Apr 20, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – We at this publication are in full agreement with the Centre for Global Development (CGD), and its report titled, “How China lends: A Rare Look into 100 Debt Contracts with Foreign Governments” (KN April 18). CGD took this clear-cut position: “public debt should be public.” We make clear again our position, we absolutely agree.
The many billions in debt incurred by a nation’s leaders have to be paid back by the people in whose name those monies are being borrowed. The citizens of a country are the most essential aspect of its sovereignty and against which massive debts are incurred. They owe, have the burden to repay; are on the hook. And when there is delay or difficulty in repaying those accumulated debts, then it is those same citizens who feel the pain in the economic pressures that follow. Those would include the consequences that come from the declining state of imports and exports, the value of the national currency, the tortures to be endured for debt service, and the resulting drop in the standard of living, when harsh measures are put in place. That is, on the backs of the citizens, the taxpaying citizens who have the obligation to pay back. It is not the leaders who irresponsibly ran up those debts, most likely misused the money and who should have gone to prison for life, but the citizens who must repay.
The reality, however, is that the public is rarely fully aware or aware in any detail, of what has been done on its behalf. As the CGD report pointed out, “very few contracts between Chinese lenders and their government borrowers have ever been published or studied.” To make this a test case, we ask: which Guyanese citizen outside of senior government functionaries know anything beyond the number of millions or billions borrowed and from which agency? Here is another: which Guyanese expert or financial analyst, not inside the bowels of government, knows enough of those billions that we have borrowed in recent years? This cannot be good, and should not be.
We present an illustration. Since Guyana can now be fairly accurately described as a migrant nation, there have been the stories of citizens leaving people they thought trustworthy, to run their business for them, and with complete access to their assets, including bank accounts. We have heard the painful stories of what has happened in many instances, haven’t we? The projects left to be done are not completed in any satisfactory fashion, or at all. But the bank account is empty, with not a blind cent left. Something close enough has occurred with government after government (PNC, PPP, APNU+AFC) trusted by citizens voting for them, put in charge of natural resource assets, ended up borrowing billions, and both the monies borrowed and the assets are depleted and Guyanese getting nothing in return. Nothing in return, but the billions which they owe and must repay.
Recently, and confirming our position, leaders in the new PPP government have proudly announced borrowing billions from here and then of borrowing more billions from over there. It has been from this or that supranational lending agency, such as the World Bank and IDB; or, on a country-to-country basis, from China and India, among others. But that is all Guyanese know, have ever known: the amount borrowed for what and from where. The rest of the details are almost like a carefully guarded national security secret. All citizens here know is that this is the total debt, and that taxes have to be increased to service the debt, or cannot be reduced because of all these staggering amounts of debt commitments.
While it is not surprising that Chinese lenders would insist upon non-disclosure clauses in debt contracts, it is surprising that such goes beyond China, through what the CGD report termed “unusual confidentiality clauses.” Since we, the Guyanese people are ultimately responsible for repayment, then, there should be nothing that is withheld from us, absolutely nothing that is so confidential that must be kept from us, so that we exist in darkness and ignorance. The same goes for what prevails with debt owed to entities like the OECD and others. As the CGD report lamented, “Almost no OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and non-OECD lenders publicly release the text of their loan contracts. Nor do debtor governments.”
More and more, these lenders (and debtor governments) sound like the Mafia. The IMF has long earned such dishonour, but the OECD and China and others clearly belong in that same category. Like the Mafia, these international lenders are not friends, but dangerous entities creating lifetimes of debt. They are worse than the Mafia, since the debt dies when the debtor gets cut down. But with official lender agencies pretending at helpful partners, a nation’s debt continues generation after generation.
This is wrong, with much needed to clear the air, so that private citizens and experts can review these loan contracts and fully understand what is involved. We, the Guyanese people, need to know more and we so demand. This must be a condition of borrowings and on this, there cannot be the usual indifference. We must know more; we demand to know more.
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