Privatising WestConnex is the biggest waste of public funds for corporate gain in Australian history



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Gladys Berejiklian’s government will pay for much of WestConnex construction, give away other toll roads, guarantee annual toll increases and force motorists to use the toll road.
AAP Image/Joel Carrett

Christopher Standen, University of Sydney

The NSW government has confirmed it will sell 51% of WestConnex — the nation’s biggest road infrastructure project — to a consortium led by Transurban, the nation’s biggest toll road corporation.

NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet described the A$9.3 billion sale to one of his party’s more generous donors as a “very strong result”.

I would describe it differently: the biggest misuse of public funds for corporate gain in Australia’s history.

Let’s examine how much public funding has been or will be sunk into WestConnex, a 33km toll road linking western Sydney with southwestern Sydney via the inner west.

Privatising Westconnex will return the NSW government 30 cents for every dollar of public money spent.
WestConnex Business Case Executive Summary

To date, the NSW and federal governments have provided grants of about $6 billion. Much of this was raised through selling revenue-generating public assets, including NSW’s electricity network.

Hiding privatisation by stealth

As well, the NSW government is bundling three publicly owned motorways into the sale: the M4 (between Parramatta and Homebush), the M5 East and the M5 Southwest (from 2026). Together, Credit Suisse values these public assets at A$9.2 billion. The government is privatising them by stealth. Leaked NSW cabinet documents suggest the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be next.

Then there is the A$1.5 billion bill for property acquisitions and the millions spent on planning, advertising, consultants, lawyers and bankers.

The government is funding extra road works to help prop up WestConnex toll revenue. It will increase the capacity of road corridors feeding into the interchanges. But it will reduce the number of traffic lanes on roads competing with WestConnex, such as Parramatta Road.




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It will also pick up the bill for building a A$2.6 billion airport connection and the complex underground interchange at Rozelle. It will even pay compensation if the latter is not completed on schedule.

To further bolster toll revenue, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian introduced a vehicle registration cashback scheme for toll-road users.

Her government has also committed to continuing the M5 Southwest toll cashback scheme. The cost of these incentives to the public purse is likely to exceed A$2 billion every ten years.

In total, I estimate the NSW government is pumping more than A$23 billion worth of cash, public assets, enabling works and incentives into WestConnex — though efforts to shield the scheme from public scrutiny mean the figure could be much higher.

Finally, as part of the deal with Transurban, the government has agreed to plough A$5.3 billion of the sale proceeds back into WestConnex. It’s recouping just A$4 billion by selling majority ownership.

This translates to a financial return of 34 cents for every dollar spent.

Government expenses and receipts.

Of course, governments don’t always spend our money with the intention of making a profit. Usually there are broader social benefits that justify the expenditure. However, past experience shows inner-city motorways do more harm than good — which is why many cities around the world are demolishing them.

Given its proximity to residential areas, WestConnex will have serious impacts on Sydney’s population. Construction is already destroying communities, harming people’s health and disrupting sleep and travel — with years more to come.

Motorists who cannot afford the new tolls on the M4 ($2,300 a year) and M5 East ($3,100 a year) will have to switch to congested suburban roads. This will mean longer journey times — especially with the removal of traffic lanes on Parramatta Road.

New tolls on existing motorways.

Those who do opt to pay the new tolls may enjoy faster journeys for a few years — until the motorways fill up again.

Costs outweigh the benefits

But this benefit will be largely cancelled out by the tolls they have to pay — with low-income households in western Sydney bearing much of the pain. As such, the ultimate beneficiary will be a corporation that pays no company tax and employs very few people.

Traffic and congestion on roads around the interchanges will increase significantly. Moreover, with tolls for trucks three times those for cars, we can expect to see them switching to suburban and residential streets — especially between peak hours and at night.

The extra traffic created by WestConnex will lead to more road trauma, traffic noise and air pollution across the Sydney metropolitan area. With unfiltered smokestacks being built next to homes and schools, more people may be at risk of heart disease, lung disease and cancer in years to come.




