News in brief

Pay back

A third of people in Britain are currently boycotting the products or sevices of a company because it does not pay its fair share of tax in the UK, according to a new Christian Aid survey.

Two out of three Britons believe tax avoidance is morally wrong, and 80% say that multinationals’ tax avoidance makes them feel angry.

A massive 89% of those questioned said it is unfair that they have to pay their taxes when multinationals can avoid doing so, and 85% said it is currently too easy for multinational companies to avoid tax.

Almost two-thirds of people think that strong action on tax avoidance and evasion at the G8 could help lift millions of people out of poverty around the world.

Christian Aid estimates that at present, multinationals’ tax dodging costs poor countries $160bn every year, far more than they receive in aid.

Buy back

Britain’s banks are avoiding billions in tax, using an accounting loophole, The Times reported on 1 March.

Banks borrow money by issuing IOUs called ‘bonds’. If confidence in a bank grows, the value of its bonds increases, and it could in theory cost more to buy back the bond than to pay off the money owed.

Using the ‘fair value on own credit’ rule, a bank could then enter a loss in its accounts. The loss is the extra money that it would theoretically cost the bank to buy back its own bonds, even though it won’t ever actually buy any back.

Barclays’ accounts for 2012 included a notional loss of £4.58bn under this heading. This was the main device that helped to cut taxable profits from £7bn to just £246m.

RBS’s 2012 accounts included notional losses of £4.65bn, which helped mightily in turning the group’s taxable profit from a profit of £3.4bn into a loss of £5.2bn. If a bank makes a loss, it doesn’t have to pay any taxes.

Push back

The Fellowship of Reconciliation in Wales are petitioning the Welsh national assembly to stop army recruitment in schools. See Petition P-04-432 on the national assembly website and respond to the consultation letter by 16 April.


On 29 January, Swedish peace campaigner Martin Smedjeback was sentenced to 14 days in prison for an action he carried out on 29 July 2011 with Annika Spalde. The pair entered air force base F21 in Luleå in northern Sweden and painted the air strip pink.

Nepal peace process

Things are getting rather strange in Nepal, now in the seventh year of a very convoluted peace process.

The constituent assembly, elected in 2008, is now way past its legal expiry date (extended several times) and political parties have been thrashing around for months trying to agree on what to do.

The latest wheeze, suggested by the ruling Maoists, is for the current coalition to stand down, and the chief justice of the supreme court to somehow become prime minister. Khil Raj Regmi would then oversee new elections.

Two former senior diplomats have warned that the chief justice would be in a constitutionally improper situation. He ‘will be a defendant, for instance, in the case filed by Bharat Mani Jangam questioning the constitutionality of his appointment as prime minister’.

Murari Sharma and Bhagirath Basnet note that the judges hearing this case would be aware that the chief justice would be back as their superior within months….

The breakaway Maoist party (the Real Maoists?) protested against the chief justice’s appointment with a general strike that paralysed much of the country on 19 February.

As PN went to press, it looked as if the ‘chief justice’ solution to the constitutional impasse was going to be implemented, despite last-minute efforts by the Maoists to tie the move to an amnesty for crimes committed during the civil war.

Re-occupying Palestine

Palestinian activists erected three more tent villages on Palestinian land in February. (See PN 2554 for a report on Bab al-Shams, the first of these new Palestinian settlements.)

On 2 February, the Israeli defence forces violently evicted 200 Palestinians from just outside the village of Burin, near Nablus. They had put up two large white tents and eight metal huts.

On 8 February, a tent was set up on private Palestinian land in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem to protest against the eviction of Palestinian families by Israeli forces. Dismantled by the police, campaigners have promised to continue putting the tent up every Friday.

On another front, Palestinian prisoners continue to hold hunger strikes to protest against their detention without trial.

On 17 February, hundreds gathered outside Israel’s Ofer jail, near Ramallah, in solidarity with Samer Issawi, who had been on hunger strike for 198 days, and Tareq Qaadan and Jaafar Azzidine, on 80 days. Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli forces, and soldiers pushed back the crowds and used tear gas. Some 156 Palestinians were treated for tear gas inhalation.

Downsizing XL

On 15 February, Washington DC police arrested 48 protesters in front of the White House, including Robert Kennedy Jr, former US president John F Kennedy’s nephew, and actor Daryl Hannah, at a demonstration against the massive XL pipeline project, which threatens to carry oil from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. Demonstrators had used zip-ties to attach themselves to the White House fence.

US president Barack Obama has suspended the project for an investigation into the pipe’s potential health and environmental concerns, but the environmental protection agency’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, has reportedly told ‘sources’ that the president will sign off on the project soon.

Re-entering Faslane

On 3 February, long-term peace activists Sylvia Boyes and Mary Millington were arrested attempting to enter the Faslane nuclear submarine base one week after David Cameron pledged to increase defence spending including investment in nuclear weapons. The pair were charged with criminal damage for cutting the fence and spray-painting.

Sylvia said: ‘The building work and development for the Trident replacement at Aldermaston AWE continues unabated despite the government saying no decision is to be made until the next parliament… We here in the UK must face up to our role in the silent acceptance of the proliferation of weapons of mass murder and mass destruction.’