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Okonjo-Iweala, Zainab Ahmed, Others Speaks On Nigeria’s Debt

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On Wednesday, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, and the Director General of the World Trade Organisation, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, differs on experts opinion on the nation’s debt-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio.

Recently, experts have shown continuous concerns on the nation’s endless borrowings and rising debt profile.

The Minister of finance, Ahmed puts the debt-to-GDP ratio at 29 percent, While Okojo-Iweala said it had risen to 35 percent.

Both the minister and the WTO boss spoke at the African Development Bank High-Level Knowledge Event with the theme: ‘From Debt Resolution to Growth: The Road Ahead for Africa’ which held virtually on Wednesday.

Ahmed also disclosed that Nigeria planned to borrow more money to fund its infrastructure capacity.

This is in spite of voices calling on the government to halt borrowing and concentrate on other means of raising funds for the infrastructure needs of the country.

According to the Debt Management Office, Nigeria’s total public debt portfolio rose from N12.12tn in June 2015 to N33.11tn as of March 31.

Ahmed said the government was enforcing fiscal discipline to expand its fiscal space so that it could continue to service its debts and borrow more to build the nation’s infrastructure capacity.

She said, “As of Q1 2021, we have about a 29 percent debt-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio. In terms of the level of debt, we are still very healthy, and sustainable.

“We are struggling with revenues, which is what we need to pay our debts. We have put in place a number of measures to enhance domestic revenue.

“We are cutting costs, we are improving the ease of doing business, trying to leverage private sector resource capacity to invest in infrastructure to reduce government spending.

“We are working on increased transparency in public financial management; we are enforcing fiscal discipline to expand our fiscal space so that we can continue to service our debt and borrow more to build our infrastructure capacity.”

Ahmed also said that the total debt profile did not include that of some states and that the federal government was making moves to correct that.

“In Nigeria, we’ve been making a lot of effort on a quarterly basis to disclose all the debts that we have and to also indicate what the debt service is.

“Currently, we are working on including other state-owned debts that have not been included in public debt for the purpose of transparency. It is important and will help us going forward.”

However, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who also attended the AfDB’s event, differed with Ahmed on the nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio.

The WTO boss who had been Nigeria’s Minister of Finance in the past said the nation’s debt to GDP ratio had risen from 29 percent to 35 percent.

She said, “Middle-income African countries have also seen their debt burdens increase sharply. Amid falling prices and demand for oil worldwide, Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio rose from 29 to 35 percent; Algeria from 46 to 53 percent, and Egypt from 84 to 90 percent, Angola from 107 to 127 percent.

“Debt to GDP ratios also increased for non-oil exporters including South Africa from 62 to 77 percent. Morocco from 65 to 76 percent.”

Okonjo-Iweala also said that scarce foreign exchange in certain African countries was creating scenarios where the governments were using scarce Forex to fund the fund debt repayment rather than on capital investment.

“Even where debt to GDP or where debt to export ratios was not very high, tighter access to dollar financing because of the COVID-19 crisis means we are already seeing places where scarce foreign exchange is going to fund debt repayment instead of capital investment,” she added.

A professor of economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Sheriffdeen Tella, described as a cause for worry the amount being spent by the government on debt servicing.

He said, “What is important is not even the debt-to-GDP ratio but the ability to pay, and we are presently in serious problem with payments.

“If they want to borrow money from internal sources, that could be understood. But if they are going international again, I think it is not proper because presently the level of international borrowing is what is giving them problem now.

“We are selling oil and making money but we are using that money to service the debts that we owe, and that is unfortunate.

“So, one cannot but be worry. So, the government should think about creating wealth rather than continue borrowing. If they need money badly, they should borrow domestically.”

Prof. Akpan Ekpo told one of our correspondents that there was an urgent need for the government to be more transparent concerning borrowing.

He said, “There is nothing bad in borrowing but you need to borrow to fund infrastructural projects that will pay their way.

“Looking at debt-to-GDP ratio can be quite misleading because we debased our GDP making the denominator very large compared to the numerator. Instead, we should use debt servicing to GDP ratio and debt to revenue ratio, which at the current rates are disturbing.”

Ekpo added, “FG needs to do more feasibility studies on these infrastructural projects before borrowing to fund them.

“Infrastructural projects like power and others have positive multiplier effects in the long run. For the debt acquisition, they also need to be more transparent on it too.”

President of the AfDB, Akinwumi Adesina, said that cumulative total debt in Africa was higher than cumulative government revenue.

According to him, in 2019, Africa’s total outstanding debt was $841.9bn, while total government annual revenue was $501bn.

Adesina said, “Africa’s GDP declined by 2.1 percent in 2021. Growth is projected to recover to 3.4 percent by 2021 and 2022. Africa’s cumulative GDP declined by $145bn to $190bn.

“Millions fell into extreme poverty on the continent. Thirty-nine million Africans could fall into poverty by the end of 2021.”

Adesina said debt-to-GDP ratios on the continent were expected to rise to 10 to 15 percentage points, rising from 60 percent in 2020 to 75 percent in 2021.

He added that as of 2021, 17 out of 38 African countries for which debt sustainability was available were in dire distress.

Twelve countries were at moderate risk of debt distress, while six were already in dire distress, and one country had a low risk of debt distress, he added.

Economy

ECOWAS@46: Commission Seeks Trade Partnership With OPS To Deepen Intra-African Trade

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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in commemoration of its 46th anniversary has sought partnership with the Organised Private Sector (OPS) to deepen intra-African trade and lift millions out of poverty.

This was revealed yesterday by the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Jean-Claude Brou, at a webinar organised in collaboration with the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) yesterday.

The theme of the webinar is “Optimising Sustainable Trade, Investment and Regional Economic Integration through Effective Partnership between ECOWAS Institutions and the Organised Private Sector”.

Jean-Claude, represented by Mr. Kolawole Sopola, Acting Director, Trade, ECOWAS, said the commission, in recognition of the private sector’s role, created a stronger framework to boost the sector’s capacity for enhanced trade.

He said that the commission had also adopted more than 100 regional standards with 70 others under development on some products.

Brou listed mango, cassava, textile and garments as well as information and communication technology among such products.

“The growing importance of informal trade compels the ECOWAS to create a framework expected to engender more availability and reliability of up to date information on informal trade.

“The framework also seeks to implement reform that is essential to eliminate obstacles to informal trade among others.

“It is important to improve investment, particularly, private investment, in all sectors and I stress that digitalization must be at the center of activities for economic recovery.

“Infrastructural deficit must be addressed as well as sustainable and cheaper energy for the competitiveness of products.”

“The commission is developing projects on roads, renewable energy and education, needed for private sector development; all these to lift millions in the sub-region out of poverty,” he said.

Dr. George Donkor, President of, ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) said that many western states showed numerous hurdles to overcome as countries continue to export raw materials, therefore maintaining low levels of development.

Donkor, however, said that reforms were already underway to accelerate the capacities of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) to spur private sector development for intra-African trade.

He noted that the EBID 2025 strategy was aimed at ensuring that the private sector benefitted up to 65 percent of the $1.6 billion available facilities.

“A vibrant private sector is key in driving regional integration and securing its active participation and has the potential to create a win-win situation for all participants.

“Increasing credit to the private sector will enhance capacity and the EBID is ready with strategies to ensure that the sector’s capacity is boosted,” he said.

Also, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, said that collaboration across societal sectors had emerged as one of the defining concepts of international development in the 21st century.

He stressed the need for ECOWAS member states to work together as a bloc to take advantage of the opportunities in the African Continental Free Trade Area.

“Since the establishment of ECOWAS in 1975, various protocols and supplementary protocols regulating member countries conduct have been signed.

“Our world has limited resources — whether financial, natural, or human — and as a society we must optimize their use.

“The fundamental of a good partnership is the ability to bring together diverse resources in ways that we can together achieve more impact, greater sustainability and increased value for all.

“This is so because it emphasises the need to work together as a bloc to leverage and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the African Continental Free Trade Area.

“My Ministry will do everything possible to ensure that the vision of the commission is taken to the next level,” he said.

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Economy

IMF Retains 2.5 Percent Economic Growth Estimate For Nigeria

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has retained Nigeria’s 2.5 percent economic growth forecast for 2021.

The institution said this in its World Economic Outlook (WEO) for July titled “Fault Lines Widen in the Global Recovery” released on Tuesday in Washington DC.

According to it, the slow rollout of vaccines is the main factor weighing on the recovery for Low-Income Developing Countries (LIDCs) which Nigeria is part of.

