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After IMF Tells ICP No Talks with Nigeria of Program, ICP Asks UN About Oslo Fundraising

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 9– When the International Monetary Fund's spokesperson Gerry Rice took questions at the IMF's biweekly media briefing on February 23, Inner City Press asked about the alarm sounded the day before by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres about humanitarian crises in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. Rice answered Inner City Press, specifically on South Sudan and Nigeria. And then the UN tried to spin Inner City Press about Nigeria, see below.

  Inner City Press asked the IMF, "On February 22 the United Nations appealed for $4.4 billion for humanitarian crises in Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. Please state what the IMF is currently doing with regard to these four countries. In Nigeria, Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun has said the country will not apply for an IMF program. What does this say about Nigeria, the UN's appeal, or the IMF?"

  Rice confirmed that there are no negotiations with Nigeria for a program - this while the UN says there is a humanitarian crisis there. He cited the upcoming 2019 elections. Rice said the UN is offering help to the South Sudan authorities, and that famine would exacerbate suffering. From the IMF's February 23 transcript:

"There is a question on the U.N. appeal for the humanitarian crisis that is affecting a number of countries. He is asking what is the IMF doing, what can the IMF do.

We have obviously taken note of these developments with concern for the human tragedy that may be taking place. It’s clear the ongoing conflict in places like South Sudan has already exacted a huge toll on people’s livelihoods, and the outbreak of famine would exacerbate conditions immeasurably.

So, in terms of the IMF, we are in contact with the authorities to discuss how we can be as supportive as possible.

I’ll take one more online, and that is on Nigeria. The question is the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, has said the country will not apply for an IMF program. What does this say about Nigeria and the U.N. appeal, which we just mentioned, or the IMF?

You know, Nigeria is clearly facing a challenging outlook, as we have said before. The authorities have initiated some measures, but more remains to be done. Urgency is needed in implementing a coherent and credible package of monetary, fiscal, and structural policies, as the window for bold reforms is closing, as the 2019 elections are approaching fast.

The IMF staff concluded the 2017 Article IV consultation with the authorities earlier this year, and the Board discussion is scheduled for later in March.

It’s true the Nigerian authorities have not approached the IMF for a program, have not. As such, there are no discussions or negotiations going on regarding a program with Nigeria.

However, and again, as we have said before, the Fund continues to provide technical assistance and have a productive dialogue with the authorities, and we stand ready to help should the country make a request for financial assistance."

  Two hours later, after the UN spoke about fundraising for Nigeria in Oslo, Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN Transcript here:

Inner City Press: although Nigeria's one of the four countries listed and you said Mr. O'Brien is going to this Oslo conference, this morning, I asked the IMF [International Monetary Fund] if… about their discussions with Nigeria.  They say that Nigeria's not seeking any type of IMF programme.  And in fact, the Finance Minister there, Kemi Adeosun, is quoted as saying that their… their, quote, non-oil revenue profile is rising; they don't need help.  So what's… can you square the circle here?  How can it be that the country itself is saying its economy is fine and it's being said from here that there's both… there's, you know, drought, near famine and a fundraising drive in Oslo…?  [Cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think it's two separate things.  First of all, the appeal in Oslo is not just for Nigeria.  It's for the whole Lake Chad Basin area.  The fact remains that there are people in desperate need of help because of drought, because of conflict in parts of Nigeria, north-east Nigeria.  We're, obviously, working with the Government, but we would also hope the international community supports our efforts.

Inner City Press:  But would you call on the Government to, in fact, do more?  If you see the statement by the Finance Minister…

Spokesman:  I haven't seen the statement.  I can look at the statement.

  Inner City Press also asked IMF, and we hope to update on: "In Somalia, Samba Thiam is quoted that the IMF “is also assisting the central bank with regulation and supervision of the financial sector to open it to new investors.” Please elaborate, including with respect to the KCB Group Ltd. and Commercial Bank of Africa Ltd.

