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On Maldives IMF Worries of Supervisory Data Gaps After Inner City Press Asks About Corruption

By Matthew Russell Lee, CJR PFT NY Post

NEW YORK CITY, June 10 – When the International Monetary Fund held its biweekly embargoed media briefing on May 23, Inner City Press submitted four questions including on conflicts of interest, Republic of Congo, Barbados and Canada which the IMF answered, see below. Now on June 10 about the Maldives,  the IMF has said this: "On May 29, 2019, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation [1] with Maldives.  The Maldives’ growth has been strong in recent years, driven by tourism, commerce, and construction. Real GDP growth reached 6.9 percent in 2017 and an average of 9.1 percent in the first three quarters of 2018 (y/y), led by strong investment in tourism, commerce, and construction. Inflation has decelerated to 0.2 percent in early 2019 driven by a decrease in administered prices for staples in April 2018 and reinstatement of staple food subsidies.  However, the Maldives continues to face large and growing public debt and a high current account deficit. The 2018 fiscal deficit (including grants) is estimated at 4.3 percent of GDP, compared to 3 percent of GDP in 2017, and public and publicly guaranteed debt continued to increase, to over 70 percent of GDP in 2018, partly reflecting government guarantees to external borrowing by state-owned enterprises. The widening of the deficit reflects mainly an accelerated growth in social welfare contributions, subsidies, health, and student loan scheme spending. Monetary policy has been accommodative and growth of credit to private sector has picked up. Despite strong growth in tourism revenues, the current account deficit reached 24 percent of GDP in 2018, reflecting higher imports associated with increased public infrastructure investment and new resort developments.  The outlook is for continued strong growth and moderate inflation, and only a gradual improvement in fiscal and current account deficits. Real GDP growth is projected to reach 7.5 percent in 2018 and to remain strong at 6.5 percent in 2019, driven by government infrastructure investment, tourism, and construction. Inflation is forecast to increase moderately in 2019. As major infrastructure projects will gradually start to unwind, the current account deficit will begin to narrow. Under the current policies, the fiscal deficit is projected to remain elevated. However, successful implementation of tax reforms and improved tax administration, together with measures to contain budgetary spending, would result in a narrowing of both fiscal and current account deficits and mitigate the risks posed by high and rising public and external debt... Directors also noted the potential fiscal risks associated with external borrowing by state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and associated public guarantees and stressed the need for a strengthening of debt management, including the oversight and institutional framework of the SOE activities.  Directors indicated that a tighter monetary policy stance would ensure compatibility with the exchange rate peg, and together with fiscal consolidation would contribute to lower external imbalances and a build-up in reserves. They noted that the authorities’ decision to establish the Sovereign Development Fund was a welcome development... On the financial sector, while noting strong capital positions and profitability of banks, they encouraged the authorities to address supervisory data gaps and enhance financial inclusion.  Directors also welcomed the authorities’ commitment to strengthening governance and transparency. They noted that further improvement is needed to strengthen AML/CFT compliance and to improve the anti-corruption framework." We'll have more on this.

Back on May 23 on Congo-Brazzaville Inner City Press asked, "what is the IMF's response to / comment or explanation on  the May 15 letter addressed to Congolese Prime Minister Clement Mouamba that "The advisers to the Republic wish to make you aware of the major risk of the programme’s rejection by the IMF’s board,” said Congo hired French financial advisers Lazard and more recently Parnasse, a firm employing former IMF Managing Director Dominique Stauss-Kahn, to assist it in the negotiations with the Fund. How is this not a conflict of interest?"

  IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice to his credit took the question, on camera, emphasizing that the discussion have been only between IMF staff and the authorities, no one else. He said that address the conflict of interest question. He also noted the IMF's May 9 announcement of a staff level agreement. But when will it go to the Board?

