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Tuesday February 14, 2006 22:28 by Liam Mullen - Freelance journalist mullenl at eircom dot net 17 Cranford Court, Donnybrook, Dublin 4 086-1732700
When looking at the reasons why the NGO’s might be up in arms when facing the policies of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, I have decided to focus on Trócaire and Concern, two Irish organisations passionately involved in debt relief for the Third World. Concern has been in existence since the Biafra famine of 1968, and has become internationally recognised in the intervening years. Trócaire was set up by the Irish Catholic Church in 1973 as a response mechanism to combat disasters, famines, and to offer aid to the “world’s poorest and most oppressed peoples”. (http://www.trócaire.org).
According to Trócaire’s Policy Briefing of September 2004, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) adopts “neo-liberal policies” and has not changed its policies towards “low-income countries” (LIC’s) like Honduras and Zambia. The findings of this report also conclude “that progress in implementing the key features of the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) has been slow and uneven across countries.” In order to rectify this situation Trócaire feels that the IMF need to overcome a number of internal barriers that are affecting their work in LIC’s. Trócaire also feels that the “framework” surrounding the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) needs to be changed on the basis of “partnership and ownership”, and that the IMF should “play an equal role with other donors and focus on providing policy advice only, except in the case of shocks.” Trócaire also feels there should be “informed debate” before any arrangements on aid are finalised, and that “this would address the problem of aligning the PRGF to a weak PRSP, by applying the PRSP process to developing a macroeconomic framework for the PRGF.” (Jensen, Soren Kirk & de Barra, Caoimhe, 2004, p2). Shocks in recent years included the tsunami in Asia, the Darfur Crisis, the earthquake in Pakistan, and the flooding of New Orleans.
Trócaire also feels “country-based agreements” should be in place, and states that “it is imperative that the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative be delinked from the PRGF.” Trócaire recognises a number of key areas for improvement:
· “Inflexibility in macroeconomic policy models
· Adjustment lending to LIC’s
· Fiscal Flexibility
· Poverty and social impact analysis”
The dangers inherent in the IMF, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the World Bank alienating the non-government organisations (NGO’s) are starkly highlighted in a recent report published in Africa News. (Champion, Daily, Africa News, Oct 6th, 2005). According to the report, Nigeria’s former Ambassador to the US, Olusola Sanu, has come out against Nigeria’s “adoption of the IMF’s conditionalities.” Referring to “Nigerian Foreign Policy in a Globalised World,” he states, “that the IMF policies, and those of the World Bank and WTO are incompatible with improving the economies and living standards of people in the third world nations.”
A report commissioned by CIDSE/Caritas Internationalis (2003): PRSP: Are the World Bank and IMF delivering on promises, and referenced in Trócaire’s report, concludes that both the IMF and World Bank need to engage in “stakeholder participation” which would include “governments, parliaments, civil societies, and donors.” (Jensen, Soren Kirk & de Barra, Caoimhe, 2004, p3).
The report notes that although there have been improvements in some countries, having analysed nineteen in total, that progress has been slow. These findings conform to Trócaire’s own report. Areas of concern include “fiscal deficits and public sector wage bills.” Countries examined include “Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Honduras, Mali, Niger, Malawi, Senegal, Rwanda, Vietnam, Uganda and Zambia.”
The report states that Uganda is worth noting and quotes a sociologist Eberlei (2003) who identified four key areas:
· “Rights-based including Freedom of Information and Freedom of the Press
· Structurally Integrated meaning that national governments engage with their citizens in a meaningful way
· Legitimacy including democratic elections
· Capacity meaning that strong resources are in place among all stakeholders, including government”. http://www.trocaire.org/policyandadvocacy/debt/prspprom...s.pdf
What Trócaire are insisting on is a) Alignment with the PRSP approach; b) that the IMF cease interfering with lending adjustment rates; c) closer co-operation with all stakeholders; d) a better information feed to the public, and e) fiscal flexibility and changes to human resource systems to enable a “pro-poor, pro-growth” strategy. (Jensen, Soren Kirk & de Barra, Caoimhe, 2004, pp.48-49).
