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On Serbia IMF Supports Privatization of Komercijalna Banka As Roaf Signs Off

By Matthew Russell Lee, CJR PFT NY Post

NEW YORK CITY, February 4 – When the International Monetary Fund held its biweekly embargoed media briefing on January 17, Inner City Press submitted six questions including two on Yemen and Zimbabwe which the IMF answered, see below. On February 4, the IMF issued this on Serbia: "An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission, led by James Roaf, visited Belgrade during January 29–February 5, 2019 to assess the 2018 outturn, discuss progress in implementation of commitments under the Policy Coordination Instrument (PCI),[1] and agree on policy priorities for 2019. A full mission for the second review under the PCI, combined with the 2019 Article IV Consultation, is planned for May. At the conclusion of the visit, Mr. Roaf issued the following statement:  “Serbia’s economic program continues to deliver strong results. At 4.4 percent, growth in 2018 was the fastest for over a decade. Annual inflation, at 2 percent in December, remains in the lower half of the target band. Fiscal performance has remained strong. The general government posted a fiscal surplus of 0.6 percent of GDP in 2018, consistent with PCI targets, and public debt declined to about 54 percent of GDP. Continued improvements in labor market participation have been supported by robust employment growth and declining unemployment.  “The mission supported the authorities’ plan to move forward expeditiously with the privatizations of Komercijalna Banka and HIP-Petrohemija. We also stressed the importance of advancing preparations to ensure the implementation of the new public wage system in 2020 and moving to a more flexible public employment framework. We discussed options to strengthen fiscal rules, including the re-introduction of pension indexation in 2020. We also emphasized the importance of strengthening the governance of public and state-owned enterprises to improve efficiency and the quality of public services. We supported the authorities’ ongoing efforts to improve the prioritization and appraisal of public investment.  “On a personal note, this was my final visit as IMF mission chief for Serbia. The next mission, planned for May, will be led by Mr. Jan Kees Martijn. I am extremely grateful for the authorities’ hospitality and close cooperation during the past 3½ years, and I congratulate Serbia on the very good progress made in macroeconomic stabilization, growth and job creation." Back on January 17 Inner City Press asked, "On Yemen, does the agreement in Stockholm between the Houthis and the government / Saudi and Emirati led Coalition make it more likely that the IMF can provide the assistance it has said it wants to? What is the IMF doing now?" Spokesperson Gerry Rice said while advising donors to address the humanitarian crisis, the armed conflict makes it difficult for the IMF to do more. He mentioned the Central Bank, offering technical assistance, and the procurement of needed food. On Zimbabwe, Inner City Press asked "On Zimbabwe, what is the status of the country's debt arrears to the IMF and others, and what is teh IMF's comment on the recent unrest / crackdown there?" Rice expressed concern and added that as long as the country is in arrears, there can be no program. Here's from the transcript: RICE: question about the status of where we are with Yemen. And said did the agreement in Stockholm between the Houthis and the governance, the government of Saudi and Emirati led coalition make it more likely that the IMF can provide the assistance it has said it wants to? So what is the IMF doing now?  I don’t have a great deal of update on Yemen from what I said the last time which is that, you know, given the armed conflict and the humanitarian crisis, you know, we can only, we the IMF, can only have a limited role in Yemen. We are of course encouraging the donor efforts to focus on the humanitarian situation there which is of great concern and the UN of course is in the lead.  What we are doing is continuing to provide technical assistance to the Central Bank to identify any major capacity gaps and supporting the authorities and donors in identifying measures that would help mitigate that humanitarian crisis including by facilitating imports of basic food staples and paying the civil service wages in the whole of Yemen.... I'll take one more online and that's about Zimbabwe and asking for the status of where we are with the countries debt and relation with the IMF and did we have any comment on the unrest and the government crackdown there is the question.  So in answer to that, I would say that of course Zimbabwe is facing major challenges and just in terms of the unrest, we encourage all stakeholders to collaborate peacefully in developing and implementing policies that will stabilize the economy and promote sustainable and inclusive growth.  On the overall economic situation, debt and the IMF, there has been no real change in what I have said here recently which is Zimbabwe continues to be in a difficult situation regarding debt with protracted arrears to official creditors including multilateral creditors such as the World Bank which severely limits Zimbabwe's access to international financial support.  In terms of the IMF, Zimbabwe has in fact cleared its arrears to us, to the Fund, but our rules preclude lending to a country that is still in or under arrears to other international financial situations. So until that particular situation is resolved, we would not be moving forward with a financial support for Zimbabwe.  I said here the last time that the authority's economic policies we felt were headed in the right direction broadly in terms of addressing the fiscal deficit and monetary policy and so on. I won't repeat what I said the last time but that’s where we are on Zimbabwe." Inner City Press also asked about Cameroon, and "In Tunisia, the General Labor Union says it reject the "contact" made between the Tunisian government IMF. TGLU spokesman Sami al-Taheri said the suspected "contact" is a "clear infringement of [Tunisia's] sovereignty," the TGLU spokesman stressed during a news conference.  It comes as the TGLU constantly slams the government over accusations of being in talks with IMF officials over "national issues." What is the status of IMF contacts with the government, and its response to TGLU?

