Finance Ministry instructs offices to implement cost-cutting measures

The Ministry of Finance and Treasury last week issued a circular to all government offices and state institutions with instructions to implement cost-cutting measures during the final month of the year.

The circular (Dhivehi) signed by Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad ordered offices to cancel all overseas trips, such as for study tours and training, and to seek approval from the ministry for all official trips that were not completely funded by foreign parties; cancel all repair work for the rest of December; and cancel purchases of capital items that were not included in the public sector investment programme (PSIP).

Finance Minister Jihad and Economic Development Minister Ahmed Mohamed were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

In the circular, the Finance Ministry noted that 15 percent had previously been deducted from office budgets to reduce the fiscal deficit “as a result of income being lower than estimated in the 2012 budget passed by parliament.”

However, since government spending necessary to provide essential services to the public could not be reduced, “the state’s expenditure has to be further controlled as additional measures are needed to reduce the state’s budget deficit,” the circular stated.

In July, the Finance Ministry instructed all government offices to reduce their budgets by 15 percent, with only 14 of 35 offices complying by the given deadline.

“Some offices will face difficulties. But we don’t have a choice,” Jihad told local media at the time.

However, in the same month the Finance Ministry decided to reimburse civil servants for the amount deducted from their salaries in 2010 as part of the previous government’s austerity measures.

The deducted amounts, totalling MVR 443.7 million (US$28.8 million), were to be paid back in monthly instalments starting in July.


Explaining how finances were raised for the government this year, Jihad told parliament’s budget committee last week that a large number of treasury bills (T-bills) were sold to Champa Brothers when the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) commenced sales to private parties in August this year.

Sun Online reported that Champa Brothers purchased T-bills worth US$11 million.

MMA T-bills with maturity dates of 28 days are sold at 7.73 percent interest, 91 days at 7.70 percent interest, 182 days at 7.55 percent interest, and 364 days at 7.70 percent interest.

The MMA made an announcement yesterday (December 10) seeking investors for “private placements” of treasury bills and bonds denominated in both US Dollars and Dhivehi Rufiyaa (MVR).

Meanwhile, according to the weekly financial statement as of December 6, total government expenditure stands at MVR 11.7 billion (US$758.7 million), outstripping total revenues in 2012 of MVR 9 billion (US$583.6 million).

The government spending includes MVR 8.7 billion (US$564 million) in recurrent expenditure, MVR 1.3 billion (US$84 million) in capital expenditure and MVR 1.7 billion (US$110 million) for loan repayments, resulting in a deficit of MVR 2.7 billion (US$175 million) so far.

Of the recurrent expenditure, MVR4.48 billion (US$290 million) was spent on salaries and allowances for employees and MVR 4.2 billion (US$272 million) on office administrative costs.

In November, a mission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) urged the government to implement a raft of measures to reduce spending and raise revenue with higher taxes and revised import duties.

The mission advised the government that taming the ballooning fiscal deficit was “the most pressing macroeconomic priority for the Maldives.”

“The fiscal deficit is expected to rise in 2012 to 16 percent of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] in cash terms, and likely even higher if one accounts for the government’s unpaid bills, accumulated in an increasingly challenging environment for financing,” the IMF mission stated.

In April 2012, the head of a previous IMF mission to the Maldives told Minivan News that the country’s fiscal deficit was “substantially understated” at less than 10 percent of GDP as projected in the 2012 budget, predicting a figure closer to 17.5 percent of GDP or higher.

“The large deficit has implied a rise in the public debt ratio, which now stands at over 80 percent of GDP, and has also helped to boost national imports, thus worsening dollar shortages in the economy and putting pressure on MMA [Maldives Monetary Authority] reserves,” the most recent IMF mission said in its statement.

Debt and deficit

In his budget speech to parliament last month, Finance Minister Jihad said total spending in 2012 was expected to be MVR 16.5 billion (US$1 billion) while revenues would reach MVR9.4 billion (US$609 million).

The revenue forecast in the 2012 budget was however MVR 11 billion (US$713 million).

“At the end of 2012, the state’s budget deficit is estimated to be at MVR 4.3 billion (US$278 million). That is 12.6 percent of GDP,” Jihad revealed.

According to the Finance Ministry, government spending on loan repayment and interest payments was expected to reach MVR 3.1 billion (US$201 million) in 2012.

Including an estimated MVR 13 billion (US$843 million) in domestic debt, the total public debt is expected to reach MVR 27 billion (US$1.7 billion) in 2012 and MVR 31 billion (US$2 billion) in 2013 – 82 percent of GDP.

As a result of financing budget deficits with loans for the past six years, ‘total external public and public guaranteed debt’ was estimated to reach MVR 13.7 billion (US$888 million) in 2012.

Moreover, the government spent more than MVR 1 billion (US$64.8 million) in 2011 and MVR 1.1 billion (US$71.3 million) in 2012 to service foreign debts as interest and repayments.

The figure was forecast to remain the same in 2013.


