Transcript of a Press Conference of African Finance Ministers
September 20, 2003
Dubai International Convention Centre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
September 20, 2003
View this press conferenc using Media Player.
Hon. Michel MEVA'A MEBOUTOU, Minister of Economy and Finance for Cameroon,
Hon. Ng'andu P. MAGANDE, MP, Minister of Finance & National Planning for Zambia,
Hon. Ali Badjo GAMATIE, Minister of Finance for Niger,
Hon. B.R. KUKURI, Deputy Minister of Finance for Namibia,
Hon. Jean Baptiste COMPAORE, Minister Delegate to the PM in charge of Budget and Finance for Burkina Faso,
Hon. Ngozi OKONJO-IWEALA, Minister of Finance for Nigeria,
Mr. Bassirou SARR, Moderator, Advisor, External Relations Department, International Monetary Fund
MR. SARR: Good afternoon and welcome to the press conference of the African Ministers of Finance and Governors of the IMF and the World Bank.
Before I introduce our distinguished guests, who are going to address some specific issues of concern to Africa, I would like to remind you that we have simultaneous translation. We have Arabic on Channel 1, French on Channel 2, Spanish on Channel 3, and English on Channel 4.
I would like also to remind you, if possible, if you can turn off your cell phones during the press conference. This press conference will last about an hour, and I would introduce our distinguished guests.
First, on my right is Honorable Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala, the Minister of Finance of Nigeria.
Immediately following the Minister for Nigeria is the Minister for Burkina Faso, Mr. Jean Baptiste Compaore. He is the Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister in charge of Budget and Finance.
Minister Kukuri is the Deputy Minister for Namibia.
Following Minister Kukuri is the Minister for Niger, Mr. Ali Badjo Gamatie.
Immediately to his right is the Minister for Zambia, Honorable Ng'andu P. Magande.
And at my far right is the Minister for Cameroon, Minister Meva'a Meboutou, Minister of Economy and Finance.
Each of the Ministers will make very brief opening remarks, and we'll open the floor for your questions.
MINISTER OKONJO-IWEALA: Well, thank you, Mr. Sarr. Welcome, and good afternoon to ladies and gentlemen of the press, although I have been told that you don't say "ladies," just gentlemen of the press. Welcome.
We have a number of issues of concern to the African Constituency at these meetings, and I'm sure that my colleagues will touch on all of them. We have already had some meetings amongst ourselves, and hopefully will be able to enunciate to you what the main concerns are. We are obviously concerned about the outlook for the global economy and what this means in terms of Africa's development. Particularly, we are troubled by the failure of the Cancun negotiations and the implications that this has for African countries' access to markets, particularly for the area where its comparative advantage lies in agricultural products.
We are also worried about the impact of commodity prices and their volatility and what this means in terms of trying to implement some of the problems that several of our countries are undertaking with the Bretton Woods Institutions. We are concerned with how we mitigate this volatility.
Also, we are concerned about the NEPAD implementation of the agreements we have in there, which we'll talk about some more. We feel that it's proceeding relatively well now. But with the commitment made at Monterrey and Johannesburg of the developed countries, we are concerned about their meeting these commitments in order to enable the African countries to also move forward towards meeting the MDGs, and we are concerned about the impact of HIV-AIDS on our countries and our ability to deal with what is not only a social and a health, but an economic problem.
Let me leave it there, and perhaps my colleagues can touch on the other issues.
MR. SARR: Thank you very much.
MINISTER COMPAORE: (Interpreted from French) Thank you. I would just like to point out that I am a Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister and was appointed recently. I would like to touch on the MDGs and perhaps expound on the HIPC Initiative as well, in particular as it pertains to debt.
With regard to the Millennium Development Goals, I think that everyone is aware that much effort needs to be made in African countries to achieve those objectives. In our country, we are making efforts toward adjustment and structural reforms to help us achieve the goals, but there is still the matter of financing that needs to be settled. This is a very important issue for us because the goals are so ambitious that if we don't have the necessary financing to help us along our way, then the goals will be just a dream for our countries, and of course we welcome the U.K. initiative, supported by France, with regard to international financing facilities, but I believe that implementation has to come quickly if we are not to miss the boat.