Read more:
Big road projects don’t really save time or boost productivity


On any measure, the WestConnex sale is not in the public interest. The billions of dollars ploughed into the scheme would have been better spent on worthwhile infrastructure or services that improve people’s lives.

Is the WestConnex acquisition a good deal for Transurban? A$9.3 billion may sound like a high price, given the past financial collapses of other Australian toll roads.

However, with the Berejiklian government agreeing to fund most of the remaining construction, giving away the M4 and M5, guaranteeing annual toll increases of at least 4%, and bending over backwards to force motorists under the toll gantries, it can only be described as a “very strong result” for the consortium, though not for taxpayers.The Conversation

Christopher Standen, Transport Analyst, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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If the NBN and Snowy Hydro 2.0 were value for money, would we know?


Rosalind Dixon, UNSW and Richard Holden, UNSW

When Malcolm Turnbull wrote to his electorate last week outlining his
achievements he listed economic growth, jobs, same-sex marriage and a number of really big construction projects including the Western Sydney airport, Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail, and Snowy Hydro 2.0.

Some people will like those and other big projects, some will not. But, combined, they are going to cost more than $75 billion over the next ten years, so it is worth asking as a separate (threshold) question whether they are likely to be value for money.

For some of them, such as the National Broadband Network or the Gonski education
reforms, its worth asking whether we might get better value if we spent even more. Turnbull’s downsizing of Labor’s original NBN plan made it cheaper, but not necessarily better.

For goods provided for a social purpose, value for money is about more than profit. But social returns often get left out of the equations because they are harder to measure. In a paper to be launched on Monday night as part of the University of NSW Grand Challenge on Inequality, we put forward a mechanism for considering both together.

How it’s done in the private sector

In the private sector any significant investment decision requires a summation of future costs and benefits discounted (cut) by a few per cent each year to accord with the reality that future costs and benefits matter less to us than immediate payoffs or costs.

If the project makes sense when the discount rate is set at or above the firm’s cost of capital (or hurdle rate of return) it is worth agreeing to. If its benefits are so far into the future that they only make sense with a very low discount rate it is said to be not worth proceeding with.




Read more:
The NBN: how a national infrastructure dream fell short


There is no reason why we can’t do the same for public sector projects as well, although assessing the benefits is complicated.

This is where the revolution in empirical economics and social science over the last two decades comes in.

How to measure what’s hard to measure

Consider a proposal to lengthen the school day by two hours. The costs are relatively easy to calculate: some more teacher time, slightly larger utility bills. Maybe some more pencils.

The benefits are more complex. Does a longer school day lead to better educational outcomes? What does that lead to late in life? How can we tell?

Modern social science has a well-refined method for answering these questions – the randomised controlled trial. Take 50 randomly selected schools and lengthen their school day, then compare the outcomes on standardised tests to a group of control schools. This reveals the true, causal impact of a longer school day on test scores.

Test scores are obviously not an end in themselves, but these can then be mapped all the way through into high school and post-secondary outcomes, and then into labour market and later life outcomes. This would naturally involve understanding the impact on earnings, but also outcomes such as crime and physical and mental health.

Answering these questions persuasively is what modern social science, armed with amazing data and great computing power, does extremely well. Just as a pharmaceutical trial gives one group, say, heart medication and another group a placebo, randomised trials can increasingly guide public policy.

Trying it out

Our study includes a demonstration of that sort of analysis on the money that will spent on the National Broadband Network and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

We find that, taking into account social benefits such as telemedicine and the expansion of skills, the money being spent on the NBN will make sense even at a very high discount rate of 15.2%. Labor’s original more expensive fibre-to-the-premises model would have made sense at an even higher discount rate of 21.1%.




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Explainer: how much does the NDIS cost and where does this money come from?


The benefits of the National Disability Insurance System are harder to measure. But, when account is taken of the value of reducing stress in carers and value of independence to those being cared for, it too becomes worthwhile at reasonable discount rates.

Politics, and political debate, will still need ultimately to control these sorts of investment decisions.

