ACCRA, Ghana, April 6, 2015/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) today approved a three-year arrangement under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) for Ghana in an amount equivalent to SDR 664.20 million (180 percent of quota or about US$918 million) in support of the authorities’ medium-term economic reform program.
The program aims to restore debt sustainability and macroeconomic stability to foster a return to high growth and job creation, while protecting social spending. The Executive Board’s decision will enable an immediate disbursement of SDR 83.025 million (about US$114.8 million).
At the conclusion of the Executive Board’s discussion, Mr. Min Zhu, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, stated:
“After two decades of strong and broadly inclusive growth, large fiscal and external imbalances in recent years have led to a growth slowdown and are putting Ghana’s medium-term prospects at risk. Public debt has risen at an unsustainable pace and the external position has weakened considerably. The government has embarked on a fiscal consolidation path since 2013, but policy slippages, exogenous shocks, and rising interest costs have undermined these efforts. Acute electricity shortages are also constraining economic activity.
“The new ECF-supported program, anchored on Ghana’s Shared Growth and Development Agenda, aims at strengthening reforms to restore macroeconomic stability and sustain higher growth. The main objectives of the program are to achieve a sizeable and frontloaded fiscal adjustment while protecting priority spending, strengthen monetary policy by eliminating fiscal dominance, rebuild external buffers, and safeguard financial sector stability.
“Achieving key fiscal objectives will require strict containment of expenditure, in particular of the wage bill and subsidies. The government’s efforts to mobilize additional revenues will also help create more space for social spending and infrastructure investment, in particular in the energy sector. The government is rightly adjusting expenditures further to mitigate the shortfall in oil revenue and avoid a larger debt build-up. Moreover, a prudent borrowing strategy will be needed to ensure that financing needs are met at the lowest possible cost.
“The government’s structural reform agenda appropriately focuses on strengthening public financial management and enhancing transparency in budget preparation and execution. Strengthening expenditure control will be critical to avoid new accumulation of domestic arrears. The government should continue to clean up the payroll and improve control of hiring in the public sector to address one of the main sources of fiscal imbalances in the recent past. At the same time, enhanced transparency in the public finances will be critical to garner broad support for reforms.
“The authorities are strengthening monetary operations and gradually eliminating monetary financing of the budget to improve the effectiveness and independence of monetary policy and bring inflation down to single digit territory. Safeguarding financial sector stability will be important for supporting private sector activity.
“Forceful and sustained implementation of the program will be essential to address Ghana’s macroeconomic imbalances and enhance investor confidence in view of downside risks. The frontloaded nature of the fiscal consolidation and expected financial support from development partners should help to mitigate program risks, and foster broad-based, inclusive growth in the medium term.”
Recent Economic Developments
Ghana has experienced strong and broadly inclusive growth over the last two decades and its medium-term economic prospects are supported by rising hydrocarbon production. However, emergence of large fiscal and external imbalances, compounded by severe electricity shortages, has put Ghana’s prospects at risks. In recent years, a ballooning wage bill, poorly targeted subsidies and rising interest payments outpaced rising oil revenue and resulted in double digit fiscal deficits. These imbalances have led to high inflation, a decline in reserves, a significant depreciation of the Cedi and high interest rates, weighing on growth and job creation.
Growth decelerated markedly in 2014, to an estimated 4.2 percent, driven by a sharp contraction in the industrial and service sectors. This was due to the negative impact of the currency depreciation on input costs, declining domestic demand and increasing power outages. Inflationary pressures rose on the back of a large depreciation of the cedi and the financing of the fiscal deficit by Bank of Ghana (BoG). Despite several hikes in the policy interest rate in 2014 to 21 percent, headline CPI inflation reached 17.0 percent at end-2014, well above the 8 +/-2 percent target range of the BoG.
The fiscal deficit remained high in 2014 despite gradual fiscal consolidation efforts undertaken since mid-2013. In addition, the government started facing increasing financing difficulties. Delays in implementing some adjustment measures and unbudgeted wage allowances resulted in a higher-than-budgeted cash fiscal deficit of 9.5 percent of GDP. Additional domestic arrears were accumulated and the overall fiscal deficit on a commitment basis remained close to 10 percent of GDP. The government has had to resort increasingly to short-term domestic debt, which now carries interest rates at around 25-26 percent, and significant monetary financing. A US$1 billion Eurobond was successfully issued in September 2014, but at significantly higher interest rate than other issuers in sub-Saharan Africa.
The external position weakened through mid-2014, with net international reserves reaching low levels in the third quarter and the exchange rate depreciating sharply. The exchange rate dropped sharply in the first 8 months of the year before recovering on the back of inflows from the September Eurobond and the US$1.8 billion short-term loan contracted by the Cocoa Board. The currency depreciation and the economic slowdown led to a substantial contraction of imports and a narrowing in the current account deficit, which nonetheless ended at 9.2 percent of GDP. For the year as a whole, the balance of payments was broadly balanced, leading to a fragile stabilization in international reserves, with gross reserves partly supported by large BOG’s short-term liabilities.
The government’s three-year economic reform program seeks to support growth and help reduce poverty by restoring macroeconomic stability through an ambitious and sustained fiscal consolidation, a prudent debt management strategy with improved fiscal transparency, and an effective monetary policy framework.
The program foresees a pick-up in economic growth, starting in 2016, supported by expected increases in hydrocarbon production. Lower inflation and interest rates, combined with a stable exchange rate environment would help support private sector activity. Increased oil exports and lower oil imports on the back of domestic gas production will support the improvement in the current account, which together with the surpluses on the financial and capital account will help build up gross reserves to a more adequate level over the medium term.
The main pillars of the program are: (i) a sizeable and frontloaded fiscal adjustment to restore debt sustainability, focusing on containing expenditures through wage restraint and limited net hiring, as well as on measures to mobilize additional revenues; (ii) structural reforms to strengthen public finances and fiscal discipline by improving budget transparency, cleaning-up and controlling the payroll, right-sizing the civil service, and improving revenue collection; (iii) restoring the effectiveness of the inflation targeting framework to help bring inflation back into single digit territory; and (iv) preserving financial sector stability. To alleviate the potential adverse impact of the strong fiscal adjustment on the most vulnerable in society and protect real income of the poor, which was dented by three years of high inflation, the government is committed to use part of the resulting fiscal space to safeguard social and other priority spending under the program, including expanding the targeted social safety nets—such as the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) program.
The envisaged fiscal consolidation is projected to further dampen non-oil economic growth initially and reduce inflation in 2015, but growth is expected to rebound in the following years. Non-oil GDP growth would decelerate further to 2.3 percent in 2015 before picking up in the following years, reaching 5.5 percent by 2017. On the fiscal side, the program seeks to expand revenue collection, restrain the wage bill and other primary expenditures, while making space for priority spending and for clearing all domestic arrears. Despite lower projected oil revenues, the program aims at turning the primary balance from a deficit of 3.7 percent in 2014 into a surplus of 0.9 percent of GDP in 2015 and 3.2 percent of GDP in 2017.