HALIFAX -- A plan by the world's seven most powerful finance ministers to boost by $1-billion (U.S.) debt-relief efforts for the poorest of the world's poor was met with skepticism by organizations that deliver aid.
The G7 finance ministers, who wrapped up a two-day meeting in Halifax on Saturday, will write a formal letter to their countries' leaders this week, asking them to approve the money at the Group of Eight (G7 plus Russia) summit in Kananaskis, Alta., next week.
The ministers agreed that about a fifth of the funds from a $22-billion low-interest-loan fund for poor countries should be handed out as grants directed at education, health, nutrition and water safety in the poorest of all countries.
The rest of the money will be handed out as loans, as was done in the past.
The G7 ministers said they want to make sure all the world's children receive at least primary educations by 2015, and have endorsed a World Bank plan to fast-track 18 developing countries that have strong education policies.
But some aid organizations said the G7 commitments are empty, and pointed out that previous promises to help the world's poor have been much talk and no action.
On education, for example, the finance ministers had promised to support the World Bank initiative to educate all the world's children by 2015, but they have never coughed up the money, Oxfam said.
"The Canadian government had shown great leadership on this issue. But Finance Minister [John] Manley dropped the ball here in Halifax," Oxfam spokesman Oliver Buston said, a veiled reference to former finance minister Paul Martin's dedication to drumming up G7 support for the education initiative.
Roy Culpeper, president of the Ottawa-based North-South Institute, said it's discouraging that neither the G7 finance ministers nor the foreign ministers who met last week in British Columbia mentioned the continent by name in their final statements, considering Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's insistence that alleviating poverty in Africa be the central focus at the G8 summit next week.
"It's very conspicuous in its absence," he said.
African leaders, in putting together a plan for the continent's development, have said Africa needs $64-billion in new aid, as well as foreign and local investment, to put the continent on a sustainable-growth track. The G7 initiatives will do a bit, but not much, to push Africa closer to that goal, Mr. Culpeper said.
"If you look at the [$64-billion] figure and the amount that's being put on the [G7] table, it doesn't amount to much," he said. "These kinds of announcements help a bit, but they don't get us very far along the road."
The $22-billion for grants and loans is not new money but part of a fund that has been lending money to poor countries for years. It has been frozen because of a dispute between the United States and Europe over how the money should be spent. The G7 agreement reached this weekend frees the funds if it gets endorsement from the International Monetary Fund this fall.
The G7 breakthroughs will provide a strong foundation for the G8 leaders to work with at the summit to focus on Africa, Mr. Manley said. "If we want to live in a world of peace, we have to deal with the world of need," he said after the meeting.
Jack Panozzo, a spokesman for Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, said aid advocates will take a wait-and-see approach to the finance ministers' proposals. "I don't want to say it's not good, but the track record is not good. There have been so many promises in the past."
Mr. Panozzo said industrialized countries must do more about their unfair trade relationships with poor countries and Africa's AIDS epidemic if the underdeveloped world is to make significant strides. "The rhetoric is impressive, but the reality is not."
Although the finance ministers did not commit the $4-billion that the World Bank said is required for the education initiative, British officials said the letter to leaders will request approval for some funding.
"These are major areas which are absolutely critical to the future of developing countries, and [with] the new compact that we have between developing and developed countries . . . I believe we have very significant progress," British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said.
FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. NoNonsense English offers this material non-commercially for research and educational purposes. I believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner, i.e. the media service or newspaper which first published the article online and which is indicated at the top of the article unless otherwise specified.