Niger - Domestic policy

Tandja's government has been disabled by lack of resources and a bankrupt treasury, inherited in 2000. The IMF-funded poverty reduction and growth facility, approved in December 2000, resulted in an initial disbursement of US$11 million. The IMF insists that the government improve its accounting practices, widen its tax base, strengthen its financial management and privatize its electric, water, and petroleum distribution companies. Niger must also settle payment arrears, which may take years to clear. The government paid back US$46 million in 2001 and planned to pay off more than US$40 million in 2002.

Under Tandja's leadership, the government was on track in 2003 to privatize and restructure public utilities and banks, even though delays on arrears payments threatened macro-economic stability. The Ivorian conflict posed an additional challenge and forced Niger to reroute its trade via the Ghanaian port of Tema, which increased the costs of goods. Overall, the government was likely to meet the IMF-World Bank HIPC targets to reach the completion point for continued debt-relief in the second half of 2003.

Economic performance in 2002 was modest as real GDP growth fell from 5.8% in 2001 to 2.9% in 2002, and inflation remained at 3%. The government, however, failed to meet six of the eight performance criteria set by the regional economic organization, the Union Economique et Monetaire Ouest-Africaine (UEMOA) including a balanced budget, the public debt/GDP ratio, salary payments, and domestic public investment as a percentage of fiscal revenue. While the target is 20%, Niger's public investment as a percentage of fiscal revenue declined from 18.6% in 2001 to 14% in 2002.

Tandja's economic program for 2002–05 includes an average 4.7% real GDP growth rate across all sectors for poverty reduction, and a reduction in the current account deficit to 8.8% of GDP. Fiscal policy will be tightened by increases in revenue and reductions in salary payments to 28% of revenue. While the government has developed laudable policies for poverty reduction under its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), it has not secured funding for the strategy. Significant donor support is required if Niger is to meet its targets for reducing poverty.

Tandja faces considerable danger and opportunity as head of state. Niger is at risk from a growing rate of HIV-infection owing to migrant labor, yet the government has failed to make anti-retroviral drugs available. HIV-infected people must seek treatment outside the country in Côte d'Ivoire or Burkina Faso. The government must decide what to do with the 200-some soldiers it arrested after the failed mutiny of August 2002. It also must call a special session of the National Assembly to approve its 2003 budget because the government failed to follow rules set by the Constitutional Court. The absence of a budget for 2003 is indicative of the challenges Tandja faces in ruling justly where resources are scarce, and roles and responsibilities are contentious and poorly understood.

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