It also retained its 6.0 percent growth forecast for the global economy for 2021 and 4.9 percent in 2022, adding that though the global forecast was unchanged from the April 2021 WEO, there were offsetting revisions.

The IMF had at its 2021 Virtual Spring Meetings in April, projected a 2.5 percent growth for Nigeria’s economy in 2021, up from 1.5 percent it projected in January.

It said that in LIDCs, the overall fiscal deficit in 2021 was revised up by 0.3 percentage points from the April 2021 WEO, mainly because of the re-emergence of fuel subsidies as well as the additional COVID-19 and security related support in Nigeria.

“Still, at 5.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the overall fiscal deficit remains well below that of advanced and emerging market economies, reflecting financing constraints, about 60 percent of LIDCs are assessed to be at high risk of or in debt distress.

“The public debt-to-GDP ratio for 2021 is projected at 48.5 percent.

“Several LIDCs have announced an intention to restructure their debts and some have sought debt relief under the G20 Common Framework (Chad, Ethiopia, and Zambia),” it said.

On the global scene, the IMF said that uncertainty surrounding the global baseline remain high, primarily related to the prospects of emerging market and developing economies.

It added that although growth could turn out to be stronger than projected, downside risks dominated in the near term.

“On the upside, better global cooperation on vaccines could help prevent renewed waves of infection and the emergence of new variants, end the health crisis sooner than assumed, and allow for faster normalisation of activity, particularly among emerging market and developing economies.

“Moreover, a sooner-than-anticipated end to the health crisis could lead to a faster-than-expected release of excess savings by households, higher confidence and more front-loaded investment spending by firms.”

On the downside, it said growth would be weaker than projected if logistical hurdles in procuring and distributing vaccines in emerging markets and developing economies led to an even slower pace of vaccination than assumed.

The report added that such delays would allow new variants to spread, with possibly higher risks of breakthrough infections among vaccinated populations.

“Emerging market and developing economies, in particular, could face a double hit from tighter external financial conditions and the worsening health crisis, further widening the fault lines in the global recovery.

“Weaker growth would, in turn, further adversely affect debt dynamics and compound fiscal risks.

“Finally, social unrest, geopolitical tensions, cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure, or weather-related natural disasters, which have increased in frequency and intensity due to climate change could further weigh on the recovery.”

On ensuring a fast-paced recovery, the IMF said the highest priority was to ensure rapid, worldwide access to vaccines and substantially hasten the timeline of rollout relative to the assumed baseline pace.

According to it, the global community needs to vastly step up efforts to vaccinate adequate numbers of people and ensure global herd immunity.

This, it said, would save lives, prevent new variants from emerging and add trillions to the global economic recovery.

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Economy

FG to Put an End to N360 Billion Annual Electricity Subsidy Payments in 2022 – Osinbajo

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Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Monday said the Federal Government will end an estimated N360 billion annual subsidy payments in the electricity sector in 2022. This represents a monthly subsidy payment of N30 billion.

Osinbajo disclosed this while speaking at the 14th Nigerian Association for Energy Economics/IAEE conference in Abuja on Monday.

At the conference titled “Strategic responses of energy sector to COVID-19 impacts on African economies“, the vice president, who was represented by Engr. Ahmad Zakari, the Special Assistant to the President on Infrastructure, said the federal government would be investing over $3 billion in the sector to strengthen distribution and transmission infrastructure across the nation.

He stated that the numerous efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari at ensuring the power sector plays a critical role in the growth of the nation’s social and economic well-being will materialise fully once the ongoing reform in the energy sector is complete.

He said: “Electricity tariff reforms with service-based tariff has led to collections from the electricity sector by 63 per cent, increasing revenue assurance for gas producers and stabilizing the value chain.

“It is anticipated that all electricity market revenues will be obtained from the market with limited subsidy from next year as reforms in metering and efficiency with the DISCOs continue to improve.

“Accelerated investment in transmission and distribution, over $3 billion will be out into this sub-segment of the electricity value chain that will put us on the path to delivering 10 gigawatts through the interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Siemens partnership, World Bank and Africa Development Bank, and others.”

He said as the electricity sector continued to be stabilized, more power was needed for the country’s large population.

“That is why this administration continues to invest in generation to cater for our current and future needs,” he said.

Osinbajo charged the participants to come up with solutions to key energy challenges facing the country, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic and energy transition.

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