Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 April 2018:
Lessons for Sierra Leone. Following The Gambia’s historical transition to a democratically elected government in January 2017, the new administration led by president Barrow, has had to contend with a dire economic situation with unsustainable debt, failing State-owned Enterprises, and crowding out of the private sector through huge government borrowing.
Moreover, the economy was hit by economic shocks in 2016/17 (agriculture, tourism, trade).
The new administration is strongly committed to breaking with past policies, and to restoring economic stability and debt sustainability.
Substantial financial support has been provided by development partners, including budget support of $56 million from the World Bank and €25 million from the EU.
The Fund has supported the authorities through a $16.2 million RCF disbursement accompanied by a one-year staff-monitored program (SMP), performance under which is included in the report for information of the Executive Board.
The new administration is now well established, and an economic recovery is underway, bolstered by improved market confidence, favourable rains, a much-improved foreign exchange supply, and resurgent trade and tourism.
The authorities are requesting an extension of the SMP approved in June 2017 by six months through September 2018.
IMF Staff supports the request, which would provide more time to establish a track record of performance for the transition to an ECF arrangement to which the authorities aspire, including because the outcome of the donor conference delayed to May 2018 will be an important input to the design of an EC
On March 22, 2018, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with The Gambia.
The Gambian economy has started to recover, following the sharp growth slowdown in 2016.
For 2017, economic growth is estimated at 3.5 percent with a better agricultural season and a strong rebound of tourism and trade.
Headline inflation has declined from 8.8 percent in January 2017 to 6.4 percent in January 2018, reflecting the stabilization of the dalasi and a gradual decrease in food prices.
With much-improved fiscal discipline and external financial support, the Dalasi has remained stable since April and gross international reserves increased from 1.6 months of import cover at end-2016 to 2.9 months at end-2017.
The Executive Board also granted a waiver. The authorities’ commitment to the staff-monitored program (SMP) is strong. Performance under the program was broadly satisfactory, including good progress in implementing the structural agenda despite severe capacity constraints.
Over the medium term, The Gambia can achieve a more robust growth path. This will require continued strong policy implementation and effective fiscal reforms, including ensuring debt sustainability.
The authorities are committed to further national development through the planned strong expansion of reliable and affordable electricity by 2020, and increasing the economy’s productivity by promoting irrigation and commercial agriculture, light manufacturing, tourism, and continued infrastructure investment.
IMF Executive Board Assessment
Following the Executive Board discussion, Mr. Furusawa, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, issued the following statement: Executive Directors agreed with the thrust of the staff appraisal. They commended the authorities for their strong commitment to reforms underpinned by the staff monitored program, and welcomed the progress achieved in stabilizing the economy. They noted that strict fiscal discipline together with substantial external support has enabled the authorities to significantly cut domestic borrowing.
Going forward, it will be important to maintain the focus on reducing debt vulnerabilities and implementing reforms to increase private sector activity.
Directors agreed that efforts to maintain fiscal stability will need to continue.
It will be important to contain spending while raising domestic revenue, including by implementing the revenue measures that were delayed to 2018, as well as further efforts to streamline the civil service.
Directors welcomed the ongoing work to develop a medium term economic and fiscal framework together with a debt management strategy to help anchor fiscal policy. They noted that rehabilitation, reform, and improved oversight of public enterprises will be crucial to limit contingent liabilities and protect fiscal outcomes, improve service delivery, and strengthen the business environment.
Directors noted with concern The Gambia’s substantial debt vulnerabilities and high risk of external debt distress. They agreed that concerted support by the international community will be key in addressing the high debt overhang.
Mobilization of assistance for the implementation of the National Development Strategy will need to focus on grants, with only very limited room even for highly concessional loans in the medium term.
Directors also called on the international community to provide additional resources to foster debt sustainability, including through debt restructuring and softening of terms on existing commitments.
Directors urged the authorities to carefully prioritize and sequence investment projects and refrain from contracting any large new debt or contingent liabilities that would jeopardize debt sustainability.
Directors agreed that further progress in reducing inflation would provide room to lower the policy interest rate. They welcomed the authorities’ commitment to maintain a flexible exchange rate system, which will support rebuilding international reserves. They stressed that it will be important to strengthen the central bank’s independence, governance, and operational effectiveness.
Directors emphasized that it will be important to crowd in the private sector to support broad based growth, including through measures to increase access to financing. They noted that it will be key to safeguard financial stability through heightened and risk based supervision in light of lower interest rates and maturity lengthening of domestic debt.
Directors also noted the importance of strengthening the AML/CFT framework to address the decline in correspondent banking relationships. Directors urged a further improvement of the business environment and a strengthening of governance. They also noted that reducing income and gender inequality would support economic growth while achieving better social outcomes.