IMF credit `vote of confidence' in Guyana's efforts
-- Finance Minister by Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
September 18, 2002

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THE Government has lauded the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for approving a much needed and important US$73M three-year credit to Guyana with Finance Minister, Mr. Saisnarine Kowlessar, indicating yesterday that this is indicative of the confidence the Fund has in Guyana's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP).

He said the approval of the credit by the Executive Board of the IMF "displays a vote of confidence" by the international donor community in Guyana's efforts and its commitments to prudent economic management towards sustaining economic growth and reducing poverty.

"Altogether, it is a tremendous boost of confidence from the international donor community to Guyana's efforts towards having macro-economic stability and discipline in the economy as a whole," Kowlessar said.

The IMF Board approved a three-year credit under its Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) for an amount equivalent to SDR 54.55 million (US$73M) for Guyana.

A press release from the IMF said the Executive Board determined that Guyana's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper "provides a sound basis for Fund concessional financial assistance."

"As a result, Guyana will be able to draw immediately up to SDR 5.5 million (about US$7.3M) from the credit," the IMF said.

At a news briefing yesterday, Kowlessar said "this vote of confidence by the IMF" clears the way for other international donors to provide interim assistance to the Government.

Both the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank "will now view Guyana's position more favourably based on what has taken place over the last few days with the approval of the IMF programme", he said.

This will also clear the way for assistance from bilateral donors from bilateral countries, the Finance Minister said.

He pointed out that some of these countries would usually use the IMF as a "yardstick" or "measuring rod" for providing bilateral assistance.

Kowlessar said the IMF credit will also help to service Guyana's external debt and reduce it further.

"So based on all of these factors, I think it was a big plus for Guyana getting this assistance at this point in time and I am sure it will be to used to the benefit of all the people of this country," the Finance Minister assured.

"The Government is very pleased with the approval of the IMF Board of the PRGF which is a concessional facility for low income countries and is based on the PRSP," he told reporters.

According to him, Guyana has been allocated US$73M over a three-year period under this PRGF programme.

He, however, noted that the success of this programme will naturally depend upon all stakeholders playing a role since at the moment, Guyana is faced with tremendous problems, both locally and internationally.

"Internationally, we have a very difficult environment - the economic slowdown and the sluggish pace of recovery - and then in terms of the local situation, with the upsurge of criminal activity and a difficult political situation.

"So taking all of these factors into consideration, I think the vote of the Executive Board of the IMF certainly is an indication of its confidence in Guyana's ability to manage its economic affairs," Kowlessar said.

"So naturally, it would require all stakeholders playing their role in trying to get the economy moving forward," he added.

The Finance Minister also asserted that this situation will require that "we change our attitude of having these negative signals and these bad images of Guyana" which the Opposition has tried to paint on the international scene and with the international community.

"I think this augurs well for our country and our economy," he also said.

The programme will soon deliver US$7.3M and then there is an interim assistance under the Enhanced HIPC of US$5.4M which will be used for payment of debt to the IMF, Kowlessar said.

Asked to briefly indicate what the approval of the credit means to Guyana in terms of the economy, Kowlessar said: "It means first of all, that there will be tremendous support for our balance of payments position. That is in essence the IMF's support and therefore it will stabilise our balance of payments position; secondly when that happens, it will ease the pressure on our exchange rate which is linked to the balance of payments and also the exchange rate.

"Once the exchange rate is stable, it will have some positive impact on inflation and keeping it down and therefore the cost of living. This is what it means in terms of the economy."

Meanwhile, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in a statement yesterday, said this disbursement is indicative of the confidence the IMF has placed in Guyana's PRSP.

The chamber noted that under the IMF programme, Guyana can immediately benefit with up to US$7.3M.

"The fundamental objective of the credit is to achieve Guyana's growth and poverty reduction objectives," the GCCI said.

The chamber said it also views the credit "as an integral component in the Government of Guyana's fiscal programme to improve public sector savings and reduce the public debt burden".

A comprehensive reform of the tax system with a view to broadening the tax base, reducing consumption taxes, and streamlining Custom operations are all measures that the programmes will facilitate to contain inflation while continuing to enhance the financial sector, it added.

According to the chamber, Guyana is long overdue for a modern and efficient tax system that promotes revenue stability in a sustainable way.

"As the situation currently obtains, the established businesses that are caught within the tax net are inexorably being squeezed out of existence," the GCCI asserted.

The chamber said it therefore endorsed the approved credit "since we see it as a way of helping to improve public sector systems which impact directly on the business community and ultimately on the man in the street".

The exponential rate of returns to the Government and people of Guyana from a modernised tax system will more than compensate for the 0.5 per cent annual interest rate PRGR loans carry, the organisation said.

The chamber said too that it hoped that Guyana's request for additional interim relief under the enhanced HIPC initiative is also successful.

"This country needs a concerted injection of human, material and financial resources from both within and outside to enable it to face the challenges of the new millennium," it added.