Despite India requesting repayment of US$100 million in treasury bonds by February 2013, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad has said his earlier fears that the Maldives would be unable to cover expenditure for the final months of 2012 were “no longer a concern”.
Jihad told Minivan News that India was also yet to provide a final US$25 million installment of a promised loan, one Jihad said just last month was vital to ensure the Maldives could cover its wage bill.
The Maldives is now required to pay US$50 million in T-bond payments to India by next month, with a second payment due in February, local media has reported.
The Finance Ministry said the debt would be repaid through state reserves, which Sun Online reported could fall to US$140 million (MVR2.2 billion) once the payments to India are settled.
Concerns over state reserves are shared by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which earlier this month called on the Maldives to introduce a raft of new measures to try and raise revenue and cut spending to alleviate a ballooning fiscal deficit.
“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, following its visit to the Maldives.
Finance Minister Jihad said that as part of trying to balance the country’s expenditure, the Economic Ministry was attempting to secure private sector funding to make up any shortfalls in budget support resulting from a lack of funds anticipated from India. However, he did not give further details on the nature of the private sector groups presently being sought.
Jihad claimed that a “significant” part of the private sector focus would be through issuing treasury bills (T-bills) to the private sector as recommended earlier this year by the IMF.
“When we opened up treasury bills to the private sector initially there was no response,” he said. “However, there have now been consultations with private groups.”
T-bills, which are sold by governments all over the world, serve as a short-term debt obligation backed by sovereign states. In the Maldives, T-bills have a maximum maturity of six months, after which time they must be repaid.
Meanwhile, Jihad said the Finance Ministry had received no notice from Indian authorities regarding when it may receive the final US$25 million installment of a US$100 million loan agreed late last year. The finance minster said his department had been given no ultimatum or conditions to be met by Indian authorities in order to receive the money.
“I don’t know why the delay [in receiving the funds] has happened. You would need to ask the Indian High Commission about that,” he said.
The US$25 million was agreed as part of the $US100 million standby credit facility signed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2011.
Tensions between India and the Maldives has risen in recent months as divides within the coalition government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan began to appear over opposition to a contract signed by the previous government, to develop and manage the country’s main airport with Indian infrastructure group GMR.
The divides have threatened to spill into a major diplomatic incident in recent weeks, after the President’s Office issued a release distancing itself from the comments of its own spokesperson, Abbas Adil Riza, who had accused India’s representative in the Maldives of being “an enemy and a traitor to the Maldivian people”.
The dispute between the government and GMR – currently being heard in an arbitration case at Singapore’s High Court – has become increasingly acrimonious with ongoing demonstrations across Male’ and even the water ways surrounding the airport.
The demonstrations have been backed by certain parties within President Waheed’s coalition government, who have set him an ultimatum of reneging on the contract by the end of the month.
While the GMR contract is not implicitly backed by other coalition parties, several senior party figures have opted against plans to “take to the streets” in calling for the airport to be “renationalised” or acting in a manner that could potentially damage future foreign investment in the country.
The GMR contract, which was overseen by a number of organisations including the International Finance Corporation (IFC) – a member of the World Bank group – represents the largest ever foreign investment in the Maldives. President Waheed himself told Indian media that his government was committed to protecting foreign investments in the Maldives, despite questioning elements of the deal.
Earlier this year, President Waheed reportedly said he would not resort to borrowing from foreign governments in order to finance government activities.
“I will not try to run the government by securing huge loans from foreign parties. We are trying to spend from what we earn,” he was reported to have told the people of Nilandhoo.
“The Maldivian economy is fine. Don’t listen to whatever people say. We don’t have to [worry] about the Maldivian economy being in a slump,” he was quoted as saying at the time during a rally in Meedhoo.
Despite Waheed’s reassurances, October saw a number of state owned institutions face disconnection from the capital’s power grid as bills amounting to around MVR 150 million (US$9.7 million) were owed to the State Electricity Company (STELCO).
Responding to the institutions’ blaming of his ministry, Jihad at the time told Sun that the finances were simply not there.
“We are not receiving foreign aid as was included in the budget. How can we spend more than we receive? That’s why those bills are unpaid. We can’t spend money we don’t have,” he told the paper.
Since coming to power in February, the government has committed to reimbursing civil servants for wage reductions made during the austerity measures of the previous government, amounting to Rf443.7 million (US$28.8 million), to be disbursed in monthly installments over 12 months from July.
A MVR 100million (US$6.4 million) fuel subsidy for the fishing industry was also approved by the Majlis Finance Committee, with the hope of stimulating the ailing sector.
The overall deficit for government expenditure has already reached over MVR2billion (US$129million). Jihad has told the Majlis’ Finance Committee that he expected this figure to rise to MVR 6 billion (US$387 million) by year’s end – 28 percent of GDP – alleging that the previous government left unpaid bills equal to over one third of this anticipated deficit.
Former Minister of Economic Development Mahmood Razee has previously told Minivan News that this increased expenditure in the face of a pre-existing deficit represented the government “ignoring reality.”
“If they don’t get the loan, they will have to cut travel expenses, stop certain programs – take drastic measures or get another loan,” said Razee, claiming that the only alternative would be to sell treasury bills.
Following reports in August that the government was attempting to raise funds through the sale of treasury bills, former Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz claimed such a measure would not address IMF concerns about state spending, prolonging economic uncertainty.
In August, the current Finance Ministry announced its own austerity measures intended to wipe over MVR2.2billion (US$143 million) from this year’s budget deficit though few of these propositions have as yet been followed through.