“There is no reason at all, why people in the Caribbean should have to slide deeper and deeper into their debt traps after each hurricane season.” This was the consensus among a group of Christian leaders of some countries of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in a statement issued November 15 ahead of a High Level Caribbean Forum in Kingston organised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Government of Jamaica.
According to the Christian leaders, the November 16 forum, held under the theme Unleashing Growth and Strengthening Resilience in the Caribbean, did not include discussion on a debt moratorium in light of the 2018 hurricane season.
In their statement, the signatories – Archbishop Robert Rivas of Castries, St Lucia; Archbishop-elect Jason Gordon, Apostolic Administrator of Bridgetown, Barbados; Bishop Gabriel Malzaire of Roseau, Dominica; Bishop Gerard County of Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines; and Grenada Christian Council members Rev Dr Osbert James (Presbyterian), Rev Joachim Phillip (Pentecostal), Rev Jerome Gordon (Seventh Day Adventist), Fr Sean Doggett and Alvin Clouden (both Catholic) – said they were “deeply concerned” to find that “these specific vulnerabilities were not even on the agenda”.
The Church leaders maintained that its Heads of State and Government must commit to immediately stop making payments on the external debt, if catastrophes like “Irma” and “Maria” will again destroy individual Islands in next year’s hurricane season.
The statement urged that the “IMF must use its rule-setting power to endorse such a moratorium once a hurricane will bring destruction beyond a pre-defined level and make sure that after a moratorium a serious debt restructuring of all our external commitments shall be possible under due consideration of our people’s human rights.”
With just eight months left before the beginning of the 2018 hurricane season it continued, “We do not want to stumble into that one like we stumbled into the last”.
The IMF’s wesbite (http://www.imf.org/) noted that the conference’s agenda focused on the unique issues the Caribbean region is facing and the opportunities that can be found within to cope with the changing global landscape. Topics discussed included crime and youth unemployment, fiscal policy and political cycles, and financial stability and growth trade-offs.
The event, a follow-up to last year’s conference in T&T brought together more than 300 officials of the Heads of Governments from the Caribbean region, including Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness, central bank Governors, private-sector representatives and other high-ranking officials from Caribbean countries.
During the opening session of the sixth IMF Caribbean Forum managing director, Christine Lagarde, said her organisation is willing to help the Caribbean countries severely affected by the passage of the hurricanes. “The IMF stands ready to do whatever it can to help in those situations in assessing macroeconomic implications, determining financing needs, and providing financial support that would also help catalyse broader financing from the rest of the international community,” Lagarde said.
She added, “Beyond these efforts, I propose convening an event with all the major public and private stakeholders to explore options for building resilience in the region, including risk mitigation, debt management strategies, and use of catastrophe bonds. This effort is not about a short-term response, but about building defences to events that will reoccur again.”