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IMF Defensive on Cyprus & Lagarde Legal Bind, Ignores Africa, Sudan & Tunisia: Then Answers

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, March 28, updated -- The seizing of bank deposits in Cyprus was not surprisingly the main focus of the International Monetary Fund's bi-weekly embargoed press briefing on Thursday.

In a careful worded and repeated response, IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice called the situation in Cyprus “complex and unique in nature” and said the precedent of savings account levies would be “difficult to extend to the rest of Europe and the world.”

Rice was asked, but does the IMF want to extend it? Reference was made to Spain and Portugal. Rice repeated the same line. It was reminiscent of the claim that the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Kosovo was “sui generis.”

Still non-Africa, Rice took questions about Ukraine (online) and on Slovenia, from Bloomberg. Tellingly, Slovenia's prepared to put an IMF-er in as its finance minister.

Rice was asked, diplomatically, about Christine Lagarde's “legal problems in France” and if the IMF's governing bodies had been briefed on them. Rice said she is able to continue her work, but would not discuss any briefing of the board.

Of the proposed BRICS development bank, Rice was asked though not by the Western wires. Rice said the IMF is following the challenge “with interest” since infrastructure in Africa is also of interest to the IMF.

Is it? Inner City Press submitted, by e-mail and twice through the IMF's Online Media Center, questions on Sudan and Tunisia. Receipt was acknowledged, but neither was read out much less answered. Infrastructure, indeed. Watch this site.

After not taking the question, afterward an IMF spokesperson replied to Inner City Press:

We welcome the recent security and oil-related agreements between the two countries, which could enable South Sudan’s oil production to resume and relieve the economic pressures that have been building up since oil was shutdown in January 2012. The Fund stands ready to continue supporting both countries going forward.

We are providing policy advice to the Sudanese authorities that would allow them to address the domestic and external imbalances, which resulted from the secession of South Sudan. The Fund is also providing well targeted technical assistance in key areas like tax policy and administration, public financial management, banking sector reforms and exchange rate reforms.

As you know, we have also launched a three-year capacity building program for South Sudan on key areas including foreign exchange issues, central banking, oil revenue legislation, non-oil taxation, expenditure management, and macroeconomic statistics.

And later at 1 pm, this came in on Tunisia, from an IMF spokesperson:

The fuel price increases that came into effect earlier this month are part of the measures underlying the 2013 budget that was approved by Parliament last December. These increases would help ensure that spending on subsidies, particularly on energy products that benefit mostly the better-off, are contained. A better targeted social safety net, as part of a larger subsidy reform, should be put in place to mitigate the impact on poorer households.”

And then a link! Hi Matthew, Please find below the link to the subsidies reform paper that was drafted by the IMF and includes examples and statistics for countries across the region. It was launched yesterday

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