World Bank hosts illegitimate debt roundtable

24 April 2008 by Jubilee Debt Campaign

After months, and indeed years, of pushing the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

to engage with the issue, this week the illegitimate debt campaign moved an important step forward.

On Monday the Bank hosted a roundtable discussion at its headquarters in Washington DC. World Bank staff, government representatives, academics and civil society groups took part in the discussion of ideas and possible practical action regarding odious and illegitimate debt, as well as responsible lending.
The recent increased attention on illegitimate debt has partly been the result of the progressive stance of the Norwegian Government, which funded a World Bank study into the concept of odious debt, published in September 2007. Odious debt is a narrower category of illegitimate debt, often relating to loans made to oppressive former regimes. The paper was widely seen as a weak and dismissive, and civil society groups called for a meaningful dialogue on odious debt as well as the wider illegitimate debt issue. This roundtable was the result.

The perspectives of the participants were diverse, and although the World Bank did not deviate from to its position - that illegitimate debt is an unclear concept and not one that can be meaningfully pursued - this was the first time it had heard and discussed the perspectives of civil society and development countries in such a meeting. Lenders - whether governments or the World Bank itself - tend to be dismissive of illegitimate debt, while borrower governments are very nervous of openly discussing it, so the most refreshing contributions came from one or two government representatives who went against the grain.

The day-long meeting ranged from technical legal discussion, to wider moral and political debates, and participants shared experiences from countries including Nigeria, Norway, Philippines and Haiti. Standards for responsible loans were discussed as well as dealing with past irresponsible lending and its consequences.

A report of the meeting will be produced in the next month and should add to the momentum on this issue, strengthening civil society demands for action to cancel illegitimate debts.

Other articles in English by Jubilee Debt Campaign (39)

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