The International Monetary Fund, IMF, on Friday, said for Nigeria’s fuel subsidy removal policy and foreign exchange unification initiative to translate to economic growth and stability, the Federal Government must collect more taxes to fund the national budget and pay public debts.
The IMF Africa Department Director, Abebe Selassie, made the position known during a press briefing on the Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Economic Outlook at the ongoing World Bank Group/International Monetary Fund Meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.
He spoke against the backdrop of the harsh economic conditions in Nigeria on the back of the removal of fuel subsidy and foreign exchange unification by President Bola Tinubu after taking office in late May.
The deregulation of the downstream oil sector has pushed petrol prices from about N185/litre to about N600/litre, a development that has caused pain and untold hardships for more Nigerians.
Aside from this, policies aimed at unifying the official and parallel market rates of the naira announced in early June by the government have worsened the sharp rise in the prices of goods and services following the jump in the pump price of petrol.
Despite the initial savings made from fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government, over 90 per cent of government revenue still goes into debt servicing, leaving it with a meagre amount to cater to major economic growth and development projects.
However, the IMF said on Friday that Nigerian policymakers must urgently complement the fuel subsidy removal with a set of policies that could ameliorate the economic challenges facing the country.
Selassie said, “The exchange rate reforms that the government did were very, very welcome, trying to unify the rate, similarly the fuel subsidy. But that will not help and will not stick unless you also are tightening monetary policy; unless you’re also doing something to mobilise more tax revenues. So, a holistic package of reforms is what’s needed.
“So, you have a medley of things mainly rooted in the fiscal challenges that Nigeria has faced, not having tax revenues. At the same time, this is a country with incredible potential and we have seen reforms moving in the right direction in recent months. What is needed, we feel, is making the reforms holistic and help reinforce each other. Just as things were not reinforcing each other in the past, I think there is scope to make the reforms reinforce each other.”
The IMF director noted that Nigeria had over-relied on oil revenue, making it difficult to tap its potential in other areas.
He said, “Why are there not enough tax revenues? I think in the past, over-reliance on oil was when prices were high. Second, of course, also is the subsidy regime, which also entails quite a lot of loss of government resources being directed where they perhaps should not be. So, I think these are all interlinked issues, including causing some of the inflation that you’re seeing, because, given the difficulty to tap international capital markets, the government has had to rely more on domestic financing, which has either crowded out the private sector or of course caused the monetary injection, which again has weakened the exchange rate.”
Selassie, however, said the leaders at the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Ministry of Finance were new, adding that there was a need to give them more time to act.
He expressed confidence in their ability to make the right economic decisions, saying, “I think we have to give a bit of time to the new administration also, I mean, the central bank governor has just been appointed. The Minister of Finance has only been in office for a few weeks. So, we’re hopeful that they will move in the right direction, and we stand there to provide any policy advice the government needs.”
On Nigeria’s debt, the IMF director said the country leaders had yet to initiate any discussion on debt cancellation or forgiveness.
The Debt Management Office data showed that Nigeria had a total debt stock of $113.4bn as of June 30, 2023.
The IMF director said, “I am not aware of any discussions that are going on debt profiling and restructuring in Nigeria. There are, of course, like elsewhere in the region, debt pressures. And I think in Nigeria, by far the most important cause of the pressures is the fact that the government doesn’t generate enough tax revenues for all the services it needs to provide. So, interest payment as a share of revenues is very high and not leave much room to spend on other issues. I think that is the key issue and the one that needs to be worked on.”
He also said Nigeria’s debt was still manageable but noted that more revenue must be generated to service it.
“When we look at the debt in Nigeria, our sense is that the stock is manageable in general. It’s the debt servicing that is much more difficult. And the debt servicing is hampered, as I said earlier, by the country not generating enough non-oil tax revenues. I think that is by far the most important area of reform, by far the most important area of work that there is for any administration in Nigeria,” Selassie added.
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