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Commonwealth says G8 must keep promises to poor

01.01.70

Reuters
Tuesday, September 12, 2006; 3:51 AM


COLOMBO (Reuters) - The Commonwealth group of countries began a three-day finance ministers meeting in Sri Lanka on Tuesday with a call for rich nations to keep their promises over debt relief and aid to the poor.

Don McKinnon, secretary-general of the 53-nation group, said the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations had not yet delivered on last year's pledge to double aid to the world's poorest countries and speed up debt write-offs.

And he said finance ministers from the Commonwealth, which represents two billion people or a third of the world's population, would remind them of that at the upcoming International Monetary Fund and World bank meetings in Singapore.

"It is important that finance ministers, with the clout that they have, should remind a few people to stick with the spirit and the letter of the agreement," McKinnon told a news conference ahead of the meeting.

"It's becoming a bit of a habit to hear a promise made by an international organization and then watch for the next 12 months as that promise is watered down," he added.

McKinnon said some rich countries were double-counting by using an increase in aid to write off debts, adding that some developing nations felt "short-changed."

The Commonwealth played a leading role in launching debt relief initiatives in the 1980s and 1990s, resulting in more than $120 billion of debt being canceled for 30 countries, it said.

"We can debate again in Colombo and trigger the same scale of results," McKinnon said in an earlier statement.

This week's meeting also gives finance ministers a forum to develop common positions ahead of the IMF/World Bank meeting, officials said, and efforts to boost employment, reduce poverty and cope with higher oil prices would also be discussed.

SKILLS DRAIN

The Commonwealth is also wrestling with its own problems, in particular a hemorrhaging of trained teachers, doctors and nurses from poor states to richer ones like Britain, Canada and Australia.

The problem is particularly acute in the Commonwealth, where English-language education makes it easier for medical and teaching staff to migrate to richer states, leaving severe shortages at home.

"You can't stop individuals wanting to improve their circumstances, but what we are really concerned about is the heavy raiding by developed countries of teachers and nurses," McKinnon said.

Nearly half the new entrants to the Nursing Council register in Britain are from overseas, the Commonwealth said, adding that the effects are felt most sharply in small island states, remote and rural areas and parts of Africa.

The organization agreed a code of conduct in 2003 to try and mitigate the effects of that migration but admits more needs to be done. McKinnon said there had been suggestions that rich nations could help train more medical staff and teachers in poor countries for their mutual benefit.

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