Do the banks really want to cut world poverty?

 Aid agency CAFOD has issued a challenge to world financiers this week to prove their commitment to reducing poverty in the developing world. On the eve of a major conference on poverty in Rome this weekend, CAFOD brought out a new report: 'Poverty Reduction - or Public Relations Strategies'. The report claims that the 'poverty reduction strategies' announced at the close of the World Bank and IMF autumn meetings are the same anti-poor policies dressed up in sympathetic language. Henry Northover, CAFOD's policy analyst said: "Our partners in the developing world are having trouble believing that the World Bank and the IMF are latter-day converts to poverty reduction. The Third World is still living with the devastating human impact of many of their earlier policy prescriptions, which included fees for basic health and education and massive cuts in public sector jobs and wages. "For our partners, the big test of the latest initiatives is whether civil society really will get a say how money saved by debt cancellation will be spent." The conference in Rome, organised by the Vatican Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, will bring together church leaders from 20 of the world's poorest countries to look at ways of making sure 'poverty reduction strategies' actually benefit the poor. In the past, debt relief and cheap loans have come with many strings attached (such as privatisation and the reduction of public subsidies for essential services). Banks and foreign businesses profited, but the poor people sometimes even ended up suffering more. The World Bank and IMF insist that the news strategies are an attempt to increase poor countries' 'ownership' of the policy reform agenda. CAFOD and the church in the developing world will be watching closely to see what this jargon means.

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