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Working groups to look into how to spend gold reserves

The government has set up three working groups to look into proposals for using 1,300 tonnes of excess gold held by Swiss National Bank. The groups will report back to the government in April.

This content was published on January 26, 2000 - 19:10

The government has set up three working groups to look into proposals for using 1,300 tonnes of excess gold held by Swiss National Bank. The groups will discuss ideas put forward by the cabinet itself and the cantons, and report back to the government by the end of April.

Last week, the government said it definitely wanted to earmark 500 tonnes of gold for a Solidarity Foundation, to help the needy in Switzerland and abroad. The foundation, which was proposed in 1996 at the height of the controversy over Switzerland's role in World War Two, is to be financed by the interest on the money from the sale of the gold. The interest is expected to amount to SFr300-400 million a year.

The foundation, although a political hot potato that will have to come before a nationwide referendum, is proving to be less of problem than what to do with the remaining 800 tonnes. The cantons, which are actually the bank's shareholders, are unhappy with the government's plans for these reserves.

The government proposed that the interest on this should be used for the federal old age and invalidity pension schemes, as well as to launch a comprehensive information technology training scheme.

But the cantonal finance directors want the interest on the 800 tonnes of gold to go towards relieving the cantons of their debt burden.

This last-minute suggestion has unsettled the cabinet which already has to deal with an initiative from the conservative Swiss People's Party. The party wants to use the interest on all 1,300 tonnes of gold for the the old age and invalidity schemes.

The three working groups will have the task of trying to find a solution which takes both the cantonal and cabinet proposals into account.

By Peter Haller

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