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24 October 2001

International Conference on Financing for Development in 2002:
Ecumenical team gives priority to "transformation of the international financial system"

An ecumenical team following United Nations (UN) preparatory work for a conference on financing for development said that "the heart of the matter'' is justice rather than monetary questions. Current models of development must be subjected to critique because "a moral vision calls for full participation of all communities, especially those marginalized by poverty and disempowerment," the team said.

Government delegates gathered at UN headquarters in New York 15-19 October for the conclusion of the third prepcom (preparatory committee) for the International Conference on Financing for Development to be held at Monterey, Mexico, 18-22 March 2002. A 21-member team in New York to follow discussions and interact with delegates was coordinated by the World Council of Churches (WCC) in cooperation with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Gail Lerner, a member of the WCC staff based at the Church Center for the UN, said most of these members, plus some others, would also attend a fourth prepcom in New York in January, and then the Monterey conference itself.

Some of the ecumenical team members also attended earlier preparatory sessions, and a team response to draft versions of the UN document delegates will consider in Monterey has been written and updated as the new drafts appeared, she said.

Changing the system
The UN draft, which will get another revision in the light of the October discussions, begins with a call for "mobilizing domestic financial resources for development", continues with treatment of international private resources, international trade, international financial cooperation and debt, and ends with a sixth and final point on "addressing systemic issues".

Turning the UN outline around, the ecumenical team gave priority to "transformation of the international financial system".

Then, instead of considering "sustainable debt financing" or debt relief, the team demanded "immediate outright cancellation" of debt for the heavily-indebted poor countries, "substantial debt reduction" for middle-income countries, and elimination of "structural adjustment programmes" imposed by the international financial institutions.

As a part of changing the overall system, the team called for letting the UN rather than the International Monetary Fund and World Bank take the lead on economic issues. "To assure the democratization of the international financial system, the UN must be the central pillar for international finance and economic structures," the team said.

New economic models possible
Commenting on the October session, team members said they heard some of the wealthier countries resisting change and contending that the existing capitalist or "neo-liberal" model was the only one possible. However, team members also reported hearing calls for new approaches. They expressed confidence that a useful process has been set in motion, even if the results of the Monterey meeting turn out to be disappointing.

Patricio Castillo-Pena, a Methodist from Chile, said that in the past, economics allowed no room for the social aspects of development, but that discussions in the Monterey process showed that changes in thought are underway.

Hellen Wangusa, an Anglican from Uganda, said change is necessary because "people on the ground are not happy with the record of the IMF and the World Bank", and want the UN as a more democratic body to supersede them.

Taimalelagi Fagamalama, a lay archdeacon from Samoa who became Anglican observer at the UN in August, said people thinking of poverty tend to have Africa in mind, but that her own country is one of the least developed and insists on attention for its situation as well.

Although the ecumenical team was diverse in religious background as well as geography, members found themselves able to agree on basic points. Wendy Flannery, a Roman Catholic Sister of Mercy from Australia, reported a "strong convergence". Demba Moussa Dembele, a Muslim from Senegal, said he sees issues such as debt cancellation, privatization and financing of development in much the same way as Christians on the team saw them.

Hans Morten Haugen, a Norwegian Lutheran who works on international affairs for his church and also served on the Norwegian delegation to the prepcom, said delegates and other representatives of non-governmental organizations admired the ecumenical team for its careful preparation. The team had impact not only as a group, but also through the leadership that individual members gave to NGO groups focusing on particular themes, he said.

The WCC was mandated by its 1998 assembly in Zimbabwe to take up the challenge of globalization as a central part of the ecumenical agenda. Since then, the WCC has been working to promote better understanding of the impact of economic globalization and to provide an ecumenical platfom to respond to its consequences. It is also preparing for two upcoming global events: a UN Financing for Development (FFD) Summit in March 2002 in Mexico, and a September 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg.

For more information contact:
Karin Achtelstetter
WCC Media Relations Officer
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
tel.: (+41 79) 284 5212 (mobile);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.