President Mohamed Nasheed has highlighted the financial problems the government is facing, mainly foreign debt and a gaping budget deficit.
In his speech President Nasheed reminded the Majlis of his address last year, when he said his “administration was prepared to provide equitable services to all citizens and to be accountable for the people.”
The president noted his administration had made “satisfactory progress in these endeavours,” but also mentioned some startling figures regarding budget deficit and debt.
In 2009 the government’s debt to foreign financial agencies and banks stood at US$553.8 million (Rf7 billion), which amounted to 37.6% of the country’s GDP. The government’s total expenditure for the same year was US$617.2 million (Rf7.9 billion).
The estimated government expenditure for 2010 is of US$648.4 million (Rf8.3 billion). The People’s Majlis approved a total of US$710.9 million (Rf9.1 billion) to be allocated for government spending.
The estimated revenue for 2010 is of US$781.2 million (Rf10 billion) and the estimated deficit for this year is of US$429.7 million (Rf5.5 billion).
Mr Rodrigo Cubero, IMF mission chief for Maldives, said in a press release issued in January 2010: “The Maldivian economy continues to face serious challenges. In particular, addressing the very large fiscal deficit is of paramount importance to secure a stable economy, equitable growth, and lasting poverty reduction.”
The government has said it plans to minimise the deficit by reducing government expenditure, including by cutting down the number of public servants and decentralising several government agencies. Both measures have encountered heavy opposition.
On this subject, President Nasheed said “the government will continue to make every possible effort to bring about a positive change to the salaries of civil servants and government employees.”
The government will also “include processes to increase revenues of the state.” This includes the proposed taxation bills—the bill on administration of taxation, the bill on business profit tax, and a newly submitted bill on taxing from sales of tourism service providers.
The president said he was “confident that this Majlis will work to ensure that these…bills are passed as soon as possible.”
Permanent Secretary for the Finance Ministry Ismail Shafeeq explained that most of the debt was owed to “loans from foreign institutions, banks and other agencies” as well as foreign and domestic borrowings, most of which are being used in the economic development of the Maldives.
“The loans will take a long time to pay back, some of them are for 40 years,” said Shafeeq, but added that the government is making the payments on time.
“The deficit is a problem. It means a shortage – the government has spent so much.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in partnership with the UNDP, will be hosting the IV Maldives Partnership Forum, also known as the Donor’s Conference, later this month. The forum seeks to find foreign investment for their development plans, which would help significantly in lowering government expenditure.
“Reducing expenditure and restricting unnecessary spending” are key to solving the country’s financial debt, according to Shafeeq.
The government is also following recommendations from the IMF and ADB, both of whom have given out significant loans to the government for the economic development program.
In a press release produced by the IMF in December 2009 Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair of the IMF, Mr Takakoshi Kato, said:
“The authorities’ program, while subject to considerable risks, is strong, comprehensive, and well-focused, and deserves strong support of the international community. If fully implemented, it will put the Maldivian economy back on a path of macroeconomic stability and set the conditions for sustained economic growth and poverty reduction.”
President Nasheed said in his speech that “the government has embraced the advice of international financial agencies and begun the implementation of some of the measures suggested by these agencies. We have started enjoying the benefits of these measures.”
The IMF allocated a loan of US$92.5 million last December to go towards the economic recovery program.
The ADB has assisted with two loans, one of US$\1.5 million and one of US$3 million. Both are to go towards the economic recovery programme.
The Ministry of Finance could not provide Minivan News with the estimated debt for 2010 at time of publication.