New Democratic Party
Mr. Cyril Keeper (Winnipeg North Centre):
Mr. Speaker, once again I will assure the House that I will not take too much time this evening, but I have a fundamental point I want
Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act
to make. I will start by indicating that we will not be opposing this legislation.
I understand that the legislation makes some money available at low interest rates to developing countries, and this is not to be sneezed at or condemned, yet important questions have to be faced in this debate with respect to debt and international development.
The simple point I want to make is that this issue is not a question of whether we have done our share or whether we have done a little more. There are fundamental questions of direction involved, of conception about what is the problem, and what it is we are trying to do on the international development arena with regard to debt.
Over the last few days I focused my attention on a headline in the newspaper. A gentleman who was involved in an international development agency had done a study and said uncategorically that international debt owed by developing countries, which were being forced to pay back, was causing the deaths of children. What we are faced with here is a question of life and death. It is a critical question.
When I hear of international debts, what I understand as a lay person is that the big western banks, including Canadian banks, went on a binge in the last couple of decades lending out money to the poorest nations of this world. Now that they are faced with the hangover and now that the western banks themselves are shaking, they are asking these poor countries to pay up. But, at what price? It is at the price of life and death; that is the implication for those communities. These banks, which want to preserve their efficiency as institutions of capital, are doing it at the cost of the lives of people in developing countries.
If that was the only thing that was possible, then I guess we could close our books and our mouths, go home and watch television and forget about it. I saw something else in the newspaper over the last few days. It was an article about a man who lived in Bangladesh. He started a bank with a difference. It was a bank that lent money to the poorest of the poor in the poorest country. When the man went to a conventional bank to help borrow money for a local family, a local entrepreneur but a poor person, he found that poor people could not borrow money. The poor people did not have access to the capital necessary for development. He stood good for that person. He used his own name as a guarantee in order for the loan to go through.
That was the start of this bank with a difference. What was different about it was that it lent money to poor people who had no collateral. Western banks, as we generally know them, demand collateral before one can borrow money. He changed that. What he did was that he got together a dozen people, each of whom needed money. They all stood for each other in terms of their loans. Thus, if one person in the group was not
July 14, 1988
Bretton Woods and Related Agreements Act
to pay back his loan, then that would affect the creditworthiness of the whole group. They all worked together and they paid back their loans. This man found a new way to run a bank. It was very significant. It said to me that there was another approach. He put the highest value on human development, on the development of the human community, and on the rescue of those people who live in poverty, not by doing something for them but by arranging things in a way that capital could be put at their disposal to do the kinds of development they wanted, which was very small-scale development.
The question before us today is about values, about what we think is most important. Do we agree with the large western banks which seem by their behaviour to put the highest value on the dollar? Or, do we agree with this person from Bangladesh who started a bank that could operate in the poorest corners of the globe and who put the highest priority on the human person? That is what I think is essential to the question of international debt today. What is required is a spiritual reawakening in the sense that the human person will be treated as sacred, as the highest value, and that capital be used to serve human development, the development of the community and of shared responsibility.
I want to say that while we do not oppose this legislation since it makes some money available for poorer countries and communities, there is a greater challenge. The challenge is to make some fundamental shifts in direction.
One of the things this gentleman who started the bank in Bangladesh said was that we need a commitment. We need to renew the commitment or make a commitment to eradicate the pollution of poverty from this planet. It is enough of a surprise actually to find a person who is doing something that makes a difference for poor people, someone who can actually change their situation while at the same time allow for their development and give them control over what is happening to them. That is enough. Then this person challenged us to say that poverty on this planet is a pollution. In other words, it is something that threatens our survival.
I think there is a greater challenge than that which has been faced up to in this legislation. While I will not vote against it, it is about time that we in the western world in particular take up the challenge to change the direction of how we approach the use of capital and make a real difference in regard to poverty on this planet.
Subtopic: BRETTON WOODS AND RELATED AGREEMENTS ACT