World Bank provides US$6.5 million grant for public financial management system

The World Bank has approved a US$6.5 million International Development Association (IDA) grant to support the strengthening of the Public Financial Management (PFM) System of the Maldives, which would help “government institutions to make informed decisions on fiscal adjustments in an efficient manner”.

In a press release on Tuesday (July 15), the World Bank noted that “a high level of fiscal discipline” was needed for translating the current administration’s key policies and objectives into “a medium-term development strategy”.

“A key challenge for the country will be to ensure that the government’s social and economic goals are fully consistent with the urgent need for fiscal consolidation to restore fiscal and debt sustainability, said Country Director for Sri Lanka and Maldives Francoise Clottes.

“We are happy to assist the government in this endeavour with both financial and technical support.”

According to the World Bank, “the project will help enhance budget credibility, transparency, and financial reporting of central government finances.”

“The entry points for intervention will be the Economic Policy Planning Section, National Budget Formulation and Analysis Section, Debt Management Division, Tender Evaluation Section, Secretariat of the Privatisation and Corporatisation Board, and Treasury and Public Accounts Division; internal audit sections; and line ministries.”

“The project design also includes support to strengthen the institutional framework of key Ministry of Finance and Treasury functions and to enhance knowledge transfer through on-the-job training by technical experts,” said Jiwanka Wickramasinghe, Task Team Leader of the Project.

The press statement noted that the proposed PFM Systems Strengthening Project would contribute to the government’s long-term and “overarching goal by addressing the most urgent PFM weaknesses.”

Macroeconomic challenges

In its annual global economic prospects report released last month, the World Bank had predicted a positive outlook for the Maldivian economy in 2014 with a projected GDP growth of 4.5 percent, “driven by strong tourist arrivals, particularly by robust growth in the Chinese tourist segment.”

The Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) had also revealed earlier in June that economic activity expanded in the first quarter of 2014 “driven by the strong growth of the tourism sector during the ongoing high season of the industry.”

The central bank noted that the 10 percent annual increase in arrivals during the first quarter was “entirely driven by the significant increase (24 percent) in arrivals from the Chinese market.”

Meanwhile, in late May, a delegation from the World Bank led by the World Bank Vice President Philippe Le Houérou – in his first visit to the Maldives since assuming the post in July 2013 – met President Abdulla Yameen and agreed to work with the government in developing a national strategy for fostering growth and consolidating public finances.

The discussion focused on “the need to reduce fiscal deficits, create a favourable investment climate for the private sector and delivery of key public services,” according to a press release from the World Bank.

Le Houérou noted that the challenges faced by the Maldives includes “balancing public accounts while delivering public services on some 200 islands across hundreds of kilometres of the Indian Ocean.

The issue is how Maldives can make the most of its potential in order to achieve inclusive and sustainable development.”

In May, MMA Governor Dr Azeema Adam called for “bold decisions” to ensure macroeconomic stability by reducing expenditure – “especially the untargeted subsidies” – and increasing revenue.

In a report on macroeconomic developments in 2013, the MMA had warned that shortfalls in revenue or overruns in expenditure in 2014 “will undermine medium-term debt sustainability” and adversely affect the exchange rate and prices.

Despite a positive outlook for growth, “there is a considerable amount of uncertainty surrounding the 2014 budget. Overruns in current expenditure will most likely lead to financing difficulties for the government or further crowding out of the private sector,” the central bank warned.

“Any setback to fiscal consolidation either due to slippages in revenue or current expenditure will undermine medium-term debt sustainability and will have adverse implications for exchange rate and prices.”


Travel, foreign ministry expenses soar over last 30 days

State expenditures reached Rf1.3 billion in almost one month, the Finance Ministry has revealed.

Government spending exceeded the income of Rf7.5 billion, reaching Rf9 billion by October 20.

Monthly expenditures average at a figure lower than Rf1 billion.

Although a majority of state income is spent on loans and shareholdings annually, expense records indicate that government travel and costs incurred by the Foreign Ministry took the biggest hike in the last 30 days.

Between January 1 and October 13, Rf715 million was spent on providing loans and loan repayment. Another Rf556 million was spent on companies in which the government holds shares.

Rf87 million, a majority of state income, has so far been spent on travel costs for government officials, parliament and the judiciary. Nearly one-quarter of those expenses, Rf21 million, were charged last month.

The Foreign Ministry recorded the largest expenditure last month at Rf118 million. That monthly sum doubled the Rf107 million which had been spent during the previous nine months, reports Haveeru.

The second largest amount of state expenditures were accounted for by the Tax Appeal Tribunal, which recorded a 59 percent increase in costs.

According to Finance Ministry records, the state spent Rf1.6 billion in capital expenditure. Rf6.5 billion was spent on recurrent costs, approximately half of which went to wages and salaries (Rf3.6 billion).

Rf905 million was spent on completing unfinished buildings.


Fiscal deficit in 2011 expected to fall to single digit, says President

The government expects the fiscal deficit to have fallen to a single digit at the end of the year, below the previous forecast of 11 percent of GDP, President Mohamed Nasheed said in his weekly radio address on Friday.

“The budget deficit as a percentage of GDP or national productivity has been estimated for next year at [budget] meetings with ministers and heads of government offices,” he said. “From that estimate we know that government expenditure has been substantially reduced in a number of different areas. For this year, we forecast a budget deficit of 11 percent. We have noted now that it has been reduced by three or four points.”

The government hoped that the fiscal deficit would be below 10 or “a single digit figure” when it is calculated at the end of the year, he said.

The budget deficit, which stood at just 1.9 percent of the economy in 2004, expanded to 7.3 percent in 2006 and ballooned to 23.9 percent in 2007, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The fiscal deficit exploded on the back of a 400 percent increase in the government’s wage bill between 2004 and 2009, with tremendous growth between 2007 and 2009. On paper, the government increased average salaries from Rf3000 to Rf11,000 and boosted the size of the civil service from 24,000 to 32,000 people – 11 percent of the total population of the country – doubling government spending from 35 percent of GDP to 60 percent from 2004 to 2006.

While preliminary figures had pegged the 2010 fiscal deficit at 17.75 percent, “financing information points to a deficit of around 20-21 percent of GDP”, down from 29 percent in 2009, the IMF noted in March this year.

“We see bringing the fiscal deficit down as the key macroeconomic priority for the Maldives,” the IMF’s Mission Chief to the Maldives, Rodrigo Cubero, told Minivan News at the time. “A large fiscal deficit pushes up interest rates, thereby undermining private investment and growth, and also drives up imports, putting pressure on the exchange rate and inflation, all of which hurts the Maldivian people, particularly the poor.”

“Further efforts are still needed to reduce the fiscal deficit. Those efforts should comprise further tax reforms as well as measures to reduce expenditure and to improve the channelling of social expenditures to the needy.”

Meanwhile in a booklet issued to media titled “the DRP’s response to the government’s economic nuisance package,” the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) strongly objected to a bill on fiscal responsibility currently before parliament.

The bill was “a plot” devised to wrest financial control from local councils and negate parliament’s contentious amendments to the Public Finance Act, the DRP argued.

The DRP also noted that provisions on imposing limits to government spending would only come into force after 2013.

“In the past three years, the MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party] government earned billions of rufiya by selling off state assets, facilitating business opportunities for their friends and introducing new taxes,” the DRP said. “Nonetheless, while the health sector, the education and overall standard of living has gone from bad to worse, it is unclear how the government spent the billions and billions of rufiya it received.”