Monday, October 31, 2016
Saudi FM sacked in effort to remake economy; Tata's dented image; Alarming deforestation for avocados
1 Saudi FM sacked in effort to remake economy (Straits Times) Saudi Arabia's Finance Minister for two decades was replaced on Monday, the latest in a series of government shake-ups as the world's largest oil exporter tries to remake its economy.
A royal order excused Mr Ibrahim Al-Assaf from his post and replaced him with Mr Mohammed Al-Jadaan, formerly head of the kingdom's Capital Markets Authority. Mr Al-Assaf was appointed a state minister and will remain a member of the Cabinet.
Low crude prices have battered Saudi Arabia's economy and opened a hole in its budget that reached nearly $100 billion last year. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced Saudi Vision 2030 in April to overhaul the kingdom's economy and government.
A Cabinet reshuffle in May replaced long-time Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi as well as other top officials but left Mr Al-Assaf in his position, making him the longest serving minister in the kingdom. Mr Al-Assaf was one of three officials who appeared on a popular Saudi talk show this month to defend recent austerity measures implemented by the government. The ministers' performance was criticised by many Saudis who said they were unconvinced.
2 Tata’s dented image (Yogita Limaye on BBC) "Trust", "trustworthy", "reliable", "prestigious" - these are the answers I got when I asked a few people to give me a word that they associated with India’s Tata brand. So the ugly public spat between the Tata group and its ousted chairman, Cyrus Mistry, is not just an upheaval for the corporate world here. It has shaken the faith of millions of ordinary Indians.
The respect that people feel for the group, to a large extent, comes from the stature of the men who have led the company over the years: from its visionary founder, Jamsetji Tata, to the pioneering JRD Tata who was chairman of the group for more than 50 years and, in recent decades, Ratan Tata, who was behind the firm's global expansion.
Ratan Tata managed to keep his reputation as one of India's most revered business leaders intact. In 2012, at the age of 75, he retired after serving as chairman of the Tata group for more than 20 years. The day he stepped down, newspapers were full of glowing commentaries about him. Four years later, the cautious and private man finds himself at the centre of a bitter controversy.
In a letter to the Tata board, sacked chairman Cyrus Mistry accused Mr Tata of interfering in the running of the company and thrusting business decisions on him. Tata Sons has rejected the claims, saying Mr Mistry was given complete autonomy. But the allegations have sowed the seeds of doubt in the minds of many.
"It has dented the reputation of Mr Tata," says Rajiv Kumar from think tank Centre for Policy Research. "It demonstrates that he wasn't as hands off as he claimed and he took part in decisions or at least tried to influence decisions. It shows that he found it difficult to go away."
It is unclear how this dispute will play out in the coming days. Both sides have been frantically consulting lawyers. This, even as most of the group's companies struggle to make money.
It has certainly left Tata's employees and investors worried but the overwhelming feeling among people is one of sadness, a sense of despondency at watching a name that India feels proud of being dragged through the mud.
3 Alarming deforestation for avocados (San Francisco Chronicle) Deforestation caused by the expansion of Mexican avocado orchards is much higher than previously thought, authorities have said.
Talia Coria, an official in the attorney general's office for environmental protection, said almost 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) of forest land are converted to agricultural uses each year in the western state of Michoacan, the world's top producer of avocados.
Coria said between 30 percent and 40 percent of the annual forest loss is due to avocados. That is about 15,000 to 20,000 acres (6,000 to 8,000 hectares). Experts say a mature avocado orchard uses almost twice as much water as fairly dense forest, meaning less water reaches Michoacan's legendary crystalline mountain streams on which trees and animals in the forests depend.
Guillermo Haro, the attorney general for environmental protection, said Michoacan grows about eight out of 10 avocados exported worldwide, but added that the state's forests "are a wealth greater than any export of avocados."
Mexico's National Institute for Forestry, Farming and Fisheries Research had previously estimated the loss of forest land to avocado planting at about 1,700 acres (690 hectares) a year from 2000 through 2010. However, the rising popularity of the fruit and higher prices have apparently lured growers to expand orchards faster in recent years.
The largely impoverished state depends on avocado growing and harvesting for jobs and income as an alternative to the rampant production of synthetic drugs that also exists in the state. Coria said authorities have begun meetings with avocado producers to discuss the problem of deforestation. She noted that other agricultural sectors, such as berry and peach farms and cattle ranches, have contributed to deforestation in Michoacan.