporter stopped me on a run last week to obtain my critical policy analysis of the bridge-replacement situation on the East Bay Bike Path.  Suffice to say, my testimony was breathless.


Watch at NBC 10 Providence.