But the debate would be far better if we had a common language for assessing the relevant costs and benefits, and a more principled way of prioritising the competing demands on the public purse.The Conversation

Rosalind Dixon, Professor of Law, UNSW and Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Here’s what happens to aid projects when the money dries up and the spotlight fades



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Aid projects in Iraq had more money than ideas.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

Denis Dragovic, University of Melbourne

As a former aid worker, I often wondered about what happened to the projects I worked on years later. Did the anti-corruption commission we founded itself become corrupt? Having given grants to women to start businesses, did the men allow them to work? And what about the community trained in maintaining the water pumps – did they see through their part of the bargain?

Evaluations, lauded by donors, report on a moment of time when the gloss is still shining. We don’t care, or possibly dare, to look back five or ten years later to see what happened.

I did. I wanted to know what happened to the projects and the people from a decade of aid work spanning East Timor, Iraq and South Sudan. I bought airline tickets, wrangled visas, and set off on a journey that changed my view of the aid industry.

Government problems hobble South Sudan

These trips weren’t about measuring the impact of certain projects, as too much time had passed. They were more about understanding. My colleagues and I had started along a journey without knowing how the story would end.




Read more:
Development aid works over time, but must adapt to 21st-century needs


My first return visit was to South Sudan. It came nearly a decade after I had worked supporting a refugee camp in Wau, which was established in the late 1990s following a civil war and famine.

The camp had established itself organically, so there was a spaghetti logic to its layout. By the time I had arrived in the early 2000s, international attention had moved on, so there were limited resources available. My job was to wind down and close out activities.

A decade later, the camp had become a small town struggling to survive. Water pumps and wash points were mostly broken. We’d trained people on how to maintain them, but the government that had agreed to provide the spare parts appeared to have had a change of heart.

It took some time before I learned that the state officials refused to give the former refugees property rights. As a result, families didn’t invest in their homes for fear of making them even more attractive for appropriation.

State officials in South Sudan refused to give former refugees property rights.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

Did aid make a difference in Iraq?

After South Sudan I returned to Iraq, travelling first to the north and then to Najaf, the centre of religious learning and home to Iraq’s powerful Shi’a Ayatollahs.

Iraq didn’t face the same shortage of resources as South Sudan: quite the opposite. There was more money than ideas.

I first arrived in Iraq a few months after the invasion in 2003; I moved straight to my posting in the conservative cities of Najaf and Karbala. We rehabilitated water treatment plants and parts of the regional hospital, provided psychosocial support to children, helped the disabled, and distributed humanitarian aid.

We were a one-stop shop for assistance, competing with the government and local religious charities.

Returning several years later and speaking with the governor, an ayatollah, and former staff who had become politicians and community leaders, the consensus was that had we not arrived, it would have only been a matter of months – or at most a year – before the same work would have been done by the authorities or the local community.

The same aid work in northern Iraq could have been undertaken by local authorities.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

East Timor didn’t lack money – just sense

From the deserts of Iraq, my final stop was the lush tropics of East Timor. This was where I started my aid career in 2000 as a shelter engineer.

A decade separated the shelter distribution and my return visit. My memories had faded, but luckily I had stayed in touch with a former colleague who undertook the journey with me.

We were on the trail of houses built from a shelter distribution program. Surprisingly, many were still standing, with extensions and improvements tacked on. The pressing issue then – and what was evident during my return visit – wasn’t a lack of money, but how it was spent.

The then sovereign authority, the United Nations, had treated its responsibility as a factory production line churning out widgets, rather than as community development. It implemented off-the-shelf projects in an accelerated timeframe.

Plans called for consultation and engagement, but the reality became a race toward inputs and outputs. The culture of the international bureaucracy had won over the culture of the people.

The culture of the international bureaucracy won out over the culture of the East Timorese people.
Denis Dragovic, Author provided

The lessons learned

Through a mix of hitching rides on military convoys, slipping into Iraq on a pilgrim’s visa, or relying upon the goodwill of former colleagues, I managed to achieve what I had set out to – meet with beneficiaries, former staff and local leaders to hear what they thought about our work.

