The cycle of overdependence on external debts is evident in the Pacific, a clear indication that deeper collaboration and collective efforts are needed to address the issues.
Forum Island Countries (FICs) debt, according to the Debt Sustainability Assessments by the IMF and World Bank, placed nearly all FICs at high risks meaning, governments do not have the capacity to repay their debts.
Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisation (PIANGO) Executive Director, Emeline Ilolahia who represented the Pacific Civil Society at the Pacific Islands Forum Blue Pacific Webinar “Let’s Talk about Debt: Pacific debt sustainability in the face of COVID and Climate Change” said governments and decision-makers needs to recognise the role of civil society especially now, when Pacific Island countries are already in debt distress.
Last year, Forum Economic Ministers, endorsed the convening of a regional debt conference between the FICs and their creditors to discuss and explore options for debt relief. The webinar held last Friday was a pre-conference event ahead of the Pacific Regional Debt Conference (PRDC) scheduled for 5-8 April this year.
“It is about time discussions on debt sustainability includes CSOs,” Ms Ilolahia said. “Often times government treat debt sustainability as a technical issue where CSO’s are deemed not having the capacity to be part of.”
From a human rights perspective, Ms Ilolahia said taking loans on unfavorable terms as the result of managing debts could result in governments budgets squeezed, public services privatised, social protections program compromise which will no doubt affect the marginal and minority groups.
“Governments needs to strengthen Public Finance Management (PFM) in each countries and we can lobby at global platforms for accessible loan criteria where leaders can negotiate loans and repayment or even debt cancelation. Some of our debts were high before Covid-19 arrived in the Pacific.”
In his opening remarks, PIFs Secretary General, Henry Puna said Forum Island Countries continue to be trapped in the cycle of debt and different approaches needed for a way out.
Other speakers were CEO of Association of the South Pacific Airlines George Faktaufon, Senior Economic Advisor and Team Leader Economic Policy at PIFs, Denton Rarawa and Acting Section Chief Financing for Development ESCAP Alberto Isgut.