 On Barbados, Inner City Press asked for "   the IMF's response to Senator Crystal Drakes saying  that the Mia Mottley administration may have hit the benchmarks set under the IMF-sanctioned Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation programme but is ignoring it’s sustained and impending collateral damage to the society.  “All of this has come at a social cost. Meeting those targets have been economic winds but socially we have paid a serious price for meeting those targets.  “In reducing our debt and closing the fiscal gap, Barbadians had to give up their wealth, particularly the vulnerable group of pensioners.  “Their disposable income through higher taxes and user fees, has resulted in persons falling below the poverty line.”

  Rice said the IMF's discussions had been with social partners including the unions and that the floor for social spending had been met, by an ample margin, in December and March.

 On Canada Inner City Press asked, "   On Canada, please explain how this IMF "advice" is not anti-poor: “The government is under pressure to ease macroprudential policy or introduce new initiatives that buttress housing activity,” said the IMF in its report.  “This would be ill-advised, as household debt remains high and a gradual slowdown in the housing market is desirable to reduce vulnerabilities.”  The tightened mortgage rules, brought in by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, mandated that would-be borrowers undergo a stress test to determine whether they could still make payments if faced with higher interest rates or less income.  In a report last month that calls for a rethinking of the mortgage stress test, CIBC economist Benjamin Tal estimated the measure accounted for more than half of a $25-billion, or eight per cent, drop in new mortgages last year." Rice said, among other things, that the IMF supports the government. More on this, including transcript, to follow. And on this:

  As China uses its Belt and Road Initiative to take over ports in Sri Lanka and prospectively Kenya, while using supposed NGOs to bribe UN officials including bidding on an oil company owned by Gulbenkian Foundations whose payments to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres were omitted from his public financial disclosure covering 2016, even the IMF's Christine Lagarde is genuflecting in Beijing, albeit less cravenly than Guterres. Unlike Guterres' obsequious blue washing of BRI, Lagarde in her April 26 speech as least gently chided China for unsustainable loans. She said, "The BRI is clearly having an impact. From stimulating infrastructure investment to developing new global supply chains, some of the promises of BRI are being realized. Consider Kazakhstan, where a new manufacturing zone is beginning to unleash previously untapped economic potential. Or look at Senegal, where robust economic growth of over 6 percent in each of the last four years was supported partly by BRI-linked investment projects, including the construction of a new highway linking the airport to three large cities. At the same time, history has taught us that, if not managed carefully, infrastructure investments can lead to a problematic increase in debt. I have said before that, to be fully successful, the Belt and Road should only go where it is needed. I would add today that it should only go where it is sustainable, in all aspects." But what does this mean in terms of the BRI loans to Sri Lanka, and to the Kenya railroad? We'll have more on this.

When the International Monetary Fund held its biweekly embargoed media briefing on March 7, Inner City Press submitted five questions including on Haiti which the IMF answered. But on March 21 the IMF added this, that it hopes the "uncertainty" is resolved quickly. Inner City Press has submitted five new questions, unanswered as of the embargo time perhaps due to the IMF changing its media website and sign in: "On Congo-Brazzaville, what is the IMF's comment on the revolving door report that The Republic of Congo sought the assistance of former International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the debt-strapped nation’s bid to secure a bailout stretches into a third year.  Strauss-Kahn and Lazard France Chief Executive Officer Mathieu Pigasse traveled to the Congolese capital, Brazzaville, in January for talks with President Denis Sassou Nguesso, Finance Ministry spokesman Adrien Wayi Lewy said? 

On Sri Lanka, what is the IMF's response to senior banker Rusiripala Tennakoon saying this IMF has failed to realize that the non-performing portfolio of the state banks will be in a worse situation in 2-3 months time.  He noted that by having to finance some of the state-owned enterprises, which are deteriorating the banks are running the risks of becoming undercapitalised.  Tennakoon noted that the IMF has failed to identify the impending danger the entire banking industry in the country is facing. He noted that especially, the state-owned banks and their non-performing portfolios are increasing tremendously signaling danger? 