Each person had a story to tell; each place had a different lesson. But what was true in every location was the importance of the people.

The “stuff” we gave, the “things” we built: they became worn and broken. But the people we worked with, invested in and empowered continued to develop and grow. They took the skills and experience with them to new lives as business, community and political leaders who continued to transform their countries long after we had departed.

It’s a salient lesson to remember: the one and only truly sustainable activity we do is help people help themselves.


The ConversationDenis Dragovic’s new book No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis is published by Odyssey Books.

Denis Dragovic, Honorary Senior Fellow, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Zimbabwe’s financial system is living on borrowed time – and borrowed money



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An illegal money changer holds bond notes outside a bank in Zimbabwe’s capital Harare.
Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

Roger Southall, University of the Witwatersrand

Zimbabwe’s financial system increasingly resembles a house of cards. Were one card to give way – for instance, if South Africa’s power utility, Eskom, were to have the temerity to suggest that Zimbabwe actually pay for the electricity that it’s supplying the country – the entire edifice would collapse.

To put it another way, the government is bust. It is again printing money to cover its spiralling costs, and inflation is rising. And given that there’s an election looming in 2018, Zimbabwe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF doesn’t want to cut-back. Far from it, it wants to carry on spending, as fast as it can.

The rot goes back to the early 2000’s. ZANU-PF profligacy had been fuelled by acontinuous cycle of simply printing more money, and resultant runaway inflation. Mega-inflation meant that ordinary people lost their pensions and whatever savings they had, as the Zimbabwe dollar lost its value and people resorted to barter or the use of other currencies.

Ultimately, the government faced no choice but to accept reality. In 2008 it scrapped the Zimbabwe dollar in favour of a basket of other currencies, although within a short time, this meant in effect the reign of the US dollar.

“Dollarisation” allowed for the pursuit of more rational policies by the coalition Government of National Unity which followed the disputed 2008 election. However, its control of the electoral machinery ensured that ZANU-PF won a resounding victory in the 2013 election. Within a short space of time it returned to its familiar policy mix of profligacy, corruption and populist economics.

Yet ZANU-PF faced major problems. Above all, “dollarisation” meant that the cost of Zimbabwe’s exports on international markets was high. Worse, the dramatic collapse in agricultural production since the early 2000s (following the appropriation of white farms) alongside the decimation of the country’s manufacturing industries meant that there was relatively little to export anyway. Tobacco production has recovered a little, but the quality is less than it used to be, so returns are relatively less.

Meanwhile government insistence that mines should be 51% Zimbabwean owned has done nothing to entice inward investment or boost exports.

In short, the capacity of the economy to earn US dollars by selling goods externally has fallen dramatically, and the supply of money circulating within the country has dried up. Unemployment stands at around 90%.

President Robert Mugabe’s latest response has been to replace finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, who had been warning of the structure’s fragility in ever more urgent tones. The new finance minister is Ignatius Chombo, a party loyalist, who will brook no talk of any need for structural reform.

The bond notes

Faced by a looming crisis, the ZANU-PF government has resorted to three key strategies.

One has been the issue of “bond notes” (of different denominations) by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Officially, they’re designed to swell the amount of money in circulation within the country. The problem is that apart from having no value outside the country, nobody trusts them as they have been issued by a ZANU-PF government, and it was this government that presided over the hyperinflation.

ZANU-PF’s announcement that it was issuing bond notes was met with a run on the banks as depositors sought to withdraw dollars as fast as they could. Their assumption was that this was a government ploy to reintroduce the Zimbabwean dollar. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe responded by limiting the amount of dollars individuals could withdraw.

People are reluctant to use the bond notes. But they’re still sometimes forced to accept them because of the sheer shortage of “real” money. As a result when they can, they rush off to the local bus station where they can sell them for dollars to currency traders – albeit illegally.

The second strategy has been the rapid expansion of country’s ability to manage electronic transactions. Its aim has been to expand the amount of money in circulation without using up “real” dollars.

