REPORT #187 Feb 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

Watched a 2 hour television documentary, on the World Bank doing loans and stuff for Uganda. They went through the whole process, from New York, to Uganda, to candid shots of local politicians on the stump and in meetings with officials, lower level bureaucrats in World Bank, cooperation with IMF. Mon oh Mon! It was candid, unedited and did not try to say anything. Just a camera following along with people in the decision making processes regarding loan progams to Uganda by the World Bank mainly and the IMF. You got to sit in meetings in Kampala and in New York and many other offices, with people discussing the loan programs to Uganda.

What did I get out of it? It is a racket! A cycle of loan and interest racket. Unfortunately, many of the participants in the process do not understand what they are doing. But the odd one, suddenly got a real glimmer of the truth.

There were greedy politicians, hard working politicians, civil servants defending turf, subservient fawning civil servants, a chilling hard nosed 'behind the scenes' banker at World Bank on the Board from the USA. A guy from the USA, who had been a cook in the US Army, who was hilarious but trying his damndest to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and posturing of egghead economists and self important bureaucrats posturing within the World Bank. A gadfly economist from Egypt, I think on the World Bank team. She among many others were concentrating on paper figures without understanding 'on the ground realities'. What a documentary, listening to people talk, think and calculate and try to do their respective piece of work, that was there 'job', in the overall scheme.

One meeting was extremely illuminating, when a couple of World Bank lower level echelon guys discussing things in an informal meeting in some house or other, was discussing the coffee harvest and GROWTH of 6% of Uganda. One asked the other, why are we trying to hustle these guys (politicians) for infra-strucure loans? He said, "they don't need any loans!" Couple of others went shamefaced and nodded in agreement.

From the hard nosed banker back in World Bank Board in New York, it became clear that making 'interest' and getting regular payments was the name of the game. The whole loan scheme scams work around the GROWTH rate of the economy of UGANDA. If the statistics show GROWTH is going up, Uganda qualifies for more loans. So politicians in UGANDA are hustled to borrow more loans from World Bank and the IMF, to increase more infra-structure, to increase MORE growth as justification. When something happened, such as; a drop in coffee prices, suddenly there was a mad scramble and the meetings were more concentrating in pressuring the Ugandan politicians to raise taxes, add taxes and make sure they paid the interest payments on the existing loans. It was hilarious. Suddenly new loans dried up and the emphasis was on pressure to pay off old loans. Suddenly the meetings changed from selling loans based on GROWTH, to cutting off existing loans, or a new bunch of number crunching bureaucrats from World Bank pressuring and adding strings to existing loans, or any new loans for continuing projects. The meetings suddenly became about controls, qualifications and accounting and transparency on existing loans. The politicians and their civil servants in UGANDA were suddenly in the hot seat.

Man what a scam! The whole basis from the World Bank headquarters and the IMF point of view, was to maximize loans at a ratio to the "sustainable capability" of UGANDA to pay and carry a certain amount of debt based on the economic statistics and GROWTH rate percentage. They wanted UGANDA to stay in debt to it's maximum sustainable ability to pay off loans and interest payments. The real eye opener, was the house meeting when some lower level on the spot, World Bank types, realized that was what they were doing, and UGANDA with a 6% Growth rate did not need any loans. You could see their shame and embarrassment knowing they were being filmed by a camera, when they articulated it.

The sad part, was the misleading sales pitches given to politicians and civil servants in the UGANDAN government about their need for the loans based on GROWTH statistics that World Bank and the IMF put forward. The statistics were even suspect. At one point a World Bank economist is talking to a Ugandan Cabinet Minister pushing him and justifying more loans for infra-structure shown by the GROWTH export statistics for coffee. The minister laughs and said there was no more coffee coming in from production in Uganda, it was all smuggled from over the border, because Uganda had higher prices. One got the impression his relatives were making big bucks from smuggling coffee, while the World Bank nerd economist, kept insisting that the neighboring country was not showing any such coffee production by the statistics. The politician got exasperated, of course he allowed, if it is being smuggled out, they would show nothing. Trying to explain the facts of life 'on the ground' to a World Bank economist just didn't work. Statistics was their whole life. They never dreamed they could be doctored.

The sad part, was the scheme to maximize loans and interest payments to a small undeveloped country, based on projected GROWTH rates and then suddenly cut them off when the economy suffered a setback and Ministers and civil servants, suddenly could not complete work already scheduled, based on loan schedules, unless they met new World Bank committee strictures on how it was handled and spent.

Makes one think! Can we handle Belize on $550 million annual revenue a year, independent of foreign loans? Are Belize politicians being pushed to take maximum amounts of foreign loans, based solely on GROWTH rate projections and infra- structure financed projects, to a limit the lenders judge Belize can handle and keep their Belize Government Credit Card maxed out? Interest payments are the name of the game apparently from World Bank, back in the hard nosed headquarters crowd.

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