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IMF on Jamaica Cites Difficult Reforms and Request for Oversight as Inner City Press Asks of Corruption

By Matthew Russell Lee, CJR PFT NY Post

NEW YORK CITY, Nov 4 – When the International Monetary Fund held its biweekly embargoed media briefing on September 12, Inner City Press submitted six questions including on crypto-currency like the OneCoin trial which started Nov 4 in the SDNY. The IMF answered one, on Zimbabwe (unlike the UN), but not entirely satisfactorily, see below.

  Now on November 4 the IMF said this, on Jamaica: "On November 4, 2019, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) completed the sixth and final review of Jamaica’s performance under the program supported by the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA). The 36-month SBA, with a total access of SDR 1,195.3 million (about US$ 1.65 billion), equivalent to 312 percent of Jamaica’s quota in the IMF, was approved by the IMF’s Executive Board on November 11, 2016 (see Press Release No.16/503 ). The Jamaican authorities continue to view the SBA as precautionary until the program expires on November 10, 2019, an insurance policy against unforeseen economic shocks that could lead to a balance of payments need.  Following the Executive Board’s discussion today, Mr. Tao Zhang Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair issued the following statement:  “The Jamaican authorities have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to reforms under two consecutive IMF‑supported programs that have spanned the last 6 and a half years. Difficult reforms have been implemented–with considerable sacrifices by the Jamaican people–that have institutionalized fiscal discipline and led to substantial reduction in public debt, which is now on track to meet the legislated target of 60 percent of GDP by March 2026. The unemployment rate is at an all‑time low, inflation is subdued, the financial system is less vulnerable, and international reserves are comfortable.  “The authorities are committed to sustain policy discipline after the conclusion of the SBA. The government’s request to the Economic Programme Oversight Committee to continue monitoring its macroeconomic targets and reform commitments will support public accountability until the fiscal council becomes fully operational, while the proposed amendments to the BOJ Act will improve central bank governance and independence, allowing a greater focus on the central bank’s price stability mandate. These reforms, together with a well‑functioning public bodies’ governance framework and a natural disaster financing policy, will help institutionalize the gains achieved under the Fund-supported programs.  “Important gains have been made in the oversight of financial institutions. The next steps should include enhanced group‑wide supervision of financial conglomerates, improving data and analytics, better coordination among financial regulators, an improved legislative framework for the resolution of financial intermediaries, and further strengthening of the AML/CFT framework." We'll have more on this.

  On September 12 Inner City Press asked the IMF: "On Zimbabwe, please confirm or deny IMF's Patrick Imam saying that "it is clear, compared to the projections of the original SMP, which did not foresee the severity of the drought and its secondary impact, nor the electricity shock, that growth is almost certainly going to be revised downwards and inflation upwards compared to the original SMP forecasts." And what is the IMF's view of the (economic) impact of the crack down on protest and human rights defenders?"

  Spokesperson Gerry Rice said that the IMF team is in Harare, from September 5 to 17. On human rights, he said the IMF "focuses on economics" and that such questions should be directed to... bilateral creditor. At least he didn't say the UN, which doesn't care. Here are Inner City Press' other questions to the IMF:

On Somalia, please provide a read out or response to reports that Somali Minister of Finance Abdirahman Duale Beyle met officials from the IMF  Addis Ababa to discuss the fourth phase of the Somali pardon program.

On Sri Lanka, what is the IMF's response to Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights, Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, sayins that in Sri Lanka, there are concerns at the significant rise in the value added tax, given that the brunt of such taxes is often borne by the poorest?

More generally, what is the IMF's response to Bohoslavsky saying as to the IMF that "even though austerity can be a useful tool of administration against the squandering of resources, it is essential to keep in mind that austerity impacts the most vulnerable and marginalised"?

On crypto-currency what is the IMF's response to Marshall Islands Minister David Paul saying the country is moving forward with its plans. According to the post, Minister Paul will provide further details about the Marshall Islands’ crypto, the Sovereign, next week at the Invest: Asia 2019 conference?  Within months, the IMF began putting pressure on the Marshall Islands to not forego the U.S. dollar in favor of its own digital currency. The Fund issued a 58-page report in September 2018 and warned against the "potential costs arising from economic, reputational, AML/CFT, and governance risks" associated with the issuance of the Sovereign.

