Oxfam report highlights G-8 hypocrisy

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The international anti-poverty and social justice confederation Oxfam International put out a major report on June 9th called “The View from the Summit–Gleneagles G8 One Year On.” This Report-with-the-Mysterious-Title revealed a rather large-sized international scandal. Too bad it went almost unreported in the nation’s press.

What this report was talking about was the progress, or lack of progress, that has been seen in regard to the promises made by the so-called “G8 Countries” at a meeting they had last year in Gleneagles, Scotland. The G8 Countries are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the USA. These are the wealthiest countries in the world, and together they represent perhaps one-half or more of the total world economy. (There are roughly 190 countries in the world.)

What were the promises made by these rich countries? Well, Oxfam says that they agreed “to cancel the debts owed by 40 of the world’s poorest countries to the World Bank, IMF, and African Development Fund. They also promised to increase aid to poor countries by $50 billion by 2010, with half of this going to Africa. They promised increases in humanitarian aid and support to peacekeeping and arms control, and they called for a world trade deal that favors poor nations. Finally, they agreed to tackle climate change. Although these promises fell far short of what was demanded and needed to end poverty, they nevertheless represented substantial commitments that, if delivered, would make a difference to the lives of millions.”

The key phrase here is “if delivered.” And there’s your scandal: those modest “commitments” have not been delivered. Not only have they not been delivered, but the rich countries are using accounting gimmicks to make it look as if they / are / being delivered. How? Like this: When the rich countries “cancel” poor country debts, they record the cancellation as “aid.” But, in fact, they use “aid” money to pay for the debt cancellation. So, it’s not really an increase, it’s a shift, and it’s even got a name: It’s called “double counting.” The net result, as Oxfam says, is that “no new money is available for poor countries to spend on fighting poverty.”

The rich countries seem pretty determined to report that they are dramatically increasing their aid levels. “On the face of it,” Oxfam reports, “OECD figures show that 2005 aid from the G8 has increased massively, by $21 billion or 37 per cent over its 2004 levels. However… the overwhelming majority of the increase (80 percent) is made up of [one-time] debt cancellation deals for Iraq and Nigeria–it is not actually new money in the fight against poverty. Together these two deals add up to $17 billion of the $21 billion increase.”

When you subtract out the double counting and the one-time deals, overall G8 aid increased only 9 percent. Three countries actually gave less in 2005 than they gave in 2004. The only news story I could find in the US press, in the June 9th NY Times, reported that “after increased aid to Iraq and Afghanistan was subtracted from the total, American giving fell by 4 percent.”

It’s an amazing report. Here’s Oxfam’s one-sentence summary:

“The overall message on aid is clear: the G8 are failing to deliver the aid increases they have promised; the inflation of figures by debt cancellation masks the paucity of resources on the ground, and this translates into children out of school, people dying needlessly, classes of 100 students per teacher, or 8,000 people to each health worker.”

I’ve always thought that, in terms of moral accounting, the performance of one’s own country is deserving of the closest scrutiny. Using that guideline, here’s one fact that should have caused the nation’s news editors to make this a big story: “Italy and the US … remain the least generous in the G8 compared to the size of their economy.”

This is a report worth looking at, and can be found on the Net “here”:http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/briefingnotes/bn060609_g8_oneyr

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