By Tim Jones
Part of my work at Jubilee Debt Campaign is to find out information about the debts owed to the shadowy Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) of the UK government. The ECGD backs loans to other countries to be used to buy British-made exports, a process which leads to a lot of debt being created; £2 billion at the last count.
Except the “at the last count” feels like a slippery bar of soap constantly changing size. Back in May some parliamentary questioning got ECGD to reveal debts owed by eight countries which had not been mentioned before. The soap swelled to £2.4 billion.
Trying to understand where the debt comes from is like getting lost in a maze. This year I have been told that ECGD both has a) no information of where the £660 million said to be owed by Sudan comes from, and b) has too much information to work it out.
But this week I received a response which felt like a new level of absurdity. ECGD claims Zimbabwe owes it £190 million. Whilst Zimbabwe has been in default on these loans since the year 2000*, we wanted to find out how much it had paid during the 1990s. ECGD came back to us saying they do not know.
Not that they can’t tell us, they just have no idea.
If I asked the Student Loans Company how much debt I had paid, and got the reply that they do not know, I’d question the accuracy of how much they claimed I owe. In fact I’d question whether I owed anything.
ECGD – the department that doesn’t know how much debt it is owed, why it is owed the debt or how much it has been repaid. The Department which does not know what it is doing.
* Disclaimer: Subject to change if and when ECGD next changes the story.
Tim is a campaigner with the Jubilee Debt Campaign, on whose website this piece first appeared