 In Kenya, Stanbic Bank has urged the government to reconsider taking up the IMF's precautionary loan facility to ease debt payment. What are the IMF's thoughts?

In St Kitts & Nevis, Prime Minister Timothy Harris on Jan 16 said his administration is using the option available to it on whether or not to make public the IMF  report on the 2017 Article IV Consultation with St. Kitts and Nevis.  “We are not the only country in the last five years who have exercised that option. The IMF reports in particular indicate where there are special circumstances they have obliged in the non-publication in the non-publication of reports for the very reasons the financial secretary says. What are the IMF's views on withholding the report?" We'll have more on this.

When the IMF issued a statement about Gabon on December 19 it was to disbursed $99 million, what some see as an unmerited holiday president for Ali Bongo. The IMF said, "On December 19, 2018, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) completed the third review of Gabon’s economic program supported by an extended arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility [1]. Completion of the review enables the immediate disbursement of SDR 71.43 million (about US$99 million). This brings total disbursements under the arrangement so far to SDR 285.72 million (about US$395.9 million).

In completing the third review, the Executive Board approved the authorities’ requests for waivers of nonobservance of a performance criterion and modification of performance criteria.

Gabon’s three-year, SDR 464.4 million extended arrangement (about US$ 642 million at the time of approval), the equivalent of 215 percent of Gabon’s quota, was approved by the Executive Board on June 19, 2017 (see Press Release No. 17/233). The government’s reform program, supported by the IMF, aims to restore macroeconomic stability and lay the foundation for inclusive growth. It also seeks to attain debt sustainability at the national level and contribute to the external stability of the Central African Economic and Monetary Union (CEMAC).

Following the Executive Board discussion, Mr. Mitsuhiro Furusawa, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, made the following statement:

“Gabon’s performance under the EFF arrangement has improved. The authorities have taken important and difficult actions to keep the program on track despite the October 2018 legislative elections. However, the economic recovery remains fragile and further fiscal consolidation and decisive reforms are needed to achieve strong and sustainable growth.

“The authorities are committed to continuing with growth- friendly fiscal consolidation. This requires steadfast implementation of measures to boost non-oil revenues and contain non-priority spending, while protecting social and investment spending. Enhancing budgetary execution and oil revenue management, and further improving cash and debt management are also priorities.

“Safeguarding banking sector stability is essential for growth. The authorities plan to accelerate the liquidation of the three distressed banks and expeditiously tackle the NPL overhang to support financial stability, promote credit to the private sector, and growth.

“Gabon’s program continues to be supported by the implementation of supportive policies and reforms by the regional institutions in the areas of foreign exchange regulations and monetary policy framework and to support an increase in regional net foreign assets, which are critical to the program’s success.”"  When the IMF
held its biweekly embargoed media briefing on November 15, Inner City Press asked four questions, two of which were answered, see below. The next day on November 16 the IMF issued this, about Gabon, without mentioning the health much less dictatorship of Ali Bongo: " The IMF team has reached staff-level agreement with the authorities on policies that could support Executive Board’s approval of the third review.

