The Guardian September 20, 2000


Debt cancellation backed by 22 million signatures

by Thalif Deen

On September 7, Chairman of the Group of 77 countries, Nigerian President 
Olusegun Obasanjo, presented a petition to the United Nations containing a 
record-breaking 22 million signatures calling for the cancellation of the 
debts of the world's poorest nations.

Obasanjo, who heads the largest single coalition of mostly debt-ridden 
developing nations, was sending a strong message to Western donors that the 
least developed countries (LDCs), described as the poorest of the world's 
poor, are urgently in need of debt relief.

"It was a world-record-breaking petition", Jamie Drummond of the Jubilee 
2000 Coalition, the primary sponsor, told IPS. "It was the largest number 
of signatures ever collected on one single issue."

The 22 million signatures, which ranged from thumbprints to emails, were 
from people in 155 countries.

The petition was presented to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who, in a 
report to the Millennium Summit, called upon donor countries and 
international financial institutions to consider wiping off their books all 
official debts of the 40 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) in return 
for demonstrable commitments to "poverty reduction" (IMF/World Bank 
privatisation, deregulation and other conditions  Ed).

The 40 HIPCs, including Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Ghana, Honduras, 
Nicaragua, Sudan, Yemen and Zambia, have a total debt stock of over US$215 
billion.

Drummond said 12 other countries  Nigeria, Bangladesh, Cambodia, 
Equatorial Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Morocco, Jamaica, Haiti, Nepal, 
Gambia and Zimbabwe  also qualify for HIPC status.

The Philippines has a total debt stock of about $48 billion, Peru about $33 
billion, Nigeria over $30 billion and Bangladesh about $16.4 billion.

But the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have refused 
to expand the HIPC list for undisclosed reasons, Drummond said.

Ann Pettifor, Director of Jubilee 2000, said the petition was presented 
before the largest single gathering of world leaders in order to underline 
the importance of debt cancellation.

The case for political action is strong simply because every day, over 
US$60 million is transferred from the poorest to the richest countries in 
debt repayments, the study added.

Of the US$100 billion in debt cancellation promised at the Group of Seven 
Summit in Cologne last year, only about US$17 billion in debt relief 
commitments have been made so far.

Mozambican President Joaquim Alberto Chissano told the Millennium Summit 
that external debt "is a major obstacle to economic growth and sustainable 
development of developing countries".

While he welcomed the HIPC and other initiatives, "we believe that 
unconditional debt cancellation could enable us to redirect resources to 
poverty eradication, including the improvement of social sectors and 
rehabilitation of basic infrastructures", he said.

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