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IMF: Kenya's external position is strong as standby deal expires

International Business
Fri, 14 Sep 2018
Reuters


Nairobi: The International Monetary Fund considers that Kenya's external position is strong, its representative in Nairobi said on Friday, adding that the Fund would continue to support its reform efforts, even though a stand-by loan deal has expired.

Kenya had secured a six-month extension in March of the $989.8 million arrangement. However, the IMF set conditions for a further extension, including the repeal of a cap on commercial lending interest rates which was imposed in 2016, a move that parliament rejected in a finance bill last month.

President Uhuru Kenyatta sent the bill back to parliament on Thursday night, but what happens next regarding the rate cap is not yet clear.

"The second review of the IMF-supported programme has not been completed, and the programme will expire today," its representative Jan Mikkelsen told Reuters. "It should be stressed that Kenya's external position remains strong and foreign exchange reserves are at a very comfortable level."

Kenyan officials have played down the significance of the expiry of the deal, which was agreed in 2016 to help cushion the economy in case of unforeseen external shocks that could upset the balance of payments. No funds were ever drawn down.

However, Finance Minister Henry Rotich said on Thursday talks with the Washington-based fund would now focus on the next type of facility Kenya could secure.

"The IMF will continue to support Kenya's reform efforts through policy advice and capacity development," Mikkelsen said, without giving more details.

Kamau Thugge, the principal secretary at the ministry of finance, had said on Thursday that the expiry would not hurt the economy.

Rotich tried to repeal the rate cap in his June budget, but parliament voted to keep the upper limit while getting rid of a minimum deposit rate it had previously imposed.

The rate cap was aimed at helping small traders access capital at affordable rates, but has had the opposite effect, with banks saying they cannot price risk to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) properly while the cap is in place.

As a result, lending to the private sector fell from 9.3 per cent in 2016 to 2.4pc last year.

Kenyatta is due to address the nation on Friday, after rejecting the finance bill which also sought to postpone a widely unpopular tax on fuel.