By Antoine Lokongo A POLL on debt relief has highlighted how the British public is confused over how far world leaders have moved to cancel debts following the Jubilee 2000 campaign.
A Mori poll commissioned by Cafod revealed last week that half of those who expressed a view wrongly believed the unpayable debts of the world's poorest nations had or would be cancelled by the end of the year.
Cafod claims that the fine print underwriting political announcements of 100 per cent cancellation meant many countries have still entered the new millennium with less than half of their debts cancelled. The Catholic overseas development agency is now redoubling its efforts to eradicate Third World debt in the Jubilee Year.
Henry Northover, Cafod's policy adviser, said: "World leaders have betrayed the hopes of the poor and of the millions of campaigners who wanted to mark the millennium by wiping out Third World debt. The poll confirms our worst fear — that many people think the battle for debt relief has been won. Sadly, this is far from true. The 100 per cent cancellation announcement made by G7 leaders last year with great fanfare disguises the fact that most of the poorest indebted countries will be left paying back more than 50 per cent of their debt to rich creditors.
"The tens of thousands of ordinary people praised by Clare Short for taking to the streets in support of debt relief were not looking for half
hearted measures . • . they were looking for an historic breakthrough which would offer a debt-free start to the new millennium" Even if the G7 countries wiped their slates clean, some creditors, including Japan, Germany and France would only be cancelling debts built up mostly in the early 1980s. But many countries owe most of their debts to the World Bank and IMF, which have refused to cancel all of them.
The Treasury claims the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, launched by the IMF and the World bank in 1996, remained the best framework to bring about total cancellation.
"A number of countries have not been able to qualify for debt relief because of their involvement in conflicts, lack of a good economic management, and insufficient commitment to poverty reduction," said a spokeswoman.
She said Britain would press G7 countries to permit three quarters of eligible countries to be assessed for debt relief by the end of 2000, at the finance ministers summit, now being held in Japan.
Prime Minister Tony Blair also told the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance's conference last week that "we will see many of the world's poorest countries qualifying for the much needed debt relief so that money can be pumped into desperately needed education and healthcare in these nations and not into paying off interest on debts they could never afford".