Greece scrambles to finalise fiscal reform; HSBC chief holds Swiss bank account; India air pollution cuts 660m lives short by 3 years

1 Greece scrambles to finalise fiscal reform (Helena Smith in The Guardian) Greek government officials are racing to complete a list of reform proposals that will be scrutinised by the country’s international creditors this week as Athens seeks an extension to its €240bn bailout.

Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, sent draft proposals to creditors at the European Union, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Sunday, in order to receive feedback before making a formal submission by Monday’s deadline. If the reforms are accepted, Friday’s tentative agreement for a vital four-month loan extension will go ahead.

Claiming Greece was “at the start of a new phase” as it prepares for a four-month reprieve that will allow it to devise its own economic agenda, the politician said the inventory would include labour law reforms and changes to legislation regarding non-performing loans. Both are seen as especially sensitive for a nation worn down by five years of gruelling austerity – the price of its rescue funds.

Alexis Tsipras’s government, catapulted into power a month ago, is playing a delicate balancing act between placating the bodies keeping Greece afloat and sticking to the anti-austerity policies on which it was elected. Highlighting the difficulties the government would almost certainly face, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, conceded that Athens would have “a hard time explaining the deal to Greek voters”.

2 HSBC chief holds Swiss bank account (BBC) HSBC has confirmed that its chief executive Stuart Gulliver uses a Swiss bank account to hold his bonuses. The bank was responding to a report in the Guardian that Mr Gulliver has £5m in the account which he controls using a Panamanian company. The bank pointed out that Mr Gulliver lives in Hong Kong and pays taxes there and has also paid any taxes required in the UK. The statement did not mention the Panamanian company.

The Guardian article does not suggest any wrongdoing on Mr Gulliver’s behalf, but it will add to the questions over HSBC’s activities in the tax advisory business. Allegations emerged earlier this month that HSBC had helped people evade UK tax using hidden HSBC accounts in Geneva. The Financial Conduct Authority, HMRC, Swiss prosecutors and MPs on the Treasury Committee are looking into the allegations.

Last weekend the bank published an apology – signed by Stuart Gulliver – to its customers and staff adding that it had completely overhauled how it conducted its business since 2008. The former director of public prosecutions, Lord Ken Macdonald, has said HSBC has left itself open to criminal charges in the UK over the tax-dodging scandal. The QC said there were strong grounds to investigate the bank for “cheating” HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

3 India air pollution cuts 660m lives short by 3 years (San Francisco Chronicle) India’s filthy air is cutting 660 million lives short by about three years, according to research that underlines the hidden costs of the country’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels to power its economic growth with little regard for the environment.

While New Delhi last year earned the dubious title of being the world’s most polluted city, India’s air pollution problem is extensive, with 13 Indian cities now on the World Health Organization’s list of the 20 most polluted.

That nationwide pollution burden is estimated to be costing more than half of India’s population at least 3.2 years of their lives, according to the study, led by Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago and involving environmental economists from Harvard and Yale universities. It estimates that 99.5 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people are breathing in pollution levels above what the WHO deems as safe.

“The extent of the problem is actually much larger than what we normally understand,” said one of the study’s co-authors, Anant Sudarshan, the India director of the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago. “We think of it as an urban problem, but the rural dimension has been ignored.” Added up, those lost years come to a staggering 2.1 billion for the entire nation, the study says.


About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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