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Wednesday, 22 December, 1999, 16:02 GMT
Should more countries cancel the debt?




The UK is to write off hundreds of millions of pounds in debts owed to it by some of the world's poorest countries. The move, which follows a similar debt cancellation by the US, has been welcomed by anti-poverty campaigners.

Is this a positive step for the poorest people on earth? Should other countries now follow suit? Tell us what you think.

I feel that vast majority of fund is siphoned off by corrupt officials in India leading to poor infrastructure. The rich nations should ensure the money is being used properly before writing off.
Saravanan, India but in Singapore

The British Empire acknowledges the fact that enormous wealth has been extracted during it's history of imperialism. Albeit this is an admiral gesture, it is far from remission for the years of colonial bondage and forced economic oppression.
S. Cortez, USA

Not at all. This is an extremely unfair act: it penalises those nations that HAVE paid back large amounts. Just what we expect from Labour: support for those who shirk their responsibilities, and a kick in the teeth for those who work hard to make ends meet.
Ian Lowe, Scotland, UK

Gordon Brown's act is seen as a gesture. A gesture is not the same as a coherent and sustainable international policy on third world debt relief. We have to ensure that we turn such gestures into such a policy.
Malcolm McCandless, Dundee

Yes we should. If we can afford as a nation to spend 50m on a tent to celebrate something as inevitable as the passage of time, then we can afford to write off debts run up by corrupt regimes with little regard to how it was going to be repaid. Much of the money came back to the UK in the form of arms purchases in any case. By all means impose conditions on how the money written off will be spent.
Andy, UK

Sadly, all too often the money has been used by the rich to finance projects that they think will make them richer. When, through greed and corruption, the projects collapse, these rich speculators turn to the West and say "wipe out our debts". Better to seek a way to channel the money to the real poor in those countries. That's the real challenge.
Ian, UK

Considering that western colonialism is responsible for the majority of poverty and deprivation in the third world, it is only right that these debts are cancelled. I think it is fantastic that the UK has done this, although I would question whether it was done out of altruism or from the realisation that these debts would never have been repaid anyway. Now what we need to see is a redistribution of wealth away from the multinational corporations and into ensuring that everyone in the world has clean water, enough food, proper healthcare and a roof over their head.
Georgina, Ireland

Charity begins at home, Brown. Nice gesture, but the British tax-man would not be so benevolent with his own compatriot if he defaulted!
Bill, UK

The gesture is laudable. The aim is altruistic. Yet there is also merit in the amusing but candid assertion that "the best thing you can do for the poor is not be one of them." And basically that means that we all need to learn self-sufficiency. We will not be doing the developing countries any favours simply by relieving them of financial accountability. However, if this generous act is but one step in a more comprehensive programme to wean them off aid funding and assist them to become fully financially independent then, yes, everyone should lend their support and the other nations follow suit.
Simon Cameron, UK

The cancellation of third world debt is a noble cause. While simply wiping of the debt from the accounts would stump any true Keynesian theory. However, care must be taken with possible economic backlashes that could send all of us into spiralling debt. This won't happen if handled correctly. It is also very encouraging to see the Pope and Bono (U2) championing this, and you never know, if countries don't forgive debt, maybe the champs will pay the debt off themselves.
Tobias, Australia

I think it is important to look at how the money was/is being spent before writing off the debt. If the money was spent on wanton war (as is being done in Sri Lanka), then the debt should not be written off!
M. Vishnu, USA

Seems most responses from the USA are negative towards cancelling debt, but I think that the UK has set an example that the rest of the industrialised and lending world needs to follow. By keeping that debt balance, we in the lending nations are actually forcing these "third world" nations to adopt Capitalism by any means necessary. We are actively encouraging frowned-upon money-makers such as women and girls being sold into prostitution, and we are encouraging deforestation, poaching of endangered species, and strip-mining, all because we expect these people to pull themselves up by their boot straps by any means necessary and pay back what they owe? If this current pattern continues there basically will be NO world outside that of the lending nations such as western Europe and North America, and if no one sees the racist and imperialist irony in that, shame on them and their selfish nationalism. Some humans are just plain selfish. Thousands of years of evolution, but none of it on the humanistic level, just on the level of technology and exploiting others.
Sara, USA

The eradication of poverty and suffering is very important. However, doesn't cancelling debt to the worlds poorest nations reward the most unsuccessful and corrupt countries in the world?? Doesn't give much encouragement to countries who are actually having some success in pulling themselves of poverty on their own!! Hardly a level playing field.
Tim , UK but in US

