WASHINGTON, DC (June 16, 2005) -- The chairman of the bishops' International Policy Committee has welcomed the announcement that the world's wealthiest nations would cancel the debt of the world's poorest nations, but urged that the commitment be expanded as soon as possible to other poor countries.
"While we welcome and support this major advance in the fight against poverty, we hope that the benefits offered by this agreement will be extended as soon as practicable to other poor countries," said Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ, of Pensacola-Tallahassee. "While the needs of the poor in the HIPCs [heavily-indebted poor countries] are great, justice demands that we commit ourselves to alleviating the debt burdens on people in all poor countries with unsustainable debt burdens."
The full text of Bishop Ricard's statement follows:
"For the past ten years the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has advocated strongly and consistently for debt relief for poor countries in order to help lift people out of crushing poverty.
"The Conference commends President Bush and Treasury Secretary John Snow for the ground breaking new commitment to cancel poor country debt that was announced by the G-8 Finance Ministers on June 11. The proposal would immediately benefit 18 Heavily-Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), and eventually as many as 20 additional HIPCs. The agreement would provide each country with full cancellation of debts owed to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Development Bank. Together with earlier agreements to cancel bilateral debts, including 100% of the debts owed to the United States, the new agreement would provide the "fresh start" for many poor countries that the Conference has strongly advocated since 1994 when the late Pope John Paul II urged the world's wealthy countries to forgive the debts of the world's poor.
"We are encouraged that G-8 leaders are proposing to finance the cost of debt cancellation to the World Bank and the African Development Bank through additional contributions to these institutions from the developed countries and to finance IMF debt cancellation from its internal resources. We also welcome the necessary emphasis on transparency and accountability to help assure that all resources made available by debt relief are used for poverty reduction. We urge that civil society be given an important role in making sure this happens.
"While we welcome and support this major advance in the fight against poverty, we hope that the benefits offered by this agreement will be extended as soon as practicable to other poor countries. While the needs of the poor in the HIPCs are great, justice demands that we commit ourselves to alleviating the debt burdens on people in all poor countries with unsustainable debt burdens. We also ask that the new resources provided to the international institutions not come at the expense of other essential development and humanitarian programs supported by the United States. Finally, we are pleased to note the special attention afforded to the debt problems of Nigeria, even though this country is not among the direct beneficiaries of the G-8 agreement.
"We also support major new investments in overcoming global poverty through increased and more effective development assistance and equitable trade policies. The present agreement must be built upon and extended as the United States addresses the moral imperative and economic necessity of protecting the lives and dignity of the poorest people on earth.
"We commend the President for his response to the oft-repeated call of Pope John Paul II to relieve the burden of debt on the poor. Effective implementation of new debt cancellation, coupled with increased investments in development assistance and fair and just trade policies, can make a real difference in overcoming poverty and advancing the life and dignity instilled in each person by our Creator."