Swiss aid agencies are calling on the government to do more to ease the debt burden on the world's poorest countries. At a news conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the Swiss Debt Relief Programme, they said the ultimate goal had to be the cancellation of all debts accumulated by highly indebted developing countries.
The programme was launched in 1991 as part of events to mark the 700th birthday of the Swiss state. It was set up with a credit of SFr500 million ($292 million) from the federal parliament and government.
Since then SFr2 billion worth of debts has been written off.
Peter Niggli of the Swiss Coalition of Development Organisations said Swiss and international debt relief efforts were a step in the right direction, but did not address the underlying problems in a satisfactory way.
Niggli said what was needed was for Switzerland to develop a new policy of long-term debt relief, which would cancel all outstanding debts and signal a new start for the most highly indebted countries. In addition, to avoid future indebtedness, Switzerland should rethink its credit allocation policy, Niggli said.
Running the Swiss Debt Relief Programme has been the responsibility of two government agencies - the state secretariat for the economy (Seco) and the Development Aid Agency (Deza) - in conjunction with the Coalition of Development Organisations.
"The Swiss Debt Relief Programme was innovative," said Seco's David Syz. He said that, thanks to Switzerland's efforts, debt cancellation was now high up on the agendas of G7, World Bank and IMF meetings.
Deza director Walter Fust said the SFr500 million credit used to finance the programme had alleviated poverty in many countries. He cited the example of Peru, where an allocation of SFr50 million had paid for 112 projects providing drinking water and health care to the population.
Funds previously used by developing countries to pay off debts could now be used in a creative way to bring benefit to the people, Niggli said.
swissinfo with agencies