WorldTies: World leaders voice support for G8 debt relief move
World leaders voice support for G8 debt relief moveBy Kathleen Hwang
Special to World Peace Herald
Published June 29, 2005
TOKYO -- Leaders of some of the world's poorest countries have welcomed the debt relief initiative to be adopted at the two-day G8 summit that begins Saturday in Gleneagles, Scotland. An initial 18 countries, mostly from Africa, will benefit from the $40 billion debt write-off the lender nations have agreed to, in an effort to reach the millennium development goals for poverty reduction set by the United Nations.
At an international conference on good governance in Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday, representatives from 82 countries, including many from Africa and other third world nations, backed a resolution voicing "total support" for the debt relief plan, calling it "long overdue and essentially about good governance and a more equitable world order."
The resolution adopted at the 6th World Summit on Leadership and Good Governance, sponsored by the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, called on the G8 nations to attach conditions to the initiative that would compel beneficiaries to demonstrate standards of good governance including transparency and accountability.
The IIFWP was founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who also founded News World Communications, which publishes World Peace Herald.
The G8 countries include Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
"This is long, long, long overdue," Wesley M. Johnson, vice chairman of Liberia's national transitional government, said of the G8 plan. "It has been a major burden for developing countries to service their debts. But it should go another step and help strengthen the private sector, bringing European and American investment to our countries."
Liberia owes in excess of $3 billion in foreign debt, but the country is not among those whose burden will be lifted this weekend. Under criteria set forth by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- which include tackling corruption, boosting private sector development and eliminating impediments to foreign and domestic private investment -- Liberia has been judged unqualified for debt forgiveness.
Johnson does not feel this is unreasonable for a country emerging from 14 years of civil war. His government is working toward eligibility, preparing for democratic elections to be held in August when the transitional government's two-year mandate expires. He describes himself as a pragmatist and a realist, but also an optimist who sees the way forward for his beleaguered nation.
The 18 countries that qualify for immediate debt write-offs are Benin, Bolivia, Burkino Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
Robert Corbin, leader of the opposition People's National Congress Reform party of Guyana, said the initiative would have significant impact in his country only if the funds currently spent on paying off loans would be spent instead on reducing poverty. As the largest opposition party with 42 percent of seats in Parliament, he said his party would shoulder responsibility for monitoring the government's use of the savings.
Guyana's functioning multi-party democracy qualifies it for a new lease on life in the eyes of the G8 members. A majority of the conference participants seemed to take the same view, stressing that unconditional lifting of debt burdens would be ineffective and, in some cases, immoral.
"African nations are going in the wrong direction," said Marie-Therese Nlandu, a lawyer from the Barreau de Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "Most debts come from the pursuit of personal profit ... Lenders should investigate when a nation is known for bad governance."
Nlandu recommended that lenders go beyond the withholding of privileges and impose punishments on leaders who pursue personal wealth and power at the expense of their people, such as freezing their foreign bank accounts.
"Good governance should include imposing sanctions on bad governance," she said.
Some critics of the G8 initiative, however, feel that it is motivated less by altruism than by the pursuit of national or corporate interests. Some point out that wealthy nations had a role in the accumulation of debt in the first place, citing costly arms sales to poor countries as an example of deals that emptied national coffers, with the side effect of encouraging armed conflicts.
James R. Mancham, former president of the Seychelles, expressed concern that high energy prices were having devastating impact on poor countries, while benefiting the wealthy nations with vested interests in oil and gas. He also spoke out against the practice of encouraging poor countries to sell future crops at low prices, enabling speculators to earn handsome profits on produce grown by poor laborers.
And then there are the political motives to consider. Mancham harshly criticized U.S. President George Bush for his lack of receptivity to the debt relief plan when British Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed it to him, ahead of the G8 summit.
"It's pathetic that when Bush's best friend initiated the African plan to redeem his reputation with the poor nations of the world, which has suffered from his Iraq involvement, that Bush put aside the issue and gave African leaders a slap in the face by focusing on the corruption issue. Behind every corrupt African leader there are one or two corrupt American or European businessmen," he said.
Whatever the motivations behind it, few people fully opposed the move to lighten the debt burdens of some of the poorest countries, with more to follow as they meet the qualifications set by the lenders.
"It's a good and positive initiative and could open up a lot of possibilities," said Wycliffe Mudavadi, former vice president of Kenya. He pointed out that each country's situation is different, and that for those that have been defaulting on their debts, it would have no meaning at all. Kenya is not included in the initiative, he said, because "the argument is that we can service our debt. It is the reality."
Mudavi stressed that a solution to poverty cannot be imposed from outside, but must involve effort from within the country as well. "We're not yet near to a solution, but I think the right attitudes are developing, for hard work, good governance and for spending on health and education," he said.--
Damian J. Anderson Damian.Anderson@...