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Nigeria reacts as IMF insists on removal of fuel subsidy

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The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Thursday repeated its age-long advice to Nigeria – remove fossil fuel subsidy and deploy savings from the scheme to fix social infrastructure.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde gave the advice at the opening of the ongoing World Bank/IMF Spring Meetings in Washington DC .

She urged Nigeria to establish Social protection Safety Net to help the government meet the needs of people at the lower cadre of the society. About $5.2 trillion has so far been sent on fuel subsidies and the consequences thereof, according to her.

Ms Lagarde said: “I will give you the general principle. For various reasons and as a general principle, we believe that removing fossil fuel subsidies is the right way to go.  And the Fiscal Affairs department has actually identified how much would have been save financially, but also in terms of human life if there had been the right price on carbon emission as of 2015. Numbers are quite staggering. If that was to happen, then there would be more public spending available to build hospitals,  roads, provide educational facilities and lift more people out of poverty.”

She called for more public spending being made available to build hospitals,  roads, schools and to support education and health for the people. “Now, how this is done is the more complicated path because there has to be a social protection safety net that is in place so that the most exposed in the population do not take the brunt of those removal of subsidies principle.

So that is the position we take. I would add as a footnote as far as Nigeria is concerned that, with the low revenue mobilisation that exists in the country in terms of tax to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Nigeria is amongst the lowest. A real effort has to be done in order to maintain a good public finance situation for the country. And in order to direct investment towards health, education, and infrastructure,” she said.

She spoke of the global economy’s uncertainty, adding that the world was a year ago talking about synchronised growth even as 75 per cent of the global economy was going through that phase.

On global economic growth, Ms Lagarde said the forecast for this year is 3.3 percent. “But we contend that we are at a delicate moment. And this expected rebound from 3.3 in 2019 to 3.6 in 2020 is precarious and subject to downside risks, ranging from unresolved trade tensions, high debt in some sectors and countries, both public and corporate.”

On borrowing from China, she said both the World Bank and the IMF were working together to bring about more transparency and be better able to identify debt, terms and conditions, volumes and maturity.

And this is an endeavour that we will pursue together and which the G20 has actually asked us to develop. So we are doing that, we are constantly encouraging both borrowers and lenders to align as much as possible with the debt principles that have been approved by the G20 and that we have endorsed internally and developed ourselves.  It is clear that any debt restructuring programmes going forward in the years to come will be more complicated than debt restructuring programmes that were conducted 10 years ago simply because of the multiplicity of lenders and the fact that not all public debt is offered by members of the Paris Club, for instance, which does not mean to say that any debt from a lender outside the Paris Club is an issue as long as the principles are adhered to, the work that we eventually have to do with countries is then facilitated. There is also a myriad of nonpublic lenders that complicates the matter seriously. But that is another story,” she said.

Banking Code

Meanwhile, the Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed says the Federal Government will look into gradual removal of fuel subsidy as part of strategies to boost revenue.

Ahmed said this on Thursday on the sideline of the IMF/World Bank meetings currently taking place in Washington DC, United States of America.

Ahmed made the disclosure while reacting to the IMF’s advice to Nigeria and other countries who still subsidise fossil fuel to stop doing so.

According to the IMF, fuel subsidy removal would help boost revenue and improve government’s spending to build more hospitals, roads, schools, and to support education and health for the people.

It’s good advice, but we have to implement it in a way that will be successful as well as sustainable.

We are not in the position to wake up one night and just remove subsidy. We have to educate the people, we have to show the Nigerian citizens what the replacement for this subsidy will be.

So, we have a lot of work to do because subsidy removal has to be gradual and the public has to be well informed,” she said.

Ahmed said that since the IMF/World Bank meetings started, she has had high-level meetings on taxation and discussions on global economy.

We spoke on the need to build more fiscal buffers because of the slow down in global economic growth and partly by the natural incidences that are happening around the world like the cyclone in Southern Africa.

We are discussing between ourselves on how we can better manage our finances and also how we must curtail the increases in our debt.

For Nigeria, we are asking the World Bank to review some of the initiatives that involves them looking at implementation systems when they are providing funding for infrastructure.

We understand that it’s well intended but we have informed them that they need to review its implementation, so that we are not overly slowed down because of the new procedures,” she said.

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