IMF pursues government and parliament cost cutting with Maldives mission

The Maldives government has claimed it remains committed to working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in addressing its concerns on cutting state expenditure, following protests claimed to have been instigated as part of a “youth movement” concerned over rising living costs.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair told Minivan News that the IMF had travelled to the Maldives this week to meet with various organisations and individuals, including President Mohamed Nasheed and the Majlis’ Public Finance Committee as part of a mission to oversee a national economic recovery plan.

“They were visiting as part of a wider mission in the country including meeting with the president where they retread concerns over plans to reduce state expenditure,” he said.

The government’s fiscal policy has become a major national issue after a week of consecutive protests held earlier this month across Male’, which organisers claimed had been instigated initially by young Maldivians and supported by opposition politicians.

Protesters are said to have been particularly concerned with the government’s controversial decision to last month devalue its currency, allowing the rufiya to be traded within 20 percent of the pegged rate of Rf12.85 to the dollar – a move welcomed by the IMF.

Amidst the backdrop of perceived public and political dissatisfaction with government finances, Zuhair said that the IMF’s meeting with the Public Finance Committee had aimed to encourage parliament to consider government initiatives to try and increase direct state revenues to balance budget deficits.

“There are several bills on taxation currently under consideration in parliament and an amendment to the Tourism Goods and Services Tax (GST) – implemented in January this year on all services and goods purchased by tourists – from 3.5 percent to five percent,” he said. “I think it is interesting to note that there are many resort owners in parliament.”

While supporting initiatives to reduce costs that have led to ongoing public protests in the country, the Treasurer of The Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI), Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor, said that the the planned addition of a minimum wage and a Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all businesses operating in the country needed to be gradually implemented.

Speaking earlier this month, Abdul Gafoor claimed that gradual introduction would be vital to ensure the nation’s fledgling economy can cope with any potential changes.

Alongside a parallel aim to try and create new job opportunities for young people, Zuhair claimed that the government had in general been closely following the recommendations of the IMF in trying to cut the state’s wage bill for political appointees and civil servants.

To this end, he said that the government had moved to try and reduce the wages of political appointees by 20 percent and civil servants by 15 percent.

“In enacting these cuts we were hoping that the Majlis would follow and also cut wages. The institution failed to do this as well as the judiciary,” he claimed. “The government as a result had to move to reinstate the wages it had cut.”

Zuhair claimed that the government had been working in line with IMF recommendations and had even tried to perform additional cuts unrequested by the finance body in areas such as reducing appointee wage spending.

Despite pushing ahead with its attempted financial reforms, the government has said that it has opted to meet with some of the youth figures said to be at the heart of organising protests seen in Male’ this month.

However, the session held yesterday was reportedly cut short when Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz walked out at the meeting claiming that the youth delegation included the leader of the opposition-allied People’s Alliance (PA) sports wing, and two others he claimed were “new political figures” created by senior party officials.

“I waited in the meeting until we could address the real issues, but they kept on criticising the government policy and some of the government projects,’’ Inaz told Minivan News. ‘’I did not want to have a heated political debate – we went there to negotiate with the youth regarding the dollar issues, not for a political debate.’’

Mohamed Ahsan, a spokesperson from the youth delegation, said the group was unable to clarify information it wanted from the Finance Ministry as the minister had left the meeting, though senior representatives of the Maldives Monetary Authority remained.

“The MMA officials were very cooperative,” he said. “We found out that the government have not been implementing the MMA’s suggestions to its full extent,’’ said Ahsan. “The MMA clarified almost all the information we required.”

He also said the finance minister “took it politically” because a PA member was present at the meeting.

‘’We have decided to recommence the protests, but due to exams we have temporarily delayed it,’’ he said. ‘’Once the examinations are over we will restart the protests.’’

A first round of negotiations held last week were described as “very upsetting” by the opposition’s Gayoom faction after the delegation accused President’s Office representative Shauna Aminath of stating that the “political solution” to the country’s economic woes was the arrest for the former President.

“We met with four people who claimed to represent youth,” Shauna said. “They presented a piece of paper they said was a youth proposal, but there was almost no discussion of what was on it.
“They talked a little about youth unemployment, and the rising price of milk, cooking oil and petrol. They said that young people did not have enough money to pay for coffees or petrol for their motorbikes.”

The group of four had “repeated the same messages being aired by [opposition] political parties: that the government had sold the airport to GMR, Dhiraggu to [Cable and Wireless], and that six people had control of the entire economy.

“Then they said they understood that the government’s [managed float of the rufiya] was necessary, but were concerned the government had not spoken about it beforehand.”

Back in March, MP for the People’s Alliance (PA) party and a member of the Majlis’ Public Finance Committee said that he believed current government policy was ultimately stifling economic development, claiming administrative costs within the civil service remained a notable problem.

“We have small percentage [of funds] to invest in the economy. We cannot move finances to a higher level though as the government doesn’t have the right policies to do this,” he claimed. “For instance, we need to reduce the number of [inhabited] islands by linking them and cutting the overall number of cost centres required for decentralisation.

The comments were made as the IMF claimed that the Maldives economy remained “unsustainable” even after cuts made to the annual 2011 budget, as it concluded its Article IV consultation earlier during the year.