FMI| April 26, 2010, Washington, DC|
Mr. Essimi Menye, Minister of Finance of Cameroon;
Mr. Gilbert Ondongo, Minister of Finance, Budget, and Public Portfolio for the Republic of Congo;
Mr. Augustine Ngafuan, Minister of Finance of Liberia;
Syda Bbumba, Minister of Finance of Uganda
MR. DIENG: Good morning. Thank you for coming. Welcome to the African Finance Ministers Press Conference. Each minister will have some brief remarks and then we’ll open it to questions. So Minister Menye from Cameroon will start.
MINISTER MENYE: Thank you very much. I would like to deal here with the economic activity in our country over the last 6 months. I’d like to talk about what has been done within major institutions, including the G-20. Let me say that the crisis which we thought in the first place was still a bit far away from us ended up hitting us through lower income from the sale of our goods and products. As we mainly produce raw materials, forest products, for example, are difficult to sell, as well as agricultural products.
For those countries which sell major raw materials such as oil, of course they are faced with price fluctuations. But their income is based on volumes they manage to sell. We are continuing to pay for our debt. In spite of the agreements we had reached, we still had some amounts to pay and we did pay them.
The main concern is our internal debt because our income is limited and our internal debt has been growing. Of course, we need to carry on to fund and to finance the government’s activities, so we have to pay for the purchase of goods. And given the level of income which has remained flat because production has not increased, we now have to face major difficulties in our countries. We thought that the major point was to reach the completion point, but today our investments in infrastructures are still lacking. And this is precisely what we need, especially in agriculture, in order to increase our production base and in order to increase government’s income. This is what I wanted to stress before I can answer your questions.
MINISTER ONDONGO: Well, thank you for being here. Let me tell you first of all that the crisis, this financial crisis, had not reached my country, the Congo, because my country does not have a financial system which is sufficiently developed to be able to share financial income and risks with industrialized countries.
But on the other hand the crisis in its other form, not the financial form but the economic form, did hit my country through its two major export products, namely oil and wood. Our activities in the wood and timber sector have been considerably hit, more so than oil activities. The overall production of tropical timber in my country has dropped by over 1,300,000 cubic meters since 2008. And exports also dropped from 1 billion cubic meters in 2008 to hardly 420,000 cubic meters in 2009, which means an almost 60 percent drop.
In terms of employment the timber sector has seen its headcount, if I may say, halved. So the problem is that Congo used to export tropical timber to European countries, and in particular Portugal and Spain, which used to purchase this type of timber for construction.
Now, in terms of oil, the drop in prices led to considerable damage on the Congolese economy. The price of the barrel dropped from $150 a barrel in 2008 to less than $40 a barrel at the end of 2008. So this, of course, had a major impact on our economy, which as you know is dependent on oil. 80 percent of our income comes from oil. 70 to 75 percent of our GDP is based on oil. Over 90 percent of our exports are oil exports. So the consequence is that our fiscal income, because of the drop in oil income, well, our income has been halved, from $4 billion of income to less than $2 billion in 2009 because of the crisis.
So excluding those two sectors, the Congolese economy as a whole has been less hit by the crisis. In 2008 we had a growth rate of a little bit more than 5 percent. And in 2009 our growth was still positive, more than 6 percent, 6.2 percent. And this is due to the fact that there is a very strong economic momentum in our country. Thanks to our relationships with the IMF and the World Bank we were able to reorganize our economy. We have set up a true, genuine internal momentum with mobile phone sector, with other sectors as well. And this really in a way protected us from the crisis and helped us prepare for a better future. According to the IMF projections and the central bank of our region, well, in 2010 we are expected to reach a growth rate of 13 percent, which would be the best and the highest in Africa.
MINISTER NGAFUAN: I just arrived this morning thanks to the volcanic ash, which means that these things are global. We get affected. I come from Liberia, a country that had been dogged by more than 14 years of civil crisis that decimated our population and left more than 200,000 of our people dead; infrastructure terribly damaged; power put in critical need of repair.
And so in 2006 our President, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, started to craft with her economic team policies to put Liberia on a trajectory of fiscal discipline and to emerge from the debris of war. And so to be buffeted first by the food crisis and then the fuel crisis, and after that the financial crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time for my country. We were about to do what I call a major takeoff when these crises hit us, and then they have led to some serious setbacks on our reform track and on our growth trajectory.
In our public debt reduction strategy, which is a 3-year strategy, we had anticipated growth of around 12 percent between 2008 to 2009. But the crisis made our growth to reduce to something around 5 percent, thereby constraining us to slice our expenditures, some of which were public debt reduction expenditure.
We inherited a huge debt burden. Our debt to GDP ratio was more than 700 percent. So Liberia has been on the march to the HIPC completion point. We’ve reached decision point. And we run a cash-based balanced budget, which means unlike other countries that used countercyclical policies we never had that option. We are probably the only country in the world that had to live within our revenue. And when we faced revenue shocks practically all we could do was to seek expenditure efficiencies or cut expenditure. So it’s been a double problem for us, Liberia.
But we’ve maintained the discipline because we know that one of the things that put Liberia in this unsustainable debt situation is lack of fiscal discipline. The IMF was in Liberia doing its last review to inform our march to the HIPC completion point. Hopefully, if everything is kept on track, we’ll reach the HIPC completion point in June because almost all the triggers have been met.
The crisis affected one, our export sector. Liberia, one of our main export which is rubber. In 2008 the total estimated export of Liberia was 242 million. As a result of the crisis it dropped to 152 million. We lost jobs in the rubber sector significantly. We also lost jobs in the mining sector. One of the biggest companies is Arcelor Mittal, that should have started exporting iron ore from Liberia in this year. But because of the crisis Mittal has deferred its shipment plan to late 2011, and it had also cut down jobs.
At a time when we are dealing with youth unemployment, we have what I call an army of young people that came out of the war that are looking for alternatives. So it worries us doubly to have these issues. We hope and we think every partner has been working so that we all can come out of the crisis. Because we need to start to give jobs to our people because it affects not only our democracy, but it affects our peace. We are a fragile country coming out of war, and so joblessness creates an environment of fear.
We also have to engage in critical infrastructure developments such as roads, ports, and other infrastructure. We also have to build the governance framework through reform of our governance structure, which we’ve been doing since 2006. We’ve strengthened our General Auditing Commission, we’ve strengthened the judiciary, and we’ve strengthened Anti-Corruption Commission. We have a transparent budget process.
So, in the question and answer period we’ll get into specifics, but overall I just want to say that the financial crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time for Liberia. At a time when we were about to do a major takeoff, it came as a strong headwind. But thanks to good leadership, good economic plans, both from the monetary and the fiscal team and other actors in government, we have managed to steer through the critical part of the crisis and we are seeing recovery.
MINISTER BBUMBA: From what has been presented by my colleagues, you can see that Africa is diverse and when the policies are being designed for Africa, I think they need to be country-specific. In Uganda, the financial crisis had minimum impact and this was mainly because of the prudent financial management of the financial sector and also because our financial sector was disintegrated. It was not part of the integrated system and therefore it was not a carrier of the toxic assets. We suffered from secondary effects of the crisis and this involved reduction in direct foreign inflows into the country. When the countries abroad got problems, and most of our investors are from abroad, the inflow is reduced. There was also a capital flight by the multinational companies which invested in our country to go and rescue their principles. That also had impact on our currency.
We have got quite a number of Ugandans working abroad and the remittances went down because of the effects in places where they’re working,. And these remittances are a major contributor to the fast-growing residential construction sector. Most of the houses for residential which are being constructed are people working abroad so this affected–this slowed down the construction. We also had effects of imported inflation from our trading partners because we need importers and rely so much on imported, manufactured goods. So wherever we’re importing from, we took of that inflation and also–and it affected us.
And also some of our imports–exports were affected, but this was not much, it was mainly the flowers. It was mainly the flowers, and this affected our revenue. To the extent that our revenue collection went down by 10 percent below the target, however, it was still higher than what we had collected in the previous year.
So, only now I can say that the effects were quite minimal, but the main mitigating factor was regional trade. Thanks to those who have denied us markets abroad, we have focused on our regional markets, especially in food products, and that helped us to carry on with our trade mainly. And really, that was also an eye opener. We have now concentrated on commercializing agriculture mainly for regional trade. Before, quite a number of our people were growing whatever they were growing for leisure, just for their families, and a little for the market, but now we have come up with a strong policy of making sure that every household produces more than what they can consume to be able to put something on the market and to be able to tap into the regional markets.
And I think this also emphasizes the importance of regional markets where you trade without barriers, because much of our trade was within the East African community where we are in the final process of finalizing the integration of our market. I think this is very, very important for Africa. Before we look out to trade with the far countries, we should exploit the opportunities within our region. We had some effect on the–arising out of the fuel crisis, but of course this was short-lived and it has given us lessons, since Uganda is on the verge of becoming an oil producing–oil producing countries.
So, all in all, we are able to weather through the financial crisis because of the reasons given, but most importantly, because of the advice and assistance we are getting from partners like the IMF, the finance and the concessional lending we are getting from our multilateral donors like the World Bank and others, because without that strong foundation we wouldn’t have been able to whether the situation that we did being a poor country, also not long ago which emerged from war.
MR. DIENG: Thank you, Minister Bbumba. Now we’ll open to questions. Ministers are all ready to take questions on their countries but also on regional issues. Here in the first row.
QUESTION: You were talking about crisis. What about the volcano? How did this affect your export to the western countries, mostly? I’m going to say one or two words for the French speaking countries that have just celebrated their 50th anniversary, Cameroon was the first one, 50 years of independence. What does that mean for Africa, especially French-speaking countries, who celebrate their 50th anniversary?
MINISTER. MEYNE: It was for us a good experience to see that a natural event as the one you mentioned can influence the life of the whole world. That happened in only one place, in Europe, and it has affected the whole world. Cameroon doesn’t have the advantage of having many perishable products that are exported. There are banana exporters and especially pineapple from Cameroon, that are going to suffer losses because for those who don’t know, pineapple is sold the day it is planted. If you miss the delivery day, you can no longer sell, so there will be losses of course.
I especially wanted to speak about the influence of the environment on daily life. I was saying to a friend yesterday that if the escape gas were colored yellow or pink, people would pay more attention to them. In my country, in the Central African region, also, forests are a very important asset for our population and their development goes through the forest exploitation including the cutting of the trees or the timber because we need the products to sell them. As the Ugandan minister said a minute ago, we have to produce a little more so that there should be something left to sell. So, if the population of the forest wants to develop, it must necessarily exploit the forest, as they say here, in a sustainable way, but we have to have that explained to us and that is about the volcanic ashes.
As for the 50 years of independence, I think this is an important date. Cameroon became independent on the 1st of January in 1960, so we were the first one to go through this celebration, this anniversary, but this celebration will take place on May 20th of this year.
As far as I’m concerned, this is an important date, of course, but it is a date that enables us to look backwards to see the road that we have traveled and try to imagine what we have to do during the next 50 years–what has been done, what has been done well, what has not been sufficiently well done, and what must be done tomorrow so that the–what is the rhythm of our development?
Of course, we have to define that. I know many of us think that there has been a great deal of time wasted but we have to know where we come from, the cultural basis country with different kinds of population, multiple languages and so on. Could we have gone faster? These are questions that I cannot answer here. These are real questions, nevertheless. We think today that the 50th anniversary we are going to celebrate enables us to measure the efforts to come, what is to be done, what has to be done more and better during the next years, so that the young Cameroonians can live in a country that might be envied by others because nowadays African youth must go elsewhere to be able to find some wellbeing, but I know that the wellbeing is in our country, especially in the area where we live, because we are in the forested area and this forest–we are being asked to conserve this forest because it enables others to live better.
I think that the populations that live in that region cannot find a better environment for their life elsewhere, and the development has to come. At the same time, training more youth, training them in the employment of the future, and enabling them to take advantage of the regional market, the neighboring market. For those of you who don’t know so, Cameroon is a very particular situation since it is–has a large country, Nigeria, on the left with 250 million consumers, and a very large country on its right with neighbors, which are Congo-Kinshasa–Congo, and other countries that represent about 100 million consumers and in the middle, between them, we are in a triangle where everything must be produced because the market exists.
And I think that the next 50 years will have to be the basis of Cameroon’s development in the future, because as I said, the market exists for us. It is not in Europe, it is local, and this market demands an agricultural production, a power production, electrical power, because in the next few years electricity will be the first industrial product of Cameroon that can be sold at competitive prices because we are just starting the construction of a great water dam, Lom-Pangar dam, the work is going to start this year and will enable us to retain about 7 billion cubic meters of water to regulate the production of 6,000 electricity megawatts that we can sell to our neighbors. And as I said, this is a product that is important for us, as important as electronic products or other, because this gives us the comparative advantage that we can deliver to the public by 2015.
QUESTION: My question is for the finance minister of Cameroon who said, and I paraphrase, it is not enough to reach the completion point but you need more, and through that, can we say, or can we ask the countries that look for the completion point of the HIPC initiative, to invest resources that they are going to receive through the social reduction of the debt?
MR. MEYNE: I don’t know if I made myself understood. You have heard the minister of Congo who spoke a while ago about growth because there are investment measures. This is a country that has just achieved its completion point but my comment really meant to say that when we look for the completion point, the first preoccupation is to clean up the public finance administration and to make sure that we mastered the financial aspects and that we spend–mastering the quality of our expenses. This is the first preoccupation of the donors, of the governance and everything else, but we forget that after the completion point, to ensure growth, there must be an organized framework which–infrastructure, roads, electricity, which I mentioned before, schools to train people, because in order to accelerate investments, we must have people and areas that are prepared. So, if we do not fulfill some of these conditions, the country is not attractive to create this growth dynamic because we thought that after the completion point, growth is going to come by itself, but it cannot come by itself. We must be able to broaden the production bases and to do so we must have, at the same time, functional infrastructures and enough trained people to have as–to be able, as I said, to attract investors because the problem is, of course, you improve the business environment and investment will come, but if you don’t have trained people, the investors will not come with technology and equipment and the know-how and the people, we will never be able to be competitive in this sort of strategy and that is why when I speak of investments, I am speaking at the same time of investment in people and in infrastructure, inside the country, and this cannot be done when we look for the completion point because the resources are not there and they will try to reduce a debt, and so on, but the government must have a strategy as far as the debt is concerned and the reimbursement of the debt, to be able to give confidence to the future investors that are going to come to the country. But this is not an easy thing to do. There are countries that already have an infrastructure base so that they can reduce the time lapse for the economic recovery. But the completion point is not a panacea. It is necessary, of course, to have a debt cancellation because you talk about the completion point but you forget that it is the package of reforms that the countries must commit to during the period that will enable them to have credible actions with the different donors. And after the completion point, everybody wins because a campaign that is carried out in the countries seems to say that after the completion point, everything must go normally by itself, but that is not the case. We have to have other programs that enables us to the growth.
QUESTION: The World Bank President gave recently a speech in which he envisioned Africa as a global source of growth, and particularly he envisioned an Africa which would attract industries, industrial activities, with low added value that can come from China. Is it a view that some of you share, or not?
MINISTER BBUMBA: Thank you very much. Before I respond to his question I would like to touch on the earlier question which was asked on the effects of the volcanic ash. I think the biggest effect of this is a reminder to all of us that environmental issues are development issues, because we saw how the entire global economy was paralyzed for a week because of that ash in one point of the world. And really for us in Africa, who are not heavy polluters, we are requesting or asking the big polluters to be at the forefront of addressing the global warming because in my country if the temperatures went up by only 3 degrees, that is from about 28 to 32 or 34. Uganda, which is number two biggest coffee grower in the country would not be able to grow coffee. The agriculture we are boasting of, most of it, would be gone, so really the Kyoto Protocol should be ratified as a matter of urgency.
On the question which has been–on the issue which has been raised on Africa having the potential to be the source of growth, I think it is there. Africa is highly endowed. In fact, it’s the most endowed part of the world in terms of natural resources. The only problem we had is that we did not have our own capital and we were not allowed to develop our own ideas. But if we had been allowed to continue where we are during the pre-independence time, today Africa would be a super industrial state because all the materials required are available in Africa. When you talk about industrialization, the main product for industrialization is steel. There is iron ore in the whole of Africa. There are oil reserves in Africa but they have never been explored, they have never been exploited. If only our partners could engage us in a more business manner, I think Africa has the potential.
Right now, one of the reasons why Africa is the limping member of the globe is because we product–what we produce is expected as raw commodities. We don’t add primary value.
If I can talk about the coffee I’m familiar with, whenever we send a kilo of coffee, we give away 300 percent of the profits and the farmer gets less than 50 percent of the profits. So, if we are able to put up primary industries, certainly Africa would become a source of growth to the entire world. And secondly, we’ve got human resource. It’s untapped. With the introduction of universal education, primary and secondary, we have seen that there has been a sleeping potential, but it’s not yet fully tapped because the African youth lack skills to be employed and whenever investors are coming to our country, in addition to the equipment and the capital, they also import labor into our country, skilled labor, whereas we have got high unemployment in our countries. So, really, if we are able to address those and get funding and continue with the support we are getting from our partners and other–and others yet to come, I think we’ll get there. Thank you.
QUESTIONNER: My question is following up from the Minister of Uganda on regional and Pan-African ability to negotiate trade agreements. One of the biggest problems, I gather, is the bilateral trade agreements with the EU, U.S. and others, and that’s causing a lot of disparity within the African market and how can you have a more regional force or Pan-African force when you deal with the trade people? This goes from South Africa to Ghana, to everybody, and I gather it’s a real–it’s a big problem, and also for cross regional trade.
MINISTER ONDONGO: Thank you to enable me to answer the question we have today on the table the negotiations with the European Union and the framework of the partnership with European Union. It so happens that in Africa and Central Africa we have a precise negotiating method that had to be regional. The Ministers of Commerce, especially, in the sub-region of Central Africa, have met to have a common negotiating position and really this negotiation centers on the fact that EU wants our borders completely open to the European products and vice versa. Obviously, we import more than we export from Europe.
We told them that this is possible, we are not against it, it is something that the World Trade Organization wants but on the condition that this be done progressively because nowadays many of our countries depend on the income to function. We cannot stop this income from one day to the next–first, position which seemed logical, secondly, we tell them even in the long run, it would be better to establish compensatory measures because we [inaudible] something in the first time and we should be compensated so our economies be restructured to this new situation.
Up until now the EU has not been very attentive, the negotiations are still going on, but the good thing is that we all think the same and it’s not good only for Central Africa, this goes for all of Africa because we have a common position to negotiate and with the good training of labor in Africa, we have–the proof is that with the WTO and with Europe we negotiate in a respectable way and we have more and more respect about this in Europe and Africa.
QUESTION: Africa needs a stronger focus on regional trade and growth in Africa. Do you think that this is a broader experience from the crisis and could you give us one or two examples how governments can strengthen this?
MINISTER NGAFUAN: From the earlier question concerning what can Africa do, well, one thing that is a fact is that we have huge resource endowments and we’ve had those endowments for ages, but it’s a contradiction that Africa still remains undeveloped. So, it is a question as to whether Africa has gotten fair prices for its resources. And each African country engaging with a partner, a western partner, is like an ant versus a 900 pound gorilla, so coming together, collectivizing strategies in regional integration or trade agreements only makes Africa to have a stronger position. So, we support that heavily because as we proceed, we still have a huge natural resource endowments, especially Liberia–iron ore, rubber, we’ve–now we still have one of the remaining rainforests in the world, in the face of this–of the climate crisis. But as we exploit these resources we need better prices, but Liberia facing our partners alone may be shortchanged so, it is in every African country’s interest to collectivize in these regional blocks, in these trade blocks, in these economic blocks, in order to make sure that we get value for our commodities.
QUESTION: Generally, having listened to all the ministers that spoke, it’s a very pathetic case, it’s stories of negativity, everything is dropping, employment, remittances, trade–there’s nothing that is happening positively. My question now is, what are you bringing to the table? What are you asking from the IMF? What are you asking from the World Bank? More so, when we know that causes of all these crises did not emanate from Africa, so noting this and having this in mind, what are you telling the IMF, what are you telling the World Bank?
MR. DIENG: Thank you very much. I think we’ll allow each of our ministers to respond to this very important question.
MR. MENYE: Thank you. This is a major issue. I believe that today our debate must be about governance with institutions as big as the IMF or the World Bank. In Africa we are still doing our best so that structures, institutions such as the G-20 recognize that throughout the world, there are so many people who are not heard, whose voices are not heard.
So what we expect from the IMF or the World Bank, well, we would want them to accept our views, the views from each one of our countries, because what can be done in one country cannot necessarily be done again in another one. Because that would mean that the IMF or the World Bank always would be predominant. We certainly do not want to impose anything, but we believe that what is done in each country has to be taken into consideration, and the discussions that we conduct with the IMF, for example, have to be properly balanced.
In terms of the crisis, should we be expecting compensation? I am not sure. I believe that all the facilities and mechanisms implemented by the World Bank and the IMF are mechanisms that we ought to use to a greater extent. For our countries that are post-completion countries, we are being asked to work on our debt. But the terms that are imposed have to be re-discussed. You probably know that all donor countries are themselves in situations of crisis, and therefore the level of concessionality of about 35 percent should certainly not be applied to all countries. Some projects have to be taken into consideration. Those projects that are profitable could be financed under terms that would be more flexible.
It’s true that the crisis has had an impact, a very brutal impact. Because the crisis itself was very short in terms of duration, but it was strong and it had a strong impact on most of our countries because the products we sell on the market sold at prices that we did not decide. As was said earlier, a cup of–when coffee is produced, the farmer, the grower, does not get everything that he should get. So we should do something about this in order to have the right price for our products.
But as I said earlier, we must endeavor to train our youth to the jobs of today, of tomorrow, so that we are in a better position to fully master the market. We have to be able to fully master our markets. Unfortunately most of our markets are dominated by products that come from abroad, and we have to work on this. But for this we need the support of institutions such as the IMF.
MINISTER ONDONGO: I’m sure that the person who asked this question is very concerned about Africa, but you should not be pessimistic. All the ministers present here are just telling you about the crisis as it is, but we are not pessimistic. We want you to understand that Africa is emerging today. Everybody understands this within IMF, within the World Bank; everybody does understand that Africa is emerging again. After 50 years we now have become mature countries that are no longer lagging behind.
So what do we expect from the IMF, from the World Bank. As far as the Congo is concerned, not much. But we just want to share the experience of these institutions because they are working with about 180 countries, and throughout those countries there are things that work, others that do not work. And those institutions are familiar with these things that do work and those that don’t. And we want them to explain that to us. What are the conditions to be used to avoid things that do not work? For example, if in 95 percent of countries something did not work out, well, we should not be using it in the Congo. If, on the other hand, something has been very successful in most countries we could be most happy to use it. So we are not expecting anything from the IMF or the World Bank. We are in a position of dialogue, not of expectation.
MINISTER NGAFUAN: Had the African economy not been implementing prudent policies, the financial crises would have been worse than they were. So thanks to the prudence of other African ministers and central bank governors in that we could steer through the crisis. And the impact was indeed bad, but the impact was mitigated by some of the fundamentals that had been established.
For Liberia coming to the World Bank, IMF annual meetings, one of our main goals is to ensure that we get consolidated positives on our march to HIPC completion point in June. But that is a few months from now. Because that’s going to open up fiscal space for us in that we run a cash-based balanced budget. At least if–we don’t hope for another crisis, but if another crisis eventuates, we have an opportunity to engage in countercyclical policies, which we did not have as a result of our constrained position.
One of the things we’ll be advancing will be that the IMF and the World Bank need to have targeted approaches to African countries, with their own peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. The cookie cutter approach may not fit everyone’s situation. So we will be asking them to look at our circumstances and to find solutions with us that work.
Because one we’ll need to advance is that you may have a reform-minded government listening to all the prescriptions or some of those prescriptions, may not sell politically in the streets. And then you have populist demagogues that may get to people. If you don’t–if you’re not careful, a reform-minded government with all the praises from the IMF or the World Bank may lose political support, and then the worst scenario [inaudible]. And when that [inaudible] no one hears the IMF, no one hears the World Bank.
So it’s a delicate balancing act, knowing full aware that running government is a delicate issue. These things have to be situated in the context of the real problems that are on the street.
So basically we are going to be asking for them to strengthen their regulation of the global financial environment because what had happened in discipline from that environment coming mainly from the developed world affected us. We are talking about a crisis that did not emanate from Africa. It was exported to Africa to some extent, but we were buffeted by it. So we ask the IMF and the World Bank and others to strengthen their [inaudible] and work with the big partners in the global economy so as to have a regulated environment.
Like for us, Liberia, we face now a situation of a virtual fund trying to seize our little dollars. And it’s because of this unregulated environment. Thanks to the government of Britain now, as a result of some of the pressure we initiated and some civil society organization, legislation was passed in the British Parliament to regulate virtual funds going around to suck from poor countries what I call, you know, blood from rock. At least we call on other Western countries to do similarly.
Because for our situation we had to abide by HIPC terms in our dealing with our creditors. And our creditor wanted more than the HIPC terms could provide. And we went to court and we lost the court in the countries of their Paris Club. Had we even had the money to give the creditor, this would have meant violating the HIPC terms. Then–but these cases were prosecuted in countries, the Paris Club countries. It is a contradiction that we small countries get affected by that.
But thank the British government for what it did. We hope that we’ll have a better-regulated financial market. We hope that the IMF, the World Bank, and others can step up to the plate because an unregulated environment affects the whole world; it affects all countries and puts them back in poverty.
MINISTER BBUMBA: Thank you very much. I will start off with the last point which my colleague has ended up with. We need global order. In Africa we are, I think to our advantage, we are strongly regulated. The IMF, as a good partner, is very vigilant in Africa. And that’s what saved our financial institutions. But because they have been lax globally, in the big powers we got the imported toxic assets, which affected us the way they did.
And to us in Uganda we looked at this crisis as an opportunity. We never lamented. We just found ways of how to go about it. And I think even to the other colleagues it’s an opportunity because it was a wakeup call for us. Countries which have been relying on mono-commodities are now wiser. Countries which have been trading as small countries are now wiser. They realize the importance of regional trade.
However, what we have also learned from this is that we need to remove the binding constraints to doing business in our countries and in our regions. And one of those, the main ones, is lack of infrastructure. So we are requesting our partners to support us in developing infrastructure in our countries. We don’t have roads, all-weather roads to talk of, even in our own countries, even in the regions we want to trade with. We cannot even access international markets even if there were opportunities. So really number one, list them support as in developing infrastructure and the vigilance to ensure that there is global order.
We also want more respect to our views as developing countries. We have good ideas. We might be late starters, but we have good ideas. We’d like our ideas to be heard and to be respected. And we are calling upon the World Bank and the G-20 in their conversation to give an opportunity to African countries to be heard, to the developing countries to be heard. And what conditionalities should be turned into performance benchmarks. We should be the ones to set the performance benchmarks rather than our partners setting them for us because we know the environment better than they do.
The other one, my last one, is to support investment in our countries. I already said this, I don’t whether one of these days I’m going to be arrested in one of the countries, that African youth are going to continue breaking the borders and go to countries where there are job opportunities because there are no jobs in our countries. All the jobs are exported by exporting raw commodities. We want our partners to assist us to encourage the private sector to come and invest in our countries so that we add value to what we produce and also create employment for young people. Africa has got the youngest population and we don’t have jobs for them. So what do you expect them to do? To swim across the oceans, find ways of getting visas with [inaudible] note, really to look for survival. I think this is very, very important: investing in Africa.
But also coupled with that I talked about the lack of skills among the Africans. We need our partners to assist us to develop skills. I know my–there was a gentlemen there who was talking of the environment and other things. But, you know, the environment will remain polluted if the people in that environment don’t have the basics to appreciate the environment. There are lots of jobs which can be created in Africa. But because our people don’t have the skills, you–Africa can easily become a source of technology. We can. We can do it if only our people have the minimum skills. Already in Africa we are struggling to set up BPOS because we now have quite a number of youth who are trained in IT. Africans are quick learners. Give us a chance. Support us to train our children.
I think I could go on and on. But the last one, if we can reduce the cost of the money under the crisis window. My country has not been there yet, but I’m told by my colleagues that the rate at which this money is being accessed is very high. So if it could come down, since it is for addressing the crisis. To help us to get out of the crisis, the interest rate should be reduced.
MR. DIENG: Thank you, Minister Bbumba. On this note we’ll conclude this press conference because our ministers have some obligation. So we would like to thank you all for coming and thank our ministers. The transcript will be posted on the IMF website.
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