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Debt relief, aid plans and their progress before G8
British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown hosts a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialised nations this week where discussions on poverty relief are set to top the agenda.

Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the G8 and G7 groupings this year, has declared 2005 make or break time for lifting Africa out of poverty and wants a deal with other rich nations by a July summit in Gleneagles, Scotland.

The G8 comprises Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the United States, Canada and Russia.

Following are aid and debt relief plans tabled so far:

INTERNATIONAL FINANCE FACILITY (IFF)

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown launched the IFF proposal as a mechanism to frontload development aid, by issuing bonds using rich countries' future aid commitments as collateral.

Brown reckons his brainchild could double aid spending to $100 billion a year by effectively securitising donor countries' aid budgets.

Britain says it has received support for its plan from all the other European G7 members -- Germany, France and Italy. However, the idea drew opposition from the United States and President George Bush has said it does not fit Washington's "budgetary process".

IFF PILOT

The IFF pilot would use the same mechanism to frontload aid commitments by issuing bonds against them and is designed to help to fund immunisation programmes by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi).

Brown estimates it will raise an extra $4 billion for vaccines over the next 10 years and save an extra 5 million lives.

Besides the UK and Norway, Britain says France and Sweden have already agreed to contribute to the plan.

The plan is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the World Bank. As a less ambitious scheme than the full-blown IFF it is widely expected to go ahead.

MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE ACCOUNT

The United States' framework for development aid was set up by Bush in January 2004 and is designed to give poor countries cash incentives for undertaking reforms.

The corporation that manages the account encourages countries to compete for grants by promoting policies that support economic growth and reduce poverty.

The scheme has been criticised for a slow start and not including enough countries on its list of eligible beneficiaries. It made its first pledge in March this year -- a $110 million, four-year grant to Madagascar. Cape Verde, Nicaragua and Honduras are also lined up for grants.

The account received about $2.5 billion from Congress over the last two fiscal years.

IMF GOLD PLANS

Brown has proposed selling or revaluing IMF bullion, the third largest reserves in the world, to raise cash to write off African countries' debts to international organisations.

The United States, worried about the impact of such transactions on the global bullion market, has said the sale of IMF gold may not be necessary. But Britain insists using IMF gold is still on the agenda.

The IMF's total gold holdings are valued on its balance sheet at about $9 billion on the basis of historical cost. At current market prices, that would be around $43 billion.

In the United States, congressional approval is needed for any IMF gold transaction, while IMF gold sales will require the backing of 85 percent of the IMF's board.

AIRLINE TAX

A proposed voluntary airline tax on flight tickets sold in the European Union to help fund extra aid for Africa failed to get off the ground.

French President Jacques Chirac aired the idea of such a tax, telling the World Economic Forum in January that a tax of $1 per airline ticket could raise $10 billion a year to fund bigger campaigns against AIDs and other diseases in Africa.

Even though finance ministers agreed in May the levy would only be optional, it drew criticism from Austria, the Netherlands and holiday destinations Italy and Greece. Only a handful of countries said they would definitely implement it.


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