Accordingly, government employees are now largely paid electronically Similarly, government employees (and everyone else) now pay nearly all their bills within the country electronically.

And Zimbabweans are rarely able to convert the notional sums of dollars they hold in the bank into real cash – unless they make use of the currency traders in illegal transactions.

Meanwhile, with the rate of inflation continuing to rise combined with the widespread lack of faith in the banks, many Zimbabweans spend their bank balances on consumer goods as quickly as possible rather than attempting to “save”. After all, if times get hard, you won’t be able to get rid of your bond notes, but you may be able to sell your fridge.

Fanciful financial system

But it’s the third strategy which the government has pursued which is really fuelling a fanciful financial system.

Since 2013, government expenditure has steadily increased year by year, despite the country earning very little internationally. The ZANU-PF government may have hoped to fund this by its old trick of literally printing money, that is, by expanding the supply of bond notes.

But such was the negative popular sentiment that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe seems to have restricted their issue. Supposedly the issue of bond notes is backed by a USD$200 loan by the Afreximbank, but no-one really knows how many have been issued because the central bank provides no information.

What the government has done instead is to fund its rising costs by issuing treasury bills (whereby the government touts for loans on the capital market against promises of later redemption). No-one in their right mind would want to buy them, but Zimbabwe’s banks today have little option. As inward investment into the country has dried up to a trickle, there is little else for them to spend their money on, and the interest rates that the government promises to pay are, at face value, attractively high.

The coalition government of national unity recorded budget surpluses for three of the four full years in which the opposition controlled the Treasury. For its part, the ZANU-PF government recorded deficits of USD$186 million and USD$125 million in 2014 and 2015. Recently, the then finance minister Chinamasa projected a deficit of USD$1.41 billion for 2017. As of June 30, 2017, there were USD$2.5 billion worth of Treasury bills on issue.

The ConversationIn other words, the spending will continue. Zimbabwe’s financial system is living on borrowed time and borrowed money. It will again end in financial ruin, as it did in 2008. But all ZANU-PF cares about is ensuring that it wins the next election and allowing its political elite to “eat”.

Roger Southall, Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

It may not be beautiful but the new ten dollar note is pretty secure


Tom Spurling, Swinburne University of Technology and David Solomon, University of Melbourne

You might notice a new blue and gold addition to your wallet in the next few weeks as the Reserve Bank of Australia releases the new A$10 note into circulation. The new series of Australian banknotes are not a designer’s dream but they are the strongest yet in terms of preventing counterfeiting.

The first of its kind polymer note was introduced by the Reserve Bank of Australia in July 1992. This A$5 banknote was arguably the most secure banknote in circulation anywhere in the world.

But in the intervening 25 years banknote security technology, for both polymer and paper banknotes, has improved and Australia’s first polymer notes were no longer world leading. These new notes take us back to being a world leader in this technology or at least equal to the new £10 “Jane Austin” banknote released recently by the Bank of England.


Read more: Our punk, jarring five dollar note: so bad it’s good or just bad?


The next new banknote to be released will be the A$50, planned for 2018 and the A$20 and A$100 in later years. The new A$50 banknote will be particularly important since, in 2016, nearly 84% of our counterfeit notes are of that denomination.

The rate of counterfeit notes is usually quoted as the number of counterfeits per million notes in circulation (ppm). Issuing authorities usually like the number to be under 50ppm.

Canada had the highest rate of counterfeiting before adopting the polymer note, it reached a peak of 470ppm in 2004 and stayed high until the release of their polymer banknotes in 2011. Their rate is now around 10ppm.

In contrast to this, the Australian rate rose to about 15ppm towards the end of the first decimal paper money series but dropped dramatically to 1 or 2ppm when the polymer notes were introduced. The rate rose to as high as 25ppm in 2015.

There are a number of reasons for this. Computing and printing equipment has become more sophisticated and cheaper. Quality printing on polymer is now possible with modern printing and copying equipment.

Also counterfeiters need only simulate a banknote, not reproduce it exactly, to fool us. In 2016 31,682 counterfeits were used before they were detected.