I would also like to touch on the matter of the HIPC and the debt. Many countries are still laboring under the debt. That is well-known. But even those countries that have reached a point of completion of the HIPC Initiative have not yet been able to mobilize all of the resources available. The pace is rather slow, and some parties are hesitant. We would like to continue to engage the Bretton Woods Institutions to help us release the financing necessary for us to achieve the objectives.
Naturally, we have to determine the extent to which the HIPC Initiative can be dovetailed with other instruments. We need to resolve the problem of the debt, and in the meantime, we need to have greater growth. Internal resources are not enough. We have to find other resources that we can mobilize and find a way to attract foreign direct investment, and of course we have to make sure that debt is sustainable, whether or not we reach the point of completion of HIPC in time.
MR. SARR: Minister Kukuri?
MINISTER KUKURI: Well, thank you very much and good day to everyone present here. I am going to focus on one of the challenges facing Africa in reducing poverty. Of course, in reducing poverty, there are many ways of looking at it in many areas. However, I'm going to focus on the question of trade because I do believe that, through trade, a lot of the problems which African countries and Africa, as a continent, are facing, could easily be addressed.
The problem, of course, around trade is really a problem of tariffs and nontariff barriers which industrial countries maintain, and of course which make it very difficult for developing countries to access markets, and therefore to create an environment where the greater majority of the people in the continent could actually benefit.
So we have been trying to see that the WTO rules and the Uruguay Trade Rounds materializes. Of course, it is estimated that the total public support to agriculture in the OECD countries is more than $300 billion annually. This is, of course, six times the ODA--what the ODA budget main support provides.
Therefore, I would believe that if these barriers could be removed, millions of jobs, could be provided through that exercise, and there is no doubt that the benefit of full liberalization of world trade could lift at least something like 300 million people out of poverty by 2015. That is actually the estimates which are provided, given the magnitude of the savings which could result from these kind of efforts.
Of course, we welcome that a number of African countries are benefiting from special initiatives like AGOA and ABOS, and that through that, opportunities for trade are expanding. However, we would like to caution that these initiatives should not undermine the conclusions of the more comprehensive and sustainable trade agreement under the Doha Round.
Well, against this background, we cannot but express our deep disappointment with the failure of the Cancun World--WTO Ministerial Meeting to make progress on many important issues that were put on the table during the Doha Round, particularly the removal of agricultural subsidies in developed countries.
Of course, as pointed out, progress on the removal of agricultural subsidy would strengthen African effort in reaching the Millennium Development Goals, and we believe that if the advocacy around the Doha Round and the conclusion thereof would create a level playing field in area of trade where developing countries have an interest and competitive advantage.
Therefore, by way of concluding remarks, concrete support to the diversification of African economies is long overdue and will be most welcome.
MR. SARR: Thank you very much.
Maybe since we have the press here, we'll allow the three Ministers to make their closing remarks and maybe open the floor for questions from journalists right now. All right.
So the floor is open for your questions.
QUESTION: (Interpreted from French) Minister Compaore, following the failure of Cancun, do you think that Burkina Faso and Mali have had satisfaction vis-a-vis the United States, and do you think that subsidies will continue, to the detriment of your country?
MR. SARR: Here. Right there in the middle.
QUESTION: Hello. John Knox from African Energy.
Two questions. One, the question of oil transparency is featuring quite large at the moment, and I'd be very interested to hear the Ministers' opinion on whether you can really bring in new procedures of transparency for oil and other natural resources revenues without radically changing political systems, where, after all, they are at the center of the patronage regime in each country?
And my second question refers to Africa, and the world more globally, and the World Bank because the World Bank, during the Wolfensohn years, has made very much of pulling back from financing the sort of big-ticket infrastructure projects it used to. But it strikes me, particularly looking from the energy sector at present, that we have a system, a situation where private developers and the sort of private investment that was coming into Africa is not coming in at the moment.
Would you feel that possibly the time is, however controversial it would be, for the World Bank and the other big multilaterals to actually return to financing big projects, as well as transferring information and helping with the structural side of things?
MR. SARR: Thank you very much.
We can take one more question. Here, up front.
