Statement by Ambassador Odeen Ishmael at the World Bank, Washington DC, 22 July 1999

Acting Regional Vice President of the World Bank for the Latin America and the Caribbean Region, Executives of the World Bank, Ladies and Gentlemen . . .

I am particularly pleased to sign this agreement on behalf of the Government of Guyana. This agreement specifies that the International Development Association (IDA) has agreed to provide debt relief under the HIPC Debt Initiative on a debt of $27,108,000 owed by Guyana to the Association through the transfer of this identified debt to the HIPC Trust Fund.

I take this opportunity on behalf of the Government and people of Guyana to thank the Association for its initiative. I also assure all our international creditors that such debt relief will go a long way in fighting poverty and improving the economic welfare and standards of living of our people.

This Agreement, as you know, is part of an initiative of the international community to reduce the debt burden of heavily indebted poor countries to sustainable levels. It is my understanding that the World Bank and the International Development Association nearly three years ago adopted the HIPC Trust Fund Resolutions, establishing the HIPC Debt Initiative Trust Fund, constituted of funds contributed by the Bank and other donors, to provide relief on debt owed by eligible HIPCs to the Association and other multilateral creditors.

I want to assure you that the Government of Guyana has, with the support of the donor community, undertaken a broad-based program of macro-economic, structural and social development policy reforms (the Macro-economic Reform Program), and based on this, requested debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative.

The debt problem affecting Guyana and many other developing countries is an issue of major concern for my country. You will recall that the late Dr. Cheddi Jagan, when he became President of Guyana in 1992, made this issue as a major plank of our foreign policy, and he, more than any one else, conducted an international campaign - some call it a crusade - to urge debt write-offs for countries oppressed by the millstone of debt hanging around their necks. Significantly, he waged this crusade long before he became President, and I recall that in the late 1980s he first made the call for the IMF to organize a controlled sale some of its gold stockpile and channel the funds to assist poor indebted countries. At that time some economic experts regarded his proposal as utopian. But what are we seeing now? Now that the IMF has agreed to sell a part of its gold stockpile, the same experts see it as a constructive way forward.

In 1992, Dr. Jagan proposed that debt relief would serve positively in the development of a New Global Human Order. Since then, the Guyana Government has used every international forum to highlight the debt issue, particularly at the Summits of the Americas, in the OAS and at the United Nations.

We are delighted to note that the powerful creditor countries have recognized that Guyana and a number of other countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia are deserving of HIPC relief. They have come to realize, as we have been saying all along, that by obtaining debt relief, countries like Guyana will be able to free up additional financial resources for further social and economic development.

Even though the World Bank with the IDA and other international creditors have assisted Guyana in obtaining substantial debt write-offs since 1993, we certainly look forward to seeing our creditors writing off even a greater proportion of the remaining debts that are on the books. The Government of Guyana is willing to work closely with them towards this objective.

Thank you.