However not all fakes go unnoticed. For example, the “waxy” feeling of a A$10 banknote in 1966 failed to fool a milk bar owner in Ashburton and the forgers were apprehended within a few hours.



Reserve Bank of Australia/The Conversation

The new banknotes retain all of the security features of the first series of polymer banknotes, but with some new additions.

The A$10 note is still printed on the same polymer material, has a clear window and has micro-printed verses from the poems of Banjo Paterson and Mary Gilmore. All polymer banknotes internationally have these two features as neither can be reproduced on paper copying machines.

Both the new A$5 and A$10 banknotes include a top to bottom clear area with a number of devices that change colour when moved or when exposed to different light sources. These are called “optically variable devices”.

These are similar to the original 1988 A$10 commemorative banknote that had a diffraction grating, fine metal lines that when exposed to the light change colour, depicting Captain Cook. The devices in the new banknotes are like this but use more robust technology.

The new notes also have a tactile feature to assist vision impaired users. The A$5 note has one raised dot on the top left hand area and another on the bottom central area. The A$10 banknote has two raised dots. These first appeared on the Canadian polymer banknotes in 2011 and are also on the new Bank of England notes.

Another new feature on both the A$5 and A$10 banknotes is that the serial number and the year of printing fluoresce under UV light. This is quite common technology because its used in paper notes as well.

Polymer notes started in Australia

One of the reasons why the currency of other countries has become as secure as ours is the commercial and technical success of the company that produces the polymer substrate used in the notes.

In the early 1990s the Belgium chemical company, Union Chimique Belge (UCB) built a plant in Craigieburn, near Melbourne, to manufacture the polymer substrate for the new Australian banknotes. This was the first plant dedicated to producing polymer banknote substrate.

In 1996 the RBA and UCB established a joint venture, Securency International, to market the technology internationally. This venture was successful and the many countries in the Asia-Pacific region adopted the new technology.

Some of the success of the company was marred by illegal conduct, with the director of regional sales for Africa, Peter Chapman, jailed for bribery in the UK.

UCB sold its share of Securency to the UK company, Innovia Films, in 2004. In 2013, Innovia acquired the RBA’s 50% share in the business and renamed it Innovia Security.

The large Canadian packaging company, CCL Industries acquired Innovia Security in February 2017. It merged with the Banknote Corporation of America to form CCL Secure. By the end of 2017 this company will have produced more than 55 billion polymer notes in 80 denominations and and in 24 countries.

The ConversationThis latest series of Australian polymer banknotes will place us once again at the forefront of banknote security. But continuing research, development and new features will still be required to keep us there.

Tom Spurling, Professor of Innovation Studies, Swinburne University of Technology and David Solomon, Professorial Fellow in Engineering, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

5 Years After Quake, What Does Haiti Have to Show for $13 Billion in Aid?


TIME

Americans texted tens of millions of dollars in donations and governments gave billions, but five years after an earthquake left corpses and rubble piled across Haiti, 85,000 people still live in crude displacement camps and many more in deplorable conditions.

The disconnect between the massive amount of private and public aid and the poverty, disease and homelessness that still plague the country raises a question that critics say is too difficult to answer: Where did all that money go?

In Coralia this week, father of two Serafin Jean Rose, 33, said he has benefited from the American dollars that have poured in since Jan. 11, 2010…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

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Australian Politics: 17 July 2013


The asylum seeker controversy in Australia is deepening, with four more deaths after another tragedy at sea last night. There is yet another boat in distress right now as well. Compassion would seem to be much in need from where I sit, yet most Australians seem to have very little when it comes to the plight of refugees and/or asylum seekers.

Still, an election can’t be too far away as the various parties begin the usual pledges to spend money on this and that – certainly infrastructure needs are great in this country.

Meanwhile Kevin Rudd has held a community cabinet meeting overnight.

Facebook: On the Decline


The link below is to an article that suggests Facebook is on the decline. However, given the money it is still making it is hardly a concern to the company yet.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/apr/28/facebook-loses-users-biggest-markets