BY DAN FRANK
CARDINAL Cormac MurphyO’Connor has praised the cancellation of the debts of the world’s 18 poorest countries.
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, made the announcement at the end of a two-day meeting of the finance and treasury officials of the Group of Eight (G8) rich, industrialised countries.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said: “I welcome the announcement by Gordon Brown that some of the unpayable debt of the poorest nations in the world will now be written off. It gives me hope that at next month’s G8 summit there will be real progress made towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals. I am praying that from that meeting there will emerge a real chance to increase the dignity of the world’s poor.” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, have been announced as two of the highprofile speakers at the planned anti-poverty rally in Edinburgh on July 2 ahead of the G8 meeting at Gleneagles.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor will lead the rally, which is call ing on the leaders of the G8 wealthiest nations to meet the Millennium Development Goals, designed to halve world poverty by 2015. Thousands of people are expected to join the march.
Although details are still being worked out, it is likely that the two cardinals will concelebrate a vigil Mass on the evening of July 2 after leading the rally, which sets off at midday. According to Cafod, around 3,000 Catholics will join other campaigners to form a human white band — the symbol of the campaign around the city.
Announcing what he called “the most comprehensive statement” finance ministers have ever made on debt and poverty, Mr Brown said that the plan had set the stage for the summit, where world leaders intend “to forge a new and better relationship, a new deal between the rich and poor countries of the world”.
Pope Benedict had not commented on the announcement as The Catholic Herald went to press, but the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper applauded the G8’s decision, normally a strong indication of papal approval. “The cancellation of the foreign debt of developing countries is no longer a mirage,” said L’Osservatore Romano, reminding readers that Pope John Paul II presented debt relief as a “goal of civilisation”.
Cafod, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, gave the announcement a more cautious welcome. The agency’s policy analyst, Henry Northover, said. “If this is implemented this is a good and significant first step. It means millions of people in those 18 countries woke up on Sunday with more chance of being able to go to school and have better health care. But we need more money and more countries to benefit. For example, Sri Lanka, which is working hard to tackle poverty and recovering from the tsunami, received no debt cancellation at the weekend.” Mr Northover also called for a doubling of the aid sent to Africa to more than £27 billion a year and for better checks to ensure that the money reached those who need it most.
“It is vital we now build the political pressure for the heads of government to deliver next month. It is imperative that thousands turn out on the streets of Edinburgh on July 2 to demand action from the G8 that they fulfil their promises to halve poverty by 2015,” he said.
The deal agreed by the G8 finance ministers means that the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and African Development Fund will write off the £22 billion owed by the world’s 18 poorest countries. These are: Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
The agreement will save the countries almost £1 billion every year in debt repayments. Another nine countries, including the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, are expected to qualify within 18 months under the World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative, taking the cost to £55 billion. A further 11 countries could meet the neces sary conditions later. Under the conditions of the deal, the money saved in debt repayments must be channelled into health, hospitals, nurses, education, schools, teachers and infrastructure – and not into the pockets of corrupt government officials.
Britain’s contribution is expected to be some £380-£530 million over the next 10 years. But no new aid money was committed — it had already been promised as part of the aid programme announced in 2004.