by Michael Levin
Washington – Legislation introduced by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., to cancel all debt owed by Haiti to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and other multilateral institutions was passed by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on International Monetary Policy and Trade during a markup on Thursday, March 4, following a subcommittee hearing on debt relief for Haiti. The legislation could be voted on by the entire House of Representatives as early as this week.
A longtime advocate for Haiti, Congresswoman Waters introduced the Debt Relief for Earthquake Recovery in Haiti Act (H.R. 4573) shortly after the devastating earthquake struck Haiti.
“Haiti faces enormous challenges now, and the burden of paying off foreign debt would prevent the nation from taking necessary steps to help its people at this perilous time. I introduced H.R. 4573 so that Haiti can use its limited resources to make both immediate and long-term investments in essential humanitarian relief, reconstruction and development efforts,” said Congresswoman Waters.
H.R. 4573 requires the Secretary of the Treasury to instruct the U.S. executive directors at the World Bank, the IMF, the IDB and other multilateral development institutions to use the voice, vote and influence of the United States to do the following:
1. cancel immediately and completely all debt owed by Haiti to these institutions;
2. suspend Haiti’s debt service payments to the institutions until the debt is canceled completely; and
3. provide additional assistance to Haiti in the form of grants so that Haiti does not accumulate additional debt.
H.R. 4573 also requires the Secretary of the Treasury to commence immediate efforts to urge other bilateral, multilateral and private creditors to cancel immediately and completely all debts owed by Haiti to such creditors.
The subcommittee also passed a Manager’s Amendment to Congresswoman Waters’ legislation offered by Subcommittee Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and drafted in conjunction with Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass. The Manager’s Amendment adds a provision directing the U.S. executive director to the IMF to advocate that some of the excess profits from the sale of IMF gold, which Congress approved last year, be used to provide debt relief and grants to Haiti. The amendment also adds updated statistics on Haiti’s debts to the bill’s findings and makes other technical changes.
Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, owes $828 million to multilateral development institutions according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. This includes $447 million to the IDB, $284 million to the IMF, $39 million to the World Bank and $58 million to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations.
Congresswoman Waters has previously helped Haiti and other poor countries obtain debt relief and just last year was instrumental in encouraging the World Bank and the IMF to cancel $1.2 billion of Haiti’s debt.
Congresswoman Waters said, “Haiti had been making progress since suffering extensive damage caused by a series of hurricanes in 2008. The government of Haiti successfully developed and implemented a comprehensive Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, under the direction of the IMF and the World Bank, in order to qualify for debt relief, and last year’s debt cancellation helped to move Haiti in the right direction. We must help Haiti continue to move forward despite the considerable obstacles it now faces, and this is only possible with additional debt cancellation.”
Congresswoman Waters traveled to Haiti this weekend, her second trip there since the earthquake, in order to assess relief and reconstruction activities. She is particularly concerned about the need to provide shelter to hundreds of thousands of Haitians whose homes were destroyed. Many Haitians are living outdoors in makeshift camps, but the rainy season will arrive soon putting them at greater risk. Congresswoman Waters has called on the international community to distribute durable tents to Haitians to help meet their immediate needs for shelter, and on her upcoming trip she will monitor the progress of efforts to provide tents.
Michael Levin, communications director for Congresswoman Waters, can be reached at Michael.Levin@mail.house.gov.