QUESTION: Anna Willard from Reuters.
The United States and other rich countries have effectively blocked giving developing countries extra voice at the Boards of the IMF and the World Bank. I was wondering if you think that's fair.
MR. SARR: I'll ask Minister Compaore, first, on the question that was directed at him, and then Minister Ngozi will address the energy and the Bank policy, and Mr. Gamatie will address the last question on voice and representation.
MINISTER COMPAORE: (Interpreted from French) Thank you. Have Burkina Faso and Mali been able to achieve anything in Cancun? And the answer to that is, no. Of course, we are disappointed with the outcome of Cancun. We had intended to send a message out to the international community that, for countries like ours, where over 40 percent of the population, at least as far as Burkina Faso is concerned, depends on cotton.
And on the subject of the fight against poverty, we can't ignore the other factors involved and the heavy weight that cotton plays in our economy. And, of course, if cotton is threatened, then the very objectives that we are all trying to achieve are going to be jeopardized under the Millennium Goals.
We were unable to have subsidies removed. We were unable to get satisfaction on that point, but we were happy to be able to raise this problem in Cancun. We believe that we have gained stature and helped Burkina stand its ground and highlight inequalities. And I think that the international community will be coming back to the negotiating table for these reasons.
We can't have double standards. We cannot be expected to open up our economies and be competitive on a unilateral basis. Everybody needs to be able to have their fair share. And certainly where cotton is concerned, we believe that the current situation is unfair and that many countries are suffering for it. So we didn't get satisfaction, but we are continuing the process. We're continuing to engage the Bretton Woods Institutions to try to make our voices heard.
MINISTER OKONJO-IWEALA: Thank you. On the question of the oil transparency and patronage, I think that's a very important issue. As you know, through NEPAD, the African countries have said that one of the key objectives is to intensify the fight against corruption and increase transparency in their doings, and the oil sector is part and parcel of this.
I can cite what is being done in my own country, Nigeria, where the President Obasanjo has clearly put the country as one of the participants in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative that had been launched under Prime Minister Blair and George Soros.
We are going to participate in this. We believe that this is a good way to go, and I think that you will see more and more countries in Africa also being more open and taking part in this initiative. What we need from the initiative is specificity about what types of information, you know, that they would want us to be open about, and the templates that are needed for the countries, all of the countries participating, to fill. And as I speak, we have a mission from the Bretton Woods Institutions, particularly from the World Bank, assisting us in working on these templates.
So I'm very happy to say that Nigeria is moving on that road. It's not going to be an easy one. Let's not make light of that. But I think we have to start, and we've begun the process.
Now, let me also say that the transparency, there is also another side to it, and that has to do with the international oil companies as well. They also have to be transparent and open. You know that many times their capacity to do analyses and to, you know, manage their accounts and their figures is much more than the capacity of many of the countries to do the same, and so we would hope that we'd be receiving assistance from the Bretton Woods Institutions to our countries to make sure we have the capacity to match that and that the oil companies would pledge to be as open as the governments are trying to be.
MR. SARR: Thank you very much.
MINISTER GAMATIE: Yes. Thank you.
I think there is more to the question of the lady than a "yes" or "no" answer regarding the quotas. A good illustration is given by the gentleman on the Bank, and the second part of his question was about the Bank pulling out of big projects. Of course, it's not fair, but the key question is why are we asking for more voice of Africa?
If you look at the number of countries, Africa is the continent with a lot of countries being members of the Bank and the Fund. So that means the number of clients of these two institutions are in Africa.
When they decide to work on a strategy, like pulling out of a big project, of course, this is a mistake. It's a big mistake because what you end up is you fight poverty, but you don't make room for growth. And my understanding is the Bank is coming back to these big infrastructure projects. In the coming days, I guess there will be a document that is going to be circulated on this issue.
So what you are seeing here is we feel that it takes people, with the knowledge on the ground, to understand the real issues. We don't need a quick fix. It takes time. Development is a long-term issue. You have to make long-term commitment with people who understand what the issues are. What we have been doing the last year, you know, we've moved from the Washington Consensus to the Monterrey Consensus to now we're talking about NEPAD.