The economy is recovering, and important steps have been taken since the completion of the second review to keep the program on track.          
· The mission agreed with the authorities on policies and measures to pursue growth-friendly fiscal consolidation, preserve external stability and support inclusive growth. The authorities are committed to speed up reforms implementation.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission led by Boileau Loko visited Libreville [1] during November 7–16 to conduct discussions on the third review of Gabon’s extended arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF). [2]

At the conclusion of the IMF mission, Mr. Loko issued the following statement:

“Economic activity is recovering, with growth estimated at about [1.2] percent in 2018 up from 0.5 percent in 2017, despite lower-than-expected oil production. Inflation increased to 3.4 percent (12-month average) in September 2018, reflecting higher food prices and the pass through of rising international oil prices. Fiscal performance at end-September was better than expected, thanks to higher than targeted non-oil revenue collection.

The recovery is expected to firm up in 2019 and the medium-term outlook is still promising, with GDP growth projected to reach 3.1 percent in 2019 and 5 percent in the medium term. Downside risks to the outlook include the failure to implement the planned fiscal consolidation, lower global growth and a marked tightening of global financial conditions.

Staff commended the authorities’ efforts to improve program implementation since the second review. Most end-September 2018 targets were met. Most program-supported structural reforms were implemented, albeit with some delays.

Fiscal consolidation remains a priority under the program. The mission took note of the authorities’ commitment to implement all critical measures in the 2018 supplementary budget to meet the end-year fiscal deficit target. Fiscal policy in 2019 aims at further enhancing non-oil revenue mobilization, containing the wage bill, and improving the composition of public spending to provide space for priority social and capital expenditure.

Improving budgetary execution, aligning expenditure commitments and cash flows plans, and fully operationalizing the Treasury Single Account will strengthen transparency, cash management, and budget monitoring. Continued efforts are also needed to enhance debt and cash management to prevent the accumulation of domestic and external arrears.

The mission highlighted the fiscal risks posed by public agencies. Despite some progress, the financial position of several public agencies and enterprises remains precarious, and unless improved, it could represent significant contingent liabilities for the government. The authorities have renewed their commitment to tighten controls on special accounts spending.

The mission underscored the need to speed up the liquidation of the three distressed banks and expeditiously tackle the NPL overhang to strengthen the banking sector and foster credit to the private sector. Further improving the business environment is also critical.

The mission welcomed the authorities’ commitment to implementing policies consistent with the stability of the region’s monetary arrangement. Continued fiscal consolidation and tangible actions to strengthen compliance with foreign exchange regulations, notably regarding the repatriation of export earnings, are critical to rebuild the BEAC’s foreign reserves.

The IMF Executive Board could consider the third review in December 2018.

