By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, May 25 – When the International Monetary Fund resumed its biweekly embargoed press briefings on May 25, Inner City Press asked about Saudi Arabia (and Blackstone), Ghana and again Cameroon.IMF Spokesperson Gerry Rice read out Inner City Press' question, "On Saudi Arabia, what is the IMF's view of the interaction between the country's sovereign wealth fund's deal with Blackstone and the warning that rapid cuts to the government’s budget deficit could damage the economy?" Rice replied that the IMF views the Blackstone deal as an attempt to diversity internationally, and not related to domestic deficit reduction (transcript will be on IMF's website. Inner City Press also asked, "amid reports that Ghana will agree to extend the IMF program in return for a bigger credit facility, what is the IMF's position on the government's speed in meeting the objectives of the program?" Rice acknowledged that the IMF and Ghana are discussing an extension but said it would require a formal request by the country; he said a key objective is to key public debt on a continuing downward path. On Cameroon (and Yemen and the UN's "Financing for Development" outcome documents), no answers yet. Watch this site. From the IMF's May 11 transcript, of its Deputy Spokesperson Willam Murray: "I’ve got a question from Inner City Press on Sri Lanka. Do recent government moves on the Inland Revenue Act make it more likely the IMF Board will act on the request for completion of the second loan review in June and make a third disbursement? Again, it’s a question about Sri Lanka and the Inland Revenue Act and the likelihood of completing the second review. We had a staff level agreement in Sri Lanka on May 3rd, last week. We noted in announcing that agreement that it’s subject to completion of a prior action by the authorities, which is submission of the Inland Revenue Act to Parliament. And that was a prior action that was agreed earlier this year. Our legal experts are still analyzing the content of the new draft bill, and are in discussions with the Sri Lankan authorities. That’s where we stand at the moment on Sri Lanka."
The answer's appreciated. On Cameroon, Inner City Press has asked for the IMF's "updated view about the Internet cut off (lifted only after 94 days) and other restrictions in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon injuring 'Silicon Mountain.'" Watch this site: we'll stay on this. Back on April 12 when at its Spring Meetings the IMF held its Middle East and Central Asia press conference, Inner City Press submitted this question: "Please describe the IMF's view and possible plans on Yemen, given the crisis there, including on President Hadi's proposed moving of the Central Bank out of the capital to Aden. What is the IMF's view of and any assistance to the Central Bank's performance?" After the briefing, the IMF provided this answer: "The humanitarian and economic impact of the conflict has been devastating; it has caused many deaths, depressed economic activity, and destroyed much of Yemen’s infrastructure. There is now even a tangible risk that the conflict could lead to famine in some parts of Yemen. Yemenis food supply relies largely on imported staples, like wheat and rice. Yemen needs urgently foreign exchange grants from donors to pay for imported food. But Yemenis also need to be able to buy the food that is imported. Resuming paying public salaries and social assistance grants in all of Yemen is therefore also urgently needed. Given these needs, the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) could be the pivotal player for facilitating food imports and for resuming paying public salaries and social assistance grants in all of Yemen. But to play this humanitarian role, the central banks in Aden and Sana’a need urgently to find a way to cooperate in the interest of providing sufficient food to all Yemenis. Fund engagement is currently limited. We support the Yemeni authorities and the international community to the best of our abilities.The Fund stands ready to re-engage more fully as soon as the conflict is resolved to help rebuild economic institutions, jumpstart growth, and stabilize the economy."
Back on April 6 when the IMF held its biweekly embargoed press briefing, Inner City Press asked Spokesperson Gerry Rice about South Africa, Zambia, Bosnia, Nigeria and the UN, Cameroon and other issues. On Zambia, Inner City Press asked, "On Zambia, please state if a sale / privatization of Zambia Telecommunications Company (Zamtel) is no longer a condition for an IMF program with the country, as inferred from the recent list of conditions issued by the IMF's Tsidi Tsikata." After the briefing, an IMF Spokesperson replied to Inner City Press that "We have made progress towards reaching understandings on an economic program that could be supported by an IMF arrangement. There is broad agreement on key objectives, targets, and policies. We have agreed to continue discussions at the forthcoming April 2017 Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank here in Washington D.C. At this stage, it is premature for us to get into specifics on policy actions such as sales of parastatals."
On South Africa, Inner City Press asked "does the IMF have any comment on the recent firing of the finance minister? Separately, have there been any discussions of a possible program with South Africa?" Rice said that no request for a program has been received -- "the South African authorities have not requested a program from the IMF" -- and that the IMF normally does not comment on "domestic politics." He went ont to say, "it's important that institutions remain strong and the government can be united on policies for inclusive growth for all South Africans." We'll have more on this.
On Bosnia, Inner City Press asked the IMF, among other things: "what the IMF's comment on opposition, from farmers and the Republika Srpska to the excise tax on fuel which it is reported is a condition for the IMF's program?" Early on April 6, prior to the embargoed briefing but there reiterated at it, the IMF's mission chief for Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Mr. Nadeem Ilahi, said: "The IMF took note that the BiH parliament did not adopt the amendments to the law on excise tax and the new law on deposit insurance during a session held on April 5, 2017. This will have implications for mobilizing external financing for much needed infrastructure projects and for the authorities’ efforts to modernize banking sector legislation. Both are key requirements of the authorities’ program, supported by the IMF under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF). We now expect a significant delay in completion of the first review of the program. In recent months, the authorities have made good progress in implementing economic reforms supported by the EFF, particularly by strengthening fiscal discipline, safeguarding financial stability, and improving business environment. We stand ready to assist the authorities in continuing the implementation of structural reforms to unlock growth potential and maintain macroeconomic stability, including through IMF advice and technical assistance.The authorities need more time to make further progress in a number of key areas of their program, such as securing financing for key infrastructure project, modernizing banking sector legislations, and improving corporate governance of state owned enterprises. In the period ahead, we will maintain close dialogue with the authorities and remain committed to assist them in their efforts.” We'll have more on this.