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A worker at a power station in Kabul. Photo by Graham Crouch, World Bank

5 Principles on the Uses and Misuses of Debt Relief to Address the Coronavirus Pandemic

Debt relief for low-income countries is on the table of measures to consider for coronavirus response. The imperative right now is to get cash to LICs as quickly as possible. Suspending some debt service payments may be a good first step in freeing up some budget space for new spending. Beyond that, protracted debt-relief negotiations with multilateral and commercial creditors right now could be a distraction at best but could also actively undermine the ability of institutions like the World Bank to offer new financing for crisis response.

Another Debt Crisis for Poor Countries?

When the world’s finance ministers and central bank governors assemble in Washington later this month. they would do well to focus on another looming debt crisis that could hit some of the poorest countries in the world, many of whom are also struggling with problems of conflict and fragility and none of which has the institutional capacity to cope with a major debt crisis without lasting damage to their already-challenged development prospects.

Cash for Poor Countries, or Another Round of Subprime Lending?

This is a joint post with Benjamin Leo.

A special new lending facility was announced in July 2009 with the objective of providing up to $17 billion in new loans through 2014 and, to entice cash-strapped borrowers, the lender is waiving interest payments for the first two years. This may sound like dangerous new short-term teaser offers for sub-prime borrowers. But this isn’t coming from Countrywide Financial. It actually is a new IMF facility for low-income countries, including some of heavily indebted poor countries (HIPCs) who are just barely coming out of the last debt crisis.

The stated objectives of the new IMF facility are laudable: to offset the effects of the global economic crisis by boosting international reserves and supporting adjustment policies. And yes, the overall terms are more concessional than past IMF loans. Nonetheless, the net impact on national debt levels may be significant. And it was just four years ago that the IMF committed to cancel roughly $6 billion in bad loans to many of these very same countries.

French Candidate for IMF Head Would Reform Selection System: AFP

Agence France Presse reported last week that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, France's candidate to head the IMF, told Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva that he wants to reform the IMF--including how the head of the international lender of last resort is selected. Marco Aurelio Garcia, Lula's advisor for international policy, briefed reporters after the two men met. According to AFP:
He said the Socialist party leader and former French finance minister told Lula change was needed in the IMF in "three key areas," including how member states were represented, how its managing director is selected and its operating program....
Strauss-Kahn after his meeting with Lula told reporters, "If I am a candidate, it is because I want to change the IMF."

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