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Sept 24, 2013

UN: Sri Lanka


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IMF Answered Inner City Press on Sri Lanka and Haiti in Run-Up To DC Meetings, Now Transcript Here

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Video Podcast
BBC - Guardian UK - Honduras - ESPN

SDNY COURTHOUSE, March 31 – When the International Monetary Fund held its biweekly embargoed press briefing on March 31, Inner City Press asked about Sri Lanka and Haiti. On Sri Lanka it asked for "an update and what is the IMF's view of the Rajapaksa government imposing import restrictions on 367 items such as fruits, milk products and fish in a bid to tackle the foreign exchange shortage?"

  IMF Spokesperson Gerry Rice replied that the negotiations with Sri Lanka will take place in the coming days, including with the Finance Minister's anticipated presence at the April IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings in DC, which Inner City Press will also be covering. Rice referred to the IMF's February 25, 2022 statement.

  On Haiti, which Inner City Press also covers in relation to the UN's failures there including introducing cholera and paying nothing for it, Rice said the IMF has been the number one provider of external finance to the country since 2019 and said more information is coming. Watch this site, and video here.  Now, the IMF transcript:

Let me turn to Matthew. I see your hand up. Matthew Lee in New York. Nice to see you, Matthew. 

QUESTIONER: Sure, thanks a lot. And I'll try to be as crisp as Lalit. I'm not sure if I can do it, but I wanted to ask you about Sri Lanka. It's much in the news. There's a lot of the -- there's some serious economic turmoil there. Talk of the, you know, IMF program and trying to address foreign exchange issues. What's the status between the IMF and Sri Lanka and what do you think of the moves that Raja Baksa government has been taking. And also, I just wanted to ask about Haiti, the same, maybe even turmoil beyond economic there. What's the status of both that relief and of IMF programs in Haiti. Thanks a lot. 

MR. RICE: Hey, thank you, Matthew. Two questions on Sri Lanka and on Haiti. You're not the only one interested in Sri Lanka. Matthew, I'm seeing Julia Hollingsworth from CNN weigh in. Nice to see Julia join us. On Sri Lanka's economic crisis, I'm keen to get a comment from the IMF about what requests it's had and what it's planning to do to help with the economic crisis. And, I'm seeing Paneetha Ameresekere. Hi, Paneetha. Ceylon Today is also joining us, asking pretty much the same question Matthew -- around the same question as you and Julia. Sri Lanka and talks with the IMF, what's the economic outlook for the country.  I'll try to be brief. On Sri Lanka, we issued a fairly comprehensive statement. I don't know if you saw it, Matthew, the other day -- well, actually the other month, February the 25th -- on the Article IV consultation or staff report we published. It's got a lot of detail. So, I'll refer you and others to that and I won't repeat all that's in there. Instead, I'll just try to tell you where we are.  The Sri Lankan authorities have expressed interested in an IMF support and financial program. The answer is yes. On the status of that discussion, we plan to in initiate those program discussions with the Sri Lankan authorities including during the Finance Minister's visit to Washington in April. So, we plan to initiate those discussions pretty much in the coming days and that will include during the expected visit of the Finance Minister of Sri Lanka to Washington for our spring meetings in April.  On the economic outlook, again, I will refer you to that February 25th statement. I'm just looking at it. It's fairly detailed including a table of all selected indicators. But, we will be updating the macroeconomic forecast and that will come in the wheel that I mentioned earlier in April. So, that's about as much as I have on Sri Lanka.  Matthew, you asked about Haiti. We remain engaged with Haiti. We've been the -- as you may know, Matthew -- we've been the main source of external financing to Haiti, the IMF, since 2019. We provided financial assistance equivalent to about $365 million under our rapid credit facility, the containment and catastrophe containment and relief trust, that's debt relief, and an SDR allocation, all to Haiti in recent times.  After adequate steps were taken to improve governance in the area of procurement during 2021, funds staff held discussions this month with the Haitian authorities on what we call a staff monitor program. Many of you are familiar with that. It's a program that does not come with specific financing, but it aims to help the country get on the right macroeconomic path and to mobilize revenues and address reforms needed in key sectors.  Matthew, I can give you a bit more detail if you want it on the key policy objectives that underpin that SMP, that Staff Monitored Program. I won't do it now in respect to others asking questions, but we can give you, easily and immediately, further detail if you want to follow up after this briefing, okay? Thank you. Thanks for the questions. 

Inner City Press: Thanks, definitely call on others, they have questions too.

MR. RICE: Thank you, Matthew. Really appreciate your great collegiality. I want to turn to Delphine of AFP.

