Protests for reform will grow, IMF is warned

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The Independent Online

Street protest against the International Monetary Fund will continue to grow unless the organisation is reformed to give greater say to poor countries, a prominent think-tank warns in a new report.

Street protest against the International Monetary Fund will continue to grow unless the organisation is reformed to give greater say to poor countries, a prominent think-tank warns in a new report.

The warning comes ahead of this month's annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank in Prague. The Czech authorities have a major security operation under way to ensure the meeting is not disrupted, with large demonstrations expected in the wake of similar protests in Washington in April and Seattle in December.

Today's report from the New Economics Foundation, a respected London-base think-tank, estimates poor countries lose $2bn (1.3bn) a day from unfair trade rules, pay $60m a day in debt interest to rich countries, and see 30,000 children die daily from preventable disease.

Andrew Simms, its author, said the NEF and other organisations would launch in Prague Charter 99, a manifesto for economic freedom, echoing the Charter 77 organisation for political freedom led by Vaclav Havel, the Czech President before the fall of communism. Amongst the reforms urged are an increase in the voting rights of poor countries in the IMF from their current 38 per cent share, faster and fairer debt relief, and a greater role in negotiating international investment rules for the United Nations. The report also condemns the IMF for excessive secrecy, even though it constantly urges member countries to improve "transparency".

Last week, the Chancellor Gordon Brown and the International Development Minister Clare Short visited the IMF and US politicians to keep up the momentum in the flagging debt relief process. Despite the fanfare with which G7 leaders announced a debt relief package last year, progress in actually cutting the burden of payment has been painfully slow.

World leaders meet at the UN this week in a Millennium Summit, due to discuss the role of the UN itself in international financial management. Campaigners hope that it can play a more powerful part in future, as developing and transitional countries have 83 per cent of the vote in its General Assembly.

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