Of course, you have a political dimension, you have an economic dimension, but you have a development issue. All of these things are related. We're talking about the debt issue. We're talking about infrastructure. We're talking about trade. But that the financing of the development, that's a single issue.
So, really, I think you touched upon a real issue here is we're not asking voice for just asking a voice. We have the feeling that now it's time for these big institutions to sit with us. You realize that in terms of thinking, in terms of strategy, much has been done.
Now, my feeling is that it's time to get on the ground. It's time to implement. That's where the failures are. We're failing to implement.
And then there is an issue of who you talk to. And if you look at these two aspects, how do we implement? How do you put in practice the NEPAD that she just talked about? Because NEPAD has three dimensions:
Number one, put Africa back on the radar screen. It did it perfectly.
Number two, to address the political issue. It did it with the peer review.
Number three, then, you have to go through infrastructure. The Bank is coming, but then there is the original dimension that has not been solved correctly yet, at least from my point of view.
And then, number four, that's who you talk to on the ground. So, yes, it's not fair, but the issue is not whether it's fair or not; it's why are we asking for more voice than to avoid making some decisions that might look good on the paper, but in the long run, we waste time. It's been a mistake pulling out of big project because you change the structure of the economy with big projects. You fight poverty with a small project, but you don't get growth with a small project.
MR. SARR: Thank you, Minister Gamatie.
Minister Ngozi would like to add something on the infrastructure.
MS. OKONJO-IWEALA: Not really on infrastructure but just to push the point on the NEPAD that it was said before that many of the countries are not doing what they're supposed to do in terms of reforms of the economies. I think you can see now that considerable progress has been made. These are all part and parcel of the reason why we think that there needs to be reciprocity, more voice for the African countries, but also more financing as the colleague from Burkina Faso had raised.
Nigeria, for instance, has launched a reform program that it's going to implement over the next few years that is quite far-reaching, touching on issues of transparency, as I mentioned, anti-corruption, reform of the public sector, public expenditure reform. Now, Nigeria is 13 percent of sub-Saharan Africa's GDP, 55 percent of West Africa's GDP; 1.5 Africans is Nigerian. So if we make progress, I think that this will be important for the continent, and I think it's worth taking notice of what progress has been made in NEPAD from this country.
Finally, I'd like to put on the table an issue that we also think we need more voice and attention on, and that is on debt. There is the issue of the HIPC which my colleague has outlined. There's still progress to be made. Many thanks for the support that has been given to that initiative so far, but it needs to be more flexible.
But there's also an issue of the non-HIPC countries that have unsustainable debt and the fact that the Paris Club has agreed in Evian to open the door to these countries to be considered. We would like this initiative to be taken forward to treat those countries that may be low income but are not part of HIPC, or middle income but with unsustainable debt. That's a point on which we would like more attention as well.
MR. SARR: Thank you very much. We can take a few more sets of questions. From Cameroon?
QUESTION: My name is Jean-Vincent Chenille (ph) from Tropical Pictures News Agency. Now, in the memoranda to Mr. Kohler and Mr. Wolfensohn, African governance, I quote, "We remain concerned that as many as 47 countries of sub-Saharan Africa are represented by only two chairs on the two Executive Boards. Furthermore, the quota share and voting rights of Africa continue to decline, further undermining our voice and effective participation in the two institutions."
So I understand that you want another representative in the Executive Board. Do you expect that your demand will be considered by these two institutions?
The second question, I will put it in French.
MR. SARR: If you can make it shorter.
QUESTION: (Interpreted from French) Distinguished Ministers, you are aware that here in Dubai questions related to Iraq, Argentina, issues concerning currencies, Asia, are much more widely discussed at a world level than African problems. You're aware of that.
Today, you have a special session for African Ministers in a room next door and the press has been banned from that meeting. Would it be possible to have some pictures before the meeting? I'd like to know who's taken that type of decision because it doesn't help to get you well known.
MR. SARR: (Interpreted from French) Thank you very much for your question.
The lady in front.
QUESTION: Julie Ziegler from Bloomberg News. The first question for the Ministers is, do you believe that the U.S. has kept its commitment for aid to Africa? And secondly, are you disappointed that the Millennium Challenge Account isn't up and running yet?