  Back on March 17 on South Africa Inner City Press asked about the critique of the IMF and its program by the Economic Freedom Fighters. Rice said the IMF is in dialogue with them and other civil society groups.
  On the widely (mis) reported suspension at the UN of Russia's Alexei Mozhin from a role in the IMF, Rice said it is from a ceremonial role only.

  Back on February 10, Inner City Press asked Rice about crypto-currency in El Salvador and the arrest that week of Bitfinex hackers / launderers Lichtenstein and Morgan, as well as about Ghana.

Inner City Press asked: "On bitcoin and El Salvador, after the IMF's recommendation on removing Bitcoin’s legal tender status, what is the IMFs' response to Treasury minister Alejandro Zelaya saying that “no international organisation is going to make us do anything, anything at all... Countries are sovereign nations and they take sovereign decisions about public policy," and separately to a published theory that as the world’s lender of last resort to sovereign nations, the IMF is looking to have fewer, not more, borrowers?" - and about Lichtenstein.

  Rice on the question of whether the continued use of Bitcoin would preclude a program with El Salvador said these things need to be discussed. Inner City Press also asked, "On Ghana, what are the IMF's communications with / thinking on the country given reports that Ghana’s downgrade by Moody’s leaves the government needing to agree a package with the IMF to achieve policy credibility?" Rice said there has been no Ghana request, but the IMF stands ready. He also answered on Tunisia and El Salvador, on which Inner City Press also asked questions.

Previously, from IMF transcript of Dec 16, 2021: Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press: I've asked you a number of times about cryptocurrency in El Salvador. You've given, you know, the answers that you've given. I saw that the chief economist said, at least to me, something that seems slightly different saying developing economies should regulate it, rather than try to ban cryptocurrency. I just wanted to ask you, maybe is there a new position on this? Is there something -- can you say a little bit more particularly how it might apply to what's been said thus far about El Salvador.  And also on -- I just -- I'm sure everyone has seen the spat between Brazil and the IMF. Where does that stand? Is it, I guess, is the current status that the IMF is going to leave the country in June of next year? And what more can you say about it in response? Thanks a lot. 

MR. RICE: Thank you. So on crypto currencies, El Salvador, and so on, your first question, your quite right. We did issue a blog actually last week from our monetary and financial counselor, Tobias Adrian (phonetic) and colleagues. And you're quite right to characterize it the way you did, Matthew, which was a call a strong call for regulation in the realm of cryptocurrency. So, so that's quite right.  On El Salvador specifically, our view has not changed. We support the authority's efforts to boost financial inclusion and raise growth, but the risks arising from using bitcoin as legal tender need to be addressed. Crypto technologies and digital payment systems have the potential to make payments more efficient, but given bitcoin's high price volatility, its use as legal tender entails significant risks to consumer protection, financial integrity, and financial stability.  And it’s used also gives rise to fiscal contingent liabilities. So, our view on what we've said about El Salvador and bitcoin specifically, being used as legal tender, our views there have not changed. I'm essentially, as you know, probably repeating, reiterating what I've said here before.  On your question about Brazil, the IMF agreed with the Brazilian authorities to close the IMF representative's office in Brasilia by June 30, 2022, which is what you were saying. And that's when the term of the current IMF representative expires. So, like with many other member countries, the office in Brazil was opened during the time when we had a significant financial arrangement with Brazil. That was its initial purpose. And while that IMF arrangement with Brazil finished, the office was kept open to facilitate dialogue between Fund staff and the authorities, this has happened.  This has been the case also with a number of other countries in the past. You know, we would open an office particularly at the time of crisis, at a time when there's a financial arrangement. And then over time we close the office. So, this has happened in the past. I would want to emphasize that we expect the high quality of the Fund's engagement with the Brazilian authorities to continue as we work closely to support Brazil in strengthening its economic policy and institutional settings. So, that would be my comment on Brazil. Thank you very much, Matthew.

In November, Inner City Press asked about Ethiopia and Tigray, Chad and its Glencore debt, and the IMF's status with Zambia. Spokesperson Gerry Rice responded on each. Podcast here. Short video of Q&As on Twitter here.  IMF video here

Back on January 8 Inner City Press asked the IMF's Helge Berger, Mission Chief, about China's so-called Belt and Road Initiative: "Your Article IV report cites China's "overseas lending projects" amid "rising geopolitical tensions and economic and trade frictions." How does the IMF think that rising debt levels among African countries, and increased skepticism about the "Belt and Road" will impact or be addressed going forward? -Matthew Russell Lee, Inner City Press. Video here.

(An aside: Inner City Press has reported on the CEFC China Energy Fund Committee's activities in Chad and Uganda and in the UN, on which the UN is UNresponsive.)

Other questions included China's digital currency (Inner City Press also reports on crypto-currency cases in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and elsewhere). Berger said when used overseas an issue is that residents could start using another country's currency, if it is easier.

We'll have more on this.


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