Feature International News Latest News Politics

Terkper shares thoughts on 2019 Mid-year Budget Review

DON’T RUSH TO PRAISE ALL OF AFRICA’S “POPULAR” BUT FISCALLY UNSUSTAINABLE PROGRAMS

Introduction

– Context is 2019 Mid-Year Review and the need to be realistic about the fiscal prospects for the country—based on past views in interviews and articles.

– A general call on those who relate to Africa and its leaders not to ingratiate or praise all “popular policies and initiatives”, even if well-meaning, that eventually lead to waste of fiscal and economic resources—even disaster.

– The call goes for domestic leaders (e.g., chiefs, experts, clergy) and foreigners (e.g., multilateral and bilateral institutions, development partners, CSOs, professionals, etc).

Background

– Even the President now concedes (e.g., Oxford University lectures) that the Free Senior High School (F-SHS) will take a lot of resources, including:

– diversion of petroleum revenues from the path of investment to consumption

– including early hints of the use of “Heritage Fund” for F-SHS;

– accumulation of arrears (e.g., pensions, roads, bailouts cost, etc) at May Day Speech;

– higher levels of borrowing than the government had anticipated; and

– despite three (3) (two (2) additional) oil fields with almost 3 times the output since 2017 and recovery of prices that has tripled revenue from petroleum.

– It will involve serious long-term commitment—merit only in leaving a legacy that future leaders will grapple with for decades.

– Note that the Minister for Finance also highlighted the point but was quickly shouted down by hawks within the Cabinet and the Party.

The “unsustainable promise” of F-SHS and other political promises

F-SHS appeared sustainable because—

Unlike the original promise of a “big bang” during elections (starting with all students), SHS program was “staggered” to start with only Year 1 students:

– Years 2 and 3 students continued to pay fees—while program remained “untargeted”, with even middle-class and affluent parents benefitting;

– additional petroleum (oil and gas) revenues provided initial buffer from 2017—but these one-time inflows are against expanding expenditures (F-SHS and other very expensive electoral promises such as 1D1F);

– averting global and SSA recession and investments in energy sector

Ghana among few SSA states to avoid recession

– reverse rate of accumulation of national debt from positive to negative;

– investing directly and supporting private-sector investments in TEN and Sankofa petroleum fields;

– a substantial part of highly-rated fiscal consolidation came through another “illusion”—budget “offsets” rather than a program of paying down arrears;

– bequeath of buffers—previous administration bequeathed buffers:

a. Sinking Fund: use to pay off outstanding balance of Ghana’s first 2007 Sovereign Bond;

b. Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund (GIIF): balanced used; VAT flow diverted to consumption; and no further allocations made to Fund;

c. Energy Sector Levy (ESLA): continuous flow of Ghc3 billion annually for clearing arrears directed at providing relief for domestic banks;

GDP “rebasing” provided fiscal room and breadth, through

– room for borrowing through GDP growth and “illusionary” lowering of Debt/GDP ratio that is being trumpeted as an achievement by the government; and

– deferred the impact of increasing costs.

– “capping”—has not provided needed fiscal relief, despite diverting vital resources from vulnerable programs (i.e., education {GETFund} and health {NHIL}; rural development {DACF}; and institutions {IGF}

Fiscal signs not favourable—going into Mid-Year

– one-time cushions—the “bump” in GDP growth from rebasing and additional crude/gas production is “one-time” and will no longer cushion the worsening indicators like debt and budget deficit;

arrears owed to contractors and suppliers—large amounts owing to these vital economic players in various sectors, including Presidential initiatives, are becoming apparent and are now acknowledged by the Government—

– pensions—concession at May Day celebrations by HE the President;

– contractors and suppliers—concessions by Roads and Finance ministries and “demonstrations” by contractors;

– salaries—civil servants, nurses, and presidential initiative employees;

– banking sector “bail-out” costs—despite unprecedented funds from ESLA;

F-SHS—no comprehensive disclosure yet to Parliament and the nation on true costs and inevitable arrears;

