Odious Debts

Asian stimulus packages should fund job-creating infrastructure

(May 24, 2009) Legislators, trade unionists and civil-society groups in Asia have urged governments to focus their stimulus packages on community-based infrastructure investments to create jobs and address poverty that has been deepened by massive retrenchments.

The delegates to the Regional Conference of Social Democracy in Asia, hosted by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Manila, concluded their recent three-day meeting with a call to governments to increase subsidies on social services and cut interest payments to odious debts.

In their communiqué, the social democrats said that to address the impacts of the global financial turmoil, governments must stimulate demand by investing in community-based infrastructure, public transportation, low-cost housing, health services and education to mitigate poverty and create jobs.

Budiman Sudjatmiko, a member of the Indonesian parliament, said Asia is “faced with a severe slowdown in economic activity caused by global recession.”

“It has resulted in losses in jobs, income and employment opportunities, especially for young people, decrease in overseas remittances and escalating social inequalities. Governments have further cut subsidies for social services and development programs or increased its debt to finance services,” said Sudjatmiko, who read the communiqué during the press briefing on Saturday at the Discovery Suites Hotel in Pasig City.

The group also stressed that governments should also provide relief for displaced workers, mostly overseas migrant workers who come from the region, by providing them with job opportunities at home.

The delegates are legislators, social democrats and trade unionists from Burma/Myanmar, Indonesia, Mongolia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Trade-union leaders who attended the meeting also cited the increasing number of retrenched workers and the need to upgrade the skills of labor to facilitate getting new employment.

The group also stressed the need to establish social-protection schemes like health insurance and cash transfers that reduce poverty incidence.

The communiqué also stressed the need to repudiate odious debts by many developing countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, in order to enable their governments to focus more on financing social services.

Meanwhile, the delegates also expressed solidarity with the people of Burma in seeking the release of their prodemocracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The group said Suu Kyi has maintained her innocence in front of a prison tribunal on Friday as the prosecution wrapped up its case on the fifth day of her trial.

“The Network of Social Democracy in Asia strongly urges Burma’s authorities to immediately release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as all political prisoners, and to engage in an inclusive process of national reconciliation, which is essential for setting Burma on a genuine path to stability and prosperity, and to initiate a new phase in the development of the country,” the group said.

Estrella Torres, Business Mirror, May 24, 2009

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