Jubilee Scotland is currently trying to convince the UK government to cancel the >£500 million it’s owed by Indonesia. This is a small goal within a much broader international objective, which is to promote the doctrine of ‘odious debt’.
‘Odious debt’ is a concept which enjoys some international credibility, but not nearly enough! Put simply, it is based on the idea that, if a dictator takes out loans for violent, abusive or simply frivolous purposes, his people should not be required to pay back the debt after he has gone. Every victory of debt-cancellation on this basis – and there are many such campaigns all over the world – strengthens this important doctrine.
Why is there any need for this? What was wrong with campaigning for debt cancellation solely on the basis of a country’s poverty? Here are a couple of reasons to be going along with, although there are plenty more.
Firstly, the existing debt-cancellation mechanisms demand that a country be branded as a ‘Heavily Indebted Poor Country’ before it qualifies for debt relief. It is obvious why this is demeaning.
Secondly, if debt cancellation is enacted on the basis of bad lending, it turns the spotlight back on the lender, and perhaps makes them think twice about dealing with dictators in the future.
This is a global movement within which Jubilee Scotland plays a small part. Jubilee USA are campaigning, for example, on cancelling the debts extended to Haiti’s infamous Duvalier regime, the European anti-debt coalition EURODAD is working to get government’s to sign a declaration of responsible lending, while the Norwegian government has already cancelled its debts to Ecuador and other countries on the grounds of illegitimacy.
More to follow…