Swiss non-governmental organisations (NGOs) involved in development and humanitarian aid have called on parliament to honour commitments made by the government to use proceeds from the sale of Switzerland's gold reserves for good causes.
The proposal for the "solidarity foundation", passed by the Senate in June and scheduled for another round of debate in parliament this month, was a "convincing compromise", speakers of the Forum of Aid Organisations for the Solidarity Foundation agreed at a media conference in Bern. "After years of haggling, the proposal represents an agreement that can win the day in a popular vote", said Jürg Krummenacher, director of Caritas Switzerland and a member of the forum.
Krummenacher warned politicians not to pander to right-wing demands by trying to "nationalise" benefits from the proposed foundation further. "If Switzerland wants to look after its national interests wisely during this century, the importance of increasing its aid abroad is paramount," he said.
The appeal by the forum, which counts 35 NGOs as its members, comes shortly before the House of Representatives decides on how interest from the sale of 1,300 tonnes of gold reserves should be divided. According to the government and the senate, part of the proceeds should be used to set up a "solidarity foundation" that sponsors aid projects abroad and in Switzerland.
The government launched the plan in 1997 as part of a long-term strategy to improve Switzerland's image abroad. In the face of criticism from the right-wing People's Party, the plan was amended to accommodate not only the aid foundation, but the country's pension scheme and its 26 cantons too.
Sales benefit groups
In the proposal before parliament, all three groups of beneficiaries - foundation, pension scheme and cantons - each stand to receive SFr250 million ($150 million) in annual interest payments from funds created by future gold sales and totalling SFr20 billions ($11.16 billions).
But according to the People's Party, all SFr750 million ($450 million) of the proceeds should go to the nation's pension scheme. The People Party's proposal will also be debated in parliament. It is expected that Swiss voters will have to cast their final and deciding vote on both proposals in two separate nationwide ballots.
The NGOs said the "solidarity foundation" should finance long-term projects in Switzerland that would otherwise not receive subsidies and would be unlikely to get off the ground. They could be aimed at integrating foreigners into Swiss society or at preventing violence among youths.
But equally important were projects abroad, the NGOs said. International aid projects should concentrate on new aid strategies or alleviate suffering and the causes of conflict in "forgotten" unrest areas, such as Somalia and Rwanda.
The NGOs criticised as "questionable" a draft amendment by the parliamentary committee, which omits any reference to how the foundation's efforts were to be divided among projects abroad and at home. The original government proposal, which speaks of an "equal" distribution of financing for Swiss and international projects, should be retained, Krummenacher said.
by Markus Haefliger