Caribbean needs debt relief

The chairman of a telecommunications company that has a strong presence in Antigua & Barbuda has called on rich countries forgive debt to Caribbean countries that cannot afford to repay them.

Speaking at the Private Sector Forum of the United Nations International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa, on Sunday, Denis O’Brien said debt levels are restricting growth and development in the Caribbean.

He urged that a debt relief initiative be rolled out in eight Caribbean states immediately.

“The joint IMF-World Bank African HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) debt relief initiative needs to be rolled out in eight Caribbean states immediately. This would result in a number of Caribbean states removing a debt burden it cannot manage. To date, in Africa, US $75 billion of debt has been relieved. A similar programme needs to be urgently implemented across eight Caribbean countries,” O’Brien said, without identifying any of the countries.

“Just like what happened in Africa where countries were given debt forgiveness in lieu of revised economic plans, there has to be new policy for debt forgiveness put on the agenda so that a number of Caribbean countries can invest in education and long term economic development programmes.  Many of the countries in the Caribbean have little or no growth and nearly half of their government budget is being spent on interest and capital to foreign lenders.”

Meanwhile, Antigua & Barbuda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Charles “Max” Fernandez, who is also attending the SIDS conference, said he would also be seeking to pressure rich countries, but in this case to keep their promise of establishing a climate change fund.

(More in today’s Daily Observer)