Loans were made without practical consideration by those desperate to generate a return on capital to those who knew they would not be personally responsible for paying them back. The people who did not benefit from the loans pay taxes to cover the repayments. If the loans are written off, will the taxes be reduced pro rata, thus easing poverty, or maintained to finance wars and presidential palaces? I'm not criticising the wonderful gesture, but I would like the question answered.
Clive P Mitchell, UK

I wholeheartedly support the cancelling of third world debt. This seems a wonderfully proper and appropriate gesture at this moment in history. This co-ordinated suggestion must surely link in generosity the majority of ordinary people in this country.
Anne Stuart, England

It was relatively easy for us to cancel the debt. We are not owed that much in terms of the overall amount of third world debt, and we probably knew that there was no chance of getting any of it back anyway. What needs to happen is for diplomats and politicians to be kept away from handling the money. A public admission by donor countries that most of their citizens tax dollars which compromise the foreign aid does not go to help anyone, but goes into private bank accounts for the ruling elite, or pays for the weapons of war and suppression used against the people the money is intended for. Money needs to bypass government authorities and be handled by the independent organisations actually in the field, UNHCR, Red Cross, Medicins Sans Frontier, Red Crescent...etc.
Graeme, England

Hats off to the UK. This gesture is not about redeeming old guilt. Those who may have plundered off the third world countries are long gone and forgotten, This is a brand new symbol by the current UK. I salute the people, the country and government for this outstanding humanitarian deed they have carried out at a time when money rules.
Robin Appaswamy, (Sri Lankan) Canada

Oh geeez what a nice sentiment but here is a thought-instead of cancelling the debt how about returning 'LOOT' with interest, no charity needed. Here is another thought, how about paying the back wages (with interest) of all them slaves for hundreds of years of 'free' labor.
Mohan Marette, Kerala (India) & USA

The idea of writing off debts is one of the best ideas because the so called UK is rich due to colonialism. During colonialism the UK was stealing the resources of the so called poor nations on earth today to build the so called rich nation on earth today. Until the so called poor nations are built up and able to confront their enemies (UK) there will be no balance.
Akiuber Ndoromo , United States

Cancellation of debt is indeed a nice gesture on part of U.K it will be helpful for the poor countries to develop and grow in the right direction.
Saima Ahsan, Pakistan

International aid is a proper and worthwhile doctrine until such aid becomes never ending generational dependency. Then it defeats its own purpose and becomes a detrimental policy, not a beneficial one. Self-reliance must be the goal of economic assistance. Remember, in the beginning, all 'first world' populations were at some point as 'third world' ones are today. Effort and resolute determination make the difference, not simply money.
Christopher Pepper, US

Debt cancellation on the part of the United States and Great Britain is an extremely positive development for poor countries. This will mean that they can invest more in health care, education and social insurance, thus increasing their prosperity. Countries have nothing to gain by not cancelling the debts from poor countries. Even the World Bank admits that the debts simply cannot be paid off.
Jeff, USA

What a disaster. It only encourages these nations to build up huge debts again, believing that they will never have to pay them. I wish my bank was as kind to me! This money is my money, and those of the millions of tax-payers in the UK. We were not asked if we wanted this debt relief to go ahead.
John Atkins, UK

It would not really matter to the average citizen of a developing country if the debt is voided or not because most of the money is usually squandered away by the irresponsible and greedy elite with the complicity of the donors. What we really need is to find a way to help needy populations to improve their skills and ensure their own self-sufficiency.
Eric G, Ivory-Coast

Like it or not, it is in both the poor and the rich's interest that world economies be encouraged to grow. In the end we will both be happy as we realize education and healthcare for all.
Daniel Lubowa, Uganda

This is a wonderful gesture of goodwill and sets a great example to other creditor nations. However it should be accompanied by a shift in foreign policy that will interdict any new relationship between donor and recipient nations based on corruption.
Tony Giles, Hong Kong

The move by the British Government to cancel third world debt is to be congratulated, however, this action proves that simply handing out money cannot eliminate poverty. The close monitoring of developing countries suggested by some following the debt cancellation can only be seen as a step backwards - toward colonial authoritarianism. It will not work. Its time the developed world took some responsibility for world poverty and found an alternative to "baby sitting" or handing out cash to its wayward "teenage" nations.
J Elliott, UK