The mission would like to thank the Gabonese authorities for the constructive discussions and warm hospitality.” In terms of lack of hospitality, the UN of Antonio Guterres has not responded to this Press question: "November 15-4: On Gabon, what is the SG's (and separately Mr Fall's / UNOCA's) comment and action on the move that many consider unconstitutional to continue to leave unresolved the health and governing status of Ali Bongo? What is the UN's understanding of if or when he would return? What is the SG's awareness and engagement, if any, in this?" The IMF to its credit at least answers questions.
Back on November 15 at the briefing, Inner City Press also asked, "On Sri Lanka, any updated thinking or action from the IMF given the dissolution of parliament, no confidence in Rajapaksa motion? Who are the IMF's technical counterparts?  Any changes?" Rice said the IMF continues to monitor the political situation and remain in touch with its "technical counterparts." Not yet answered: "On Cameroon, while the IMF's recent report discussed the Cup of African Nations, what is the IMF's assessment of the impact of the ongoing conflict and travel restrictions in the country's Anglophone regions?
On Libya, the US has said it is “critical is promoting greater transparency of Libya’s economic institutions, including the Central Bank of Libya. These reforms will support much-needed conversation among Libyans about enhancing fiscal transparency and promoting a more equitable distribution of the country’s oil resources. The United States stands ready to support this economic dialogue, at Libya’s request and in close coordination with the UN Support Mission for Libya (UNSMIL), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.” What is the IMF doing in/for Libya?
 On Saudi Arabia, can you further explain the basis of Mr Azour's statement that current and foreseeable responses to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi will no impact the Saudi economy? Asked whether the IMF felt a need to re-examine its expectations for the economy since the Khashoggi affair erupted, Jihad Azour, director of the Middle East and Central Asia department at the Fund, said it did not.  'What would have an impact is how oil prices will have moved going forward, and a certain number of other indicators like the pace of fiscal adjustment and the reforms that Saudi authorities will implement going forward,' Azour said.
" Back on November 1, Inner City Press asked four questions, including, "On Saudi Arabia, what is the IMF's estimate of the impact of l'affaire Khashoggi on the country's economy, as well as of the US' call for a (sequenced) cessation of hostilities in its war on Yemen?
" IMF Spokesperson Gerry Rice, after reading out this "question from Matthew Lee," emphasized that the IMF doesn't do politics. He said, however, that the IMF is concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen and stands ready to re-engage although there are no operations there now due to the conflict. On Khashoggi's murder he said it is too early to estimate how much it will impact confidence in the Kingdom - it already has - and, in what others may take as news, he answered that the impact for now is modest. (Inner City Press also asked about the "coup" in Sri Lanka which Rice said the IMF is monitoring and remaining in contact with its counterparts on a technical level - but that's another story.) T
he Saudi kingdom is still dodging about the death of
Jamal Khashoggi. And Czech President Miloš Zeman, who's clung at a personal adviser to Ye Jianming, controlled of UN bribery indictee Patrick Ho through the China Energy Fund Committee, has now said, “I love journalists, that’s why I may organize a special banquet for them this evening at the Saudi embassy.” It's this Zeman who's played a role in Guterres having China Energy Fund Committee still accredited UN ECOSOC, while Guterres has had Inner City Press banned since July 3. On May 17,  Inner City Press' reporting that day, as before, included the non-response since November 2017 of the UN Mission the the Czech Republic, which holds the presidency of the UN ECOSOC to which CEFC continues to hold consultative status, while CEFC's Ye Jianming was and remains an adviser to Czech President Zeman. Even as the Mission in New York refused to answer, on for example 28 November 2017 and 6 February 2018, Inner City Press' reporting has been picked up in the Czech Republic, on 12 January 2018 here, then on 28 May 2018 here. On June 4, a belated response from the Czech Mission to the UN, published by Inner City Press in full below along with the Press' follow up questions on June 4, still not answered as of 4 pm on June 5. Inner City Press is also informed that Marie Chatardova has reached out with the same answer to the Czech Press Agency; some say she is under consideration by Zeman to become the country's foreign minister and that this Press question unresponded to by the Czech Mission since November could be a problem. Suddenly on June 5, Antonio Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric read out an answer (he rushed off the podium so follow up question have not yet been possible). Video here. Then on June 22 and July 3 Guterres' Security roughed up Inner City Press and have banned it since, while blathering about freedom of the press.   After belatedly and conflicted statements about Khashoggi from  Guterres, who earlier this year took a $930 million check from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now as speech by Turkey's Erdogan, which over-promised (the "naked truth") and under-delivered, with its presumption that the King is not involved. It is noted that Erdogan has a record 73 journalists in jail, without due process like Guterres' dis-accreditation and banned from the UN list. Others compromising connections are being revealed. Guterres' Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake announced a partnership with MBS' Misk Foundation, as recently as September 26, 2018 (after school bus bombing) - and it remains in place... (The IMF's Lagarde, we note, canceled on Davos in the Desert.) At the October 10 Press-less UN noon briefing at which Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric by choice had only two questioners, one retired, Dujarric said Guterres had not spoken to the Crown Prince he took the money from. Now as some banks pull out of Davos in the Desert, notably two French banks both with operations in the United States are still planning to go: Societe Generale CEO Frédéric Oudéa and
BNP Paribas Chairman Jean Lemierre
; also a French arms manufacturer Thales CEO Patrice Caine. We'll have more on this.

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