Frank Tracy Griswold III

The 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Debt and Economic Justice

September 1, 1998
Frank T. Griswold

Recognizing the importance and urgency of issues of international debt and economic justice, this Conference adopts the following statement:

We see the issues of international debt and economic justice in the light of our belief in creation: God has created a world in which we are bound together in a common humanity in which each person has equal dignity and value. God has generously given to the nations immense resources which are to be held in trust and used for the well-being of all and also offered us in Christ Jesus liberation from all that which destroys healthy human life – a pattern of giving which God desires all to follow. The healthy pattern for relationships is of mutual giving and receiving of God's gifts. Borrowing has its place only in as much as it releases growth for human well being. When we ignore this pattern, money becomes a force that destroys human community and God's creation. The vast expansion in the power and quantity of money in recent decades, the huge increase in borrowing among rich and poor alike, the damaging material and spiritual consequences to many, bear testimony to this destructive force.

Mindful of the work done by the political leaders, finance ministers, church leaders and people of creditor nations, we welcome the framework provided by the historic Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) of 1996. We particularly welcome the approach of bringing all creditors together to agree upon debt relief, and the emphasis on debtor participation. We welcome unilateral initiatives taken by governments to write off loans owed to Overseas Development Departments; and initiatives by governments and international financial institutions to strengthen the capacity of debtor nations to manage debt portfolios, and to co-operate together. We welcome the commitment by leaders of the eight most powerful economies (the G8) in Birmingham May 1998; to consider withholding future taxpayer-subsidized loans intended for arms sales and other unproductive purposes .

While recognizing these achievements, we wish to assert that these measures do not as yet provide sufficient release for the hundreds of millions of people whose governments are diverting scarce resources away from health, education, sanitation and clean water.

We have heard and understood the point of view that poverty reduction is more important than debt cancellation. Nevertheless we conclude that substantial debt relief, including cancellation of unpayable debts of the poorest nations under an independent, fair and transparent process, is a necessary, while not sufficient precondition for freeing these nations, and their people, from the hopeless downward spiral of poverty. Because indebted nations lose their autonomy to international creditors, debt cancellation is also a necessary step if these governments are to be given the dignity, autonomy and independence essential to the growth and development of democracy. We believe it vital that all of God's people should participate, on the basis of equal dignity, in the fruits of our interdependent world.

The need for debt relief for the poorest nations is urgent. Children are dying, and societies are unraveling under the burden of debt. We call for negotiations to be speeded up so that the poorest nations may benefit from such cancellation by the birth of the new millennium. The imagination of many, rich and poor alike, has already been gripped by the stark simplicity of this call. This response can be harnessed for the cause of development.

We call on the political, corporate and church leaders and people of creditor nations: to accept equal dignity for debtor nations in negotiations over loan agreements and debt relief; to ensure that the legislatures of lending nations are given the power to scrutinize taxpayer-subsidized loans; and to devise methods of regular legislative scrutiny that hold to account government-financed creditors, including the multilateral financial institutions, for lending decisions; to introduce into the design of international financial systems mechanisms that will impose discipline on lenders, introduce accountability for bad lending, and challenge corruption effectively, thus preventing future recurrence of debt crises; to introduce measures that will enable debtor nations to trade fairly with creditor nations. Fair trade will allow debtor nations to develop their domestic economies. This in turn will allow them to pay those debts which remain and to take their rightful place in the community of nations; to ensure that each of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) nations honor their commitment to set aside 0.7% of their GNP for international development.

We call on political leaders, finance ministers, corporate executives traditional rulers, religious leaders and the people of debtor nation: to accept independent, fair and transparent procedures for agreeing debt relief; to adopt much greater transparency and accountability in the process of accepting and agreeing new loans, particularly as the burden of repayment of these loans will fall largely on the poorest; ensuring proper scrutiny by legislative bodies of each loan contract signed by government ministers; to adopt measures for disciplining elected and paid government officials who corruptly divert public funds and also to provide for sanctions against private sector persons and bodies who act corruptly; to adopt measures for ensuring that additional resources generated from debt relief are allocated to projects that genuinely benefit the poorest sections of society.

We call on political leaders and finance ministers in both creditor and debtor nations to develop, in a spirit of partnership, a new, independent, open and transparent forum for the negotiation and agreement of debt relief for highly indebted nations. In particular, we call on them to co-operate with the United Nations in the establishment of a Mediation Council whose purpose would be: to respond to appeals from debtor nations unable to service their debts, except at great human cost; to identify those debts that are odious, and therefore not to be considered as debts, to assess, independently and fairly, the assets and liabilities of indebted nations; to determine that debt repayments are set at levels which prioritize basic human development needs over the demands of creditors; to hold to account those in authority in borrowing countries for the way in which loans have been spent; to hold to account those in authority in lending nations for the nature of their lending decisions; to demand repayment of public funds corruptly diverted to private accounts; to consult widely over local development needs and the country's capacity to pay; and to ensure, through public monitoring and evaluation, that any additional resources made available from debt relief are allocated to projects that genuinely benefit the poor.

We, commit ourselves to supporting the objectives outlined above, in the countries in which we live, whether they are debtor nations or creditor nations. We will seek also to highlight the moral and theological implications. Mindful of the wisdom held within other faith traditions we shall work with them, as we are able, to examine the issues of credit and debit and the nature of the economy.

Furthermore we call upon members of the Communion to co-operate with other people of faith in programmes of education and advocacy within our dioceses, so that we may help to raise public awareness of these vital economic issues that impact so deeply on the daily lives of the poor.

Finally, we call on all Primates to challenge their dioceses to fund international development programmes, recognized by provinces, at a level of at least 0.7% of annual total diocesan income.

Lambeth Conference 1998
Resolution V.2, On International Debt Cancellation and the Alleviation of Poverty

This Conference:

Noting that the beginning of a New Millennium affords the Church of Christ a timely opportunity to propose concrete, Christ-centered means by which to combat poverty, disease, unemployment and other forms of human suffering especially in the developing world, and that cancellation of the unpayable International Debt by poor countries is one such means; aware that many countries in the developing world suffer under the weight of unpayable external debt, unable to provide essential services; believing in the principles championed by the Jubilee 2000 Coalition; convinced that developed lender countries, institutions and individuals have the capacity and means to cancel this crippling, unpayable debt, given the necessary concern and goodwill; therefore calls upon all concerned to join hands with our Anglican Communion in exploring together the possible cancellation of debt, as well as other ways and means of enabling the poor at grassroots level to escape the poverty cycle, for example by sponsoring projects which will equip and empower the poor to provide for their families; and noting that revolving micro-credit projects such as those managed by Opportunity International, Grameen Bank, and ECLOF and others equip the poor with the credit needed to start small businesses and create jobs with dignity, commends the efforts of these various development agencies. It further welcomes new initiatives such as the Five Talents Project, a micro-credit development initiative designed to combat world poverty, and commends it for its implementation.

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA