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Tunisia: Govt seeks fund from central bank to pay foreign debts

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To settle critical international debts, such as bonds totalling 850 million euros ($920 million) that mature on February 16, the Tunisian government has resorted to asking the central bank for direct financing.

This was announced by Finance Minister Sihem Boughdiri, who revealed that given the lack of external funding, the government asked the central bank for extraordinary direct funding of 7 billion dinars ($2.25 billion) to close a budget shortfall this year, according to sources quoted by Reuters.

Bougdhiri told the parliament finance committee that, “Despite all the difficulties in public finances, Tunisia is committed to paying its foreign debts on time in order to preserve its national sovereignty.”

In 2023, Tunisia settled all of its foreign debts, eliminating any chance that it would default. However, experts predict that 2024 would be extremely challenging since the government will have to pay off $4 billion in foreign debt, which is 40% more than it did in 2023.

The finance committee was informed by central bank governor Marouan Abassi that repaying an 850 million euro loan would affect the currency rate and result in a drop in foreign exchange reserves equal to the amount required for imports for 14 days.

The governor of the bank has cautioned against the central bank’s direct financing of the budget through the purchase of state bonds, a move Saied stated last year would require a rewrite of the legislation.

Abassi has also warned against the significant dangers associated with the government’s plans to require the bank to purchase Treasury bonds, including the potential to push inflation higher and depreciate the value of Tunisia’s currency. Saying that “a Venezuelan scenario will be repeated in Tunisia,” he warned that the action would uncontrollably escalate inflation, which may reach triple digits. He was alluding to the recent economic catastrophe in Venezuela that resulted in hyperinflation.

Tunisia has had a lot of trouble getting outside support from the West ever since President Kais Saied dissolved Parliament in 2021, took almost total control of the country, and started ruling by decree in what the opposition called a coup.

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Ethiopia might devalue currency to secure IMF loan

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Ethiopia may need to decide on a big currency devaluation soon to get a rescue loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In December, East Africa’s most populous country went bankrupt, making it the third African country in as many years to not pay its debts. The country already had high inflation.

Ethiopia hasn’t gotten any money from the IMF since 2020, and its last loan deal with the fund fell through in 2021. In late 2022, the federal government and a rebellious regional authority made a deal to end a cold war that had been going on for two years.

Although the IMF has not said that currency reform is necessary for its backing, it however maintained that progress was made during its most recent visit. However, the Fund usually favours flexible, market-determined exchange rates. Ethiopia has requested $3.5 billion of support from the IMF, sources told Reuters last year.

The birr currently trades at between 117 and 120 per dollar on the black market, which is more than double the official rate of about 56.7. This is because there is a constant lack of foreign cash and the exchange rate is tightly controlled.

“It seems that the Ethiopian authorities have found accepting the demands of the IMF hard,” said Abdulmenan Mohammed, an Ethiopian economic analyst based in Britain.

“The Ethiopian authorities are worried about the devaluation of the birr, (which) would have serious negative economic repercussions, including soaring inflation… and surging foreign currency denominated debts in terms of birr.”

Early in 2021, Ethiopia asked the G20’s Common Framework to restructure its debt. This was set up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to include new creditor countries like China and India. Other African countries like Tunisia and Zambia also suffered a similar fate with their foreign debt at the time.

As of the end of March, Ethiopia’s foreign debt totals $28.2 billion. According to Boston University’s Chinese Loans to Africa Database, the country’s biggest bilateral creditor, China, agreed to stop collecting its debts in August 2023. From 2006 to 2022, China promised to give the country $14 billion.

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Nigerian govt to save N1.5tn from removal of electricity subsidy

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The Nigerian government says a recent increase in the price of electricity for Band A customers to N1.5tn means it could save more this year.

The government also said that about 2.5 million meters would be installed this year to close the metering gap across the country and make sure that people pay the right amount for electricity.

The Federal Ministry of Power, in a document made public by Bolaji Tunji, who is the media assistant to the power minister, on Wednesday evening said that the recent tariff change would save the country N1.5tn.

It said, “FG (Federal Government) to save N1.5tn with tariff adjustment. FG still subsidising Bands below A. Pricing change will help improve liquidity to the NESI (Nigeria Electricity Supply Industry).

“Discos (power distribution companies) will be sanctioned for supplying less than 20 hours to Band A consumers.”

Electrical consumers in the Band A group, which makes up about 15% of the country’s 12.82 million power users, no longer get any subsidies on their bills. Those affected would now pay N225 per kilowatt-hour, which is about 240% more than the old rate of N68/kWh.

In reaction, manufacturers and organized labour spoke out against the tariff increase that about 1.9 million consumers will have to pay. The increase was passed and announced by the Federal Government on April 3, 2024.

For the past few months, the terrible state of the electricity supply has gotten even worse because gas producers to gas-fired thermal power plants have stopped sending gas to those plants because they owe $1.3 billion in debt.

Meanwhile, the argument around subsidies of essential products and services in Africa remains active with some analysts positing that the earning power and GDP of most countries in the continent puncture the likely gains of a no-subsidy regime, given the lack of economic means by a large percentage of the public.

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