On this World Health day,7th April,2020,when the world is supposed to celebrate the work of nurses and midwives and remind the world leaders of the critical role they play in keeping the world healthy amid an unprecedented global crisis, more than 100 organisations are calling for developing countries’ debt to be cancelled to fight the Covid-19 health and economic crisis.
Cancelling all debt payments owed by low-income countries to other governments, multilateral institutions and private lenders would free up to US$ 25.5 billion to fight coronavirus in 2020 alone. Extending the cancellation to apply to payments due in 2021 would make another US$ 24.9 billion available to help save lives now and in the future.
The IMF and the World Bank have called for debt payments by the poorest countries to other governments to be suspended, but with the effects of the pandemic likely to last for years, delaying rather than cancelling payments won’t solve the problem.
Cancellation also needs to apply to all creditors, including bilateral, multilateral and private lenders, to ensure freed-up money goes to support the pandemic response, and not to pay off other debts.
Mr. Eugene Kabilika, the Executive Director for Caritas Zambia, joining the world call to cancel debt said: “Thousands, if not millions of Zambians are already facing devastating health, social and economic challenges and the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, will only make the situation worse. Permanently cancelling upcoming debt payments owed by Zambia would be the fastest way to free up existing public resources to tackle this unprecedented crisis and save lives”.
External debt repayments in Zambia, has been diminishing resources meant for poverty reduction, which has exerted a significant crowding out effect on social expenditures more especially in the health sector which is very critical in this Covid-19 pandemic period. External debt overhang in Zambia, just like in many other African countries continues to constitute a serious obstacle to fight Covid-19 pandemic which has both developmental and economic growth effects.
“The suspension on debt payments called for by the IMF and World Bank will fall short of this goal if it doesn’t apply to all lenders, and only postpones payments. Full cancellation of all external debt payments is critical, along with emergency finance that doesn’t add to debt burdens. This must be followed up with a more comprehensive and long-term approach to debt crisis resolution.” In addition, “it is important to do everything possible to help low-income countries avoid a build-up of unsustainable debt, and that the IMF and Bank should be a leading force toward achieving this objective. This will help Zambia not to fall off track significantly towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It will require Full cancellation and greater use of grant financing rather than availing more money for borrowing, especially for poorest and debt vulnerable countries. Availing grants is an important first step in this direction of fighting and stopping the Covid-19 pandemic”
Cancellation of debt service, up to an additional US$ 73.1 billion of emergency finance will be needed to help low income economies as they respond to the crisis in 2020. This must be provided through grants, rather than loans, to stop recipient countries getting even deeper into debt. Addressing the long-term debt pressures on developing countries also requires decision-makers finally agreeing reforms to the international system for dealing with sovereign debt restructuring, once the acute Covid-19 crisis has passed.
A joint letter also signed by Caritas Zambia – will be sent to governments and their representatives at the IMF and World Bank in due course, it calls for:
- The permanent cancellation of all external debt payments due in 2020 by developing countries, with no accrual of interest and charges and no penalties.
- The provision of additional, fresh emergency finance that does not create more debt.
- Debt cancellation and new financing to be provided free of demands for market-friendly and austerity-focused policy reforms in developing countries.
- Measures to be put in place to protect developing countries from lawsuits when ceasing 2020 debt payments.
- A process under UN auspices to be agreed in the longer term, to support systematic, timely, and fair restructuring of sovereign debt.
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