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Congresswoman Waters Urges Complete Debt Cancellation for Liberia

July 30, 2009
Press Release

Today, Rep. Maxine Waters (D CA) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, urging him to support immediate and complete cancellation of Liberia's debts and arrears during the Liberia Partners' Forum in Washington, DC, February 13-15, 2007. The letter was signed by the following members of the House of Representatives: Barney Frank (D-MA), Chairman of the Financial Services Committee; Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Financial Services Committee; Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health; Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health; Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology; and Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.  The text of the letter follows:

 We appreciate your past support of debt cancellation for impoverished countries.  We now urge you to support immediate and complete cancellation of Liberia's debts and arrears during the Liberia Partners' Forum in Washington, DC, February 13-15, 2007.

 The election of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made her the first woman head of state in Africa and marked the end of a 14-year civil war that killed 270,000 people and displaced almost one million. The country continues to suffer from grave poverty: 75 percent of its population lives on less than $1 per day while the unemployment rate is 85 percent.

 President Sirleaf's election was also a sign of hope for the people of Liberia who have suffered tremendously from both poverty and conflict.  However, the new government requires the support and assistance of the international community to ensure national reconciliation and sustainable development for the Liberian people. Debt cancellation is essential to this process. 

 According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Liberia's total debt stands at $3.7 billion, $1.6 billion of which is owed to multilateral financial institutions, including $740 million to the IMF, $530 million to the World Bank, and $255 million to the African Development Bank. A total of $358 million is owed to the United States. Much of Liberia's debt burden was accumulated during the oppressive and undemocratic regimes of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor, who did not use the loan funds for the benefit of the Liberian people.

 We are especially concerned that Liberia may be expected to pay off its arrears to multilateral financial institutions prior to obtaining new assistance in the form of grants, loans, or debt relief from the international community. This nation cannot afford additional delays and cannot reasonably be expected to drain such large amounts of money from its already fragile economy.

 The cancellation of Liberia's debts and arrears would enable the newly elected government to reduce poverty; improve health care, education and other essential government services; invest in critical infrastructure; and improve the lives of the Liberian people. The experience of partial debt relief and full debt cancellation in other impoverished countries has been successful. For example, the Ghanaian government has used the money saved through debt relief for basic infrastructure, including rural feeder roads, as well as increased expenditures on education and health care.  In Zambia, 4,500 new teachers have been hired and fees for rural healthcare have been abolished.

 Therefore, we urge you to use your influence at the Liberia Partners' Forum to ensure that Liberia obtains complete cancellation of its debts and arrears without further delays. Your efforts to assist Liberia in its development are greatly appreciated, and we look forward to your response and to working with you to free Liberia from the tremendous burden of international debt.

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