DELIVERING ON DEBT RELIEF: FINISHING THE JOB HIPC STARTED Thursday, April 22, 2004 Francois Bourguignon, Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President Development Economics, World Bank And moderator Zanny Minton Beddoes, Economics Correspondent, The Economist DR. BOURGUIGNON: I would like to make a few observations on what the Minister and the Undersecretary said, maybe one or two key points to start. You asked the question at the beginning, did the HIPC initiative live up to its promise, and you cited some figures showing that indeed a lot had been done, and I would certainly not dispute this fact. I think that very much has been achieved under this initiative, and we are seeing now countries going through the completion point, getting some topping up. So the system is working. The point I want to insist upon is that when we cite figures, the $36 billion in the net present value that you indicated, for example, there may be some ambiguity on that figure in the sense that it is a figure or it is a value which appears in the books. It may not be the real value of the debt. And in many cases, we know very well that debt relief is coming because the countries, a debtor, would not have been able to repay, which means that for the countries which are writing off the debt it is an operation which takes resources within the countries, but the value of this process is very, very low. If really the country would not have been able to repay at all the debt, the value is zero. And if this debt was exchanged on the market, as is the case for middleincome countries, the value would be zero, and the bondholders would simply have seen the value of their wealth going down. So we must be extremely careful, when we look at the amount of transfer which is equivalent to the debt relief operation, to make sure that it is not strictly equivalent, and this is a point that the Minister made before. It is not strictly equivalent to new resources being made available to the country. That is the first point I want to make. The second point I want to make, and this echoes what the Undersecretary has said, that there were very good things which came in with the HIPC initiative-- the PRSPs and, on the side of the International Monetary Fund, the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facilities. These were to make sure that the debt relief was delivered with some plans to make sure that poverty reduction would take place more efficiently in the future in those countries. And from that point of view, I think we may be satisfied. Now, I want to come back on the issue of grants versus loans and the issue of the multilaterals. The first thing I want to insist upon is the fact that if we have the debt crisis, if we have the issue of the debt relief in front of us, it is because the growth performances of those countries have not been as initially expected. So, when we had the question, is it enough debt relief, the answer is certainly not. Because what this debt relief situation is pointing to is the fact that there is a deficit, in terms of growth performances, among all of these countries. And the real question we must address first is how could we make sure that growth will pick up, in a sustained way, in those countries? If we could be sure that, because of the aid or because of the action of developed countries and developing countries, growth will pick up, then very much of the debate on the debt today, on future debt, would simply disappear. So the real issue is, above all, how can we make sure that growth is returning to these countries after being absent for more than 20 years? Now, on this grants versus loans issue, the point I just made is important because, in the logic of the way in which multilateral organizations lend money to the countries which are now in bad debt situation, there was this idea that there would be growth. And the IDA loan, to which the Undersecretary was referring to before, comes with terms which are rather variable, in the sense that it is almost a zero rate of interest. The rate of interest essentially is the cost of processing the debt, which is less than 1 percent. There is a 10-year period during which there is no repayment, and then the maturity of the debt is 40 years. And, initially, the idea was that this country would grow and there would be no problem of repayment. What we observe today, however, is that there was a real failure in terms of the growth of these countries, and then we are in problems due to the fact that our anticipations didn't hold. Now, what does that mean in terms of what could be done now? We all agree that what is important is to make resources available to those countries, provided that those resources are effectively used by the countries in order to promote development and growth. The problem is to know what is the best way of channeling those resources. The Undersecretary said that the best way is to simply give grants and to make sure that we will not again be in the kind of situation we are in today if growth fails to materialize in the future. This is fine, and I think that we would all agree with this statement. Let's wait until growth has picked up for those countries to start getting into debt again. But, in the short run, this raises issues because we have to remember that with the previous system by which international institutions were lending money, part of this money was coming back. I mean, not all countries to which those institutions lend money, not all countries which received IDA loans, had repayment problems. I mean, some of them--and many of them--repaid, which means that, as of today, the way in which the total budget on which aid resources can be made available to countries consists of two things: one, new resources put in the system and, second, repayment by some countries which benefited from loans in the past. Now, if we move to the pure grant situation, then we have to remember that progressively the repayment part of the resources on which we can count today to help the countries will disappear. This basically means that the contributions by donors will have to increase, and this is a principle that the Undersecretary mentioned, which is a principle of continuing or constant-[Audio break.] DR. BOURGUIGNON: --needed for the development of these countries. And I would simply like to finish by saying that this is so important. We, in the World Bank, are advocating, we have been advocating for a long time, for an increase in those resources which have to go to developing countries in order to meet the MDGs. And we are constantly pointing out to the international development community that, as of today, the effort is certainly not sufficient, whether we include debt relief or not, it is certainly not sufficient to reach these goals. So these issues of including the net transfer of resources is important. The point is to make sure that all donors are committed to that goal, and then it will be possible to find what is the best way to achieve that