Zambia: Debt Reduction Doesn’t Guarantee Debt Sustainability - World Bank

5 September 2006 by Mwila Nkonge

DEBT reduction is insufficient for debt sustainability, the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

has noted.

According to the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), a study of 18 Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC Heavily Indebted Poor Countries
In 1996 the IMF and the World Bank launched an initiative aimed at reducing the debt burden for some 41 heavily indebted poor countries (HIPC), whose total debts amount to about 10% of the Third World Debt. The list includes 33 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The idea at the back of the initiative is as follows: a country on the HIPC list can start an SAP programme of twice three years. At the end of the first stage (first three years) IMF experts assess the ’sustainability’ of the country’s debt (from medium term projections of the country’s balance of payments and of the net present value (NPV) of debt to exports ratio.
If the country’s debt is considered “unsustainable”, it is eligible for a second stage of reforms at the end of which its debt is made ’sustainable’ (that it it is given the financial means necessary to pay back the amounts due). Three years after the beginning of the initiative, only four countries had been deemed eligible for a very slight debt relief (Uganda, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, and Mozambique). Confronted with such poor results and with the Jubilee 2000 campaign (which brought in a petition with over 17 million signatures to the G7 meeting in Cologne in June 1999), the G7 (group of 7 most industrialised countries) and international financial institutions launched an enhanced initiative: “sustainability” criteria have been revised (for instance the value of the debt must only amount to 150% of export revenues instead of 200-250% as was the case before), the second stage in the reforms is not fixed any more: an assiduous pupil can anticipate and be granted debt relief earlier, and thirdly some interim relief can be granted after the first three years of reform.

Simultaneously the IMF and the World Bank change their vocabulary : their loans, which so far had been called, “enhanced structural adjustment facilities” (ESAF), are now called “Growth and Poverty Reduction Facilities” (GPRF) while “Structural Adjustment Policies” are now called “Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper”. This paper is drafted by the country requesting assistance with the help of the IMF and the World Bank and the participation of representatives from the civil society.
This enhanced initiative has been largely publicised: the international media announced a 90%, even a 100% cancellation after the Euro-African summit in Cairo (April 2000). Yet on closer examination the HIPC initiative turns out to be yet another delusive manoeuvre which suggests but in no way implements a cancellation of the debt.

List of the 42 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries: Angola, Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoro Islands, Congo, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Honduras, Kenya, Laos, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Vietnam, Zambia.
) initiative beneficiary countries shows that the initiative does not guarantee debt sustainability. The study, entitled Debt Relief for the Poorest: An Evaluation Update of the HIPC Initiative, shows that while a reduction in debt was good, most post-HIPC completion point countries were still vulnerable to export shocks.

The study, whose results were published on Tuesday, indicates that due to this, 11 out of 13 post-HIPC countries for which data is available have experienced deterioration in their conditions. “The Enhanced HIPC Initiative has reduced US$19 billion of debt in 18 countries, thereby halving their debt ratios. But in 11 of 13 post-completion-point countries for which data are available, the key indicator of external debt sustainability has deteriorated since completion point,” the IEG study report states. "In eight of these countries, the ratios once again exceed HIPC thresholds.

Changes in discount and exchange rates have worked to increase debt ratios. The effect of improved exports and revenue mobilisation on debt ratios has been offset by new borrowing. Six of eight post-completion-point countries with new debt sustainability analyses are considered to have only a moderate risk of debt distress, but all remain vulnerable to export shocks and still require highly concessional financing and sound debt management.
“Debt reduction alone is not a sufficient instrument to affect the multiple drivers of debt sustainability. Sustained improvements in export diversification, fiscal management, the terms of new financing, and public debt management are also needed measures that are outside the ambit of the HIPC Initiative.”

The report, however, adds that debt relief has become a significant vehicle for transfer of resources to poor countries, with net transfer of resources doubling from US$8.8 billion in 1999 to US$17.5 billion in 2004.
The report further stressed the need for an engagement shift that allows recipient countries to spend these resources on priority poverty reduction programmes.
The IEG recommends that with these experiences, future debt relief initiatives should address the issue of policy actions that would enable beneficiary governments and their external partners build capacity to repay.



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