Congo Kinshasa | Africa
Economy - Development | Politics

"Hypocrisy to cancel banks' debt, not DRC's debt"

African Future, 21 October - As world leaders needed only weeks or days to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into their banks and finance institutions to save them from bankruptcy, decades of alerts and outcry have still not resulted in the debt cancellation in countries like Congo Kinshasa (DRC), church leaders lament.

The DRC, which keeps struggling with internal conflicts, large numbers of displaced people and a humanitarian crisis, still receives five times less development aid than it spends on paying Western banks and governments for dubious loans made by the corrupt Mobuto regime. Indeed, an annual US$ 270 billion is spent yearly only to pay interests for these loans; money that should have been used to develop the vast country.

The Congolese example was brought up at the high-profiled "International symposium on illegitimate debt" currently being arranged in Oslo, Norway, hosted by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Church of Sweden and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), including high-ranking guests from developing countries.

NCA Secretary-General Atle Sommerfeldt today it is totally unacceptable that Western nations are sponsoring their own banks with thousands of billions of dollars, while at the same time not willing to cancel the debt of developing countries. "The financial crisis is revealing this hypocrisy," Mr Sommerfeldt told the press in Oslo.

"There is made an impression in the media that the biggest crisis in the world today is found at Wall Street. But this is wrong," the church aid leader added. The biggest global crisis remains to be the extreme poverty two billion people around the world suffer from, he held, again pointing to the fact that funds spent on fighting poverty are not proportional to what is spent on saving Western banks.

The Oslo symposium has drawn visitors from all over the world - both political and religious leaders - including Liberia's Deputy Minister for Finance Tarnue Mawolo and Bishop Sumoward Harris of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. Both want to increase the focus on the large illegitimate debt made by Liberia's corrupt former leaders, which the country's current democratic government has to pay back, preventing it from spending enough funds on reconstruction and development.

Bishop Harris reminded the participants that much of the loans were not spent on development projects "but went in the wrong directions," questioning the ethics behind lending to the corrupt Taylor regime in the first place. As an example, he cited an April 2008 letter he wrote to the Swedish government, requesting cancellation of debt incurred through the dubious sale of two naval boats to Liberia's previous government.

According to Mr Sommerfeldt, the same banks that now are receiving crisis funding previously had been "pushing loans onto poor countries and dictators" in an irresponsible way, contributing to the debt crisis still felt in many developing countries. "We have now be working for over 20 years to make Western governments take responsibility for this, which they are still not doing," he says, adding this contrasted the quick response to the banking crisis.

It is expected that Mali's President Amadou Toumani Touré, who is currently at a state visit in Oslo and has a meeting with NCA on his agenda, also may make an appearance at the conference, which started yesterday and runs until Thursday. The symposium hopes to develop new mechanisms that may help reduce the debt burden held by developing countries.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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