Improving macro economy

Author: 
G. Srinivasan

The Modi government is heading to seek a renewal of mandate before long to implement its triple credo of perform, reform and transform for another five years beginning the summer of 2019, having subjected the economy to disruptive demonetization of high denomination currencies in 2016 and the perfunctory placement of the goods and services tax (GST) in July 2017 as the acme of its economic reformist credentials in its maiden tenure. Though admirers and critics of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) have their own binary view of either good or bad image of the Modi sarkar, the incontrovertible fact remains that the much-touted high growth potentials of the economy had not been duly exploited in the bygone years to make a qualitative difference to the living standards of legions of Indians.
Against this backdrop, the staff appraisal report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released recently in Washington after the Board of the Directors met makes quite an edifying reading. India is no doubt not under any loan programme of the IMF as of now and on the other hand it has been quite active as a responsible member of the G-20 in replenishing the Fund’s kitty sans demur so that the lender of the last resort, as the IMF is viewed, could discharge its financing needs of members in stress and distress. Most of the published reports of the Fund referred to the positive features as one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, accounting for about 15 per cent of global growth. The Indian elephant is about to run providing a permanent source of growth for the global economy in the coming decades, credited as it is with a young and growing youth population.
Referring to yet another achievement of the GST introduction, the Fund report point blank noted that transitional costs related to the national GST introduction led to a sharp slowdown of economic activity to 6 per cent year-on-year in the first half of 2017-18. While uniform tax rates across states is a major achievement, the GST in India includes four non-zero tax rate tiers (and additional rates and cesses for specific goods) and a broad array of exemptions such as on alcohol and petroleum, which goes against Fund suggestion of having as few tax rate tiers as possible and minimal exemptions. The point to ponder is not that the advent of GST has slowed growth but its ham-handed implementation with multiplicity of rates and exemptions with venal vested-interest capture to get rates lowered for their goods all muddied the otherwise good and simple tax as it should have been to usher in a win-win situation for all. Rightly did the Fund call the bugle of vigilance in view of the higher-than-usual uncertainty shrouding GST revenue projections, stemming mainly from the absence of historical data on which to base projections. In the context of GST adoption, the Centre has guaranteed states’ annual revenue growth of 14 per cent for a span of five years. As such, GST revenue slippages could exacerbate the central government deficit through additional transfers to states and warrants further fiscal measures.
On developments in the country’s crucial banking industry, the Fund cautioned that systemic macro- financial risks bear monitoring and the weak credit cycle could impair growth, while the sovereign-bank nexus has fostered vulnerabilities. Although bank credit growth recovered to 12.5 per cent (y/y) in May, incremental credit was mostly allocated to households and the services sector, with credit to industry remaining stagnant. Noting that the recent fraud at a large public sector bank, Punjab National Bank, highlighted governance hiatus, which has depressed bank share prices, the Fund warns that depressed valuations may make it difficult to meet the government’s expectation that public sector banks raise an additional 0.3 per cent of GDP from the market over two years.
While commending the resolution of stressed assets of the banks and companies through Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code (IBC) and other cognate steps to clean up the twin balance sheet troubles, the Fund asked the domestic authorities to further beef up governance issues in the banking industry. But regrettably, the Banking Reforms Roadmap, announced in January 2018, albeit linking recapitalization of banks to strengthen governance and operations, is rather nebulous. In this context, the Fund urged the authorities to pursue more far-reaching governance reforms, for instance removing the RBI representatives from banks’ boards and defining better the terms of reference for board members, including the Ministry of Finance representatives, to strengthen the quality and independence of banks’ boards. More aggressive PSB disinvestment and privatization would address some of the structural issues in governance, such as incentives and efficiency of PSBs, the Fund said.
In sum, the bitter medicines prescribed for bringing the banking sector back on track to do its core business of lending to the real sectors of the economy need a serious doctor from the political dispensation who understands the underlying implications of the cost of action and the fallout of inaction to the larger economy! (IPA)

Monday, 3 September, 2018