Nice idea but the world debt picture is far more complicated than this simple jesture suggests. If we allowed these countries to be truly independant nations that don't HAVE to buy our goods, services, weapons and other 'vital' purchases etc etc then things might actually change. This move makes the decision makers look oddly human but it really changes nothing unless it's the beginning of a massive change of direction for our financial owners and I can't see that at all. They're making too much money.
Damien, UK

This ethical foreign policy must be accompanied by an education programme that explains to poor countries that they should not entrap themselves in debt. This is not the end of their worries, but it can be a breathing space while they find a new way of opening their markets and earning hard currency.
Paul Stanyer, England

UK has set an example - its time for the rest of the EU & G8 states to follow suit. People before dollars.
Richard Nugent, UK

What a lovely, popular gesture just to warm everyone's hearts at Christmas and make us Britons feel good. What a shame that the countries whose debt has been written will be no nearer escaping crippling poverty and underdevelopment than they were before. The spectres of corruption, ignorance and misguided politics will continue to hinder these countries for a good while. Furthermore what kind of message does this send to those countries that have struggled to maintain debt repayments and still face difficulties - when will they see an easy way out in defaulting and having the debts written off. With this and the fact that these countries' credit ratings have received a boost- the cycle will recommence only this time it will prove costlier to us - the taxpayers and the banks' customers.
James, UK

I want to congratulate Great Britain especially, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr, Brown for this great gesture at this time of great festivities. But I want to emphasise on the need that a proper system has to be in place to ensure that the money reaches the people it is intended to. The west should recognise also that the corrupt and incompetent governments and their collaborators in the west should be exposed and strong moral sanction against people and governments who deal with them should be part of the rehabilitation of Africa. Just writing of debt doesn't guarantee a token of improvement unless it is supported by other actions too. The inherent problem of these countries is lack of good governance and accountability. War is another problem; for example Ethiopia is spending something like 70% of her GDP on military expenditure. The international community is only giving a lip service to end this bloody and costly war. If the international community has a fraction of the will it showed in Kosovo, the two governments would have been pressurised to stop it. I say good news but please keep the pressure on governments to stop war and eradicate corruption as well. Unless a wholehearted effort is shown, the benefit that comes by eradicating debt will be meaningless.
Dr. Mekibib Dawit, Ethiopia

The idea of cancellation of the debt owed by third world countries to major countries is wonderful but, unless those major countries wish to finds themselves in a similar situation in 20 to 25 years, one important proviso must be attached to the debt cancellation. Strict auditing of the beneficiary countries, with particular emphasis place on corruption in all levels of government, must be implemented by the donor countries. If this provision is not added it would simply amount to giving money to corrupt and graft-ridden government officials.
W. Wright, United States of America

Well, it is a good start. I hope more countries get on the debt forgiveness bandwagon. I would like to see encouragement for third world countries to build their domestic economies away from the environment degrading cash cropping and resource exploitation which only benefits the first world. A lot of people I talk to seem to think that because web discuss environmental issues the problem is half solved, I think some action is also required. The retirement of third world debt could be a worthwhile price for increased levels of sustainable development.
Tom, Australia

Those affluent countries, which oppose the debt relief, should be charged in court for contributing towards the misery faced by the world's poorest countries, and forced to pay further money in compensation.
Mr. Moni Razzaque, UK Expatriate in UAE

In an increasingly linked global economy, it is not only prudent but in the self-interest of western countries to forgive these unpayable debts. We can never have true world peace or stability if half of the world is feeding fat off the other starving half. If the poorer countries were assisted or even just allowed to develop without the stranglehold of these payments the entire world and not just the US, UK, Japan would be attractive to live in.
Ifeanyi Duru, Detroit, USA

Forgiving loans is like treating measles with cough syrup. A person, a country or a continent has to be seen to be responsible. By constantly forgiving loans we are just saying "keep borrowing and keep spending and we will forgive you when you can't pay off the loan" As a taxpayer I have had enough!
Norman G. Mowling, Canada

This is good, and I fully support it. However, it would be nice if any further monetary loans were given in such a way so that a committee were set up between the lender and the receiving country, so that they can decide what to spend it on, and then ensure that its spent on what is needed. The reason that so many of these countries are so poor is to misallocation of funds. Corruption if you prefer.
Alex Banks, Wales

It may be a sensible gesture to write off the debts for the poorest nations to give them a fresh start but I don't think that the move will necessarily and directly relieve the poverty in those nations. The donor countries must first make sure that the countries to be helped have a clean financial expenditure record and also monitor the usage of the donated funds. Otherwise the fresh donated funds will end up in the hands of the rulers where embezzlement and graft is still the name of the day and the poor will remain relatively poorer.
Divyesh Mansatta., Tanzania

