Volume 92, Issue 57

Friday, January 8, 1999

the roof is on fire


Time for relief in the new millenium

Complaints department

Time for relief in the new millenium

Re: Debt relief

To the Editor:
Everyone must pay their debts. But not always.

Public policy analyst in Ottawa, Kathy Vandergrift, comments on the demise of Olympia and York some years ago. She writes that O&Y, owned by the Reichmann brothers, declared bankruptcy when it owed $20 billion with collateral of under $5 billion. The brothers, Vandergrift notes, were able to retain $12 million of their personal wealth and were back in business a few years later.

Some of the Canadian rich are able to send their creditors home nearly empty-handed from time to time and get a fresh, even well-moneyed, start. Why can't some of the non-Canadian poor living in the third world?

At the moment I have some statistics in front of me which try to give an overall picture of third world debt. Here are a few quotations. "In 1980, the total debt of the world's poorer nations totaled US $567 billion. From 1980 to 1997, the [poorer] south transferred US $2.9 trillion to northern creditors in interest and principal payments, yet the total debt of the south has now reached US $2 trillion.

According to Citizens for Public Justice, of the 32 countries classified as severely indebted low-income countries, 25 are in sub-Saharan Africa. In total, sub-Saharan Africa owes US $235 billion or 81 per cent of its total GNP. African countries now spend four times as much on debt repayments as they do on health care.

"If calculated per capita, each person in the south would owe about US $300 to the north, much more than a year's wage for many. For every $1 that northern countries provide in aid, over $3 comes back in the form of debt servicing."

These statistics pose a serious ethical and moral problem for all of us living in the north. It appears that the wealth we enjoy comes in part at a great cost. That cost is the impoverishment, malnourishment and starvation of many of the world's less advantaged.

What can be done? On one front, a wide spectrum of Christian communities in Canada and internationally are working on an initiative called Jubilee 2000. Launched last September in Ottawa, as the commonwealth finance sinisters were meeting there, this campaign is gaining momentum in over 30 countries. Its main tool is a petition to cancel the backlog of unpayable debts of the poorest countries by the year 2000.

The vision for this campaign comes directly from the Jewish and Christian biblical instructions on forgiving crushing debt. These instructions are a call for a new beginning to restore access to livelihood and the benefits of God's creation for all people. The world belongs to God, not creditors and all our neighbours deserve a fair chance at enjoying its benefits.

Information about Jubilee 2000 is available from several of Western's chaplains. It can also be found at most of Canada's churches and several other organizations including the Aboriginal Rights Coalition.

Mike Veenema
UWO Chaplain

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Copyright The Gazette 1999