People dressed as skeletons protested outside the Department for Business yesterday evening, urging Vince Cable to reveal the ‘skeletons in his cupboard’. The event followed news that the department is still demanding payment from Egypt for money used to fund arms for Mubarak.
The “skeletons” included Christians, anti-poverty campaigners and other concerned individuals. They urged ministers to publish details of all the debts owed by current and former dictatorships to the Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD), a unit overseen by Cable.
Egypt owes £100m to the ECGD, although the department refuses to say what the loans were made for. Government documents from the 1980s, published at the weekend by the Jubilee Debt Campaign, reveal that the ECGD backed loans to Mubarak to use on multimillion pound weapons deals.
The demonstration in London coincided with an event in Cairo launching the Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt’s Debt. Earlier in the day, supporters of the Jubilee Debt Campaign had travelled from around Britain to lobby their MPs on the issue, while others contacted their MPs online.
The ECGD has been nicknamed “the Department for Dodgy Deals” because of its lack of transparency and its tendency to fund arms, aviation and fossil fuels.
Tim Jones, senior policy officer of the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said:
“Many people were shocked to learn that Egypt is still paying Vince Cable’s department for Mubarak’s weapons. This should make ministers uncomfortable with the secrecy surrounding the ECGD. They demand repayment but won’t give details of what their loans were made for. Are ministers afraid of uncovering reckless lending in their own export credits agency?
“It’s time for Egypt’s debts to be audited. David Cameron could then act on his words about supporting democracy by cancelling those debts that owe their origin to arms and oppression. A full audit of dictator debts would allow the British people to see how the ECGD is using public money.”
Dina Makram-Ebeid from the Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt’s Debt said:
“Egypt’s debt is Mubarak’s debt. It is not the Egyptian people’s. Egyptians never had a say in the borrowing that was being made in their name, let alone borrowing to buy arms.”.
1. Jubilee Debt Campaign is the UK coalition campaigning for cancellation of unjust and unpayable poor country debts.
2. Photographs of the skeleton-themed protest are available from Jubilee Debt Campaign on request.
3. The protest took place at 5.00pm on Monday 31 October outside the Department for Business in Victoria Street, London. Earlier, at around 3.00pm, a number of people had lobbied their MPs about the issues involved.
4. The Export Credits Guarantee Department (ECGD) is the UK’s export credit agency, reporting to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It backs loans to countries and companies to buy British exports. Traditionally 75% of ECGD support has been given to arms, aerospace and carbon-intensive industries. In the event of an ECGD-backed loan not being repaid, the ECGD repays the loan instead. The ECGD may then try to recover the total sum paid from the government of the recipient country – in effect it will become debt which that government owes to the UK government.
5. Egypt owes ECGD £100 million. It is currently making repayments of £12 million a year. The debt comes from ECGD backing loans to President Sadat (1970-1981) and his successor General Mubarak (1981-2011) in the 1970s and 1980s. Liberal Democrat Business Minister Ed Davey says the debt comes from 400 export contracts finalised before November 1986, but that the details of the individual contracts are no longer held.
6. New research from Jubilee Debt Campaign from documents uncovered in the National Archives reveals that some of these export contracts were for arms sales to President Sadat and his successor Hosni Mubarak. See here. Copies of documents from the National Archives are available by contacting Jubilee Debt Campaign.