Britain drifts from Dakar deal

29th September 2000 at 01:00

BRITAIN has lost sight of the Dakar agreement on bringing good quality free primary education to every child in the world by 2015, campaigners at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting in Prague declared.

They are angered by comments from Clare Short, the International Development Secretary, and Chancellor Gordon Brown distancing Britain from the specific pledge made by the World Education Forum at Dakar to set up immediately a "global initiative" to mobilise funds to support developing countries' primary education strategies.

In a statement issued in Prague they said they were "wary" of interpretations of the Dakar pledges that "imply separate funds for education, new mechanisms and new conditionalities".

Kevin Watkins, senior policy adviser at Oxfam, said: "The statement suggests that the British have lost the plot on education. They have misunderstood the proposals supported by non-governmental organisations, the US treasury and the World Bank. Nobody ever argued for a standalone fund, what we want to see is a global initiative backed by the financial resources eeded to deliver on the promise of education for all."

US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, by contrast, said in Prague that the World Bank's shareholders - who include Britain - need to "reaffirm and act" on the Dakar commitment to set up a global initiative in support of primary education, especially for girls. Such action, he said "can and must play a central role in making this initiative a reality".

Oxfam said the amount of debt relief being awarded under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative - to aid education and health - was too little too late, in some cases leaving countries spending more on debt repayments than on education.

It was decided at Prague to extend pound;20 billion in debt relief to 10 more countries, doubling the number of recipients, by the end of the year.

The relief is given in return for transparent commitments to universal primary education.

But the World Bank has cut lending for basic education from $601 million (pound;413m) in 1999 to $411m (pound;282m), despite American promises at Dakar to ask the bank to double the amount this year.

Briefing, 22-24

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