"In Gambia, Ulrich Jacoby has spoken (on of “possible forms of IMF support.” Please elaborate, including with respect to any audit of expenditures during the rule of Yahya Jammeh.

"Bosnia's Republica Srbska's finance minister Zoran Tegeltija has been quoted that the IMF will next month “terminate its current three-year funding arrangement with Bosnia if politicians aren't able to reach a consensus on fulfilling prior actions they committed to in the letter of intent submitted to the IMF last year.” Is that true? Please comment."

Back on February 9, Inner City Press asked Rice about Yemen, South Sudan, Ukraine's retirement age, and accountability for Mozambique's undisclosed loans.

 On Yemen, Inner City Press after asking about a letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and being referred by the UN to the World Bank asked the IMF: "does the IMF play any role in the payment of salaries to civil servants in the north?

After the February 9 briefing, an IMF spokesperson provided this response to Inner City Press: "The IMF works with other International finance institutions and donors and the Central Bank of Yemen to ensure that salaries are paid to all Yemeni public sector workers and to ensure that food imports are sufficient to avoid a humanitarian crisis."

  On South Sudan, after the briefing an IMF Spokesperson provided this response to Inner City Press:

"The Resident Representative and staff at the IMF office in Juba were evacuated in July 2016 because of the conflict and a deteriorating security situation. Fund missions remain suspended.

"The Fund has been supporting South Sudan with policy advice and technical assistance. A Fund team met the authorities in Nairobi in December to discuss policies to stabilize the economy. Before the suspension of missions in July last year, the capacity building program with the country provided support in the areas of macroeconomic framework, central banking, foreign reserves management, monetary and exchange rate operations, banking supervision, public financial management, non-oil taxation, and statistics.

"On economic outlook, South Sudan’s key challenges are to stabilize the economy while achieving lasting peace through an inclusive political process. On the economy, urgent steps are required to address the economic crisis including by restoring fiscal discipline, tightening monetary policy to fight high inflation, and ensuring proper management of oil revenues. Beyond economic stabilization, the government needs to shift spending away from security-related spending towards investments in social and infrastructure development."

  Also on February 9, Inner City Press asked the IMF: "Ukraine Social Minister Andriy Reva has expressed opposition to, or disagreement with IMF urging, the raising of the retirement age. What is the relation of that to further disbursements?"

   Rice replied that Ukraine's authorities have agreed to reforming the pension system to mkae it "more modern," including consideration of "all options."

  Inner City Press also asked, "On Mozambique, please provide IMF's response to the critique that a new IMF program should only be agreed when all those responsible for the undisclosed debts are held to account, including criminally, meaning both officials in Mozambique who signed-off on the loans as well as the banks which facilitated the irresponsible lending, and that the burden of payment must not fall on the Mozambican people."

  Rice referred to the ongoing audit - we'll have more on this.

   Back on January 26 when the International Monetary Fund's deputy spokesperson William Murray took questions at the IMF's biweekly media briefing on January 26, Inner City Press asked him about Somalia and the UN, as well as Mozambique and Ghana.

 Inner City Press asked:

"The UN's envoy to Somalia Michael Keating recently said in New York that the IMF is urging the government in Mogadishu to raise revenue, by means of a tax on 'ICT' or telecom/mobile phones. Is that accurate? Please explain the IMF's position."

  After the briefing, at which Inner City Press' Mozambique question was answered, an IMF spokesperson provided this on Somalia:

“Somalia has one of the lowest revenue to GDP ratios in the world. Increasing revenue mobilization, from a low tax base, is critical to Somalia’s economic and social development goals. To that end, the authorities and IMF staff reached an understanding on the need to collect higher nominal revenues in 2017 compared to those in 2016.  The ultimate goal is to progressively restore, over time, revenue to GDP to a level comparable to peer countries.
In 2017, the authorities plan to start implementing a more formal tax system, which is projected to increase tax revenues from about 1.4 percent of GDP in 2016 to 2.0 percent of GDP in 2017. A critical element of these revenue measures -- based on current law which the authorities will start implementing -- is revenue from the telecom sector, about $24.5 million in total in 2017. This is up from the negotiated tax of $5.0 million agreed for 2016. The projection comprises of about $12–14 million from taxes on corporate profits and $10–12 million from sales taxes. Additional revenue collection from the telecom sector could be achieved but will require significant improvements in revenue administration and tax collection, while improving security for telecom operators.”

