An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission, led by Mr. Carlo Sdralevich, met with an official Iraqi delegation headed by the Acting Minister of Finance, Dr. Ali Al Shukri, in Amman, Jordan, during March 2-12, 2013 to conduct the Article IV Consultation discussion.
The IMF mission met with the Acting Minister of Finance, the Acting Governor of the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI), head of the Board of Supreme Audit, AbdulBasit Al Turki Said, and other Iraqi officials from the ministries of finance, planning, and oil, and representatives from the Central Bank and the Board of Supreme Audit. The team also met with representatives from the Iraqi banking and business community.
At the conclusion of the mission, Mr. Sdralevich made the following statement:
“Following the recent expiration of the Stand-By Arrangement with Iraq approved in 2010, the IMF is committed to continue close collaboration with Iraq to support its development and help the government improve the social conditions and employment opportunities of Iraqi citizens.
“Despite a difficult security and political environment, Iraq managed to maintain macroeconomic stability over the past two years. On the back of rising oil production and robust non-oil activity, economic growth has remained strong at about 8 percent in 2012. We expect activity to accelerate further to 9 percent in 2013, as oil production increases from just under 3 million barrels per day (mbpd) in 2012 to 3.3 mbpd in 2013. In 2012, inflation was contained at 6 percent, and we project it to decline slightly next year. On account of strong oil proceeds, CBI reserves reached US$70 billion at the end of 2012, while the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) rose to US$18 billion.
“While we welcome the achievement of a budget surplus of about 4 percent of GDP in 2012, largely due higher-than expected oil revenues, the execution of the 2013 budget should be aligned with available financing and provide for the accumulation of adequate fiscal buffers in the DFI, which suggests to target a budget surplus in 2013.
Public financial management should be strengthened, notably by phasing out off-budgetary spending practices and reliance on state-owned bank financing to support public enterprises. Approval of additional spending commitments during the fiscal year should also be avoided.
“Financial sector policies are improving, but more remains to be done. The CBI’s ongoing efforts to refine monetary policy instruments, strengthen banking supervision, and accelerate the restructuring of the banking system are crucial. In this respect, the recent steps to clean up the balance sheets of Rasheed and Rafidain in preparation for their restructuring and recapitalization are key.
The CBI should also take measures to gradually liberalize the provision of foreign exchange through its auctions, with the objective of avoiding in future the turbulence experienced by the market in the past year.
“Iraq will need to address serious medium-term challenges in order to be able to create the conditions for high and sustainable growth that is necessary to improve the living standards of its people. The economy continues to suffer from severe structural weaknesses such as a small nonoil sector, high unemployment, public sector dominance, and a weak business environment. In this context, we discussed the role of economic policies in leveraging Iraq’s potential and creating an enabling environment.
“With regard to the fiscal sector, the budget must be managed carefully to maintain macroeconomic stability, meet Iraq’s large social and investment needs while continuing to accumulate buffers to address oil market volatility, and ensure medium-term fiscal sustainability. At the same time, Iraq needs to strengthen fiscal institutions and public financial management to make sure that the large oil revenues are used effectively and transparently.
“Developing a stronger financial sector development will require moving away from the current model in which weak state-owned banks dominate the financial sector and enjoy favorable treatment vis-a-vis private banks. A solid banking system that can support growth and employment will require the full financial and operational restructuring of state-owned banks and creating a level playing field for both private and public banks.
“Finally, while oil-growth is projected to remain high over the coming years, boosting non-oil private sector growth will need a long-term government strategy centered on improving the business environment and opening up opportunities for the private sector.”