On the DR Congo, what is the IMF's knowledge of, and comment on, that all the big-name advisory banks are laying siege to the presidential palace in the hope of winning the contract to advise the DRC on its relations with the IMF?" Inner City Press also asked, again, for "any updates on Cameroon or Haiti or Yemen." Watch this site.

  Back on July 25, Inner City Press asked the IMF about Jamaica and Lebanon which the IMF answered, see below. On August 28 on Mali the IMF said, "On August 28, 2019, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a new three-year arrangement under the IMF’s Extended Credit Facility (ECF) for Mali in the amount of SDR 139.95 million (about US$191.9 million), as well as the release of the first disbursement under the arrangement of SDR 20 million (about US$27.4 million).  Following the Executive Board discussion, Mr. Tao Zhang, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, made the following statement:  “Mali has made significant progress under the previous Fund-supported program despite challenging conditions. Looking ahead, while the economic outlook remains generally positive, it is subject to important downside risks related to possible challenges arising from the security situation, potential shocks to the terms of trade (the price of gold, cotton, and fuels), and adverse weather conditions.  “The authorities’ corrective measures taken in the first half of 2019 have significantly improved domestic revenue collection. Going forward, decisive efforts aimed at domestic resource mobilization through tax policy and revenue administration reforms will be key to meeting the ambitious, but realistic program targets. The fiscal framework of the program is robust and adequate mechanisms are in place to deal with any revenue shortfall.  “The authorities’ reform strategy for the state-owned electricity company (EDM-SA) is welcome in view of its strategic importance for the Malian economy. The authorities are encouraged to seek participation from the commercial banks in the financial restructuring of the company.  “Going forward, it is essential to pursue greater spending efficiency, including through strengthened project selection and execution, as well as the rationalization of subsidies. The authorities’ efforts to increase financial inclusion and narrow the gender gap, including by direct measures to economically empower women are welcome. Steadfast perseverance in the government’s efforts to improve governance and fight corruption would also enhance the business climate." Yes it would. But will this fight against corruption happen? Watch this site.
On July 25 on Jamaica Inner City Press asked, "given that the $1.6-billion Precautionary Stand-By Arrangement comes to an end in November, please state and explain what the functions will be of the IMF office that, unlike elsewhere, is to remain in the country for two years after the expiration of the SBA." Spokesman Gerry Rice, after reading out the question from "our friend Matthew Lee in New York" - these days covering it from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York SDNY amid cases about for example Nigerian oil and GSE bonds - replied that it is be no means unheard of for the IMF to keep and office behind after a program. Inner City Press might add that it has given rise to enough concern among some Jamaicans that the IMF wrote to the Gleaner... 

From the IMF transcript, Rice: "On that one, I'd like to refer to a letter that was actually published by our mission chief in Jamaica, Uma Ramakrishnan and that was published in the Glean[e]r newspaper in Jamaica just yesterday. So, I urge you to take a look at that. I would also add that since 2013, we have had consecutive IMF-supported programs. Jamaica has established an exemplary track record of economic reform achieved through commitment and implementation of the Economic Reform Program. Now in that context then, IMF and the Jamaica Government consider it useful to have that office open, remaining open in Jamaica with the ResRep to continue the support in the post-program period, and as we transition from program to the Article IV annual process with Jamaica, and to continue to support Jamaica with capacity building. And what I can say is, you know, the question said that this as suggested that this was unlike elsewhere. In fact, this is not an unusual arrangement, so it's not unique to Jamaica by any means."

On Lebanon Inner City Press asked, "what is the IMF's comment on or response to PM Hariri having said, "I know the IMF has some reservations, but also if we want to adopt everything the IMF does ... (well then it also) proposes that we leave the Lebanese pound to float, that it go up and down as it wants." The IMF had also requested an increase of fuel excise in addition to an increase in VAT, Hariri said.  What is the IMF's comment?" On this, Spokesperson Rice said, "What's the IMF's comment on that? I would refer you to the recent concluding statement of our staff mission to Lebanon which said, amongst other things, rebalancing the economy in the current framework of an exchange rate peg requires strong implementation of a large and credible fiscal adjustment and ambitious structural reforms." We'll have more on this.

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