Ex-Mexican President to Head Panel on Financing

by Thalif Deen

United Nations, 15 Dec 2000 (IPS) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan Friday appointed a high-level panel to advise him on one of the urgent problems facing the world’s cash-strapped developing nations: how to generate new funds for economic development.

The nine-member panel, to be chaired by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, will recommend “achievable actions” that can be carried out by governments, business, civil society and international institutions in several key areas, including resource mobilisation, trade, development aid, investment, and global decision-making on financial matters.

The panel, which will include additional members to be named later, will focus heavily on “new ways to mobilise funds for development”.

A report spelling out a list of recommendations is expected to be submitted to Annan by late April or early May next year.

The other members of the panel include former US secretary of the treasury Robert Rubin, President of the Arab Fund for Economic Development Abdulatif al-Hammad, former Mozambican Finance Minister Majid Osman, Director of OXFAM David Bryer, former French Finance Minister Jacques Delors and former Indian Finance Minister Manmohan Singh.

Introducing Zedillo at a press conference Friday, Annan said that the former Mexican president deserves credit for his role in bringing his country to full multiparty democracy.

“I am sure he also deserves a period of rest after such a strenuous task. But I am delighted to say that he has decided instead to put himself at the service of the international community, and particularly to the developing world,” Annan added.

The Secretary-General also said that the recommendations of the panel will help build political momentum for a major upcoming intergovernmental meeting on Financing for Development scheduled to take place in early 2002, possibly in New York.

A UN preparatory committee is expected to hold three sessions - in February and April next year, with a final session scheduled for January 2002 - to discuss the logistics and set the final agenda for the meeting.

Annan said the panel was also appointed in response to a request made by more than 180 world leaders at the Millennium Summit in September urging a higher priority for development and poverty eradication in the 21st century.

The need for broad-based development, which can rescue over a billion human beings from abject poverty, was one of the primary themes of the Millennium Declaration adopted at the summit.

Annan told reporters that in that Declaration the heads of state and government adopted many good resolutions, and set many targets, for combatting poverty, ignorance and disease.

“But none of those targets can be achieved unless there is real development throughout the world, especially in the poorest countries.  And development cannot happen without resources, especially financial resources,” he added.

Annan complained that official development assistance (ODA) has been in steady decline for well over a decade, and many poor countries are so indebted that the net transfer of resources, in the form of interest and repayment, leads to a net outflow to industrialised countries instead of the other way round.

In 1992, ODA stood at 63 billion dollars, then declined to 55 billion dollars in 1993 and rose to 58 billion dollars in 1994. In 1995, it moved slightly up, to 59 billion dollars and then dropped to 55 billion dollars in 1996. In 1997, it stood at 49.6 billion dollars, and in 1998 at 51.9 billion dollars.

In 1970, the General Assembly set a target of 0.7 percent of gross national product (GNP) as the quantum of aid that each of the rich countries was expected to provide to developing nations. But so far, only four countries - Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden - have met or exceeded this target.

If all donor countries had met the UN target of earmarking 0.7 percent of their GNP for development aid, ODA would exceed its current level by 100 billion dollars a year, according to Carol Bellamy, executive director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Bellamy says that an additional 100 billion dollars would be more than enough to ensure universal access to basic social services, including health and nutrition, education, and low-cost water supply and sanitation.

Annan told reporters that it was vital to turn this situation around, and ensure that developing countries receive the financial resources they need. “But how? What policies must they adopt? What kind of help from the industrialised world will be most useful to them? Have we got the international institutions we need? And if so, how can we ensure they play their proper role?” he asked.

Above all, Annan said, “how can be motivate the people and governments of industrialised countries, so that they will devote more resources to debt relief and development assistance, and to open their markets more fully to developing country products?”

All these questions, he said, will be discussed at the global meeting on Financing for Development.

“We cannot afford to let that meeting be just another occasion where people meet and talk, and adopt a communique, and leave the real world almost unchanged,” he added.