The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned that economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is slowing sharply.
In its latest African Economic Outlook, entitled “Dealing with the Gathering Clouds”, the Fund said the poorest continent was likely to grow 3.75 percent this year and 4.25 percent next, a big drop from the years before and after the 2008/2009 financial crisis.
Next year, the report forecasts growth of 4.25%.
The reasons for the economic slowdown included a sharp decline in commodity prices and tough financing conditions in several countries, together with a slowdown in the Chinese economy, are the main reasons for the overall downturn, the IMF says.
“The strong growth momentum evident in the region in recent years has dissipated,” the report said. “With the possibility that the external environment might turn even less favourable, risks to this outlook remain on the downside.”
Hardest-hit have been sub-Sahara's eight oil exporters – led by top producers Nigeria and Angola – although others such as Botswana, Ghana, Zambia and South Africa were also suffering from weak minerals prices, power shortages and difficult financing conditions.
China is the region's largest trading partner and many African countries have benefited hugely from exporting raw materials to the country.
To counter the drag on growth the IMF urged the region to adopt realistic fiscal and monetary policies and address the high income and gender inequality. The policies could include allowing currency depreciation as a shock absorber, especially in commodity exporting economies, and “striking an appropriate balance between debt sustainability considerations and addressing development needs.
“Reducing inequality could deliver significant growth payoffs for the region," it said. "Income inequality appears to be markedly higher at all levels of income in the region than elsewhere, with gender inequality being just one of the factors driving that result.”
Oil exporters such as Nigeria and Angola are being hit particularly hard by the slump in the oil price, which has fallen by more than 50% since mid-2014 to less than $50 a barrel.
The Economic Fund has called on African governments to adopt policies to lessen the impact of this economic slowdown, such as allowing currency depreciation to help boost exports.
It also urges governments to address income inequalities that are particularly high in the region, as well as gender inequality.
Nevertheless, countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Mozambique are still expected to grow at least 7% this year and next.
The regional current account deficit is expected to widen to 5.7% from 4.7% in 2014, marking the largest deficit in more than three decades, the IMF said, warning that commodity prices could still fall further”.
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Member of Parliament for Kanye North, Thapelo Letsholo has cautioned Government against excessive borrowing and poorly managed debt levels.
He was speaking in Parliament on Tuesday delivering Parliament’s Finance Committee report after assessing a motion that sought to raise Government Bond program ceiling to P30 billion, a big jump from the initial P15 Billion.
Government Investment Account (GIA) which forms part of the Pula fund has been significantly drawn down to finance Botswana’s budget deficits since 2008/09 Global financial crises.
The 2009 global economic recession triggered the collapse of financial markets in the United States, sending waves of shock across world economies, eroding business sentiment, and causing financiers of trade to excise heightened caution and hold onto their cash.
The ripple effects of this economic catastrophe were mostly felt by low to middle income resource based economies, amplifying their vulnerability to external shocks. The diamond industry which forms the gist of Botswana’s economic make up collapsed to zero trade levels across the entire value chain.
The Upstream, where Botswana gathers much of its diamond revenue was adversely impacted by muted demand in the Midstream. The situation was exacerbated by zero appetite of polished goods by jewelry manufacturers and retail outlets due to lowered tail end consumer demand.
This resulted in sharp decline of Government revenue, ballooned budget deficits and suspension of some developmental projects. To finance the deficit and some prioritized national development projects, government had to dip into cash balances, foreign reserves and borrow both externally and locally.
Much of drawing was from Government Investment Account as opposed to drawing from foreign reserve component of the Pula Fund; the latter was spared as a fiscal buffer for the worst rainy days.
Consequently this resulted in significant decline in funds held in the Government Investment Account (GIA). The account serves as Government’s main savings depository and fund for national policy objectives.
However as the world emerged from the 2009 recession government revenue graph picked up to pre recession levels before going down again around 2016/17 owing to challenges in the diamond industry.
Due to a number of budget surpluses from 2012/13 financial year the Government Investment Account started expanding back to P30 billion levels before a series of budget deficits in the National Development Plan 11 pushed it back to decline a decline wave.
When the National Development Plan 11 commenced three (3) financial years ago, government announced that the first half of the NDP would run at budget deficits.
This as explained by Minister of Finance in 2017 would be occasioned by decline in diamond revenue mainly due to government forfeiting some of its dividend from Debswana to fund mine expansion projects.
Cumulatively since 2017/18 to 2019/20 financial year the budget deficit totaled to over P16 billion, of which was financed by both external and domestic borrowing and drawing down from government cash balances. Drawing down from government cash balances meant significant withdrawals from the Government Investment Account.
The Government Investment Account (GIA) was established in accordance with Section 35 of the Bank of Botswana Act Cap. 55:01. The Account represents Government’s share of the Botswana‘s foreign exchange reserves, its investment and management strategies are aligned to the Bank of Botswana’s foreign exchange reserves management and investment guidelines.
Government Investment Account, comprises of Pula denominated deposits at the Bank of Botswana and held in the Pula Fund, which is the long-term investment tranche of the foreign exchange reserves.
In June 2017 while answering a question from Bogolo Kenewendo, the then Minister of Finance & Economic Development Kenneth Mathambo told parliament that as of June 30, 2017, the total assets in the Pula Fund was P56.818 billion, of which the balance in the GIA was P30.832 billion.
Kenewendo was still a back bench specially elected Member of Parliament before ascending to cabinet post in 2018. Last week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka, when presenting a motion to raise government local borrowing ceiling from P15 billion to P30 Billion told parliament that as of December 2019 Government Investment Account amounted to P18.3 billion.
Dr Matsheka further told parliament that prior to financial crisis of 2008/9 the account amounted to P30.5 billion (41 % of GDP) in December of 2008 while as at December 2019 it stood at P18.3 billion (only 9 % of GDP) mirroring a total decline by P11 billion in the entire 11 years.
Back in 2017 Parliament was also told that the Government Investment Account may be drawn-down or added to, in line with actuations in the Government’s expenditure and revenue outturns. “This is intended to provide the Government with appropriate funds to execute its functions and responsibilities effectively and efficiently” said Mathambo, then Minister of Finance.
Acknowledging the need to draw down from GIA no more, current Minister of Finance Dr Matsheka said “It is under this background that it would be advisable to avoid excessive draw down from this account to preserve it as a financial buffer”
He further cautioned “The danger with substantially reduced financial buffers is that when an economic shock occurs or a disaster descends upon us and adversely affects our economy it becomes very difficult for the country to manage such a shock”