MR. SARR: Thank you.
We can take two more questions maybe. Here in the back.
QUESTION: Webster Marido (ph) from the Post Swepars (ph) in Zambia. Directing my question to the Minister of Finance from Zambia. The IMF and the World Bank has deferred Zambia's HIPC completion points because of programs, I think, in the budget, projected a wide view of expenditure. I just wanted to find out from you if at all you still have trust in these institutions. It's really that there have been concerns that there have been a lot of shifting of demands even when these countries are meeting certain trigger points.
MR. SARR: Thanks very much.
One more. In the back, all the way.
QUESTION: Yes. My name is Reholoh Khadaref from the Khadmus Vivar Embassy Media (ph). Please, I ask for Arabic, please.
MR. SARR: Arabic?
QUESTION: Yes. (Interpreted from Arabic) The UAE Minister of Finance, Dr. Khamad Kharfan Kharbash (ph) today said that following the failure of Cancun, developing countries might be able to benefit from this 2003 conference to open a new dialogue between developing and developed countries, rich and poor countries, as well as with the IFIs on the focal issues of very important issues such as trade liberalization and poverty and unemployment. Do you have a plan to be able to benefit from this conference in a very clear manner in order to resume a good dialogue rather than a dialogue of people who do not understand each other?
MR. SARR: I maybe start with the Minister from Zambia to address the specific question of the Zambian reporter.
MR. MAGANDE: Thank you, Mr. Moderator. Do you still trust these institutions? I would say yes, we still trust these institutions. They are our own creation. If they are not, in 1945, most of us were still colonies. But, as we became independent, we believed that we could join. So we are members. In fact we are here as Governors of these institutions.
What has become important, as you heard from my colleagues is, we want our voice to be in these institutions so that we can say the right things that are going to be done by these institutions to develop our countries.
Now specifically, one would want to, for example, say that the World Bank for a long time had a lot of technical staff coming to our countries and producing reports and the documents on projects with very high rates of returns. And we kept on telling them, this might not be the best way to resolve our poverty.
It wasn't done until 1998 and '99 that suddenly the Poverty Reduction Strategy paper is conceived. Now in our way of operations, we have consultative mechanisms for discussing issues. And we kept on saying, can we not just have technically qualified, viable projects but also make sure that they are relevant for our various situations?
One wants to be believe that the PRSP Initiative is one of those initiatives that obviously is going to assist in creating this trust, not only between the governments and the BWIs, but between the governments and the people that we are supposed to develop. It's a consultative mechanism. Perhaps in the same way, in the IMF, we have a PRGF arrangement, and if you look at that, it's supposed to improve our supervision and the surveillance of how we use the limited resources.
So I want to say that we still have trust. As my colleague also, surprisingly I think Mr. Sarr chose a few new Ministers just to come and talk to you perhaps because we are bringing some fresh air. But it's not so. It is only that perhaps at the moment some of us have been elsewhere and we are getting involved in how to manage these governments, because the governments are saying, we want an inclusive kind of administration where you get your best brains around.
I want to say that the IMF and the World Bank, in the particular case of Zambia, I still want to work with them, but at the moment, because they seem to be opening to an understanding, a discussion, I want them to come and we have a conversation on the development problems of Zambia.
Obviously, you talked about the question of triggers. That is one of the things we have to discuss. If out of 15 triggers, I slip on one, is that good enough for me to lose a PRGF arrangement which has been going for 12 years and I lose a debt cancellation of nearly 50 percent of my debt? Those are the questions that we want to engage in a conversation.
So let's not lose trust, because if you lose trust, then everybody goes their way. You can't have a good marriage. You have to discuss and convince the other person.
Mr. Moderator, I want to also allude to the question on USA. It was asked whether the USA is honoring its pledges. I believe most of us who have been studying the USA extent of policy know where they come from. We, in Central Africa, for example, as neighbors of one of the richest countries in Africa, we saw that, at the time of the Cold War, many was going to this country not for developing the resources, not for developing the people, but just to keep that government going.
And, obviously, that was aid coming to Africa. When you went to the Congress or Capitol Hill, they were saying, we are giving so much aid to Africa. But it was not developing the people. Then from there, the Cold War is over and immediately we started hearing stories like, trade and not aid. Out of the trade and not aid policy of the United States, we have now the African Growth and the Opportunity Act, AGOA, and this is to open the trade.
But again, we seem to be so good at putting things on paper and saying words. We have AGOA and then, when you want to export like we have heard from our colleagues even in Amare, suddenly the United States is increasing their farm bill subsidies, so that our cotton cannot find a market.
In Zambia, we qualified for AGOA and we have been struggling to get what they call pest risk assessment. This is to make sure that our crops haven't got the slightest bits of pest. Now if you know Africa, the climate there is so conducive for growth of everything, including pests, throughout the 12 month, and here we are being told we don't want to see even a small beetle in your 20 tons of exports. I mean, you have to be really somebody very, very careful to make sure nothing goes wrong.
Obviously, the failure of Cancun goes against AGOA. It goes against the Cottoneau Agreement. It goes against EBA. We have all these things in place, but then on the other side, we don't want to open up. The others are closing up. One billion dollars being spent on subsidies in Europe or in the developing countries. Like it has been said, we could easily forgo that. The consumers would be the beneficiaries because we will be supplying them with the cheaper commodities. And we have cheap labor. We'll be using cheaper materials. But they want to go for (?) production and then pay those who even don't produce.
In Africa, we have a lot of land, a lot of labor. Want to use it. A lot of water. But others are being paid for leaving their land fallow. Now where is the fair trade that we are talking about?
So I think these are some of the issues that really one would want to deal with. It's not only the United States. We want the global trade regime to change so that we can actually deal with the fair and the competitive trade.
MR. SARR: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.
I just want to give--actually, the credit is really to your Executive Directors. Mr. Osman here, he's the one who made the selection of this very distinguished group of Ministers.
Maybe Minister Meboutou, if you want to address any of the questions that were raised before?
MR. MEBOUTOU: (Interpreted from French) Thank you very much, indeed. Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished journalists. Taking the floor after my colleagues, I'd like to thank you very much, indeed, for having agreed to come here to listen to us during this press conference. I would like, first of all, to make my opening comment as planned before answering the questions concerning the reaction of African countries to the results of the negotiations in Cancun.
I would like to set on record here that all African countries, and particularly the Ministers of Finance, and economists also agree that there is enormous need for the IMF and the World Bank. Also our development partners, it's important that they make more flexible the conditions set for access to the different stages of their activities, enabling them to have a better management of their economies and public finances.
Ladies and gentlemen, in less than five years, African countries have made an enormous effort with regards political management and economic management. On an economic level particularly, growth rate has been negative. This is as a result of our linkage--(tape change)
MINISTER MEBOUTOU: (continuing)--thanks to our development partners and also thanks to the efforts which we have made ourselves.
Now today, you can see that this growth rate has improved, is positive, sometimes 4, 5 or 6 percent compared to the situation five years back. We feel that to move through these different stages of development, we've had to work in difficult conditions. We've had to make sacrifices.
Now what we would ask is not a change in the completion point or even in the decision point. What we want to do is to have greater flexibility in the assessments to recognize the enormous efforts that we are making and also the targets that we have set ourselves as regards our development.
I would also like to point out that we would like to see the assistance from the IMF and also the activities carried out. The Bank--we wouldn't like these to be a permanent, but an interim, activity. Until we are able to have total access to HIPC funds we, in the interim, would like to have your assistance so that we can fund social activities which are at the heart of our concerns, thereby using the funds which are coming on stream thanks to HIPC.
MR. SARR: (Interpreted from French) Perhaps we could open up the floor for further questions.
MR. MEBOUTOU: Yes, I would like to answer the question concerning the reaction of African countries to the failure of the Cancun negotiations. I would like to say, my colleagues have already mentioned this, we are indeed disappointed but we haven't lost hope. We'd like to take this opportunity to appeal to the goodwill of the international community so that these negotiations can resume and that account be taken of our requests and our wishes.
This is a question of equity and this would be indeed helpful to international trade and policies. Thank you.
Mr. Gamatie, to answer a question.
