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UN Obfuscates Lack of Debt Relief for Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, Censors

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, September 18 -- When the UN presented its "State of the Global Partnership for Development" report on September 18, it said that three countries not being processed for debt relief -- Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan -- are only treated that way because they have no national economic plans.

  Inner City Press challenged this, noting public discussions of blocking any debt relief to Sudan, which like Eritrea and Somalia is under UN sanctions.  In response, UN DESA tried to say it was a matter of stability and being in conflict.

   But the IMF continues working on a program with Mali, certainly in more conflict than Eritrea, despite the untransparent purchase of a new jet by Mali's president.

   Inner City Press has asked the International Monetary Fund about Mali, and on July 10 was told the IMF has suspended its program at least until toward the end of this year, IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice answered Inner City Press.  Video here, from Minute 19:30.  Since then, IMF visits and work toward unlocking money has proceeded.

  If the UN and its DESA obfuscate the reasons countries like Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea don't get debt relief, what else are they obfuscating?

Footnote on how the UN runs briefings: on September 18 initially the first question was being given to a reporter who actually covers development. But the UN Correspondents Association's representative complained, demanding a set aside, and got it, along with an apology. Then asked a softball question, not following up on a false answer and in all probability not reporting on it. It's asking the (first) question just for the sake of it, the UN's Censorship Alliance whose Executive Committee worked to try to get the investigative Press thrown out of the UN and remains UNreformed. The new Free UN Coalition for Access opposes set-asides, especially for the UN's Censorship Alliance.

 Back on July 10, Inner City Press also asked the IMF, in its embargoed briefing about Romania and Pakistan.

On Romania, what is the IMF's comment on President Basescu now rejecting the planned social security tax cut, pending measures that would cover a likely revenue shortfall?

  Rice said that off-setting measures are needed; video here, transcript below.

In Pakistan, the Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has abandoned the policy of releasing national accounts on a quarterly basis, described as “a violation of the IMF's guidelines on good statistical practice” - is that the case? Any IMF comment?

  Rice spoke of the IMF's technical assistance; video here, transcript of all three questions here:

MR. RICE:  There are a few questions from InnerCity Press, so let me just -- let me just take some of them, I won't take them all, but they may be of interest to -- more broadly.

One is on Romania. "What is the IMF's comment on President Basescu's now rejecting the planned Social Security tax cut, pending measures that would cover a likely revenue shortfall?"

Maybe just stepping back and setting that question in context. The joint IMF/EC Mission had constructive discussions with the Romanian authorities, so far on how to ensure further progress on the third review of the current program. Some key issues remain outstanding so those discussions continue.

On the specific question, I would say that while the Fund shares the objective of lowering the high tax burden on labor in an effort to stimulate employment, we need to understand how the government intends to compensate the revenue shortfall. Without offsetting measures, a reduction of the Social Security contribution rate by 5 percentage points, would increase the fiscal gap.

A question on Mali. "Can you provide an update on the IMF's review of the two contracts that were awarded without competitive bidding, including the purchase of a new plane for the President?"

Again, just setting the context; the first review under the current extended credit facility, which had been initially scheduled for June, is being postponed following the recent discovery of a series of problematic transactions which reveal weaknesses in public financial management.

Now, a delegation led by the Minister of Economy and Finance, visited Washington for a few days of talks in June, and reached an agreement with the IMF on remedial measures which include an audit of the transactions by the Independent Government Auditor, and a tightening of the Procurement Code. And at the end of that visit the Minister and the Mission Chief issued a joint declaration which we published.

So what's the status? The status is that as per that joint statement, the reviews, again, under the ECF arrangement, have been postponed until September, and related disbursements would only happen toward the end of the year, at the earliest.

So, again, the conclusion of the reviews will depend on the implementation of the remedial measures and, again, in line with this, any related support in the form of a disbursement would only happen following approval by the reviews by our Executive Board.

One other question that I will take, which is on Pakistan. "The Bureau of Statistics has abandoned the policy of releasing national accounts on a quarterly basis, described as a 'violation of the IMF's guidelines on good statistical practice' is that the case? What is your comment?"

My comment is that the IMF has been providing technical assistance to Pakistan on improving national account statistics with significant progress observed over the course of the last year. The upcoming mission, which is scheduled for early August, will follow up on latest developments with data dissemination.

A question that was not (yet) answer was this, on Jamaica:

In Jamaica, Opposition Spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw has said that Managing Director Lagarde “crossed the line from being non-political to making statements, which can be construed as political interference.” What is the IMF's or MD's response?

  Watch this site. 


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