Lutheran leader denounces enforced debt slavery of the poor

By Ecumenical News International
October 24, 2008

People in the poorest countries are being forced into poverty by having to repay hundreds of millions of dollars of illegitimate loans from wealthy Western countries to greedy dictators, an international development conference has heard.

"They have seen how scarce public revenue is diverted to debt service obligations and away from social welfare and infrastructure investment ... [and] observed the ways in which the lives of successive generations of children can be mortgaged to the greed of a dictator," said the Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation.

Speaking at a symposium in Oslo on illegitimate debt, Noko noted that lenders who offer loans under conditions that do not guarantee democratic accountability, "should bear the risks of their decision, and should not be entitled to 'bailouts' from the international financial institutions".

Representatives of governments, churches and their partner agencies, United Nation bodies, civil society organizations and legal experts are among participants at the symposium jointly organized by the Lutheran World Federation, the Church of Sweden and Norwegian Church Aid, from 20-23 October in the Norwegian capital.

"It is the hope of poor countries that through the Oslo symposium, the world will recognise the immorality of such debts and how external debt … saps the lifeblood of poor countries," Bishop Victoria Cortez Rodríguez, the LWF vice-president for the Latin America and Caribbean region, told Lutheran World Information.

The LWF programme on illegitimate debt, launched in 2005, is located in the Latin American region.

Norway's minister for finance, Kristin Halvorsen, during a keynote address, commended symposium organizers "for bringing together so many important people from Norway and around the world to discuss the debt burden that affects so many poor countries." Still, she stressed the need to "look at the conditions that were attached to such loans when they were issued, and identify who it is that actually benefits from these".

Atle Sommerfelt, secretary general of Norwegian Church Aid, said, "Those who issued loans like these must be kept responsible and accept the risk they have taken. This debt is illegitimate." He said countries that had received such loans had a desperate need for emergency assistance, but are forced to spend their money on debt owed to wealthy finance institutions.

Sommerfelt praised the Norwegian government for its role on the illegitimate debt issue, especially for being the first Western government to accept co-responsibility by cancelling in 2006 the debt owed by five countries in Africa and South America.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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