IMF urges parliament to expedite fiscal responsibility legislation

A delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged MPs to expedite legislation on fiscal responsibility, at a meeting with parliament’s Finance Committee and Economic Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

According to the parliament secretariat, the IMF team told MPs that passage of the fiscal responsibility bill currently being reviewed by the Economic Affairs Committee was the most important measure the People’s Majlis could take to improve the country’s economic outlook.

A fiscal responsibility bill to impose limits on government spending and ensure public debt sustainability was submitted to parliament in 2011 by the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed as part of an economic reform package.

Presenting the bill in August 2011, MP Ahmed Easa of the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said a lot of effort was needed to “change the inherited, outdated and indebted economic system.”

As measures to legally mandate fiscal responsibility, the legislation proposed setting limits on government spending and public debt based on proportion of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Borrowing from the central bank or Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) should not exceed seven percent of the projected revenue for the year, according to the bill, while such loans would have to be paid back in a six-month period.

Moreover, the bill proposed that a statement outlining the government’s mid-term fiscal policy must be submitted annually to parliament at the end of the financial year in July.

Meanwhile, according to parliament, members of the IMF mission currently in the Maldives are Overall Coordinator Dr Koshy Mathai, Dr Fazurin Jamaludin, Nicholas Million, Dr Nandaka Molagoda, and Jules Tapsoba.

Ahmed Munawwar, Manager of the Monetary Policy Section of the MMA also attended yesterday’s meeting.

According to the latest figures from the Finance Ministry the fiscal deficit as of November 4 stands at MVR 2.4 billion (US$155.6 million), with government spending of MVR 10.4 billion (US$674.4 million) outstripping revenues of MVR 8 billion (US$518.8 million) so far this year.

Of the MVR 10 billion in expenditure, MVR 7.6 billion (US$492.8 million) was on recurrent expenditure – salaries and allowances for government employees and administrative costs – while MVR 1.5 billion (US$103.7 million) was spent on repaying loans and interest payments.

Fiscal imbalance

In April 2012, Jonathan Dunn, chief of the IMF mission to the Maldives, told Minivan News that the country’s fiscal deficit was “substantially understated.”

The remarks followed the IMF warning of dire consequences if expenditure was not curbed to rein in the ballooning budget deficit.

Speaking in parliament on behalf of the former government in August 2011, MP Easa meanwhile noted that according to the World Bank, a 66 percent increase in salaries and allowances for government employees between 2006 and 2008 was “by far the highest increase in compensation over a three year period to government employees of any country in the world.”

“We are seeing the bitter consequences today of spending out of the budget without any control or limit,” MP Easa had said.

Dunn had meanwhile emphasised in April 2012 that “fiscal imbalances in the Maldives have been present for many years” and that “fiscal adjustment remains necessary”.

Faced with increasing pressure from the IMF to lower expenditure after failed attempts in 2010 to keep in place unpopular pay cuts for civil servants – a maneuver blocked by the Civil Services Commission (CSC) and backed the then opposition – former President Nasheed’s administration insisted that increased revenue from the new taxes would match expenditure, and boasted that the 2012 budget was the first in many years to balance income and expenditure.

Following the police mutiny and controversial transfer of presidential power, spending by President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration had escalated as it sought to shore up support in a fractious political environment.

Moreover, in September 2012, a pair of government-aligned MPs blamed President Waheed’s lack of solid policies for the increase in state expenditure.

Newly-announced expenditure in first few months of the Waheed administration included: