Counting the Cost

Should big money give poor nations debt relief to fight COVID-19?

The poorest countries get a debt repayment holiday to fight the pandemic. Why are private investors not taking part?

May 1 was an important day for the world’s poorest nations. It was the day the rich club of G20 nations gave debtors a payment holiday until the end of the year, giving developing nations more headroom to pay for healthcare during the pandemic.

Despite more than 100 countries applying to the International Monetary Fund for emergency aid, the IMF and World Bank have not been so generous, insisting nations keep repaying interest on debt. The IMF had only $200m available in a catastrophe relief fund for the world’s poorest countries.

Being Africa’s largest oil producer is no guarantee to riches. Nigeria has received $3.4bn from the IMF. With debt as a proportion of its economy at about 30 percent, you would think the country would not get into trouble. But Nigeria is dependent on oil for 90 percent of its export earnings, and with crude prices cratering it has little room to service debt. 

Other nations have precarious finances from Argentina to Ecuador, Lebanon to Venezuela. And there are calls for the private sector – an industry worth $22 trillion – to give countries a payment holiday during this pandemic. 

In an op-ed in the Financial Times, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said private institutions are owed $18bn by the world’s poorest nations this year. If they were to suspend half that amount, that would provide an additional $9bn to fight COVID-19. 

Rodrigo Olivares-Caminal, professor of banking and finance law and an expert in sovereign debt at Queen Mary University in London, shares his thoughts on whether it is time big finance gave poor nations debt relief to fight the pandemic.

Sharia-fintech and its bid for a big share of Indonesia’s banking

Ramadan is a time not only for fasting in the Muslim world but also for charitable giving. Tech startups are finding ingenious ways to help ardent followers to part with their donations via a multitude of apps. 

This is particularly the case in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country with 270 million people, half of whom lack bank accounts but do have mobile phones.

But there is room for growth. All forms of Islamic banking account for just 6 percent of Indonesia’s $580bn in banking assets. 

Hoping to get a bigger share of the Islamic finance market in Indonesia is Dima Djani, the chief executive of peer-to-peer lender ALAMI. Djani discusses Indonesia’s banking with Al Jazeera.

Are the human rights of garment workers under threat?

The pandemic has had a disastrous impact on Southeast Asia’s garment manufacturing hubs.

A million workers have been laid off, according to risk consultancy Maplecroft.

Forty million garment workers are employed by the industry in countries such as Cambodia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam. It is an important source of income. For example, the total value of exports for Bangladesh is $32bn.

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association says factories have reported a loss of $3bn in orders. In Cambodia, garment workers are to be paid $70 a month from the government and employers. But that is 37 percent short of the current minimum wage.

Despite some factories reopening in Bangladesh, there are still fears that not enough is being done for people who live from pay cheque to pay cheque. And there are real fears that labour rights could unravel.

Sofia Nazalya, a human rights analyst at Maplecroft, shares her thoughts on whether the human rights of garment workers are under threat.