Social groups urge mass debt relief for poor countries

The World Bank and IMF  have been urged to help poor counties tackle the covid-19 coronavirus outbreak by cancelling their debt.
The World Bank and IMF have been urged to help poor counties tackle the covid-19 coronavirus outbreak by cancelling their debt.

Nearly 140 campaign groups and charities urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, G20 governments and private creditors on Tuesday to help the world’s poorest countries through the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis by cancelling debt repayments.

The call, spearheaded by the British-based Jubilee Debt Campaign, comes a day before a G20 working group tasked with the Covid-19 response for developing countries is due to meet.

The campaign urged the immediate cancellation of 69 poor countries’ debt payments for the rest of the year, including to private creditors, estimating that it would free up more than $25 billion for the countries, or $50 billion if extended to 2021.

It also called for debt cancellations or additional finance to be free of conditions on economic policy such as austerity and for the G20 to back emergency rules that will prevent poorer countries from being sued by private creditors.

“Developing countries are being hit by an unprecedented economic shock and, at the same time, face an urgent health emergency,” Sarah-Jayne Clifton, director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said.

The campaign urged the immediate cancellation of 69 poor countries’ debt payments for the rest of the year, including to private creditors, estimating that it would free up more than $25 billion for the countries, or $50 billion if extended to 2021

Major governments and institutions are already pushing for some of the measures the groups are calling for.

The IMF is making $50 billion available from its emergency financing facilities, and some 80 countries have already asked for help. The World Bank has also approved a $14 billion Covid-19 response package.

The institutions are also making a joint push for official bilateral creditors to allow low-income countries to suspend their debt service payments for 14 months from the start of May.

But Tuesday’s message from the charities and campaign groups echoed the recent concerns of African governments – that it won’t be enough. In a proposal submitted ahead of the G20 meeting, Ethiopia said Africa was likely to need $150 billion worth of support.

Read: UN sees Africa sliding into recession without debt help

“Out of the 69 low-income countries we are talking about, at least 45 are going to need to request emergency funding just to get through 2020,” said Mark Perera, a policy manager for the European Network on Debt and Development, one of the groups involved.

When the IMF and World Bank launched their debt relief programme for heavily indebted poor countries in 1996, nations mainly owed money to wealthy countries and multilateral institutions.

That has changed: China’s government, banks and companies lent some $143 billion to Africa between 2000 and 2017, according to Johns Hopkins University, while African governments have taken on more than $55 billion on international debt in the past two years.

The debt campaign group’s statement, whose signatories include the likes of Oxfam and Save the Children, also called for the creation, through the UN, of a systematic and enforceable process for sovereign debt restructurings. – Reuters


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