People dressed as skeletons protested outside the Department for Business earlier this week, urging Vince Cable to reveal the ‘skeletons in his cupboard’.
The event followed news that the department is still demanding payment from Egypt for money used to fund arms for Mubarak.
The “skeletons” included Christians, anti-poverty campaigners and other concerned individuals. They urged ministers to publish details of all the debts owed by current and former dictatorships to the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), a unit overseen by Cable.
Egypt owes £100 million to the ECGD, although the department refuses to say what the loans were made for. Government documents from the 1980s, published at the weekend by the Jubilee Debt Campaign, reveal that the ECGD backed loans to Mubarak to use on multimillion pound weapons deals.
The demonstration in London coincided with an event in Cairo launching the Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt’s Debt. Earlier in the day, supporters of the Jubilee Debt Campaign had travelled from around Britain to lobby their MPs on the issue, while others contacted their MPs online.
The ECGD has been nicknamed “the Department for Dodgy Deals” because of its lack of transparency and its tendency to fund arms, aviation and fossil fuels.
Tim Jones, senior policy officer of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: “Many people were shocked to learn that Egypt is still paying Vince Cable’s department for Mubarak’s weapons. This should make ministers uncomfortable with the secrecy surrounding the ECGD. They demand repayment but won’t give details of what their loans were made for. Are ministers afraid of uncovering reckless lending in their own export credits agency?
“It’s time for Egypt’s debts to be audited. David Cameron could then act on his words about supporting democracy by cancelling those debts that owe their origin to arms and oppression. A full audit of dictator debts would allow the British people to see how the ECGD is using public money.”
Dina Makram-Ebeid from the Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt's Debt said: "Egypt's debt is Mubarak's debt. It is not the Egyptian people's. Egyptians never had a say in the borrowing that was being made in their name, let alone borrowing to buy arms.”.
The Jubilee Debt Campaign is the UK coalition campaigning for cancellation of unjust and unpayable poor country debts. Ekklesia is one of its members. http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk .
Symon Hill is an associate director of Ekklesia. He also works for The Friend, an independent Quaker magazine, and with Jubilee Debt Campaign.