MR. GAMATIE: (Interpreted) I think we have to be very clear that development is not a good that you can buy in Washington or Brussels or here in Dubai. It's a process which takes place in our own countries, and we're responsible for that process. We call upon the international community to help us and with this aid, we set up strategies. These strategies develop. We've talked about the Washington Consensus. We talked about the Monterrey Consensus. We talked about big projects. We've talked about structural projects.
But it's important to understand that it's our responsibility. It's what I was saying earlier when we were talking about voices. It's not one voice we were talking for. We're asking for two. I hope we'll get them. We'll see. But the real question is that we must understand that development is a lengthy process. It takes time. It calls for great effort, and it's important to know what we're about, what we're doing. Therefore, today it's important when we're thinking about these issues, we must accept that we have practical problems of implementation. Everyone is talking about the importance of regional dimension because our individual economies are very small, but the practical means of working at a regional level be it amongst ourselves or with are partners, well, these modalities practically don't exist.
Until we've settled these issues, we're always going to have problems. We're talking about big infrastructure projects which would make it possible to achieve growth. But we have to settle the regional issue, the question of interlocutors. I recognize it's great to travel and be at a good hotel, but that's not the issue. We must understand that we can't ask other people to take our responsibility. We have to assume this responsibility. NEPAD is a framework for this dialogue, but we have to go the extra mile to see how we can implement all this, and that is the crux of the problem. Thank you very much indeed.
MR. SARR: The lady in the back here.
QUESTION: My name is Shagra Habas (ph). I would like to ask my question in Arabic. (Interpreted from Arabic) I'm from Sudan News Agency. If you find that the HIPC Initiative is thorny and very difficult to apply and not very satisfactory, have the countries, African countries provided or submitted another initiative that would be, that can replace it, and that can be debated? Thank you.
MR. SARR: Thank you, Shagra. Perhaps one more question. You have the microphone. Go ahead.
QUESTION: We're now several years into the PRGF process which was supposed to actually change economic reform policy so they really delivered benefits to the poor. I just wonder at the practical level whether in your countries, those governments that have now got several years of PRGF complete, whether you're beginning to see whether this is beginning to raise living standards and improve basic services? Or whether you're just seeing overall economic growth rates rising, but the actual living standards of the population not yet going up.
MR. SARR: Thanks very much. I'll have a question on IMC, and then, we have the two good performers in terms of our PRGF, HIPC, so, we will ask them to answer those two questions, one after the other, okay? Minister?
MR. KUKURI: There was a question on whether Africa has a plan to benefit from liberalization. And I want to answer as follows: yes, an emphatic yes for that matter. And I think this has been spelled out very clearly within the NEPAD framework. In fact, what Africa and the developing countries, as a whole, are asking for is a level playing field in areas of trade where developing countries have an interest and a competitive advantage in this respect, so this is really what the gist of what liberalization actually could mean for the developing country. Thank you.
MR. SARR: Thank you very much, Mr. Kukuri. Gamatie, on the PRGF or HIPC?
MR. GAMATIE: On PRGF/HIPC, you're right. I mean I just said awhile ago that development is a long-term issue. The PRGF process is a link to the PRSP process. In fact, you had the PRSP and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, and the way the Fund comes and supports you is by way of what they call the Program for Poverty Reduction and Growth.
Behind that, you have the HIPC Initiative which is supposed to give you some extra resources, but the point is these resources are not coming from abroad. These are resources that are supposed to come out of your own budget. Instead of sending them abroad to pay for your external debt, you put on a separate account and review them.
Now in some countries that's what my colleague from Cameroon was talking about. The modalities of using these funds have been pretty tough. We're lucky in Niger, we didn't run into that problem, but again you have the treasury dimension of the HIPC Initiative.
For the HIPC Initiative to be efficient, it means that you have to have enough resources within the budget and this is far from being obvious. The second point is that you're still working on the basic services. Again, so you're in the area of poverty. You're not in the area of growth. So it's fair to say that you've got some success in having some extra services available to the poor within the framework where it did work of the PRGF, but in terms of growth, you are far short from what we've expected.
