Written Answers. - Debt Relief.

John Gormley


158 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the actions taken by the Government in pursuance of 100% debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries since the policy was adopted by the Government one year ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10700/03]

In July 2002, Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Michael Kitt launched a new Ireland Aid-Department of Finance strategy on the issue of developing country debt. This comprehensive strategy set out in detail the Government's approach to the problem and updated the principles on debt relief announced by the Government in 1998.

The debt relief strategy indicated, inter alia, that the Government believes total debt cancellation to be a politically acceptable objective and one that it would support. However, the strategy also emphasised that the funding of debt cancellation would have to come from additional overseas development assistance from donors.

The strategy raised a number of concerns about the operation of the World Bank-IMF Heavily Indebted Poor Countries'. HIPC, initiative, such as the adequacy of the levels of debt relief being provided and the assumptions used in the calculations of sustainable debt levels. The Government is particularly concerned that the HIPC process does not take into account the impact of HIV-AIDS on the economies of the HIPC countries.

Since the launch of the debt strategy, we have promoted this strategy very vigorously in our contacts with the World Bank and at other appropriate international fora. Minister of State, Deputy Kitt has highlighted the salient features of the strategy, in particular debt cancellation, in a variety of contacts he has had in Dublin and Washington with the World Bank at presidential, vice presidential and very senior level and he will continue to do so.

In September of last year, the Taoiseach reiterated the Government's commitment in principle to debt cancellation in his address to the World Summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg.

In Washington last November, Deputy Kitt discussed a range of development issues, including debt, with senior officials and the Canadian leader of our constituency at the World Bank. During his meeting with the Bank's Vice President, Mr Jean Francois Rischard, in December 2002, he again laid particular emphasis on our debt strategy and debt cancellation. In January 2003, Deputy Kitt visited Ethiopia for discussions with the Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, which included debt relief.

In January last, the President of the World Bank, Mr. James Wolfensohn, visited Dublin and had meetings with the Taoiseach and Deputy Kitt. The visit was utilised to promote our debt strategy and our concerns about the effectiveness of the HIPC initiative in reducing debt to sustainable levels.

On 13 March last, the Taoiseach visited the World Bank in Washington and gave the presidential fellowship lecture to an invited audience and the senior ranks of the World Bank and the IMF. In his address, he stressed the inadequacy to date of debt relief arising from the HIPC initiative, the insufficient attention it paid both to human development indicators and the economic impact of HIV-AIDS, and again reiterated Irish support for debt cancellation.
My Department, in close co-ordination with the Department of Finance, will continue to promote the Government's views on debt relief in all relevant international fora. In the coming months we will continue to follow closely developments in the HIPC process and participate actively in all relevant international meetings. Our debt strategy will guide us as we seek to ensure that the HIPC countries' efforts to achieve the millennium development goals are not inhibited by a continuing high level of debt and that a sustainable exit from the debt treadmill is secured.