- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

LONDON — A huge majority of Britons doubt that new economic aid to Africa would be wisely spent, even though a narrow majority would support Prime Minister Tony Blair’s proposal to forgive much of the continent’s debt, a new survey shows.

Mr. Blair visits the White House tomorrow to try to secure American support for proposals to tackle poverty in the Third World, but a poll for the Daily Telegraph reveals a deep ambivalence about the prime minister’s plan at home.

The survey found that 83 percent of Britons are “not very confident” or “not at all confident” that new money given to Africa would not disappear into the pockets of criminals or corrupt governments.

It also shows that 79 percent of voters think corruption and incompetence are a leading cause of Africa’s problems, with HIV/AIDS and civil wars the next most frequently cited causes.

On the other hand, 52 percent of respondents said Africans need help from wealthy countries to solve their problems, and 70 percent said the rich nations have a responsibility to work with African leaders on those problems.

Treasurer Gordon Brown told reporters in Edinburgh on Friday that he thought the United States is prepared to support his proposal for 100 percent debt relief for the poorest countries in Africa, at least regarding money owed to multilateral institutions such as the World Bank.

The proposal is expected to form the centerpiece when the leaders of the world’s richest nations meet for their annual Group of Eight summit next month in Scotland.

Bob Geldof, who is organizing Live 8 concerts in five countries before the G-8 meeting in Gleneagles, has called for a million people to march on Edinburgh to put pressure on the politicians to do more to eradicate poverty.

“This is not a time for timidity nor a time to fear reaching too high,” Mr. Brown said. “This year is our chance to reverse the fortunes of a continent and to help transform the lives of millions.”

Sensitive to public concerns, however, the Blair government is planning a crackdown on corrupt practices to go along with the debt relief.

Mr. Brown said Friday in Edinburgh that the government’s package for Africa would “combine action on debt, aid and trade with good governance, transparency, an attack on corruption and the encouragement of private investment.”

According to treasury sources, a new law ratifying a convention of the United Nations against corruption also will be implemented this fall.

It will give the government power to seize the assets of corrupt former African dictators and return the money to their home countries. Similar laws already exist when dealing with suspected terrorists and organized crime.

The Daily Telegraph has learned that several bank accounts, containing millions of dollars, are being monitored so that they can be frozen as soon as the law is in place. A list of “politically exposed persons” has been circulated to banks and building societies.

The government also intends to do more to deal with companies that offer bribes to corrupt officials.

Mr. Blair wants to force all oil, gas, mining, forestry and fisheries companies to disclose their payments to governments. Businesses that want to qualify for export credit guarantees may also have to demonstrate that they do not offer bribes.

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