IX Overall Assessment

Jean-Pierre Briffaut, George Iden, Peter Hayward, Tonny Lybek, Hassanali Mehran, Piero Ugolini, and Stephen Swaray
Published Date:
October 1998
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Since the mid-1980s but more so since the turn of this decade, sub-Saharan African countries have made more progress reforming their financial systems than they did for the first 20 years of independence. Indeed, in the 1970s and 1980s, a combination of poor policy choices and internal and external economic and, in some cases, political shocks not only militated against the early development of the financial sector, but may also have led to a deterioration of the institutional arrangements for efficient monetary policy formulation and implementation. During this period, newly independent countries' perception of the financial sector's role in economic development shifted: financial systems were viewed as conduits for financing government expenditures (both fiscal and quasi-fiscal) and as instruments for the disbursement of directed credit to “priority” sectors of the economy. This shift and the resulting policy choices stemmed largely from these countries' perceived need to accelerate their economic development following independence, and the government was seen as the best vehicle for achieving rapid economic growth. Hence, the dominance of government in the financial sector during this period.

By the mid-1980s, the region's economic performance did not match expectations. Instead of the anticipated economic growth, GDP per capita at constant prices declined by more than 5 percent on average during this period, while the consumer price index increased by more than 10 percent a year. The value of the local currency in terms of the U.S. dollar also depreciated by more than two-thirds, and the balance of payments deteriorated as sizable foreign debts were incurred.26

With respect to the financial sector, the numerous controls that were introduced and the weak institutions that developed sowed the seeds of inefficiency and financial repression. The scenario was further complicated by inadequate supervision. Banks became overexposed and undercapitalized, thereby undermining the viability of the entire system. The fragility of the financial system was manifested in the growing contamination of loan portfolios, significant losses, liquidity crises, and interest rate stickiness. Like the rest of the economy, the financial sector actually deteriorated during this period.

Consequently, by the mid-1980s, these disappointing developments coupled with advice from the international donor community, particularly the IMF and the World Bank, began to force a change in perception and a rethinking of the role of government and how the financial sector should be controlled.

This change has been further supported by

  • the growing emphasis in the rest of the world on the private sector as the engine of growth;

  • the increasingly important role of private resources—domestic and foreign—in economic development; and

  • the increased globalization of commercial and financial markets.

All of these elements demand robust and transparent institutions as well as institutional arrangements in the financial sector.

These imperatives therefore triggered an awareness in sub-Saharan African countries of the need to move to a market-oriented economy and reform their financial sectors in order to guarantee their efficiency and viability. The results of this study show that, almost without exception, these countries have now come to that realization and are taking steps to reorient their economies toward medium-term viability.

The measures they have undertaken include granting more autonomy to central banks in the conduct of monetary policy, liberalizing interest rates and eliminating administrative allocation of credits, instituting a transition from direct to indirect monetary policy implementation, restructuring banks to restore their solvency, developing financial markets, and improving infrastructures—including bank supervision—and accounting and auditing practices.

The outcome of these efforts for the region as a whole has been quite varied and uneven. Some countries have progressed quickly and are gradually transforming their overall economies, the financial sector in particular, whereas others have not yet made significant headway with general reforms. In like manner, considerably more success has been achieved in some areas of reform than in others, even in the same country. In general, in spite of the progress that some of the countries have made, the region as a whole continues to be faced with a number of difficulties in key functional areas of the financial sector, which require urgent attention if these countries are to fully integrate themselves into the global economy.

Box 8.MAE Technical Assistance to Sub-Saharan African Countries

Consistent with its purposes and within its area of expertise and comparative advantage, the IMF has provided technical assistance to member countries on the basis of their expressed needs (see Appendix II). MAE played a key role in the sub-Saharan African economies, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, in establishing central banks and developing central banking functions. In more recent years, with the introduction of the IMF's Structural Adjustment Facility and Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility arrangements, MAE has helped those countries, in terms of policy formulation and implementation, that either entered into program arrangements with the IMF or were likely to do so in the near future.

