File. Healthcare workers at a a temporary Covid-19 treatment facility in Cape Town. File photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)
File. Healthcare workers at a a temporary Covid-19 treatment facility in Cape Town. File photo: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

BRICS New Development Bank can accelerate post-Covid recovery

By Ashraf Patel Time of article published Aug 1, 2021

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SOUTH Africa is caught between a rock and a hard place.

The looting and violence, together with the chaotic Covid-19 vaccine rollout programme and recovery over the past 18 months, can be described as sub-optimal, peppered with multiple cases of mismanagement in procurement and a general lack of an effective integrated government.

The result is deep socio-political, economic fissures and malaise.

The latest IMF growth forecast is especially sobering. The IMF forecasts that South Africa’s real GDP will grow by 4% in 2021 and 2.2% in 2022 – well below global benchmarks.

South Africa’s GDP shrank by 7% in 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions. The 4% growth expected for this year comes off a very low base.

Of the major markets assessed, South Africa has the second weakest anticipated growth rate for 2022, above only Brazil (+1.9%), pointing to an exceptionally slow recovery. It also warned that a slower-than-anticipated vaccine rollout would allow the virus to mutate further.

Ironically South Africa was an early beneficiary of a mega IMF Covid bailout package in June last year, and despite being invited to the G7 summit in London, there is little to show in terms of substantive developmental infrastructure and programs.

As a member of forums such as the G20, BRICS and the AU, South Africa can do much better at being a role model for a successful and inclusive development and recovery programme.

Even though BRICS nations have had varied successes in Covid-19 response and recovery, those nations that have taken on neo-liberal programmes such as India, Brazil and South Africa have experienced very high levels of economic disruption, over dependence on multinational corporations vaccine value chains, and low and chaotic vaccine rollout programs.

Hard lockdowns have meant that economic recovery is likely to be anaemic for the year head. At least South Africa is a member of the BRICS, and the New Development Bank (NDB) is set to contribute to the reconstruction of the South African economy, as the process will hinge upon the success of the infrastructure investment drive.

Ambitious plan announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa to attract R1.2 trillion in foreign capital can be aided by the financial institute of the BRICS grouping.

For instance, NDB’s loan book rose to $24.4 billion (about R356bn) last year. In response to the coronavirus pandemic the bank disbursed loans to its members to support national healthcare systems.

Last year SA secured a $1bn emergency loan to support its economic recovery from the pandemic in April, and another one of the same amount in June. The money was channelled to provide a social safety net to alleviate the economic impact of the disease containment measures on vulnerable individuals. That money has run out.

At a BRICS foreign ministers’ meeting in June, foreign ministers noted with appreciation the role of NDB in infrastructure and sustainable development financing to combat the pandemic.

Special attention was given to social infrastructure, especially at a time when the pandemic has had a direct impact on people’s lives, notably on healthcare and education systems.

The NDB has AA+ long-term issuer credit ratings from S&P and Fitch and AAA foreign currency long-term issuer rating from the Japan Credit Rating Agency (JCR). This has enabled it to access funds at rates way cheaper than what is possible by individual BRICS member states.

For instance, this year the NDB approved the restructuring of the Fundo Clima $500m loan in Brazil. The project’s goals are to contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation investments in various sectors, such as urban mobility, waste treatment and renewable energy.

Another loan of $40m went to the Brazilian municipality of Sorocaba. The objective is to improve road infrastructure, promote alternate means of transportation, improve the environment and quality of lives of its residents.

The same scheme should be widely used for eradicating the pressing infrastructure financing gap in SA. Presidential economic advisory team and the National Planning Commission should actively foster the engagement with the NDB’s regional office in Johannesburg to keep the new projects coming to ensure sustained post-Covid economic recovery of SA’s economy.

The NDB has the capacity to expand membership as well as lend to other non-member countries in the southern African region, providing an alternative source of financing to the traditional West-dominated Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. With the new opportunities opening up by the African continental free trade agreement (ACFTA) and the BRICS summit planned for later in the year, South Africa’s economy must be streamlined to take the full benefit of the future continental common market, rooted in our developing world status and need for inclusive industrialisation.

* Ashraf Patel is a digital development specialist, and associated with the Institute for Global Dialogue.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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