– increasing tax burden—retention of temporary (“nuisance”) taxes & introduction of new tax measures

– retention of temporary (“nuisance”) taxes such as ESLA, special import levy (SIL), national fiscal stabilization levy (NFSL)

– implicit.increase in ESLA levies:  introduced at a period of low crude prices low US$40s pbl so consumers are paying more now at current higher price above US$60pbl;

Implicit ESLA levy: levy should have lasted 3-to-5 years but increased duration of ESLA Bond to 7-to-10 years;

– new tax measures—increase in top rate of personal income tax (PIT); 2.5 percent increase in VAT rate (from 15% to 17.5%); luxury tax (user fee) on vehicles; blocking VAT input tax credit (ITC);

– discretionary change in basis (valuation and classification) for calculating import duties, VAT, fees/charges; etc;

– fiscal expansion—the worsening fiscal gap may not taper or abate due to

– subtle, not bold, new tax measures (e.g., luxury tax etc.)

– continuing with expenditure programs (likely borrowing, not reallocation to support the pace of president’s electoral promises;

– fiscal deficit and borrowing—these indicators are deteriorating fast and corrections for offsets in, and lowering of estimates, will make these indicators worse;borrowing to support the increasing fiscal deficit;

– borrowing to finance belated infrastructure;

– pledge of resources (e.g., royalties from minerals, bauxite deposits, etc.) to support the budget;

– Sinking Fund—despite three (3) oil fields, not using the SF to reduce debt (as was done from one (1) oil field for the NPPs first 2007 Sovereign Bond;

– Ghana Infrastructure Investment Fund (GIIF)—diverting funds (i.e., VAT and ABFA) for investment in infrastructure to consumption.

Wanted now—cautious voices

“Measured” approach is fiscally prudent—being “measured” with

– F-SHS [e.g., alternative “progressive” approach] and other programs is consistent with fiscal prudence, as elicited in Public Financial Management Act [PFMA] and Budget Responsibility Act [BRA];

– Benefits of being “realistic”—refreshing to hear the voices of caution emerging

– Domestic experts—professors, experts, think tanks, and chairperson of vital constitutional commission have sounded note of caution;

– Opinion leaders—it is important for other domestic opinion leaders to follow a realistic lead (e.g., clergy and chiefs must reflect condition in religious and community schools);

– IMF/WB MD—sounded note of caution, not ringing endorsement, on government expenditure and debt programs; nonetheless

– roll-back of tax measures (e.g., VAT on non-core financial sector and commercial real estate) in Program;

– failing to acknowledge Ghana’s avoidance of recession; permitting fiscal expansion; and not being critical of “offsets” that underestimated arrears and gave impression of accelerated fiscal expansion;

– Development Partners (DPs)—countries that may be capable of free (education) social programs choose to make them “targeted” (i.e., tuition-free programs, as Ghana had) and adopting alternative options (e.g., concessional student loans);

 – Preference for using fiscal support for investments, not consumption, is global

– in advanced countries (e.g., quantitative easing): invest in infrastructure to support private sector and rural/urban development, not place scarce fiscal resources in consumption;

– MIC states—approach adopted by middle-income countries (MICs) such as Emirates and Asian economies;

– Developing countries—Angola and South Africa now showing a preference for infrastructure development through Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) as in Ghana’s PRMA.

Conclusion

– Current fiscal environment is different from late 2014-16 when many SSA countries were headed into recession, due to global financial crisis, fall in crude oil and other commodity prices, and domestic pressures such as non-supply of gas from Nigeria

– Now, three (1) oilfields, not one (1); rebound in commodity prices, and, therefore, enhanced budget buffers.

– Problem is unbridled expenditure due to electoral promises; non-conventional approach to managing arrears; and borrowing

– Time for realistic review and appraisal as well as domestic and international experts toning down their praise or holding back their reservations on Africa’s politically-motivated “popular” but unsustainable electoral and fiscal promises.Source: Ghana|Seth E. Terkper

LEAVE A RESPONSE

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *