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Internal meeting of the IDO- International Debt Observatory

23 January 2008

What is the IDO?
It is a website and a platform: a common space for elaboration and convergence in the struggle against debt.

Attending: CADTM France, CADTM Belgium, Mauritania, CAD Mali, Latindadd Ecuador, ATTAC Morocco, Ethiopia, VAK India, CADTM Lubumbashi and NAD DRC, Eurodad, CRBM Italia, ODG Spain, FDC Philippines

History of the IDO
Guided web surfing on the site
General discussion on collaboration within the IDO
Assessment of the various devices
Shift from external debt to internal debt, need for a change/ an update of the alternative indicators of indebtness
Discussion on work groups:
South Bank (Jorge Marchini (Argentina), Victor Isidro (Mexico), Eric Toussaint)
Debt audit (to be set up)
Creation of a yearbook of the IDO, of an annual report
Timeframe of activities

History of the IDO (Eric Toussaint CADTM Belgium)

the IDO was born in January 2005, on the occasion of the 5th WSF in Porto Alegre, during a public workshop of launch of the Observatory convened by the Economists of the Left of Argentina and the CADTM and held on the 25th . The Economists of the Left have had a pioneering role in boosting the initiative, especially Jorge Marchini, who is still keeping a close eye on the IDO’s activities. The idea had long been in the CADTM’s mind but the CADTM did not want to launch a new organisation unilaterally and hastily, since the initiative could only be successful if the different organisations perceived it as a helpful tool, as an organisation they could adhere and contribute to. So the idea was proposed and discussed to see whether it met real needs.

Various movements (ODG, CADTM, etc) were present at the Porto Alegre meeting, which brought together around 40 people. Everybody was very cautious at the beginning. The Observatory was not meant to replace the existing organisations, but to help the existing campaigns as far as research is concerned, to join energies so as to bring analysis and expertise tools to activists, to call for actions etc. Neither is the IDO meant to homogenise opinions: there is no ideological debate within the IDO. It gathers organisations which already have a precise position. Various points of view coexist. For example: reform or suppression of the IFIs. It is then possible to produce and share analyses from different perspectives.

Networks, organisations and individuals are members of the IDO. There is a significant number of Latin American economists dealing with debt who participate. As for Europe, the diversity of participants makes for a good representativeness. Africa is underrepresented.

October 2005: Training session in Brussels and presentation of the alternative indicators. A press conference was held to present the IDO, which met a great response in the Belgian media. The media hype was a success.
The CADTM was given a financial support for the setting up of the website. In CADTM’s budget of 2007, 4000 € were allocated to the IDO + support from the CNCD (i.e. a total 8000 €)

The IDO activities slowed down in 2006, with fewer documents posted on line. The indicators were updated in August-September 2006. In Latin America: in September 2006 in Caracas, a seminar on debt audits and South Bank, on IDO’s initiative and with the support of the Miranda Centre, CADTM and Jubilee South. Following the same move, a second seminar was called on 17, 18, 19 November in Caracas with the same organisers joined by Latindadd (which Hugo Arias is a member of)

Guided web surfing on the site (Jérôme Ollier CADTM Belgium)

Languages: site in three languages
The Spanish version is the most provided one, partly because of the developments around the South Bank. Are working on editing on the website: Jorge Marchini, Victor Isidro, Jérôme Ollier, ODG through Iolanda Fresnillo.

Content: articles, “newswire” automatically updated.
Designed under spip (, easy to work on, since the editing system is user-friendly, every body can post an article (if RSS).

A section dedicated to the audit was created when the Manual on how to organise audits was published.

Given the links between Latin American organisations with Brazil, proposal of creating a Portuguese version. For the moment, the articles in Portuguese are located in the Spanish pages.

Counting system. September 2007: 4100 visits 40% in Spanish, 31% in English, 29% in French.

Beside the site, there is an e mail address: Eric Berr deals with the mails in English and French, Jorge Marchini with the ones in Spanish. Possible to create addresses for the different work groups.

Electronic bulletin: mailing list to receive news. Not working for the moment. On the Spanish side, it is planned to use it.

Alex Wilks (Eurodad): strategic aspect: think about who is going to take the strategic decisions concerning the management of the site: who decides to add a language, to add audio and video files. Do we have to screen or not? Decide today who is going to decide on these questions.
This website is actually a gate towards the members’ website. It is a mistake to post all documents on the IDO website. We should put a link rather than the document to download (summary + link). Question of philosophy of the Internet. It will also allow the member organisations to know how many people visited their website via the IDO’s website. “Feed” this site by the members.
Not a selection panel but guidelines to be defined, rules around the selection of texts. We have to be clearer on who decides over the daily management.
Increase the number of access gates to the site.

Ajit Muricken (VAK India): possibility to have pictures in the articles.
Possible but no space dedicated to it for the moment.

Eric T: creation of an editing committee: what kind of texts, what content.

Plus a “managing committee” which would deal with the questions of adding new languages, a photo gallery, questions of the site architecture.
For the moment there is no structure for common decision-making between the member organisations. Perhaps such a structure could be set up that could take initiatives, to be ratified via Internet, concerning the IDO.

Agree with Alex on putting sum-ups of the articles with links to other sites.

On the question of the bulletin, be careful not to create a duplication of the bulletin on Illegitimate Debt.

Alternative ratios (Eric Berr)

4 main ratios to give another vision of the debt burden, to show what the debt repayment means for the populations’ well-being.
Debt service per inhabitant = social debt burden

Substitution of repayments for development expenditures:

Public debt service/ public investments

Public debt service/ public healthcare budget

Public debt service/ public education budget

According to the IFIs, the situation is getting better. According to our indicators, it is worsening.

Synthetic indicator: sustainability indicator (on the same principle as the HDI):

ability to repay (/ exports)

social debt burden

the other three joined together (development dimension)

Take into account the debtors’ point of view, not only the creditors’ one.

Eric T: these indicators are no longer relevant if they do not take into account the internal public debt service. For the sub-Saharan Africa, apart from South Africa, it does not matter.
What really matters is the burden on the budget, and not whether the debt is internal or external. Often drawn up in hard currencies.

Alex W: explanation of the belated publishing. Why some countries are missing?

Eric B: GDF had been missing for two years. We finally got the 2007 GDF so we will update the data. Practical explanation.
The World Bank makes strange calculations: some data are missing for some countries.
Problem with external debt: has a dimension of dependency, conditionalities
Internal debt: problem when it is too high, but leaves the states with greater latitude.

Mimoun Rahmani (ATTAC Morocco) : agree with Eric T. For some countries, external debt has sharply decreased since 1992 (e.g. Morocco). If we consider the total debt service, the comparison with social expenditures is more meaningful.

Eric T: yes, it is difficult to find these data, but what is the strategic stake? If we want to give an alternative analysis distinct from the World Bank’s one, we have to find other reliable sources (central banks and their sites). Begin with the countries with a significant internal public debt.
Obtain these data by continent through our local structures.

Eric B.: to undermine the IFIs’ positions, we have to take their data as a basis.

Eric T: For a wide range of countries, it is not the right thing to do.

Work groups

Debt audit: what expertise can we share, which experiences do we have to mention on the site.
South Bank: open question
Africa must not be left aside the process, even if the African heads of state did not made Chavez’s proposal public. We can envisage integration through the social movements.
IDO annual, biannual report. Previous agreement on the report’s content, to be collectively written. Data compilation then structuring the data collected.

Eric T.: huge work: print in three languages.

Maria Isabel (CADTM Ecuador): How to work on the issue of women within the alternative ratios? Create another space dedicated to this issue?

1)Workshop on ratios

Objectives of the ratios: make the policies of the governments and IFIs visible: clearly show what their priorities are. Bring elements to the debt campaigns and organisations, and by extension to the populations about the consequences of these choices.
Therefore, internal debt to be integrated in these ratios: show the risks of the increase in internal debt.
Concretely, so as to consider this new dimension: set up a new ratio with internal + external debt to see the trends at work.
Take the necessary steps to obtain the figures, set a deadline.
In Ecuador: it has been enshrined in the Constitution that the debt service (internal and external) must not exceed the healthcare and education expenditures in the State budget.
Today the World Bank is trying hard to convince about the advantages of the internal debt.
How do we look for information? How do we divide regions? No unique source (no information from ECLAC up to now)

The indicators available today highlight a deterioration of the situation in Latin America.
Ok to add internal debt, but it is a huge work (go back in time, convert into dollars)
Biannual thematic report: would be useful. Does not represent such a huge work.
What do we want to make of that: intended for the campaigns but also for researchers.
A technical seminar of researchers of 2-3 days to work on this.

Maria Isabel: Our objective: foster the social organisation of various sectors of society, women, get society to participate in Ecuador. Let them know that because of the debt service, investments in social sectors are cut off. No evolution is possible in the present system.
E.g. work in Ecuador. Many people could have important positions but these positions do not even exist. The World Bank tries to make us believe in the enhancement of living conditions. Poverty alleviation through loans, grants etc. Improvements are ridiculous in comparison with the economic evolution of the country.
Reduction of the social investments because of the increase in the internal debt. This burden is especially borne by women. We have no indicator at our disposal to highlight this increased burden.

Mimoun: In Marocco, the internal debt is 2.5 times as important as the external debt. Take internal debt into account to raise awareness in the population and not take up the authorities’ arguments.
Sources: central bank, official statistics.
Find formulae, keys: the IDO teachers could make their students work on these questions. Encourage academics and researchers. E.g. look for data on the central banks’ websites etc. to complete the ratios.
Academic and research dimension of the IDO must not be underestimated.
Need for research projects between universities, etc. Possible in Latin and North America. Work group of Clasco (144 university centres in Latin America and Caribbean) led by Jorge Marchini could take this direction. It will be done in Ecuador.