Currently, MAE is intensifying its technical assistance to these countries by placing regional experts in key areas of reform. These experts, while located in a given country, will work as peripatetic experts in several countries in a given region. This will enable reform efforts to proceed simultaneously in key areas in many countries. The rationale for undertaking this form of technical assistance is based upon four main considerations:

  • The development of market-based management of monetary and exchange policies—particularly the transition from direct controls to indirect monetary management—requires a wide range of reforms in the financial sector in general. Ideally, the management of this transition requires simultaneous action in several interrelated areas. For example, successful management of interest rates through indirect and market-based instruments and progress toward convertibility are usually associated with (1) a relatively stable macroeconomic environment; (2) strict limits on the government's access to central bank financing; (3) adequate competition and reasonable financial strength in the banking sector; (4) an active and well-functioning money market; (5) sufficiently strong banking supervision policies and instruments; and (6) consistent and mutually supportive reforms in exchange and trade systems, exchange arrangements, and an institutional framework for foreign exchange trading.

  • The components of financial sector reforms must be carefully sequenced and coordinated to ensure that specific reforms are mutually supportive—in both speed and substance—to prevent a lack of progress in one area from becoming a bottleneck to progress in another. Such bottlenecks could well have developed under past technical assistance programs in sub-Saharan African countries because of their concentration in only one or two areas of reform at a time.

  • Reforms in the financial sector play a central and catalytic role in overall macroeconomic reform. If progress in macroeconomic reform is to be achieved, it will require accelerated and comprehensive financial sector reform. The associated technical assistance for these reforms must reflect this necessity.

  • A comprehensive approach to technical assistance has been tried and tested in Poland, Russia, the Baltics, and the other countries of the former Soviet Union, and has proved to be significantly more effective than the piecemeal approach adopted under past technical assistance programs for sub-Saharan African countries. For this reason, sub-Saharan African governments' commitment to reform represents a necessary condition for the success of any technical assistance program aimed at reforming the financial sector. Successful achievement of reforms, of course, will occur through the provision of the appropriate legislative and regulatory framework conducive to market-based development and the willingness to reform existing instruments and structures.

In addition, technical assistance will be delivered through regional institutions. For reforms to be effective, member countries must have personnel capable of formulating and efficiently implementing financial sector policies. Present technical assistance activities alone can help develop or reinforce the skills of those officials. However, separate and complementary training arrangements will be necessary to build up the capacity of member countries, both in the short run, when measures must be taken expeditiously, and in the long run, when policy management skills must be sustained and developed on a larger scale. The short-term training needs would be met through the IMF's task-oriented seminars, workshops, and study tours focusing on concrete issues.

To further increase efficiency in organizing training, much more effective use will be made of regional institutions, many of which face similar problems in reforming their financial sectors. This study has shown that considerable progress with reform has already been achieved in southern and eastern Africa, where countries have set up regional institutions to provide training for nationals in financial sector reform and to share experiences of tackling similar problems in this area.

Overcoming these difficulties is clearly a formidable task because it calls for sub-Saharan African countries to accelerate reform in virtually all areas relating to the financial sector. These tasks are crucial for a number of reasons: first, success with financial sector reform—particularly reform of the legal and regulatory framework, and the development of national human resource capacity—will facilitate private sector investment and production, which in turn will promote long-term economic growth. Second, because of the direct linkage between success in financial sector reform and success with macroeconomic reform, wide-ranging structural changes in the financial sector are often needed for the effective and efficient conduct of monetary and exchange policies, without which progress toward macroeconomic and financial stabilization would be difficult to achieve. Third, an efficient and well-functioning financial system is a prerequisite if sub-Saharan African countries are to mobilize and retain large volumes of foreign capital to restore and speed up economic growth and development, thereby improving living standards.

Accordingly, these countries must pursue two vital and complementary courses of action. First and foremost, they must make a strong commitment to reform and must create an atmosphere of economic security and good governance within which reforms can take place. In this connection, the authorities must, among other things, make constructive amendments to existing legislative and regulatory frameworks so as to provide more authority to the central bank, reduce the level of government interference in the conduct of monetary policy, and ensure the effective supervision and monitoring of the financial sector. Guaranteeing an enabling and conducive legal and regulatory framework consistent with a diminished government role and interference constitutes a necessary condition for any accelerated reform of the financial sector.

The second necessary course of action is to develop local capacity for the efficient design and implementation of monetary and exchange policies on a routine basis. In view of the technical, institutional, and human resource constraints facing most of the countries, the international community—the IMF, the World Bank, and other bilateral and multilateral institutions—can, through technical assistance, support the reform efforts of those countries that demonstrate the requisite commitment. The IMF, through MAE, is already reorientating its technical assistance program to make it more relevant to the changing needs of these countries (see Box 8, page 47).

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