If We Are Serious,


By Eveline Herkens, Hilde F. Johnson,
Clare Short and Heidemaire Wieczorek-Zeul

International Herald Tribune
August 9, 1999

Oslo - The great moral problem of our time is poverty. The problem is getting worse. The implication of the simple truth in these two sentences is as clear as it is disturbing for policymakers.

We simply cannot claim success as international politicians if we cannot make progress in addressing poverty.

This vision of the truth about our world today brought the four of us together at Utstein Abbey in western Norway recently. As ministers for international development, we met to discuss how to make more progress in the fight against poverty.

We do not on our own possess the power to reverse current poverty trends. But we share the responsibility for building stronger coalitions for change.

We focused particularly on the need to improve coordination among donors and untie our aid, support the fight against corruption, deliver on the promise of deeper debt relief, and strengthen the ability and resolve of the international community to respond to conflicts and crises.

We agreed on an 11-point agenda and will review progress next summer in the Netherlands.


Many of the poorest countries are weighed down with too many donors. Scarce government capacity is tied up in meetings with the donors and in preparing reports to justify use of aid funds. Donors too often determine priorities and tie aid to the purchasing of goods and services from their countries.

We should assist poor countries and not undermine their efforts or try to run them. We must be more willing to let go and see our partners in real command of development strategies. We must give their governments and Parliaments a real chance to take charge of their politics.

The Comprehensive Development Framework proposed by the World Bank could become an important catalyst for change. We are prepared to support governments wanting to adopt it.


Corruption is a major obstacle to development whether we speak of greed-based corruption by the elites or need-based corruption among low-wage employees. Corruption undermines democracy and destroys the credibility of government. Corruption is stealing from the poor.

The battle against corruption must be fought in all countries. We are determined to support the efforts of our partner countries and to continue the open and direct dialogue we have with many of them. We will support public sector reform and help strengthen control systems.

At the same time, we need to address the debt crisis in the poor countries with urgency. The Group of Seven's debt relief initiative presented at the recent Cologne summit is very good news. By implementing the G-7 proposal, we will enable poor debtor countries to allocate more funds for poverty reduction.

However, the initiative's success depends on two critical factors. First is the collective ability of all bilateral and multilateral creditors to secure sufficient financing, based on transparent and fair burden-sharing. Second is the ability to transform debt relief into real poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Strengthening the social dimension of the IMF's structural adjustment facility for the poorest countries would be a key contribution.

We strongly encourage all creditor countries to seek ways to strengthen exit solutions provided by the Paris Club. One obvious and important contribution is to cancel remaining official development assistance debt owed by the poorest countries pursuing effective policies.

Other options include forgiveness of commercial credits on top of multilateral agreements or making additional contributions to the HIPC trust fund which supports debt relief by multilateral institutions.

We urge the Paris Club to adopt the proposal to increase its level of debt reductions beyond 90 percent when necessary in order to achieve a real exit from the debt trap.


Fighting the poverty menace requires imaginative thinking and tough action not only on debt but also on issues such as trade and development financing. Stronger efforts are needed to draw private investment to the most needy countries.

We will encourage more public-private partnerships for real life improvement, such as the recent example provided by the World Health Organization and an international company joining hands to eradicate polio.

Official development assistance (ODA) from the OECD countries in aggregate falls far short of the internationally accepted target of 0.7 percent of GDP. We will work together to reverse the decline in ODA. We call for a renewed commitment by all partners concerned to the international development targets, including halving the proportion of people living in absolute poverty by 2015.

One clear way for donors to show this commitment is to allocate more aid to countries that are moving in the right direction in economic policy and good governance, which includes striving for greater social equity, and are thus demonstrating to our publics the effectiveness of aid in the sustainable reduction of poverty.

It is vital to strengthen the multilateral system. It is essential that the United Nations be supported in fulfilling its role, particularly in addressing conflicts and crises around the world. We call on all parties to reaffirm support for the United Nations and the development banks, both through fulfillment of financial obligations, in setting policy priorities, and through stronger international coordination.

Closer coordination among those agencies providing humanitarian assistance and those providing long-term development cooperation is required.


Poverty is a moral issue but also a root cause of many global problems. As ministers for development, our most immediate challenge is to build the broadest possible understanding at home and abroad, as we enter the 21st century, that it can and must be eradicated.

We call for genuine partnership, first and foremost with developing countries, but also with action-oriented groups in civil society, the private sector and the best minds in the academic community. There is no need more urgent, no cause more noble. No responsibility weighs more on us.

The writers are, respectively, the Dutch minister for development cooperation, the Norwegian minister for international development and human rights, the British secretary of state for international development and the German minister for development cooperation.

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