goal. What I want to make clear here, that on this reflow thing, when we ask Niger or Ghana or Malawi to repay a part of the debt to the multilaterals, this is not money going back to developed countries. This is money going back to developing countries, because with the money that Niger or Ghana will pay back, then it will be possible to lend or to give to another developing country, maybe Ethiopia. So we have to think about the way in which IDA works as a closed cycle. The money which is given back by one debtor is being used to give grants or to give new loans to another. So from that point of view we must be clear that debt relief is reducing, if there is no more contribution being made by people outside the circle who are the donors, debt relief is reduction of the total amount that can be mobilized to do these development operations. The reason why there was asymmetry between bilateral donors and the multilateral donors that Collins mentioned before in the case of Malawi, is simply because multilateral donors tried to preserve a part of this capacity of our system to regenerate some resources to be lent to other developing countries. Now, we may do well to question the fact that it is not a good idea today for Niger or Malawi and Ghana to give back some money to be used by some other country, but then you can see that we'll be in a difficult situation because then we'll have to make very hard choices about who should be repaying and who should not be repaying, and who should be benefiting from the repayment made by some, and who should be being sacrificed because of the repayments not being made by some. So initially the arrangement behind the HIPC initiative was this one, try to preserve a part of the capacity of this lending arrangement to some extent to do some leverage on the contribution, new contributions, new resources being made available by donors. Now, we totally agree that this is something which is probably to be analyzed again. We have to think about this--the way in which all this is organized, but I don't think that we can simply dismiss this type of doing business by IDA like that. I think the issues are much more complicated and much more fundamental than this. Again, things would probably be easier if we knew that we could count on more resources becoming available from donors. One point maybe on Nancy's contingency facility, which I think is a very interesting idea, and should definitely be studied in the same way, is the functioning of IDA and this allocation between grants and loans should also be analyzed and thought about. What I think is interesting is the fact that, as Nancy said, it is a kind of extension of the topping up process, the extension going to 10 years. I'm not sure that I would be so much worried by the cost aspect, and at least it is probably possible to get some idea about the cost by simply looking at the properties of the processes behind export prices and import prices that the Minister was talking about. It should be possible to get in a year the cost of this. What I think is a more tricky equation is that I don't think that this initiative would eliminate the need to monitor the debt and the need to have some sustainability ratio somewhere. Say, okay, let's make sure that we are not going too far in the other direction. And I don't think that this initiative would eliminate the issue of what is best for a country; is it grant, is it loan, at some point of time. So, if this facility was available, this would certainly help, and this would provide an insurance element that would be extremely useful, but it seems to me that other issues would still have to be addressed. And the next thing I wanted to mention, echoing the remarks by the Minister and this new label of HIPC on several public goods in Ghana, I think that it is certainly quite important that part of the problem we are facing today, the fact that many countries who are in this HIPC situation at the same time are in some kind of poverty trap, and we should try to be careful that HIPC is not becoming a HIPC trap. And there is a real risk. I mean as the Minister mentioned, it's not a very good thing to go to see the foreign direct investors and telling them, "Oh, we are a HIPC country." This is not a very good label. So again, the main issue is really growth. How is it possible to have growth picking up, and what is important is to make sure that all the steps necessary for that are being made within the country by improving the investment climate, which the Minister referred to, which is something extremely important to attract foreign investors and to make domestic investors a little more dynamic, improving the policy in terms of delivery of educational and health services. And on the other side, again on the side of the donors, making sure that markets in developed countries are open to products from developing countries, not only for manufacturing goods but also for agricultural products, and also of course, as I said before, making sure that more resources, more net resources are being made available. I don't think there is any fundamental disagreement on this. We all agree that net resources mean that people in the U.S., in France, in UK, are simply contributing more to development. On this issue of loans versus grants and then repayment, and maybe overall reaction on the point made by Nancy, saying that grant is systematically better on loans. On what basis? I mean if I know that a country is about to grow at 2 percent a year, and if I'm able to raise money which will cost me 1 percent a year, then I know that I can lend to that country and I know that I can lend very much today to this country to accelerate the development process to make sure that the country will get out of poverty as quickly as possible. Now, if there are communities telling me that the same amount of money I can raise through a loan will be made available by the donor community, fine, there is no problem, because we're able to raise as much money through grants as with loans. But until now this was not the case. And the reason why we got into these loans and the reason why I agree, one--well, in today's first, because we saw that it was a good thing to try to raise monies through the lending system in order to increase our potential for intervention; and second, it is true that the gross performances of many of the countries have not been the one that we were expecting back in the '80s. Now, is this a reason why we should simply forget about the possibility of loans? I don't think so. It is certainly not the reason why we should abandon the idea of writing more on grants, certainly not. I mean if it is possible to write more on grants, we should do it. And I think that all the arguments you have here simply are arguments in favor of increasing the replenishment of IDA in the next round. This is all the main conclusion we can get from that discussion. Now, we agree that there is a problem today in Niger, in Malawi, and this problem will be addressed.