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OP-ED: The depths of debt

  • Published at 02:12 am November 24th, 2020
GLOBE MONEY
Photo: BIGSTOCK

Developing countries such as Bangladesh are struggling to balance fighting Covid-19 and keep up with their growing public debt

The global leaders have realized that the coronavirus crisis has jolted the world from a slumber, to understand that the crisis has unveiled the spectre of a larger global crisis.

The health care crisis and its cascading economic consequences are predicted to further plunge many countries in the developing world into an unprecedented crisis, further pushing millions of people into poverty and starvation.

These conditions shine a strong light on the continuing debt problem that stands in the way of people’s survival -- the fight against inequality, the realization of their human rights, sovereignty and the self-determination of people, economic, gender, and ecological justice, and the pursuit of a dignified life.

Hundreds of international, regional, and civil society organizations (CSOs) including Action Aid, CADTM International, Oxfam, Third World Network, joined by 120 Bangladesh NGOs led by Coast Trust, are demanding to suspend the realization of debt instalments for all public debts of developing countries combating the Covid-19 pandemic so that the ongoing coronavirus crisis is not aggravated.

They call upon world leaders, national governments, and financial institutions both public and private, to take urgent action in compliance with their obligations and responsibilities, and commit to unconditional cancellation of public external debt payments.

The CSOs demanded the suspension of all instalments of public debt for at least the financial year 2020-2021 so that countries can develop the capacity to combat the pandemic and overcome the impact of this disaster on its citizens’ health, food, and economic vulnerabilities.

An international statement issued during Global Week (October 10-17) of action for debt cancellation sought the decisive and full solution to the debt problem as part of the profound transformation of economic and financial systems that the present crises so urgently demand.

Meanwhile, the CSO network appealed to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and other bilateral, regional, and multilateral development financiers of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s economy is severely under stress due to the additional burden of pandemic management, while the country has a budget deficit of $17.65 billion in the current financial year.

The CSOs in Bangladesh are trying to urgently bring to global attention that the government of Bangladesh for the current financial year is being forced to allocate $6.20bn for servicing external debts to international financial institutions.

They are urging the multilateral, regional, and bilateral financial institutions to strictly follow the suggestions made by the World Bank and IMF and suspend the servicing of the public debts for 2020, so that the government can use its resources to fund initiatives to help the people in overcoming the Covid-19 challenge.

On the other hand, the G-20 governments announced the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) -- not a cancelation but merely an eight-month delay of up to $12bn worth of payments for public debts.

Much of this debt is illegitimate, the CSO network argues. The international creditors lend irresponsibly and unfairly, driven by predatory lending. The money is used to finance harmful projects and policies, failing to comply with legal and democratic requirements, is saddled with onerous and unjust terms, and incurred by private corporations but assumed by governments or incurred through public guarantees of private profits.

The conditional loans, including cuts in public services and social protection, and severe austerity programs, have also caused as great if not greater harm than debt servicing, especially on women and girls, indigenous people, and the most impoverished and vulnerable people and communities.

CSOs argue that the demand is much more than “debt relief,” but also for “debt justice.”

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at [email protected]; Twitter @saleemsamad.

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