2019 Article IV Consultation, Second Review Under the Extended Credit Facility Credit Facility Arrangement, Request for a Waiver of Nonobservance of Performance Criterion, and Financing Assurances Review
This paper discusses Sierra Leone’s 2019 Article IV Consultation, Second Review Under the Extended Credit Facility Arrangement, Request for a Waiver of Nonobservance of Performance Criterion. Sierra Leone continued to make good progress under the IMF-supported program. While the program’s medium-term goals remain appropriate to enable future growth and development, the dramatic onset of the global coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic poses significant near-term risks. Combating the economic fallout of the crisis and protecting the health of Sierra Leoneans should be the immediate priority. The authorities’ cautious fiscal policy has been important. They have made commendable progress in mobilizing domestic revenue and prudent execution of budgeted expenditures. This has stabilized domestic borrowing needs and allowed inflation pressures to ease. Managing fiscal risks and securing debt sustainability remain the medium-term priority. Continued revenue mobilization will require both tax administration and policy reforms. Deeper public financial management reforms will further improve budget planning and execution, including preventing new arrears. A strategic plan for the two state-owned banks will be instrumental in addressing underlying fiscal risks.
Sierra Leone continues to grapple with the serious and persistent economic and social effects of the pandemic. Containment measures and trade disruptions in 2020 weakened domestic demand and exports and caused domestic revenues to fall. Moreover, food insecurity has risen from its already-high pre-COVID-19 level. 2021 is set to be another challenging year, with the ‘second wave’ of infections and vaccine-related uncertainties posing further risks to the recovery. As import growth picks up and development partner support returns to pre-2020 levels, Sierra Leone faces urgent external and fiscal financing needs (both around about 2 percent of GDP). Uncertainty about the outlook and larger near-term financing gaps have impeded the immediate resumption of the program under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF). The authorities are therefore requesting a disbursement under the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) of 17 percent of quota (SDR 35.26 million). This follows the June 2020 RCF (50 percent of quota or SDR 103.7 million) and would bring total access for the past 12-month period to 82 percent of quota (or 5½ percent of GDP), well within the 150 percent of quota annual PRGT access limit. The authorities also received debt relief under the Catastrophe Containment and Response Trust (CCRT) and are participating in the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI).
The Fund’s existing facilities for low-income countries (LICs) provide a vehicle for the speedy provision of financial assistance to member countries hit by natural disasters, either through the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) or through augmentation of the funding already being provided through other facilities such as the Standby or Extended Credit Facilities. The quick disbursement of funds strengthens national financial capacity, including external payments capacity, to tackle relief and recovery challenges.
To address catastrophic disasters, the Fund created a mechanism in 2010 to provide additional relief to its poorest and most vulnerable member countries to help meet their exceptional balance of payments needs. Under this mechanism, the Fund can provide grants from a trust fund—the Post Catastrophe Debt Relief (PCDR) trust—that are used to pay off debt service falling due to the Fund. These grants ease pressures on the member’s balance of payments and create financial space by reducing its debt service burden.
This paper proposes reforms to this mechanism to cover situations where the member is experiencing an epidemic of an infectious disease that constitutes a significant threat to lives, economic activity, and international commerce across countries.
In direct response to the COVID-19 crisis the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Executive Board has adopted some immediate enhancements to its Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT) to enable the Fund to
provide debt service relief for its poorest and most vulnerable members. The CCRT enables the IMF to deliver grants for debt relief benefiting eligible low-income countries in the wake of catastrophic natural disasters and major, fast-spreading public health emergencies.