A comment taken off Trócaire’s weblink to the Jubilee Debt Campaign states that: “Debt is a tool of domination used by rich countries governments and creditors like the World Bank and IMF. Conditions attached to debt relief and loans are devastating our economies and undermining our choices as sovereign nations.” This comment was made by the African organisations in 2002, and the website also notes that: “Tanzania was forced to privatise water provision, leading to a worse service and higher prices; Ghana was forced to abolish a trade policy that would have let poor farmers compete with imports from rich countries; and Zambia had to cut spending on education, where 40% of women are illiterate.” (www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/media)
Tied into all this is the state of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), which all NGO’s are monitoring. With a new campaign by Sir Bob Geldof to combat third world poverty, amid widespread support, it was somewhat disheartening to note that the Bush administration wanted no mention of the MDG’s at the recent summit in New York.
Concern spokesman, and Deputy Chief Executive, Paddy Maguinness, was part of an entourage accompanying the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Minister Brian Lenihan to New York for the talks and he saw the rhetoric coming from the Bush administration as “quite frightening”. Concern has been in talks with other NGOs, including Dóchas – the umbrella group that monitors the development agencies – over the new position being adopted by the Bush administration. In a telephone interview to myself prior to the summit, Maguinness stated that he saw the talks as offering Europe, and particularly Ireland, a “get out of jail card”, and believes that it is up to Ireland to show “leadership” in the face of this crisis.
Emer Mullins, in an email communication of the 26th of August 2005, the Communications Co-ordinator of Trócaire, held similar views and stated “Trócaire feels that any deliberate omission of a review of progress on the MDGs would cast serious doubt over the credibility of world leaders’ commitment to achieving those goals. She also states that “the prospect of the Summit relegating the MDGs and wider poverty eradication measures to a footnote defies world opinion in a year when unprecedented numbers of the public have spoken out to demand action on trade justice, dropping debt and delivering more and better aid. The lives of the poor seems as distant as ever from the power politics of the international institutions. It would be extremely cynical were any member to change an agenda set so long ago and agreed by all members. This is a chance for the UN member states to show their commitment to Goal 8: Building a global partnership for development.”
The ‘Keep Our Word’ organisation was calling on the Irish people to petition our Taoiseach and urging that the 0.7 per cent target be reached by 2010 at the latest, that the Irish government establish an annual plan to reach this target, and to enshrine the commitment in legislation so that the promise is kept. (http://www.keepourword.org/)
In an email communication of the 30th of August 2005,Kate Norgrove, of the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP) warns that by “cutting away the agreed wording designed to end poverty, governments are trying to edit away the future of the world’s poorest people.”1
In his annual address of 2005, Chief Executive Tom Arnold, says that the “MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign…aims to mobilise political and public opinion,” and he adds: “If we can change the opinions of eight world leaders on the issues of trade, aid and debt, we can affect the lives of 800 million people worldwide.” (http://www.concern.net/indexD.php)
The issue of ‘trade justice’ is another problem that has the aid agencies at loggerheads with the IMF, the WTO, and the World Bank. Speaking to myself on Griff FM earlier this year, John McGhie, of Christian Aid, warns of the need to combat the scourge of unjust trade rules and spoke out against the scrapping of the multi-fibre agreements in countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia, under new rules introduced by the WTO at the start of the year. He sees an obvious danger when the WTO removes the “umbrella” that up to now has protected the trade, and in particular, the garment industry in these countries. He paints a picture of misery when the new rules begin to bite home, and notes that countries that were badly hit by the tsunami face further hardship.
He cites the case of Sri Lanka, which has suffered terribly in the past, but which was beginning to bounce back from its troubles, and he claims that a successful thriving garment industry would have speeded the recovery process. Now all bets are off, and there are countries that will be winners and losers. China’s booming economy, and to a lesser extent India and Hong Kong, will reap the benefits at the expense of the poorer nations – the latter not least because of its superb infrastructure.
McGhie’s forecast for the region isn’t all gloomy and he gives credit where credit is due, stating that the US deserves applause for ensuring that the ‘Ethical Trade Initiative’ was a success in Cambodia, and helped turn the “sweatshops into ordinary decent factories.”
Anne Daly, a journalist and lecturer, also has concerns in this area and has made a documentary for RTÉ on the exploitation of women in places like Bangladesh. She states that whenever she is shopping in high street fashion stores she “wonders where the clothes on the rack have come from.” It is a valid point!
McGhie also points out however, that under the ‘Ethical Trade Agreement’, no matter whether the goods being produced are “clothes” or “food”, customers need have no fears that the goods they are buying have been produced by slave labour in poorer countries.
