The Swiss government has approved plans for a new charity for the needy, nearly three years after it was first mooted. The Solidarity Foundation, to be financed by the sale of excess gold reserves, aims to support efforts to prevent poverty.
The finance minister, Kaspar Villiger, described the Foundation as a key project to continue and renew Switzerland's humanitarian tradition at home and abroad. A draft law to set up the foundation has been forwarded to parliament for further debate. Villiger said it could be put to a nationwide vote in mid-2001.
He said the Foundation was not meant to compete with existing charities, but help close gaps in social security. He said it would be limited to 30 years initially, and be financed by the proceeds of the sale of 500 tonnes of excess gold reserves from the National Bank.
"The aim of the Foundation should be to focus on working towards prevention," Villiger said. But he did not rule out that some funds could go towards emergency aid.
The finance minister also said it would be up to the board of directors of the foundation to decide what kind of projects or group of people should benefit from it. But Villiger said the government was in favour of spending half the money on projects in Switzerland and the other half abroad.
The 500 tonnes, currently worth about SFr7 billion, are expected to generate about SFr200 million francs in interest every year for the foundation.
Villiger said the government wanted to see some of it spent abroad, such as on aid agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, but also on sports or youth organisations.
He said the ambition must be to concentrate on projects which attempt to prevent need and poverty from originating in the first place.
The government has also proposed awarding a special prize every year, worth SFr1 million, to distinguish special efforts to promote solidarity.
The idea of the Solidarity Foundation was first mooted by the government in 1997 at the height of the debate over Switzerland's role during World War Two. The foundation is closely linked to the sale of excess gold reserves of the National Bank. But the plans have come in for criticism by two of the country's four governing parties.
swissinfo with agencies