Thursday, December 02, 2004

Fighting the real battle with the World bank

The ruling party has placed a bill in parliament to provide immunity to the World Bank from all the laws of Bangladesh. The media, progressive parties and some NGOs have vociferously opposed this move. Note that some political parties are quiet.
What do the protestors want? Their immediate aim is stop the bill being passed. OK, let us assume they achieve this. Then what? Then they will simply move on. That’s what always happens. Win or lose, they will move on to another issue, another campaign.
If an employee hadn’t taken the World Bank to court they might not asked for immunity and we would have slept blissfully through this. She did, they asked and now we are awake and challenging.
So all this time we did not think of taking the World Bank to task in the courts. Now that right is being taken away from us, we are complaining. Where were we all this time?
I do support the courageous moves of the protestors in rallying against this bill. However, we should pick the right target and stay in for the long-term.
Tactically, we should oppose the Immunity bill in this parliament, If passed, we should press for any new regime or parliament to repeal this bill.
The long-term aim should be scrap any PSRPs or World Bank control of our policies since it is obvious to nearly all that they do not lead to development.
Strategically, we should look at an intermediary stage or issue and logically press for that resolution. This should be the cancellation of our foreign debt. A precedent has been set for poor countries – the so-called highly indebted developing countries. Even though our debt is higher than some of the smaller countries, we have not been included. After years of pressure from activists in the North and South, the international financial institutions agreed to a process of writing off debt. It’s imperfect and still unfair. But it’s a start.
We receive $700 million in so-called aid annually. Our overall debt has now climbed to $17 billion. We owe the World Bank alone $6.5 billion.
The World Bank says that a country’s debt is unsustainable if our debt is 150% of the value of our annual exports. Our figure is higher, at 180%.
Now add this little fact. We pay out about $650 million every year for our debt. Remember, we hardly receive grants any more. They give loans. That’s why the ‘Aid Consortium’ is really the ‘Debt Consortium”.
We are almost in the position where we get $1 as ‘aid-debt’ in the right hand and we pay out $1 with the left hand. We get nothing extra.
From 2005, many garments companies will close down. Besides losing lakhs of jobs, we will also be earning less dollars. Our creditors will be merciless and still insist on their debt. We should have a mature discussion with them and suggest that we have a minimum five year moratorium. I.e we stop paying. We can then invest that money in creating more industries to earn foreign exchange or save foreign exchange.
Our ‘development partners’ will throw up their hands in horror or even laugh.
Remind them of two things. The Japanese, Canadians and British have or are cancelling our debt – it’s nothing new. We want ALL creditors to do so.
The US is calmly asking that $150 billion (nine times our debt) to be cancelled. For which country? Iraq. The World Bank hasn’t protested. Strange that what is unacceptable in one place is OK somewhere else.


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