Nigeria’s economy on the brink, IMF calls for broad market reforms Updated for 2021

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Updated: March 5, 2021

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday called for “broad market reforms” in the Nigerian economy, saying the coronavirus pandemic remained a big drain.

Specifically, the Washington DC-based institution said the COVID-19 pandemic was exacting a heavy toll on the economy with real GDP contracting, inflation increasing, and external vulnerabilities remaining large.

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Exchange rate and monetary policy reforms, increased revenue mobilization and structural reforms will help to unlock Nigeria’s growth potential, the IMF said.

The assessment came three weeks after an IMF staff team led by Jesmin Rahman conducted a virtual mission from October 30 to November 17, 2020 in the context of the 2020 Article IV Consultation with Nigeria.

“The COVID-19 global pandemic is exacting a heavy toll on the Nigerian economy, which was already experiencing falling per capita income and double-digit inflation, with limited buffers and structural bottlenecks,” Jesmin Rahman wrote in a statement made public in Washington DC on Friday. “Low oil prices and sharp capital outflows have significantly increased balance of payments (BOP) pressures and, together with the pandemic-related lockdown, have led to a large output contraction and increased unemployment. Supply shortages have pushed up headline inflation to a 30-month high.”

Rahman added: “Under current policies, the outlook is challenging. Real GDP is projected to contract by 3¼ percent in 2020. The recovery is projected to start in 2021, with subdued growth of 1½ percent and output recovering to its pre-pandemic level only in 2022.”

Rahman said without monetary policy reforms, inflation is projected to remain in double-digits and above the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) target range, despite an expected easing of food prices.

Rahman wrote: Following a significant decline in revenue collections—from levels that were already among the lowest in the world—fiscal deficits are projected to remain elevated in the medium term. There are significant downside risks to this near-term outlook arising from the uncertain course of the pandemic both globally and in Nigeria.

“Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Nigerian authorities have undertaken commendable and timely measures to counter the pandemic’s impact on lives and livelihoods. The Federal Government adopted a revised budget in July which removed fuel subsidies and prioritized spending to make room for a support package, which included higher subsidies on CBN credit intervention facilities and regulatory forbearance measures to ease debt service in affected sectors. The authorities have also taken courageous steps to remove costly and untargeted subsidies in the power sector, which were largely benefiting better-off households.

“But more needs to be done. Major policy adjustments embracing broad market and exchange rate reforms are needed to address recurrent BOP pressures and raise the medium-term growth path.

“A durable solution to Nigeria’s recurrent BOP problems requires recalibrating exchange rate policies to reduce BOP risks, instill market confidence and facilitate private sector planning. The adjustments in the official exchange rate made earlier this year are steps in the right direction and the mission recommended a multi-step transition to a more unified exchange rate regime, with a market-based, flexible exchange rate.

“Significant revenue mobilization—including through tax policy and administration improvements—is required to create space for higher social spending and reduce fiscal risks and debt vulnerabilities. With high poverty rates and only a gradual recovery in prospect, revenue mobilization will need to rely initially on progressive and efficiency-enhancing measures, with higher VAT and excise rates awaiting until stronger economic recovery takes root.

“The mission welcomed this year’s reduced dependence on central bank financing of the budget and recommended its complete removal in the medium term. This could be accomplished by improving budget planning and public finance management practices to allow for flexible financing from domestic markets and better integration of cash and debt management.

“The mission also welcomed fiscal transparency measures introduced to facilitate tracking and reporting of budget emergency funding. New budget lines have been created, with information on monthly expenditures using emergency funding posted on the Ministry of Finance’s Transparency Portal. The Bureau of Public Procurement has also issued guidelines on COVID-19 emergency fund use, and the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal has been publishing related procurement contracts. Further steps are needed to ensure more consistent access to the Transparency Portal and publication of contract details relating to beneficiary ownership.

“The mission welcomed the recent submission of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) to the Parliament. The Fiscal Framework chapter of the bill appropriately rebalances the government take in onshore/offshore production, with the aim of providing a fair share to the government while remaining attractive to investors.

“The mission agreed with the CBN that the accommodative monetary stance remains appropriate in the near term given the constrained fiscal space, large fiscal financing needs and strained sovereign external market access. However, if BOP and inflationary pressures intensify, there might be a need to withdraw liquidity or raise rates. Given weak transmission and record low market interest rates, further cuts in the Monetary Policy Rate are unlikely to provide additional support to the economy.In the medium term, the operational monetary policy framework, along with policy strategy and communication, should be strengthened to establish the primacy of price stability.

“While the banking sector has been resilient thanks to the ample pre-crisis buffers, the mission recommended vigilance and corrective actions to prevent an increase in financial stability risks arising inter alia from increasing non-performing loans. In this connection, debt relief measures for clients should remain time-bound and limited to clients with good pre-crisis fundamentals, in line with existing regulations. The minimum loan to deposit ratio should be reconsidered because of the risk to financial stability associated with pushing credit possibly to higher-risk clients. Regarding financial inclusion, the mission welcomed notable progress in narrowing gender and regional gaps in access to financial services, including through fostering financial literacy, agency banking and use of fintech.

“On the structural front, the approval of the power sector recovery program financing plan, the ratification of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and the completion of key road projects are positive steps. Going forward, the mission recommended decisive actions to tackle governance weaknesses and implement regulatory and trade-enabling reforms, including the lifting of trade restrictions, to unlock Nigeria’s strong growth potential. Moreover, it is critical to continue strengthening the anti-corruption framework and implement plans to improve the effectiveness of the AML/CFT framework.”

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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