There can be little doubt though that unfair trade rules which benefit the industrialised world will bring about that old axiom; ‘the rich get richer, whilst the poor get poorer’.
Concern’s MAKEPOVERTYHISTORY campaign is involved in a “coalition of over 150 countries” combating world leader’s opinions through the G8 conference and states we need to “put global poverty at the top of the political agenda.” Tom Arnold has also joined the United Nations Task Force on World Hunger – one of the MDG’s. (http://www.concern.net/development/campaigns/makepovert...e.php)
In a report given exclusively to this reporter by Christian Aid spokeswoman, Judith Melby, earlier this year, it is absolutely imperative that developed countries like Ireland stick to their original promise.
The summit was called by UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to strengthen the battle against poverty and to take stronger action to combat terrorism and genocide. According to Melby, few countries have so far met the target, but those that have include Holland and the Scandinavian countries. She stressed that in a “globalised world” the knock-on effects of poverty, HIV-aids and malnutrition affect us all, and that governments worldwide need to “put their money where their mouth is.” Judith also spoke about the work of the renowned photojournalist Don McCullin, who approached Christian Aid four years ago offering to photo-document the plight of poor people in Africa, with his work resulting in a rich tapestry of photographs on the plight of these natives, in a work called ‘Cold Heaven’.
Christian Aid has also published its own reports on these issues and put out a document on the 23rd of November last year called ‘IF NOT NOW, WHEN?’ Hand-in-hand with the need to combat world poverty is the need to combat malnutrition, unjust trade rules, and the need for education.2
Indeed proper education is one of the key factors driving Concern’s aims, and Concern is also heavily involved in the battle to secure anti-retroviral drugs to fight the aids/HIV epidemic. It is also expected that the “WTO will meet to decide if the Doha Development Round will result in fairer trading for poor countries.”
Writing in the Irish Times (Sept 2nd, 2005), Tom Arnold sees a need for organisations like Concern to forge relationships with businesses to help alleviate world hunger, and he cites “Tipperary Water, Musgraves and Vodaphone”, as companies displaying the necessary “Corporate social responsibility”.
In a Position Paper put out by Dóchas and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions of which both Concern and Trócaire are signatories, the position on “Trade Justice” is similar for both organisations:
· “No new powers for the World Trade Organisation
· An end to the dumping which destroys livelihoods
· Fair and Transparent Trade-Policy Making
· Trade Justice not Free Trade”
Furthermore both Concern and Trócaire feel the “agenda” is packed enough without adding the “Singapore Issues”, which call for greater “investment, competition policy, government purchasing and trade facilitation.” It seems clear that the “Doha Declaration, the Cancún and Geneva talks” have given the agencies enough to work on. In calling for “Increased transparency in trade policy-making” the agencies stress change is needed with “Irish trade policy-making, EU policy making, and WTO trade rules negotiations.” At an Irish level they seek regular “government publications, Oireachtas Accountability, and Irish Government positions at council of Ministers meetings to be made public; whilst at EU level they require “agendas to be made public, publication of a calendar of the 133 Committee, an end to exclusionary meetings such as Mini-Ministerials or Green Rooms, and inclusion of the European Parliament with the power of veto.”
Since concerns arose from the Seattle WTO Ministerial Conference, which weren’t improved upon in either Tokyo or Sydney, it is recognised that “internal democracy” is not working with the “Green Room” policy, and that the “mandate of the WTO” should be changed. It is also a given that the WTO should be brought under the ‘umbrella’ of the “UN family” and have no powers “to supersede UN conventions and agreements such as the UN Declaration on Human Rights.” (Dóchas & ICTU, Position Paper 2003).
Finally it is recognised that the G8 Conference was a step in the right direction. Organisations like Indymedia.org are calling for “activists” to mobilize against the next WTO in China later this year. (www.indymedia.org). It should also be mentioned that the findings of the Meltzer Commission, set up by the US Senate in 1998, following the Asian currency crisis were key to a change in thinking towards IMF policies, and that they proposed “100% cancellation of repayments of the Bretton Woods Institution loans; that the IMF stop providing long-term loans for poverty reduction to LIC’s; and that the IMF restrict its lending to the provision of short-term liquidity.” (Jensen, Soren Kirk & de Barra, Caoimhe, 2004, p.6).