Zambia’s Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane needs to reassure investors that Africa’s second-largest copper producer is on a path to debt sustainability and simultaneously address concerns over high living costs when he presents the southern African nation’s budget on Friday.
(Bloomberg) — Zambia’s Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane needs to reassure investors that Africa’s second-largest copper producer is on a path to debt sustainability and simultaneously address concerns over high living costs when he presents the southern African nation’s budget on Friday.
With economic growth forecast to slow this year and tax revenue from the key copper-mining industry plunging, the minister has little fiscal space to maneuver. Delays in the finalization of a $6.3 billion debt-restructuring deal pose an additional challenge.
These charts show the key issues the 67-year-old economist needs to address when he delivers his budget speech at about 2:15 p.m. in Lusaka, the capital.
Musokotwane has been struggling to sign a debt-restructuring deal with Zambia’s official creditors, co-led by China and France, after reaching an agreement in principle in June. Delays earlier this year held up almost $190 million disbursement from the International Monetary Fund, which eventually came in July.
It’s unclear if the fund will proceed with the next payment due Oct. 1 without the government having signed a memorandum of understanding with the official creditor committee. Private creditors, including holders of $3 billion in eurobonds, are also awaiting that deal before proceeding with their own reorganization, which must be on at-least-as-favorable terms.
“We need to completely bed these transactions” down, President Hakainde Hichilema said Wednesday in a meeting with Thomas Ostros, vice president at the European Investment Bank. Specific agreements with the creditors are needed “so we can now basically say this chapter is closed,” he said.
The IMF also urged creditors to make progress on the debt deal. “We are calling for advancing the debt restructuring,” IMF spokeswoman Julie Kozack said in a briefing Thursday. “We hope that a memorandum of understanding is completed soon so that the implementation of the debt treatment can proceed quickly.”
Musokotwane accompanied Hichilema on his first state visit to China earlier this month. Neither have yet pronounced whether any breakthrough was reached on the restructuring, nor when an MOU will be signed.
Plunging Tax Take
First-half mining company taxes plummeted 64% compared with a year earlier. Zambia’s mineral royalty take fell 40% in the same period, with output for 2023 forecast to hit a 14-year low. Copper accounts for about 70% of export earnings, so the slide has also hit the local currency, adding to imported inflationary pressures, especially related to fuel.
Musokotwane faces increasing political pressure to ease high living costs. Annual inflation crept up to 12% in September, an 18-month high, and prices for corn meal, the nation’s staple food, surged 67% over the past 12 months.
Corn demand from Zambia’s neighbors is encouraging smuggling and pushing up local prices, Hichilema said in his meeting with Ostros. “Food security is threatening the gains we have made in our restructuring efforts,” he said.
The nation’s currency has proved especially reactive to news on the debt-restructuring process. The kwacha has plunged 16% since June 22, when it rallied on news of the in-principle deal with the country’s bilateral lenders. That’s the worst performance of any currency in Africa over the period.
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