So that brings back to the whole issue of resources for development which includes, of course, a HIPC Initiative. You could add on to that IFF, international finance facility. You could add on to that your own resources or you can add the oil bill the gentleman in the back was talking about. So to make it short, yes, the idea of PRGF is to make sure that the poor or the poorest of the poor gets more services because we came across the fact that you can have growth without reduction of poverty and then it's working making extra services available, but you're far short of resolving the whole issue.
MR. SARR: Thank you very much. We have maybe two more minutes, and maybe if Minister from Zambia and the Minister from Cameroon will take each one minute and then the Minister Compaore will close the session.
MR. MAGANDE: Thank you, Mr. Moderator. I just wanted to get to the questioner, the lady from Sudan agency. If you don't or if you have problems with HIPC, have you found another alternative? I would say in my case I haven't, and I think I would rather take on this experiment and see how far it can go. Why? Because under the HIPC arrangement, the initiative, we are talking of Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. We are talking of the poverty reduction and the growth, these arrangements now are bringing to the fore the question of consultation.
So within this we are becoming more consultative. To get our people to articulate their poverty, but also articulate some of the means by which they can come out of poverty. These mechanisms also are helping us to prioritize our development programs, so you are now setting priorities together with the affected, like we say in Zambia.
Then from there, within these arrangements you have also financial management, and there can be nothing better than that. So consultative mechanism takes us to democracy. Most of our countries now have come out of some kind of difficult management systems. So we want to be as consultative as possible. Then from there we want to set priorities, and then from there we want to manage our resources. Like my colleague here has said, it might not be money from outside, but even what we generate ourselves, how do we put these into priorities that are going to move our countries forward.
So I would say that this is an experiment which I think most of us would like to embrace and to see how far it can go. Those countries that have gone that far and have reached the completion point, they have seen a difference in the kind of development that has come up at the grass roots level. As in Zambia, we want to get to the completion point in spite of these numerous triggers that I keep on slipping off. I think I will still try to move on, and when I reach completion point I hope that I'm going to have additional resources to put into these priorities.
MR. SARR: Thank you, Minister. Mr. Meboutou? (Interpreted) You have about 30 seconds, Minister, before we close.
MINISTER MEBOUTOU: (Interpreted) To answer the question of whether some years after implementation of the PRGF I do think we have seen broad improvement in our countries. But there is a mixed answer to that question. I think there has indeed been improvement when it comes to the actual climate which is more favorable to fighting poverty because there have been advances in education, health, transport.
But to answer the question, in all honesty, I think we have to admit, and this is a question that a lot of journalists ask when it comes to presenting the budget to national assembly, when is the man on the street going to start feeling the effects of the fight against poverty. I think the answer is this, there have been a lot of positive results with regard to improving living standards in general, or rather the environment which is propitious to fighting poverty.
But nonetheless, there's still the problem of access for certain commodities. We have schools and dispensaries and energy. In certain parts of the country it's difficult to obtain access to these basic services. So we would like to call the international community's attention to these problems. In certain regions of our country the conditions are ripe for fighting poverty but poverty is still a problem. People are dying simply because they can't have access to health care, they can't use the public services that are theoretically in place. So our main concern is public access.
PRGF needs to focus on investment which generates revenue that will serve to boost income for the people of the country if the fight against poverty is to be successful.
MR. SARR: (Interpreted) Thank you very much. You have 30 seconds to conclude, sir.
MINISTER ?: (Interpreted) Thank you for giving me the floor to close the press conference. I would just like to say with regard to the HIPC that we are very grateful for this initiative. But this instrument needs to be fine-tuned further. We have experienced constraints and we have to decide how to adjust the instrument and make it more operational.
I think everybody agrees that there are certain goals we need to attain, but we have to determine how to attain the objective over time and be able to anticipate the problems which will arise. I think there have been problems for the HIPC. We have to consider external shocks, for example, which are recurring on a regular basis. We have to settle the problem of the debt burden. NEPAD has helped and I think integration is one good alternative and a way of reducing external shocks. I think integration is a good alternative for our countries.
Now I think I have to wrap up and I would like to thank all the journalists for attending this press conference, and we hope that we will be able to have more such encounters so as to give us an opportunity to express our concerns. Thank you. Thank you very much, the press conference is adjourned. Thank you.