The Holy See
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Intervention by H.E. Archbishop Renato R. Martino
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
to the United Nations
on Item 97e
External Debt Crisis and Development

New York, 11 October 1999

Many people of goodwill look towards the year 2000 as a Jubilee Year. The biblical Jubilee was an occasion for society to examine ways of restoring equity by removing the burdens which had caused exclusion. The remission of debt was one of the important elements of the celebration of the Jubilee.

It was not, however, the remission of debt just for its own sake. Debts were remitted and burdens were lifted so that the excluded could have the possibility of a new start, and harmonious relationships be restored throughout society.

Those in today’s world who, in a spirit of Jubilee, seek the remission or reduction of the heavy debt burdens of the poorest countries are similarly motivated. Debt relief is not an end in itself. It is only one dimension of the greater task which faces the world: the fight against poverty. The long term aim is to achieve comprehensive global development, based on the inclusion of the poorest countries and their citizens.

Debt relief and the fight against poverty go together. Debt relief is urgent if the poorest countries are to make progress in their fight against poverty and exclusion. Debt relief programmes must be so designed - and where necessary consistently revised - that they maximize their impact on poverty eradication schemes.

The situation in which debt repayments exceed the total national expenditure on education and health care combined is an unacceptable one. An economic reform or adjustment programme which cuts back on those very factors which are essential for the re-launching of an economy, namely investment in people and in human capacities, would be short-sighted indeed.

Considerable progress has been made in recent years in recognizing the significance of the debt burden of the poorest countries. The initiative for the “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPC) is a significant attempt to address simultaneously all the debt burdens of those countries, within the framework of sound and lasting economic and social reform.

Despite the goodwill and the intense efforts of its proponents, the HIPC initiative has so far moved forward too slowly. For all the promises of a deeper and broader package, the number of countries which have effectively achieved debt relief within the programme is very small. The recent proposals for an “enhanced HIPC initiative” do however offer new opportunities. Individual countries have also promised, on a bilateral basis, to give additional assistance to some countries, after their completion of the HIPC process, bringing debt relief even up to 100% in certain circumstances.

It is essential, within this new concept, that the commitments made to address the debt burdens of a substantial number of poor countries be rapidly honored and the necessary financial resources be guaranteed. Here, the wealthier countries have a special responsibility.

Pope John Paul II has consistently appealed for the largest possible number of countries to achieve the maximum benefit before the end of the year 2000. We all know that this can be done.

Debt relief should also aim at being definitive. It should reach levels which are sufficient not simply to save the poor countries from a momentary crisis, but be such that they can re-launch their investment in long-term economic and human development. The achievement of internationally recognized social development targets - particularly those set in place by the Copenhagen World Summit for Human Development - is a goal of the entire international community. Essential social goals are not optional extras, which may or may not be added to national development programmes. The governments of the poorer countries cannot be asked to renounce such targets.

Debt relief programmes must, however, establish a more tangible link with the fight against poverty. On the one hand, this is needed to gain political legitimation in the wealthier countries for the use of public funds for debt relief. On the other hand, the redirection of resources to productive social expenditure is a fundamental principle of modern development theory. New models must be found to ensure that the funds released from the debt relief process are effectively used for programmes of education, health care and the improvement of the social and economic capacities of the citizens.

To achieve this, States and the international financial institutions must find ways of encouraging the involvement of the citizens and the civil society of the poorer countries in “ownership” of reform programmes, that is in the elaboration and the subsequent monitoring of the effects of such programmes. The men, women and children of these countries themselves must be encouraged to become the protagonists of the development of their communities and their nations.

The citizens of the developing countries will also be the first to recognize unproductive use of international funds, or their misuse through corruption or poor governance. The strong words of the secretary general, Mr. Kofi Annan, at the beginning of this Session of the general Assembly, on the spread of small arms, should be heeded by all. A clear consensus should be elaborated which does not accept that countries entering into debt relief packages may at the same time indulge in disproportionate spending on arms.

Debt relief and the fight against poverty go together. Funds must be guaranteed to ensure that the current debt relief initiatives can proceed rapidly. But this should not be at the cost of other essential development goals. There is an urgent need to generate new financial resources to ensure that, even when the current debt problems of the poorest countries are resolved, they will receive clearly focused additional assistance to enable them to sustain the reforms they have begun to implement, very often at a heavy cost, and to ensure that their fight against poverty is lasting and sustained.

The enormous goodwill which surrounds the beginning of the new Millennium and the celebration of the year 2000 as a Jubilee Year stirs the hope that on this occasion, for once, the generations of today will be able to make this powerful gesture and may bequeath to the future a world with less poverty, a world with greater hope.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to conclude this statement with the words of Pope John Paul II (Address to Leaders and Supporters of the Jubilee 2000 Debt Campaign, 24 September 1999): "I appeal to all those involved, especially the most powerful nations, not to let this opportunity of the Jubilee Year pass without taking a decisive step towards definitively resolving the debt crisis".

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.