Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Come to Fiji! We're up to our eyeballs in debt!

The next time you see one of those infomercials asking to "sponsor" a Third World child, ask whether it's money being well spent or whether the NGOs are getting shaken down by the countries in which they operate.

Radio Australia reports that Fiji, already one of the most indebted countries on the planet, is going even further into debt by $500 million US, thanks to a loan from the Asia Bank -- an agency of the US Government -- with help from Merrill Lynch. This comes just a week after martial law was reimposed in the country and the European Union is considering whether to suspend its aid. One analyst says the loan will increase Fiji's debt-to-GDP ratio to about 70% -- from 50% -- overnight. (By comparison, Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio was 39.2% at the end of FY 2006 -- the 2007 numbers aren't finalized yet but it's probably even lower than that rate now. The US is at 64.7% and climbing.)

Like many others, I think it's unfair to burden a country and its people with unnecessary debt. This is true whether it's in the developed or developing worlds. But I am also against the idea of loaning out money to a country with no reasonable prospect of repayment or if the money is just going to go down the drain into cronyism and other forms of corruption rather than reaching the people it's intended to go to.

With the state of emergency, one must not even speak of such questions in Fiji. We need to ask those questions here. If APEC is actually serious about having a Pacific wide free trade zone, we need to be asking questions about the propriety of dealing with thugs -- especially thugs who have no intention of paying any loans back.

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