Debt Relief

Bob Geldof slams EU aid chief

Irish rocker and anti-poverty campaigner Bob Geldof accused the EU aid chief on Thursday of talking nonsense after he criticised British plans to cut Third World debt.

“He’s talking through his arse, quite frankly. He shouldn’t have his job if he doesn’t want to help,” Geldof told a news conference at a UK-sponsored summit in Ethiopia on Thursday.

Earlier in Brussels, EU Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Poul Nielson said London’s plan would force future generations to pay the price of glory for today’s politicians.

Britain has vowed to use its chairmanship of the G8 bloc of industrial nations during 2005 and the EU in the second half of the year to make African issues a priority, including debt.

One key proposal for reducing poverty and debt, drafted by British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, is the so-called International Finance Facility (IFF), aimed at doubling aid to the world’s poorest countries.

Brown says it would double aid to $100 billion a year by issuing bonds in the capital markets using donor countries’ long-term funding commitments as collateral – effectively securitising their aid budgets.

“To impose on our children in the donor countries the burden of actually paying what we now take the glory for doing, that I don’t like,” Nielson said.

Geldof, famous for his fund-raising efforts during Ethiopia’s 1984-85 famine, was scathing in response.

“It’s rich of the EU aid commissioner. He should look to his own books. They’re wholly woeful in what they do,” he said.

“I think the debt relief issue is economic sophistry if that’s what he’s suggesting. I think the IFF is elegant, timely, simple, necessary.”

British and Ethiopian prime ministers Tony Blair and Meles Zenawi – sitting next to Geldof – also brushed off the EU commissioner’s comment, although using more diplomatic language.

“Enron accounting”?

“Obviously we support the IFF and do not think it is an accounting gimmick,” Zenawi said.

Blair added: “There will be particular aspects (of our plans) that people have difficulty with . . . Let’s have debate and see if we can persuade people.”

The row broke out as Blair chaired a summit in Ethiopia of the British-sponsored Commission for Africa to map out an African policy agenda for Britain to press on the international stage. Geldof is one of 17 commissioners.

Britain argues the IFF is essential to meet the Millennium Development Goals, which were agreed in New York in 2000 and include cutting poverty in half, cutting infant mortality by two thirds and ensuring every child has primary schooling.

But Nielson said the plan “smells too much of innovative Enron accounting” – a reference to the accounting malpractices that led to the fall of the U.S. energy trade giant.

Geldof has criticised the EU in the past for unfair trade practices, low aid levels and inaction over Third World debt.

The ex-Boomtown Rats leader’s fund-raising and Live Aid concert in 1985 earned him the UK media epithet “Sir Bob.”

He sat at Thursday’s summit in a pin-striped suit but still sporting the long hair – albeit greying – of his rock days.

Andrew Cawthorne, Reuters, October 7, 2004

Categories: Debt Relief, Odious Debts

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