The Liberal Democrats have been accused of inconsistency after declaring their support for the Arab Spring. The Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC) say that the party’s ministers are undermining Arab democracy by not acting on “dictator debt”.
At their conference, the Liberal Democrats passed a policy which recognises the progress towards democracy made by popular movements in the Middle East and north Africa.
The policy sets out that “Democracy, justice, free expression, free association and self-determination are universal human rights… Such human rights can discourage conflict, enhance prosperity and economic development…Countries which embrace freedom and pluralism should feel its full economic, social and political benefits”
But campaigners argue that one way in which democracy could be supported would be for the Liberal Democrats to implement their existing policy to audit overseas debts to the UK and to invalidate any debts which were run up by reckless lending to dictators.
JDC point out that the UK government’s Export Credit Guarantee Department (ECGD) is expecting payment of hundreds of millions for deals done with dictators such as Mubarak.
The ECGD is under the control of Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable. JDC urged Cable to implement existing Liberal Democrat policy by cancelling dictator debts.
“This would show a real commitment to supporting democracy,” said JDC’s Maddy Evans.
She added, “Expecting people struggling for democracy in Egypt to pay off debts that were run up by their dictator is completely unfair and undermines the government’s claims around supporting transition to democracy”.
Thus far there has been no progress on Liberal Democrat policy to audit these debts since they entered government. And when Malcolm Bruce, Liberal Democrat Chair of the International Development Select Committee, asked a parliamentary question on Egypt’s debts in June 2011, Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat minister, responded that “no audit of debts owed by Egypt …is contemplated”
Despite Mubarak’s fall, his debts continue to burden the country. The UK government has not explained the origin of these debts, but it is clear that in the past other debts to the ECGD have been run up through arms exports, fossil fuel projects, and projects which have harmed the human rights or environment of people in the country concerned. Other countries which owe dictator debts to the ECGD include Indonesia, Iraq and Kenya.