A A A

Alternatives to the IMF and China? Anti-offshore Movements and Debt Restructuring Possibilities

By Guest Contributor , on 6 June 2017

Mongol

 

 

Sanchir is a political scientist and activist broadly concerned with economic and political development in Mongolia and in the Global South.  His main area of research focuses on, but not limited to problems of late and uneven development, democratization process in post-socialist countries, issues of trade, and investment, extractivism, poverty and debt in the developing world.  He has an interdisciplinary research agenda that combines political theory, global political economy, and Central Asian and Russian studies.  This blog post originated in email conversations between Sanchir, members of the Emerging Subjects project, and Mongolia-focused scholars about the role of the IMF and China in addressing Mongolia’s economic crisis.

 

On May 24th, 2017 The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a three-year extended arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for Mongolia to support an approximately $5.5 billion total financing package.  Along with obtaining financing from the IMF to address Mongolia’s sovereign debt crisis, there was also the possibility of Mongolia receiving a straight loan from China; however, the Chinese side ultimately cancelled the deal.  Many politicians, political commentators, and media outlets have promoted the arrangement with the IMF as a lesser of these two evils.

I have argued that presenting a bailout from the IMF or loans from China as the only options for Mongolia to address its economic situation is a false binary propagated by official discourse and a monopolized media.  Notwithstanding the question of plausibility, different civil society organizations and individuals (including myself) have been invoking other possibilities.  This includes alternatives such as returning embezzled money from offshore accounts[1]; auditing the use, distribution, and repayment of sovereign bond sourced credits; cutting unnecessary budget expenses and other measures of similar ilk.

The most prominent movement in Mongolia promoting theses aforementioned views has been the People’s Anti-Offshore Committee (‘The Committee’). Their biggest activity has been the protest of March 31st where several hundred people protested at Sukhbaatar Square over the alleged theft of public funds now held in offshore accounts. Politicians and activists at the protest demanded the return of $17 billion lying in these accounts. Even though some people have speculated that these protests were funded by some members of the ruling class in order pressure their opponents, the birth of different anti-offshore Mongolian groups abroad, as well as a large interest in the People’s Anti-Offshore Committee itself, indicates that the movement has serious opposition potential and popular legitimacy.

The Facebook group for ATOZ, one of the main anti-offshore movements, reached 172,426 members (not an insignificant number for Mongolia's small population).

The Facebook group, ATOZ, one of the main anti-offshore movements, reached 172,426 members (not an insignificant number given Mongolia’s small population).

 

According to the Extended Fund Facility arrangement with the IMF, Mongolia has agreed to “cut spending, raise taxes and the retirement age, while pledging to maintain a flexible exchange rate and build a stronger regulatory environment for banking and finance.” This is in line with the standard IMF austerity package that has in other countries led to the shrinking of the national economy, which makes future debt repayments an even greater burden (Toussaint, 2010; Varoufakis, 2016; Weisbrot & Sandoval, 2007).  For this reason, I have personally been involved in advocating that Mongolia carry out a debt restructuring process consistent with the United Nation’s principles along with a new Debt Sustainability Analysis, the partial writing-off of debt to manageable proportions, and a citizen debt audit to differentiate between odious and legitimate debt [2].

In my opinion, one of the reasons why getting assistance from either the IMF or China have become the normalized options for Mongolia is because neither would necessarily shake-up the whole system as it currently exists. These two options maintain the position of the dominant class while the current administration will not have to tackle the existing debt problem. They can just pass the buck onto the next government by extending and refinancing the loans. In short, it allows for a position that maintains the status quo rather than holding anyone to account for the current position Mongolia finds itself in.

 

 

[1]Leaks of offshore information from Mossack Fonseca, a law firm in Panama, exposed a lengthy list of potential tax evasion, money laundering, and illegal transactions, which involved top level government officials from a number of countries, including Mongolia. Among the 49 Mongolian individuals and business entities named in the Panama Papers, there were accounts related to two former prime ministers of Mongolia, S. Bayar and S. Batbold; parliament member S. Bayartsogt; and other government officials.

[2] For example, during my speeches at the Left Forum organized by Rosa Luxembourg Stiftung in March 2016, Asia Europe People’s Forum held in Ulaanbaatar in July 2016, and the Peoples Research Training in Mongolia organized by Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN), People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) and Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD).

 

References:

Toussaint, Eric. Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010.

Varoufakis, Yanis. And the Weak Suffer What They Must?: Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic Future. Washington, DC: Nation Books, 2016.

Weisbrot, Mark, and Sandoval, Luis. Argentina’s Economic Recovery: Policy Choices and Implications. New York: Center for Economic and Policy Research, October 2007, #2.

Presenting on the ‘Diverse Economies of Megaprojects’ at 13th Annual Mongolia Development Forum

By Lauren Bonilla, on 24 April 2017

 

On Thursday, April 6, we (Rebekah Plueckhahn and Lauren Bonilla) participated in the 13th annual Mongolia Development Forum, held at the headquarters of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London.  The forum was co-organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mongolian Embassy in the UK, Mongolian Association in the UK, Tsahim Urtuu Holboo, Mongolian Business Database, and Council of Mongolians Abroad.  The theme of the day was ‘Opportunities in Mongolia’, which addressed three key topics: Business in Mongolia, Challenges and Opportunities; Social and Legal Issues; and Mega-Projects.

