Some debts need to be written off: IMF

Published May 9, 2020
Imran has argued that heavy debt burdens are preventing countries from focusing on the challenge of saving people. — AFP/File
Imran has argued that heavy debt burdens are preventing countries from focusing on the challenge of saving people. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Some debts were not sustainable and needed to be restructured, re-profiled or written off, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in an interview recorded earlier this week.

In this interview to ITV News, Ms Georgieva also urged governments to spend more money on health workers to protect the most vulnerable.

“There is a possibility that in some cases debt simply is not sustainable and therefore some action has to be taken either to re-profile or restructure or in some cases write off this debt,” she said.

Although G20 countries have promised some debt relief, a transcript of the interview, released by the IMF headquarters in Washington, indicated that Ms Georgieva believed the crisis required them to go further.

Imran has argued that heavy debt burdens are preventing countries from focusing on the challenge of saving people from pandemic as well as hunger

Last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan appealed to the leaders of rich countries, the UN secretary general and heads of financial institutions to give debt relief to developing countries like Pakistan so that they could combat the deadly Covid-19 in a better way.

The prime minister argued that heavy debt burdens were preventing some countries from focusing on the real challenge of saving their people from the deadly pandemic and hunger that extended lockdowns would trigger.

The IMF chief, while acknowledging the need to restructuring loans, also said the first priority was to combat the disease that has already killed hundreds of thousands and infected several millions across the globe.

“The only thing we ask countries is please spend more money for your doctors and nurses — and please, please use the money to protect the most vulnerable,” she said.

The interviewer, Julie Etchingham, noted that loans usually came with conditions — such as tightening public spending — that were difficult to implement during the Covid-19 crisis.

Ms Georgieva said she was aware of the risks ahead for the IMF. “We are looking to the transparency and accountability in countries. They themselves are coming up with commitments to audit the use of the funds we provide, but there are no strings attached,” she said.

The IMF chief said that more than 100 countries had reached out to them for help to fight the pandemic and 50+ requests were swiftly approved for a total of about $18 billion.

Asked to assess the scale of the crisis facing the global economy, Ms Georgieva did not mince her words. “It is the worst crisis since the Great Depression. But it is more than that because it is a combination of a health crisis and an economic shock,” she said. “And it is truly global.”

The IMF now has about $1 trillion dollars lending capacity — four times more than in the last financial crisis.

The IMF approved $1.386 billion of assistance for Pakistan under the Rapid Financing Instrument to address the economic impact of the Covid-19 shock.

Published in Dawn, May 9th, 2020

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