International Conference on Financing for Development

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
Monterrey, NL, Mexico
18-22 March 2002

19 March 2002




Church representatives this morning described proposals to double official development assistance (ODA) over the next few years as a mere "drop in the bucket", saying that even if ODA was raised to 14 per cent of developed countries' gross national product (GNP), it would still take 400 years for the developing world to catch up.

Speakers at the press conference today on the theme "Another World Is Possible" were: Rogate Mshana, World Council of Churches; Juan Pedro Schaad, Latin American Council of Churches; Jocelyn Dow and June Zeitlin, Women´s Environment and Development Organization; and Joy Kennedy of the Ecumenical Team.

Ms. Kennedy asked how it was possible to have engagement without commitment. That a free market system would effectively address society's woes was pure science fiction. The debt burden of the poorest countries must be acknowledged as a political scandal, and political will in that regard must be mobilized to eliminate that without delay. At the start of the Conference, that glaring injustice between the rich and poor "stares us in face". Indeed, deprivation and marginalization was the life story for the majority of the world's population.

The growing power and reach of the growing global markets posed an even greater threat to equitable development, she said, asking, "How could we rely on such a dysfunctional engine to take us towards sustainable development?"

The debt burden of developing countries was a fundamental obstacle to poverty eradication and development for all, she said. The "financing for development" ("ffd") process had failed to give due recognition to the urgency of finding a comprehensive and lasting solution to the debt crisis. The bilateral and multilateral debt of the poorest countries must be cancelled within five years. And, there must be a substantial debt reduction for poor- to middle-income countries, as well. Also, structural adjustment programmes that were imposed by the international financial institutions must be eliminated. Among her other calls was an independent mechanism for promoting ethical lending and borrowing under the aegis of the United Nations as one pillar of a just and equitable solution to the "current mess". She urged the United Nations to promote a neutral decision-making body that heard all stakeholders and protected debtors' basic needs fairly.

Mr. Mshana said that financing was not an end in itself. People-centred development must be the focus of the "ffd" process. The powerful 20 per cent of the world's population consumed more than 80 per cent of the global income. The Monterrey consensus offered too little for such a world and was not explicit on the control of financial markets or on the promotion of equity and human rights as factors in world trade. Also, there was no explicit timeframe to meet the commitments set out in the document. The new liberal economic paradigm had been used as the basis for eradicating poverty, but for years the number of poor had increased to nearly 3 billion and the gap between rich and poor continued to grow. Churches did not see that scenario as ethical or moral. Still, the same thinking was being applied here in Monterrey. It must be ensured that equality and equity and environmental protection governed trade, with human rights issues squarely at its centre.

Mr. Schaad said that the governments of developing countries seemed like "official beggars" before the governments of the developed world. The lack of effective mechanisms to combat and eradicate corruption and impunity was unacceptable. As one proposal, all economic growth must have, as its foundation, the improvement of conditions in society, without exclusions. Also, globalization must be regulated with clear and just rules. That implied strengthening participatory democracy in decision-making and creating mechanisms for control and arbitration at the national level to regulate investments, capital flows and loans. Further, an international arbitration agency should be created, and foreign debt should be cancelled. In addition, developing countries needed access to information and technology. The Latin American Council of Churches insisted that people should be the centre of any development financing scheme, and not the banks or multinational corporations.

Ms. Zeitlin said that, as part of the "ffd" process, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and women's groups had had the opportunity to make their views known, but those had not been reflected in the outcome document. The NGO Forum yesterday presented its declaration. Clearly, the principal goal of "ffd" had been to mobilize resources to eradicate poverty. Women knew about poverty, as women and children made up three quarters of the world's poor. Nevertheless, there had been no recognition of their experiences, needs, challenges, or even successes. The "staying engaged" part of the so-called Monterrey consensus had also applied to women. Women would stay engaged, but they needed a lot more courting before they could marry such a text. Even the United Nations Secretary-General's challenge to governments to double ODA was an insufficient downpayment. The Monterrey consensus could be summed up as follows, "pennies for the poor and toys for the boys".

Replying to a series of questions about whether the NGO and women's participation had been enough throughout the "ffd" process, Mr. Schaad said that had not been too useful, although the intentions were good. Mr. Mshana said their views had not really made their way into the consensus text, so their participation had not really been sufficient.

Ms. Kennedy explained that NGOs had participated in many United Nations conferences. The real question was whether they did more good on the inside or outside on the street. "We are both places", she said, adding that the Churches were, too. Sometimes, it was difficult to stay inside, because NGOs often felt like their work was not reflected in any final document. At Monterrey, the consensus text was a weak, watered down, lowest common denominator document, but she was not ready to throw it out and start over. One positive thing was that debt cancellation, not on the agenda five years ago, now was being taken seriously. Yet, the Monterrey consensus lacked perspective on just and sustainable development. Also, there was nothing about the ecological situation -- the text was about finance and not about development and justice. "If we perpetuate the status quo, we are doomed", she said.

To a question about proposals to double ODA over the next few years, Ms. Kennedy said that $100 billion, with respect to halving extreme poverty by 2015, was like a blood transfusion, but would not solve the whole problem. The ODA question should be seen in the context of debt cancellation, which would level the playing field.

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