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Burundi remains vulnerable to debt distress -IMF

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Staff writer

newsdesk@greatlakesvoice.com

Real GDP growth is estimated to have increased to 4.2 percent in 2011. After decelerating to 15 percent toward end-2011, headline inflation rose sharply in March 2012 to 24.5 percent owing to a rise in rents, utility tariffs, and higher food prices. It has since eased slightly to 22.7 percent in May 2012.

Growth in broad money decelerated to about 4.7 percent in April 2012 following tighter monetary conditions as policy rates rose by 350 basis points to 14 percent in May 2012. Credit to the private sector after peaking at 40 percent at end-2011 slowed to 28 percent at end-April 2012 in the face of tighter liquidity conditions. Banks were able to sustain credit growth despite a decline in deposits, in part through a drawdown in excess reserves.

While revenues and expenditure were broadly in line with the program, the deficit in 2011 was higher than expected due to the late disbursement of the World Bank budget support operation. Revenues through end-May 2012 were lower than expected by (0.5 percent of GDP), owing to a fall in collections of excise taxes and the granting of exemptions. To limit the impact of inflation on the poor, the government eliminated taxes on food products on May 1 until end-2012.

Executive Board Assessment

Executive Directors commended the Burundian authorities for progress in implementing their Fund-supported economic program in a difficult post-conflict environment. However, Directors considered that the external and internal risks weighing on the outlook called for a faster pace of fiscal and structural reforms, and encouraged the authorities to persist in their prudent approach to macroeconomic management.

Directors agreed that continued progress in implementing revenue reforms is essential in light of recent fiscal slippages and the decline in donor assistance. In particular, they encouraged the authorities to widen the tax base, strengthen revenue administration, and overhaul the fuel pricing mechanism. Directors commended the authorities for taking sizable corrective fiscal measures to keep the program on track but stressed the need to better align spending priorities in view of resource constraints.

Directors emphasized the importance of pursuing public financial management reforms in order to foster greater transparency and accountability, and to strengthen institutional capacity. They also noted that, despite improvements in the budget framework, significant gaps remain in debt management and Burundi remains vulnerable to debt distress. In this context, continued reliance on grants and highly concessional loans remains a priority.

Directors considered that additional monetary policy tightening will be warranted if inflationary pressures do not subside in the period ahead. They called for further monitoring of risks to the financial sector stemming from rising interest rates and an unfavorable external environment.

Directors acknowledged that greater exchange rate flexibility has helped the economy adjust to external shocks. They underscored the need to further enhance Burundi’s competitiveness by strengthening the business climate, improving the electricity supply, and reducing transportation costs.

Directors concurred that Burundi’s statistical base still suffers from shortcomings that hamper policy design and evaluation. In particular, they encouraged the authorities to improve capacity in the preparation of national accounts, balance of payments data, and consumer price indices.

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