- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — New World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz yesterday praised a historic deal to cancel the foreign debt of some of the world’s poorest nations and said he was hopeful that debt relief was also on the way for Africa’s biggest debtor, Nigeria.

Mr. Wolfowitz spoke to reporters soon after arriving in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on the first leg of a four-nation Africa tour — his first since taking over as head of the 184-nation development bank last week.

“I’m really delighted … because I think it’s a very important, successful outcome,” Mr. Wolfowitz said of the debt deal.

Finance ministers from the world’s richest countries, grouped together in the Group of Eight, agreed Saturday to cancel $40 billion worth of debt owed by 18 of the world’s poorest nations, most of them in Africa. Much of the canceled debt was owed to international institutions such as the World Bank.

Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and the most heavily indebted country on the continent, owing $35 billion. But as the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter, Nigeria doesn’t meet the World Bank definition of a low-income country.

The G-8 finance ministers said Nigeria’s foreign debt will be considered separately by the Paris Club of international lenders.

Mr. Wolfowitz said creditor nations “will hopefully come up with a deal to forgive Nigeria’s debt. I’m very positive that something serious will happen.”

Mr. Wolfowitz also promised the World Bank would continue to help poor nations, saying the debt relief deal “is not going to come at the expense of new aid.”

British Treasury chief Gordon Brown said Saturday the G-8 finance ministers had agreed to write off 100 percent of the debt of 18 impoverished countries that had met minimum standards of good governance on condition that savings would be used for health, hospitals, nurses, education, schools, teachers and infrastructure, rather than lining the pockets of government officials.

Nigeria is ranked regularly as one of the world’s most corrupt nations.

Earlier this month, Mr. Wolfowitz praised Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo’s anti-corruption campaign, under which several leading figures have been dismissed from office. Last week, he said that called for “more development assistance, not less.”

Mr. Wolfowitz took the helm of the World Bank last week. He previously was the No. 2 official at the Pentagon and a prime architect of the Iraq war.

During his weeklong tour, Mr. Wolfowitz also is expected to visit Burkina Faso, Rwanda and South Africa.

Thirty-four of the world’s 48 poorest countries are in Africa, the World Bank says. With 11 percent of the population, Africa accounts for only about 1 percent of the world’s economic output.

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