MASERU, Lesotho, April 30, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ — On April 9, 2012, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with Lesotho.1
Despite the unfavorable external environment (owing to a significant fall in revenues from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and floods in early 2011), Lesotho’s real gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 5¾ percent in 2010/11 and is projected to increase by 4¼ percent in 2011/12, mainly driven by the mining and construction sectors. Meanwhile, inflation steadily increased in 2011, reaching 7 percent in December, reflecting high international commodity prices and agricultural shortages following months of floods. The external balances remained under pressure from the fall in SACU revenues and the floods, as well as from recent high international commodity prices. The external current account deficit widened to 14¾ percent of GDP in 2010/11, while gross international reserves fell to about four months of imports by end-2011. A new five-year National Strategic Development Plan (covering 2012/13–2016/17)—with a view to achieving sustained growth and poverty reduction—was recently finalized.
In 2010/11–2011/12, significant fiscal consolidation efforts were made to address the drop in SACU revenues. Increased domestic revenue collections and cuts in recurrent spending improved the fiscal position. The core SACU fiscal balance—defined as the fiscal balance excluding the volatile component of SACU revenues and foreign-financed project loans—recorded a deficit of 5½ percent of GDP in 2010/11 and is projected at 7¾ percent in 2011/12, significantly below the 20 percent of GDP recorded in 2009/10. The authorities have committed to maintaining the fiscal consolidation efforts in 2012/13. The risk of debt distress remains moderate, despite an increase in public debt in 2011/12 on account of loans for large infrastructure projects.
Although the banking sector has been well regulated and supervised, nonbank financial institutions were generally not comprehensively supervised. The weakness in the regulatory and supervisory framework has been addressed through the adoption of the new Financial Institutions Act, which will guide all aspects of regulation and supervision of both bank and nonbank financial institutions.
Lesotho’s medium-term economic outlook is favorable though clouded by significant downside risks, given global economic uncertainties. Lesotho therefore faces the risk of unexpected fall in SACU revenues and in global demand for diamonds. In addition, medium-term growth prospects critically depend on ongoing reforms to improve the business environment and to upgrade the physical infrastructure, to support sustained economic growth and diversification.
Executive Board Assessment
Executive Directors commended the authorities for the strong implementation of the ECF-supported program, despite devastating floods and a difficult external environment. Directors welcomed the authorities’ plans to strengthen Lesotho’s fiscal and external positions, achieve broad-based growth for poverty reduction, and strengthen the supervisory and regulatory frameworks for the financial sector.
Directors commended the authorities for their commitment to fiscal prudence, and underscored the importance of continued fiscal consolidation to rebuild international reserves, support the exchange rate peg, and reduce reliance on revenues from the Southern African Customs Union. In this regard, greater revenues from the mining sector could be considered. Directors welcomed the 2012/13 fiscal framework target of an overall surplus, with the underlying measures to restrain recurrent outlays, while safeguarding critical social spending. More broadly, they looked forward to further steps to strengthen public financial management, improve the quality of public expenditure, and boost revenue mobilization. While Lesotho remains at a moderate risk of debt distress, Directors encouraged the authorities to limit non-concessional borrowing to safeguard debt sustainability.
Directors welcomed the progress in strengthening the supervisory and regulatory frameworks for banks and nonbanks, and encouraged further steps in this direction. They also commended the authorities for improvements in the anti-money-laundering framework and the steps underway to increase access to financial services, especially in the rural areas.
Directors stressed the need to accelerate structural reforms to improve the investment climate and competitiveness with a view to supporting private sector-led growth, economic diversification, and poverty reduction. In this regard, they welcomed the finalization of the National Strategic Development Plan
Source: International Monetary Fund – 30 April 2012