Compare the data given by the World Bank with the data collected through field analyses.
Create one or two ratios considering the gender dimension. How? There are sources of data, sociological investigations etc. Find a way to take into account the gender dimension which is linked to the consequences of the policies that are implemented.

Biannual report. We will not be able to dedicate the time needed but it would be useful if by next year, the ODG manages to list the audits of all kinds that were carried out or are under way. Produce a written synthesis of the IDO data, of the methodology and of the conclusions drawn from our ratios. A guideline of calculation for the national figures (changes on 31 December, calculated this way)

Maria Isabel: internal debt with regard to women in Ecuador, worried that it will be difficult to find such indicators.
Calculation of the women’s time spent by day.

2)Workshop on audit

Methodology and diffusion of information.

The group raised the question of the methodology to adopt within the Observatory so as to help audits to be conducted.

1.Do we take alternative or traditional indicators?

2.Do we have to define a unique methodology to be followed by all IDO members? Collectively, it was decided that it would be more interesting to learn from the different initiatives and ways of doing.

3.That debtor and creditor countries work together to determine which part of the credits is odious and they jointly urge their respective government to cancel it (cf. Ecuador which has a debt with Japan)

4.It would be wise to design strategies in order to encourage governments from the South and the North to carry out an audit of their debt. Specific awareness raising towards parliamentarians has to be carried out about the perverse effects of debt.

As for the diffusion of information about the progress of the audits carried out in various countries by different movements:

5.It would be of much use that the countries that make rapid progress in their audit process (such as Ecuador and Italy which will set up an audit Commission composed of 70 members - ministers and civil society representatives - that will focus on the bilateral contracts from 1976 to 2006 and will make some recommendations) let know precisely which methodology they follow day after day and tell how they manage to work with their respective governments.

6.Create a mailing list on the IDO website so that every member can be kept informed of the progress and difficulties encountered by the other members involved in an audit process. The creation of a work group within the IDO that would be in charge of this mailing list and of the follow-up of the different audit processes was tackled.

7.For the audit to be successful it is essential that the populations be aware of what the debt burden means in their daily lives. Without awareness raising about the multiple and negative consequences of debt the peoples won’t get involve in the carrying out of the audit. Without developing the populations’ ownership of this tool, the audit will remain the concern of a marginal sector of the population.

8.The creation of an e-bulletin to diffuse information on all aspects of audits or on some more technical and juridical aspects was discussed. However, there already is an “illegitimate debt” bulletin and the IDO does not have enough human resources to ensure the viability of such a bulletin. Hence the group agreed on the fact that inside the ‘illegitimate debt” bulletin, there could be brief news on audits carried out, being conscious that it is not ideal since there should be a reflection space that would allow more in-depth analyses in order to design strategies (cf. which indicators are to be used?) that would really help carry out audits.

Financial and analysis capacity building within the IDO

Hugo Arias (Latindadd) mentioned the lack of knowledge in Ecuador’s audit commission, composed of citizens up to 80%, about the market mechanisms, the vulture funds and the financial system in general.

In response to this, the CADTM proposed to post for example the presentations and PowerPoints of the IDO second training session on the website of the Observatory. Eurodad which has many presentations on the debt mechanisms will do the same.

According to Hugo, in Avril-May 2008, following a meeting of a network of lawyers on Alejandro Olmos junior’s initiative who continues his father’s research, firsthand and high-class juridical data will be available and will reinforce the IDO members’ knowledge.

Hugo tells us that the Commission in Ecuador is facing some financial problems for its own functioning but also for the diffusion to citizens of the perverse effects of the debt and of the need for a debt audit in order to cancel its odious and illegitimate part. Now it happens that the IDO does not have real subsidies in the long term, which hinders its possible actions and financial support to give to its members. In order to get a financial support, it was proposed to list up all the potential organisms likely to subsidise the IDO. In this prospect, the idea to apply for a European Union grant, although it is a rather long procedure, was mentioned.
This short but intense work session ended with this conclusion: the social movements have to develop a powerful tactics so as to urge their governments and parliamentarians to conduct debt audits.

Collective debriefing of the workshops and conclusion

As for decisions, Alex says again that some people should take some responsibilities. “The Observatory is everyone” It can be dangerous in the sense that it could as well be no one. Specify the editing committee, the management committee, the groups on audit, ratios, the key people.

Setting up of an editing committee. Set out the common rules for editing texts on the website.

Eric T: for the management and editing committee, to launch the move: Jérôme, Alex, Jorge Marchini. But people from the South are missing.

The ODG and the CAD Mali will discuss it in their organisation.

Management committee: if there is a real horizontal participation, management committee of little use.

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