AFRICA'S DEBT CRISIS

 

Sir, - During her recent visit to Rwanda, President Robinson called for a new partnership between the developed and the developing world to address Africa's debt problem (Irish Times, March 3rd). Hopes for movement on the debt issue were raised last autumn. when the "Heavily Indebted Poor. Countries Initiative" was adopted by the main creditors, World Bank, IMF and developed countries.

Although the scheme includes numerous hurdles which must be overcome before receiving debt relief, it was hoped that early implementation would ease the debt burden of the lowest income countries, the majority of which are in Africa. Uganda which already meets the criteria for the scheme - e.g. six years compliance with IMF/World Bank economic programmes - was expected to benefit by April.

It now appears that the IMF and World Bank are proposing to postpone relief for Uganda until 1998, or indeed 1999. This will result in the loss of $100 million and cause further impoverishment. The Ugandan government, acknowledging that almost 10 years of IMF programme have not benefited the majority of Ugandans, plans to use the money made available by debt relief to reduce poverty. They had already budgeted to use the expected debt relief this year, to increase the number of available primary school places.

The lack of commitment by the IMF and World Bank to finding an urgent solution to the debt crisis raises questions about their role as global institutions. In particular, it raises the question: whose interest do they represent? Peter Sutherland (Irish Times, March 3rd) highlights the unrepresentative nature of the G7, which dominated the international financial institutions, and states the need for reform of these institutions.

I would agree they need reform, but merely integrating a few of the newly developed Asian economies into the G7 rich men's club, would not be sufficient. Without radical reform of the current undemocratic structures of the IMF and World Bank, the problems of the lowest income countries, like the debt problem, will never be given the priority they need. Such a reform is a prerequisite for any dew partnership between developed and developing countries. - Yours, etc.,

Co ordinator,

Debt and Development

Coalition Ireland,

Dalgan Park,

Navan, Co Meath.