IMF bailout in doubt

. . . as fragile Lesotho economy fights COVID-19

. . . 80 fragile economies send SOS to global lender

MATHATISI SEBUSI and

BONGIWE SIHLANGU

MASERU – Lesotho is unlikely to secure the much-needed financial boost from the International Momentary Funds (IMF) to fight and control the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Finance Minister, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, announced last week that government had set aside M700 million to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak, adding on top of the massive amount government would also set up a relief fund to help businesses mitigate the financial impacts of the outbreak.

Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Finance, Motena Tšolo, revealed this week that the assistance that the Lesotho government will get from development partners will offset the amount it requires for response to the pandemic.

“. . . every support received is deducted from the M700 million set aside by government so that the requirement from government is reduced,” Tšolo told Public Eye yesterday. Tšolo further said, earlier this week, they were working on a document expected to be ready by today to determine if the government would request financial assistance from IMF. She, however, told Public Eye on Tuesday this week the chances of Lesotho getting money from IMF are very slim since Lesotho does not have any ongoing programme with IMF.

“IMF usually assists countries that already have an ongoing programme with it, be it a Balance of Payments Stabilisation Programme or a Structural Reform Programme of which Lesotho has none,” Motena said. This spells bad news particularly coming hot on the heels of Lesotho having missed out on a US$2 billion (about M35 billion) Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) from which up to 51 countries in Africa, South America and Asia are set to benefit.

Lesotho is not among such countries for this particular programme.

The Lesotho government lands in this financial fix just after it rolled out response strategies to be engaged in the fight against COVID-19, divided into six sectors, namely, the Health, Security, Border Management, Logistics, Coordination and Information sectors, as well as Monitoring and Evaluation.

The National Covid – 19 Response Integrated Plan 2020 report which government is using as a guideline to manage the fast spreading disease for which no Mosotho has tested positive thus far, anticipates that the M700 million is to be channeled towards health which is meant to enjoy a huge chunk of M394 920 537. 52 as the line ministry for management of the pandemic, followed by M112 716 420 for Logistics, M46 514 800 for Security, M19 713 760 for coordination, M3 944 976 for Border Management as well as M3 927 300 for information dissemination.

Public Eye understands the plan is to be implemented using the “The one Health” and “Whole of Society” approach, executed at three levels of the health care delivery system of Lesotho, covering both the public and private health systems.

“The aim of the plan is to provide procedures to be followed in preparing for and responding to the threat of COVI-19 in Lesotho. The objectives are to put in place and sustain interventions for the prevention of COVID-19 in Lesotho, strengthen COVID-19 surveillance at points of entry, health care facilities and communities, put in place appropriate mechanisms in case management, and to protect health care workers from contracting COVID-19 as well as creating awareness,” the report notes.

“The plan covers four main areas: case detection and control management of COVID-19 pandemic, planning and resource management as well as health personnel who are to be deployed to care for COVID-19 cases. The plan is estimated to cost M394 920 537.52.”

To strengthen the health ministry’s capacity, government anticipates the security cluster namely; the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF), Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS), Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) and the National Security Service (NSS), is to be allocated M46 514 800 “to protect life and property”.

“The mandate of this sector is to protect life and property for all residents throughout the Kingdom of Lesotho, including securing National Borders and the main activities are as follows: that LDF will reinforce deployment for security and to carry out screening at inland facilities and operational ports of entry, provide perimeter security of established quarantine facilities, liaise with other security agencies and other relevant stakeholders in the Republic of South Africa; and participate in evacuation of persons and repatriation of affected citizens as maybe necessary,” notes the report.

“The LMPS will provide security to the places of interest during this period, such as at the operational ports of entry, closed ports of entry, prevent illegal crossing and ensure safety of all at illegal crossing points; while also preventing crime in all its forms. LMPS will also put measures in place to discourage gatherings where the numbers exceed fifty, disperse any gathering where the numbers exceed fifty and enforce the Liquor Licensing Act accordingly.”

The reports adds: “NSS is to provide strategic advice, warnings and forecasting on health related threats and maintain border security, while the Correctional Services is to protect the “corrections community” comprising inmates and staff from contracting the COVID-19 disease. “In addition, the department further seeks to prevent correctional institutions from becoming breeding sites that may eventually undermine all state efforts of controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the general populace. The total requirements for this sector are estimated at M46 514 800.”

The global economy has taken an unprecedented knock on most economies including the world’s biggest economy US where that country’s Senate recently passed a staggering US$2 trillion package after more than 3 million Americans filed unemployment claims induced by this pandemic. Many other stronger economies have put economic measures to repair their devastated economies and Lesotho, being among some of the most vulnerable economies on earth, could do with external cash injections for better economic sustainability in the pandemic fallout. Lesotho currently does not have a confirmed positive case of COVID-19.

The seven suspected cases that were discovered between March 27 and 28 and send for testing in South Africa on the March 28 came back negative. The second batch send for testing comprises blood samples for three people that include one deceased person were sent for testing on March 30. The health ministry has since announced all suspected cases came back negative. The request by the Ministry of Finance comes after IMF announced it was ready to deploy all their US$1 trillion (about M17 trillion) lending capacity to help fight COVID- 19.

IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, in a statement following a G20 Ministerial Call on the Coronavirus Emergency that was released on March 22 said they are looking at other available options, adding that several low and middle-income countries have asked the IMF to make a Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation, as they did during the Global Financial Crisis, therefore are exploring this option with their membership. Georgieva noted major central banks have initiated bilateral swap lines with emerging market countries. “As a global liquidity crunch takes hold, we need members to provide additional swap lines. Again, we will be exploring with our Executive Board and membership a possible proposal that would help facilitate a broader network of swap lines, including through an IMF-swap type facility.

“These are extraordinary circumstances. Many countries are already taking unprecedented measures. We at the IMF, working with all our member countries, will do the same. Let us stand together through this emergency to support all people across the world,” she said. Georgieva said the human costs of the coronavirus pandemic are already immeasurable and all countries need to work together to protect people and limit the economic damage. “This is a moment for solidarity – which was a major theme of the meeting today of the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. “I emphasised three points in particular:

“First, the outlook for global growth: for 2020 is negative — a recession at least as bad as during the global financial crisis or worse. But we expect recovery in 2021. To get there, it is paramount to prioritise containment and strengthen health systems — everywhere. The economic impact is and will be severe, but the faster the virus stops, the quicker and stronger the recovery will be.

“We strongly support the extraordinary fiscal actions many countries have already taken to boost health systems and protect affected workers and firms. “We welcome the moves of major central banks to ease monetary policy. These bold efforts are not only in the interest of each country, but of the global economy as a whole. Even more will be needed, especially on the fiscal front. “Second, advanced economies are generally in a better position to respond to the crisis, but many emerging markets and low-income countries face significant challenges.

They are badly affected by outward capital flows and domestic activity will be severely impacted as countries respond to the epidemic. “Investors have already removed US$83 billion from emerging markets since the beginning of the crisis, the largest capital outflow ever recorded. We are particularly concerned about low-income countries in debt distress — an issue on which we are working closely with the World Bank,” she said.

She further noted that they are concentrating bilateral and multilateral surveillance on this crisis and policy actions to tamper its impact and will massively step up emergency finance. She said “nearly 80 countries are requesting our help and are working closely with the other international financial institutions to provide a strong coordinated response”. “We are replenishing the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust to help the poorest countries. We welcome the pledges already made and call on others to join,” she said.

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