…Urges FG to pursue fiscal consolidation
…Asks CBN to stop direct government financing
By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief & Yinka Kolawole
THE International Monetary Fund (IMF), yesterday, said Nigeria is expected to emerge from recession this year with an economic growth of 0.8 percent, but warned that threats to recovery remained elevated, and that the economy will not grow enough to reduce unemployment and poverty. The IMF, therefore, advised the Federal Government to pursue a policy of fiscal consolidation through higher non-oil revenues, to ensure stability in growth.
Nigeria slipped into a recession last year as low crude oil prices and production slashed government revenues, caused dollar shortages and crippled the nation’s economy. “Economic growth in Nigeria is expected to recover slightly to 0.8 percent this year after the country slipped into its first recession in more than two decades last year,” IMF said in the report.
The Fund said the government saw significant revenue shortfalls in the first half of the year, with interest payments remaining as high as 40 percent at end of June. It projected interest payments would rise further under current economic policies.
“In the near term, a stronger push for front-loaded fiscal consolidation through a sustainable increase in non-oil revenues would be needed to create space for infrastructure spending, social protection, and private sector credit. This should be simultaneously accompanied by a monetary policy that avoids direct financing of the government and is kept sufficiently tight, a unified and market-based exchange rate, and rapid implementation of structural reforms,” IMF stated.
In addition to a fiscal consolidation one other major recommendations of the organisation after its staff team met federal government officials to review the implementation of the present administration’s reform programmes was that the Central Bank of Nigeria should avoid direct funding of government. The IMF staff team led by Amine Mati visited Nigeria from July 20-31, 2017 to discuss recent economic and financial developments, as well as update macroeconomic projections.
The Fund in a statement, yesterday, also advised government to urgently act on coherent policies capable of ensuring the speedy recovery of the economy. It said, “Acting on an appropriate and coherent set of policies to enhance an economic recovery remains urgent. This includes implementing immediately specific priorities that will help achieve the goals of the ERGP.
“In the near term, a stronger push for front-loaded fiscal consolidation through a sustainable increase in non-oil revenues would be needed to create space for infrastructure spending, social protection, and private sector credit. This should be simultaneously accompanied by a monetary policy that avoids direct financing of the government and is kept sufficiently tight, a unified and market-based exchange rate, and rapid implementation of structural reforms. Pursuing these policies would help reduce macroeconomic vulnerabilities and create an environment for a diversified private-sector led economy.”
The global financial body observed that the nation’s economy was still facing challenges that required concerted efforts by the federal government to return the economy to the path of growth. It said “The economic backdrop remains challenging, despite some signs of relief in the first half of 2017. Economic activity contracted in the first quarter of the year by 0.6 percent, mainly as maintenance stoppages reduced oil production.
“However, following four quarters of negative growth, the non-oil economy grew by 0.6 percent (year-on-year), on the back of a rebound in manufacturing and continued strong performance in agriculture. Various indicators suggest an uptick in activity in the second quarter of the year.”
Helped by favorable base effects, headline inflation decreased to 16.1 percent in June 2017, but remains high despite tight liquidity conditions.
“Preliminary data for the first half of the year indicate significant revenue shortfalls, with the interest-payments to revenue ratio remaining high (40 percent at end-June) and projected to increase further under current policies.
“High domestic bond yields and tight liquidity continue to crowd out private sector credit. Given Nigeria’s low growth environment and the banking system’s exposure to the oil and gas sector, non-performing loans increased from 6 percent in 2015 to 15 percent in March 2017 (8 percent after excluding the four undercapitalized banks).
“Faced with these challenges, the government has started implementing a number of important measures. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) is driving the diversification strategy, and security in the Niger Delta improved through strengthened engagement. The new Investor and Exporter FX window has provided impetus to portfolio inflows, helped increase reserves above $30 billion, and contributed to reducing the parallel market premium.
“Important steps have also been taken in implementing the power sector recovery plan, introducing a voluntary income and asset declaration program and moving forward the 60-day national action plan to improve the business environment. Progress is also ongoing within the oil and energy sector through implementation of a new funding mechanism for cash calls.
“However, near-term vulnerabilities and risks to economic recovery and macroeconomic and financial stability remain elevated. At 0.8 percent, growth in 2017 will not be sufficient to make a dent in reducing unemployment and poverty.
“Concerns about delays in policy implementation, a reversal of favorable external market conditions, possible shortfalls in agricultural and oil production, additional fiscal pressures, continued market segmentation in a foreign exchange market that remains dependent on central bank interventions, and banking system fragilities represent the main risks to the outlook.”