What is the IMF's reaction to moves in the Marshall Islands toward the Sovereign (SOV) digital currency on an equal footing with the US dollar. It passed a key bill this week for SOV’s creation. "IMF has criticized the plans with a number of concerns including the risk of money laundering and that the Marshall Islands could lose its only corresponding banking relationship." What now? 

On Ukraine, what is the IMF's response, confirmation or denial to that Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Legislative Support of Law Enforcement, Andriy Kozhemyakin, states that the U.S. and EU ambassadors, as well as the IMF mission, are asking to postpone consideration of bills regarding illegal enrichment. The statement came during the Conciliation Board meeting on Monday. Speaking of bills related to Article 368-2 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (illegal enrichment), Kozhemyakin said: "The U.S. ambassador, the IMF mission, and the EU ambassador wrote me a letter today. They ask to postpone consideration of all draft laws as they are imperfect, including the presidential one." True? 

On Liberia, what is the IMF's comment on that the George Weah-led administration would be dealt a major blow amid the current economic turmoil as the biggest employer in the country’s private sector, Firestone Natural Rubber Company, announces the laying off of 800 employees.  “After a thorough and strategic review of its current operations in Liberia, West Africa, Firestone Natural Rubber Company, an indirect subsidiary of Bridgestone Americas, Inc., has announced the difficult decision to reduce its workforce by 13% (approximately 800 employees) by early second quarter of 2019?  Also if there are any updates on Cameroon or Morocco." On Cameroon, not unrelated to the DSK history, there is rarely an answer. Watch this site. Here's the IMF's March 7 transcript: "There is question on Haiti coming from Matthew Lee in New York. I'll take a couple of Matthew's questions as usual. And Matthew is asking about any updates I can give him on Haiti. And I can say that an IMF team is in Port Au-Prince as we speak to complete the Article IV consultation. But more than that, to discuss a possible IMF financial arrangement with Haiti. And we will hear more on that very, very soon.  But I can say that the mission will propose that what the mission will propose is highly concessional, on the most concessional terms we can offer for Haiti and it will highlight social protection. It will highlight the fight against corruption while deferring any fuel price adjustments until the government is able to guarantee that the most vulnerable will be protected from any negative effects.  Those of you who follow Haiti, you know, will understand the context of what I have just said. And again, the mission will communicate its findings at the end of the visit." Now, 11 hours later, the IMF announces this: "In response to a request from the Haitian authorities, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission led by Mr. Chris Walker visited Port-au-Prince from February 25 to March 8, 2019 to discuss IMF support for measures to ease poverty, encourage good governance, raise growth and stabilize the country’s economic situation. At the end of the visit, Mr. Walker issued the following statement:  “I am pleased to announce that in support of the government and the people of Haiti, we, the IMF, the Haitian government and the Central Bank of Haiti (Banque de la République d’Haiti (BRH)) have reached an IMF staff-level agreement on a concessional 0 percent, three-year loan of US$ 229 million for Haiti. This agreement will have to be approved by the IMF’s Executive Board, which is expected to consider Haiti’s request in the coming weeks.  “The agreement we have reached is aimed at helping Haiti overcome its current fragile state, and alleviating the hardship of the most vulnerable. We have placed social protection firmly at the center of the accord, and once the agreed measures are successfully implemented, the poorest in Haiti will be among the first to benefit in a tangible way.  The program provides money for a variety of social protection measures ranging from school feeding, through targeted cash transfers, to money for social housing.  “Priority has also been given to the fight against corruption and improvements in governance.  The IMF backs the government’s aim of state reform.  In its agreement, it has drawn up measurable targets to boost this fight with the goal of injecting greater transparency into the management of public finances, tax and revenue administration, as well as expenditure control.  “To enable Haiti to return to macroeconomic stability, the loan to Haiti represents 100 percent of quota, and the money will be disbursed over the three years of the program which is subject to regular Executive Board and staff reviews."

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