…As OSIWA, NESG warn of ECOWAS debt crisis

Commend FG’s debt data transparency

Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief

Faced with rising debts, Africa must look inwards, the Director-General (D-G) of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Ms. Patience Oniha, has advised.

She spoke at the launch of the report of a Debt Sustainability study commissioned by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) under the Debt Management Roundtable (DMR), in Abuja, this afternoon.

According to her, the stark realities confronting Sub-Saharan Africa were such that only a new focus on revenue generation from within, could save the region from a debt crisis.

She said, “The timing of the launch of the report could not have been more appropriate with the global debt levels already rising pre-COVID-19 and still growing since the COVID-19 0pandemic started in the year 2020.

“Concerns around debt sustainability have expectedly heightened. According to the Word Bank’s World Economic Outlook, ‘Globally, sovereign debt grew from 49. 1 per cent of GDP in 2014 to 57. 9 percent in 2019. And in Sub-Saharan Africa, from 35.1 per cent of GDP in 2014 to 55. 4 percent in 2019.’” The respective figures for 2021 were 66.7 percent and 60. 3 percent.

“The indications are that the trend will continue as the economic consequences of COVID-19 may linger for a longer period, coupled with the increased economic pressures in the form of rising inflation from higher food and energy prices caused by the Russia-Ukraine War.”

With the current situation, Ms. Oniha opined that most of the adversely affected nations would continue to borrow but that members of ECOWAS should seek the most credible alternative to borrowing , which she identified as expansion of the revenue base.

According to her, “Concerns about debt sustainability and the need for restructuring have been stronger for Sub-Saharan Africa, due to high debt service costs when compared to revenues.

“It is therefore, an absolute necessity for West African countries to place sharper focus on domestic resource mobilization. Nigeria is already on that path through the Strategic Revenue growth Initiative (SRGI) and the Finance Acts that have been enacted since 2019.”

The Report said that member nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) faced risks of debt crisis, unless urgent steps were taken by their various governments to address rising debts.

According to the report, “In ECOWAS, five major research issues emanated from the debt situation. To begin with, numerous ECOWAS countries benefitted from debt elimination during the debt relief tsunami of 2005- 2008.

“However, public debt has increased to the point where it is approaching crisis proportions just over a decade later. Debt sustainability needs corrective actions such as debt restructuring and the discovery of viable debt alternatives.”

The report which was presented by the Chairman of the OSIWA-NESG DMR, Dr. Taiwo Oyedele, indicated that the rising debt portfolio of the sub-region was directly linked to the sustained deficit fiscal positions of member nations.

“The overall fiscal environment in ECOWAS has remained in an uninterrupted deficit since 2009. The COVID-19 pandemic , which engendered a global disruption in the economy’s demand and supply side has consequently led to an unprecedented increase in fiscal deficit to a tune of 6.8 percent of the nominal GDP (Gross Domestic Product)

“The fiscal deficit of ECOWAS in 2020 expanded by 53 percent to $46.22 billion. Meanwhile, the fiscal deficit expanded by 17.6 per cent , 122.4 percent and 170 percent in Nigeria, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire in order of the size of their economy, respectively.

“This makes Nigeria, the country with the largest fiscal deficit in the region in 2020, while Ghana recorded the largest increase in the budget deficit in the year.”

While fielding questions on Nigeria’s debt management, Dr. Oyedele commended the federal government for the public debt data transparency policy adopted by the Debt Management Office.

“He said, one policy of the federal government that is worth commending is the public debt data transparency. This is commendable. The federal government has also been very intentional with the debt mix- both external borrowing and domestic borrowing.”

The chairman urged that the federal government could do better with its project-tied borrowings as exemplified with the Second Niger Bridge and the Sukuk, which would ensure that borrowed funds are transparently utilized to engender economic growth.

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