A big thank you to Gordon Brown. We need to look at our responsibilities to the world, not just ourselves.
Steve Bunce, UK

NO. not before the Swiss bank accounts of the rulers, both past and present, of these counties are handed over. If the British government is feeling so generous then maybe it would like to pay of my debts.
Hugh Mason, England

The British Government has made a very appreciated gesture, and I'm sure the nations it has forgiven the debt from are very grateful. The question remains of exactly what steps need to be taken in a more serious focus on how to reduce world poverty. Crime, climates, geography, religions, cultures, and the general transition of a developing country into a modern nation are aspects that need to be in mind when we deal with issues like Britain's.
Troy Bagnall, United States

Britain should not write off the debt but repay the loot which it had generated during the colonial period by controlling poorest countries and exploiting them to the hilt. Today in the world when everyone is apologising for past mistakes, it makes sense to repay some of the exploits which Britain made from poor countries in the past.
Vivek Gupta, India

Whilst this is great move on Britain's behalf, the biggest problem to be faced - I would suggest - is that many of the poorer countries suffer from rampant corruption. The hierarchy line their pockets whereas the needy populace suffer. It is absolutely essential that an EFFECTIVE monitoring process is put in hand to ensure that the debt relief truly relieves the plight of the populace. Otherwise the whole thing ends up as a farce with the richer nation politicians looking good in the eyes of the world and the poorer countries' hierarchy siphoning more money into their Swiss bank accounts. Meanwhile the populace continue to suffer and starve. Result: Nothing changes!
David Bankes-Milner, Hong Kong

What a marvellous example to set the rest of Europe. Other countries must follow suit. Having worked in several countries that are likely to be among the beneficiaries, I am filled with hope for them. One note of caution - let's keep our eyes open to check that the money doesn't slip into the pockets of corrupt politicians, rather than benefiting the truly needy.
Geoff Taylor, UK

Absolutely splendid! May we here in the US soon follow the UK's lead in this compassionate and magnanimous direction.
Leo Windhorse, USA

Living as I do in the heartland of money-worship, I was pleasantly surprised by the initiative to cancel third world debt. When the rest of the world can persuade the Asian Tigers to have a similar attitude to debt, then maybe we can progress.
Peter Cameron, HongKong-China

YES!!! About time! Every country should do this, but the heavyweights like USA need a push. They are the ones who would really make a difference.
Kaare Eriksen, Norway

Yes, absolutely. It's vital that we help the poorest countries to get them back on their feet. We need fairer trade deals.
Mark Apted, Britain

A wonderful gesture! Now if only other countries AND CORPORATIONS would do the same we could give debt-laden countries a fresh start!
Anton Volcansek, Canada

The fear of multilateral agencies is based upon the issue of moral hazard i.e. "If you borrow money you pay it back." Their worry is that if a country doesn't pay back a past loan and doesn't face any repercussions - how can they be trusted to borrow again in the future? It is clear that the least-developed countries in the world will need a substantial inflow of capital to develop their economies and loans will have to play an important part in the process. However, why should the borrower be made solely responsible for the consequences of a bad loan that can not be repaid in the future?

A loan is a contract between two parties and both should be made to share the burden of the risk - the moral hazard issue has to be applied both ways. A country, bank or mult-lateral agency which has lent money to the government of a country which has squandered it can no longer take the morale high ground and continue to demand that the least endowed people of the world bear the full cost of repaying past bad loans.
Marc Dobler, Chile

I hope other rich countries will follow the British example in forgiving the debt of the poorest nations of the world. The rich countries must realize that they are taking food from the mouth of a hungry child. If they want to make sure that the money is used for the basic needs of the poor people, they should put mechanisms that guarantee that.
Seyoum Berhe, Ethiopia

It is a unique move for the UK to join the USA in setting an example. I hope those who are still hesitating will be able to put their hand on their heart and say that they too owe humanity what they got from it at some stage or another.
Joseph Mutaboba, Rwanda

It is about time the industrial nations took a positive step towards reducing poverty in the "third world". Hopefully other countries will follow Britain's good example.
Hudson Jackson, United States

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See also:
18 Dec 99 |  UK
Campaigners hail UK debt deal
08 Jun 99 |  debt
Q & A: Dropping the debt

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