  During the January 26 briefing:

"On Mozambique and its recent default, please describe the timing of the IMF's review of a program and its relation to the ongoing audit, and its status."

  Murray replied at the briefing that the IMF remains engaged with the authorities and if following the ongoing independent audit. He reiterated the IMF's policy that it will only lend into arrears if the member is pursuing "appropriate policies" and making a good faith effort with its private creditors.

  On Ghana, Inner City Press had asked "given that President Nana Akufo-Addo has promised to cut taxes, is the IMF open to renegotiating the current program?"
  Murray said the program is expected to continue and that there will be an IMF visit at the beginning of February.

   Murray was asked about the new US administration and noted that nominee Mnuchin has not yet been confirmed; he said the US office in the IMF is "operating as far as I can tell." Tweeted photos here.

  He cited uncertainty in and for Mexico, given the US and trade policy. He responded to a question about the (end of) TPP.

Back on January 17 when the IMF's Tim Calen took questions about Saudi Arabia's economy, Inner City Press asked him:

"What has been the impact of the Saudi-led Coalition's Yemen campaign on the Saudi economy, and what is the IMF's projection?"

  IMF Senior Communications Officer Wafa Amr read out the question, between oil-heavy Reuters and the Wall Street Journal, and Callen diplomatically said that the Saudi budget document published at the end of 2016 showed military over-spending. Tweeted video here.

  Callen said he doesn't have the information to link that to the military campaign against Yemen. But what else would it be?

 On January 12 with IMF spokesman Gerry Rice held a on- and off-line press briefing, the first one in more than a month, Inner City Press submitted questions about Yemen, Chad, Sri Lanka, Mozambique and structural adjustment, as well as asking for updates on South Sudan and Burundi.

 Now on January 13 there is this, on Yemen, to Inner City Press from an IMF spokesperson:

"The humanitarian and economic fallout from conflict is devastating; the conflict has weakened significantly economic activity, destroyed infrastructure, and constricted availability of basic goods and services. We continue to work with international partners and donors to help assure the availability of basic food and to facilitate resuming payment of civil servants as well as financial support to the poorest.  The IMF stands ready to re-engage as soon as the conflict is resolved to help restore macro stability, rebuild institutional capacity, and jump-start growth."

  It's said that UN enovy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed met with Yemen's Central Bank Governor... in Saudi Arabia.

   The IMF has, a day later, not yet answered questions on Chad or Mozambique. Inner City Press has asked:

In Mozambique it has been suggested that the government could simply not recognize the guarantees for the $2 billion “secret” debt that would be enough  to “reduce the total foreign debt enough to allow negotiation with the IMF.” What is the IMF's response?

“MF-led structural adjustment reforms increase protest risks in Chad” - what is the IMF's response?

In Sri Lanka,  weeks after the IMF indicated the country's foreign reserves were below comfortable levels the government now plans to try to raise $1.5 billion through a domestic bond sale. Does the IMF think this is a good move?

On IMF conditions reducing health care spending, the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine “found that for every additional IMF condition that is 'binding' - i.e. failure to implement means automatic loan suspension - government health expenditure per capita in the region is reduced by around 0.25%.” What is the IMF's response?

Well, what is it?  Rice on January 12 said the IMF's Cyprus resident representative is at the UN's Geneva talks, and previewed a presentation by David Lipton on "Africa," and a trip there by Christine Lagarde, including to the Central African Republic, locus of French impunity. Watch this site.


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