Mrs Lagarde’s sympathies

Mrs Lagarde’s sympathies

The only time I thought of Niger was in relation to Libya. Actually as recently as the beginning of the month, I recall reading that the new Libyan government was asking Niger for the extradition of Saadi Gadhafi and the rest of the family. But that was all.

That was until I read Mrs. Christine Lagarde’s interview in the Guardian on Saturday. To the surprise of many, the IMF chief created an impressive conceptual link between Greece and Niger! We must concede our ignorance and accept that there are important common features between these two countries. After reading Mrs. Lagarde’s interview, I now know that both countries have got taxpayers and both countries have got children! But Greek taxpayers who happen to have children are mostly tax dodgers for whom she feels no sympathy. Here are her words:

“I am aware that many Greeks are struggling to access services like healthcare because of the country’s economic crisis, but I believe that people in other countries deserve more sympathy. I think more of the little kids from a school in a little village in Niger who get teaching two hours a day, sharing one chair for three of them, and who are very keen to get an education. I have them in my mind all the time. Because I think they need even more help than the people in Athens.” “And what about their [Greek] children, who can’t conceivably be held responsible?” asked the Guardian journalist. “Well, their parents are responsible, right? So parents have to pay their taxes,” replied Mrs. Lagarde.

But there is another very important common link which explains Mrs. Lagarde’s greater sympathy for Niger than Greece. Niger, like Greece, is a recipient of IMF loans.

It may be that you have to overstretch your mental capacity to understand why someone – even if they are the managing director of the IMF – should put the suffering of children in Niger on one end of the scale and the suffering of Greek children on the other.

Obviously she wanted to express her deep frustration with the Greeks and their political “antics” in view of the repeat general elections of June 17. In a continuous fluid political landscape, neither Mrs. Lagarde nor the other creditors of Greece must feel comfortable. Her interview with the Guardian may have been a moment of gross political misjudgment: over 7,000 comments, mostly very negative and mostly by Greeks, were posted on her Facebook page by yesterday, and the number is rising. And it was not surprising that she tried to retract her statement. “As I have said many times before, I am very sympathetic to the Greek people and the challenges they are facing. That’s why the IMF is supporting Greece in its endeavor to overcome the current crisis and return to the path of economic growth, jobs and stability,” she said.

Mrs. Lagarde now figures highly in an exclusive story in the Greek daily “Real News” as “opening the way for a renegotiation of Greece’s loan agreement with a possible extension of the period of adjustment, milder measures regarding salaries and ....taxes.”

It will also be high time. According to a leaked secret note by outgoing technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, the state of the Greek economy is particularly gloomy, with dangerous liquidity in the banking system and the flight of deposits abroad continuing while the country’s cash reserves are sufficient only until mid-June.