World Bank Offers CARICOM Debt Assistance

The World Bank has offered to help ease the heavy debt burden of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.

After meeting with Heads of Government yesterday – the first day of the 21st CARICOM Inter-Sessional Meeting being held in Dominica’s capital – World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the financial institution is currently studying the debt profiles of the region’s countries in order to construct appropriate plans to ease the load. Zoellick said the Bank was willing to send teams to the various CARICOM member countries to see whether a strategy could be developed that focuses on growth as well as good fiscal management and effective use of debt.

“The next step is for the countries that are interested to ask us to have our teams come and we can come and try to outline that,” he said.

The Community’s crippling debt burden was among key matters the two sides discussed in a two-hour meeting that CARICOM Chairman and host Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit characterized as a “constructive engagement”.

The situation in quake-hit Haiti, climate change and tax haven issues were the other subjects of the exchange.

On Haiti, Zoellick said the World Bank supports a special multi-donor fund for the reconstruction of the quake-hit CARICOM member state. The fund will ensure that all donors’ resources are pooled, thus streamlining the assistance to Haiti. He said it was best for there to be “one fund connected to the plans of the Haitians without having them to meet with 20 different donors with 20 different ideas”, adding that this would allow Haitians to be “in the driver’s seat”.

Ahead of the meeting with Zoellick, Prime Minister Skerrit had indicated that CARICOM wanted foremost for the Haitian government and its people to be at the centre of and leading the process of the country’s reconstruction.

“We have to ensure that the errors of the past do not repeat themselves where we, as non-Haitian nationals would go into Haiti and determine for them what they need, how they need it and how they should do it, and at the end of the day, nobody benefits,” he said at the time.

Zoellick said the World Bank was also considering how it could support CARICOM’s role in providing assistance to Haiti.

He also revealed that he had held discussions with the Haitian President earlier in the week on how the World Bank Group could best support that country in the immediate future. After the earthquake, the financial institution provided an additional US$100 million in grants, while its private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) also made an additional US$35 million investment to help boost jobs. With regard to climate change, the World Bank President indicated that the two sides discussed how they could work together to achieve the region’s goals in adapting to climate change.

“CARICOM is particularly active on climate change, and the world is increasingly recognizing the needs of the small island states.  The World Bank can help CARICOM with increasing its resilience to climate change, innovative financing, and low carbon growth strategies that include a focus on reducing the cost and increasing the efficiency of energy in the region,” Zoellick said.

“The Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, is exploring opportunities to support renewable options, such as geothermal, hydro, wind and solar, along with an energy efficiency programme.”

During the discussions with the leaders, Zoellick also promised that the World Bank would continue to support countries with advice and assistance to put necessary legal frameworks and treaties in place to meet international financial standards.

Several CARICOM countries are under pressure from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to meet specific tax information sharing standards.

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