 

Bataa

Bataa Tserenbat, the event organizer, introduces the mission and history of the Mongolian Development Forum to a packed auditorium.

 

Bayar

Bayar Sanjaa, the former Prime Minister of Mongolia and current Ambassador of Mongolia to the UK, gives a welcome address.


We jointly presented in the Mega-Projects session given our respective areas of research on the effects of economic fluctuations in Ulaanbaatar (Rebekah) and the mining industry (Lauren). Although these topics are quite different from each other in many respects, we have discovered in the course of our research that our findings yield many similarities.  We have observed how urban development and the large-scale mine development could both be considered mega-projects in the sense that they promise to be transformational in nature.  They also involve long time horizons in their development and require large amounts of capital investment.  Moreover, while much attention is given to the role of more formal institutions, stakeholders, markets, and policies in influencing the development trajectories of largescale urban and mine projects, our research has shown that a diversity of actors, processes, and practices exist within, help to shape, and are produced from a mega-project.

Presentation

\Bek and Lauren

 

Lauren’s talk discussed a feature of the Tavan Tolgoi coal complex that has long been a source of debate and controversy: the multiplicity of companies that own and operate sections of the deposit located in Tsogttsetsii, Omnogobi province.  In recent years there has been debate about consolidating the ownership of the Tavan Tolgoi deposit so that it is governed by one company instead of the current situation where there are three companies running mine projects in close proximity to each other: MMC/Energy Resources (a publically traded company listed on the Hong Kong stock-exchange), Erdenes Tavan Tolgoi (a state-owned company), and Tavan Tolgoi JSC (a company owned by both the local province and private shareholders).  While this diversity of ownership has presented a number of governance challenges, Lauren talked about how it has also been a blessing to some degree in the current period of economic crisis.  Since the mining companies are differentially exposed to coal markets and operate according to various financing streams and shareholder interests, they have pursued divergent forms of extractive activity in response to the slowdown of the coal economy.  Locally, this has meant that once-booming Tsogttsetsii has avoided facing a singular bust at Tavan Tolgoi.  Instead, small stores, taxi and trucking services, car repair shops, and trade activities, among other businesses, have been able to survive amid the slowdown, even though many have suffered from crushing indebtedness, bankruptcy and capital loss.

Lauren thus stressed the importance of diversification within a mega-project as a means to reduce exposure to market fluctuations, especially in a volatile industry like mining.  She also drew attention to how diverse economic activities always exist around mega-projects, often in unanticipated ways.  She presented an example of a scene she witnessed in April 2016 where a herding household traveled over 100 kilometers to Tsogttsetsii from another district in order to recruit temporarily unemployed mine engineers and professionals from Energy Resources to comb their large herd of goats for cashmere.  In addition to benefiting the herders, the work gave the mine workers something to do instead of sitting idly at home waiting for Energy Resources to resume its operations.

Rebekah opened her presentation by encouraging the audience to think about Ulaanbaatar city as a type of ‘mega-project.’ While different to other types of mega-projects with a more singular aim, she took several key points that apply to mega-projects more generally and applied them to different aspects of Ulaanbaatar. She described this as a useful way to look at the types of transformative visions and diverse economies that the city gives rise to. The first point was how Ulaanbaatar at different planning stages, during socialism, and in the diverse postsocialist environment, has formed a political power center and a locus for economic activity. In the postsocialist environment, the Ulaanbaatar 2020 Master Plan and Development Approaches for 2030, like other plans for different mega-projects, presents  visions for various types of transformations.

Rebekah went on to discuss how urban development in Ulaanbaatar is extremely sensitive to wider economic fluctuations, where the city, like other mega-projects elsewhere, is always partially completed. She emphasized how re-/development projects have long consisted of numerous diverse economic connections. This has meant that the recent economic downturn has affected vast amounts of people throughout the city. In conclusion, Rebekah discussed the economies of land access and land use that shape Ulaanbaatar, especially in the ger areas surrounding the city core. She described these diverse economies as two-fold: the economy of land access, as well as the numerous small business and livelihood opportunities that living on land can afford. She emphasized how influential these urban residents are in shaping Ulaanbaatar as a city, and the importance of incorporating these existing diverse economies in future urban development plans.

The Q&A at the end was very lively. Rebekah was asked about how traffic and air pollution can be mitigated in Ulaanbaatar, to which she emphasized the different plans and efforts currently being discussed by state agencies and development organizations in Ulaanbaatar. Lauren was asked about what Mongolia should do to quickly address the current economic crisis, to which she cautioned against anything that promises a fast fix and discussed how the Emerging Subjects project conceptualizes crisis as a space that can allow for the emergence of new possibilities.

Megaprojects

The ‘Mega-Projects’ panel. From left to right: L. Dulamzul, Rebekah Pleuckhahn, Lauren Bonilla, B. Maral, and A. Gantuya.

 

Related to this latter point, audience members showed great appreciation for the all-female makeup of our panel.  As one Mongolian from the Ministry of Finance mentioned during the reception, mega-projects are typically a highly masculine arena.  Had the panel been organized five years ago during Mongolia’s so-called boomtime, it likely would have been formed by men in suits talking about statistics, investment opportunities, and big infrastructure projects.  Instead, our panel was very much about new ways of looking at and doing things, from our talk on diverse economies to Maral Bayaraa’s presentation about the application of innovative remote sensing technologies and Gantuya Ariunsan’s analysis of strategies to interpret future coal market prices.  If our panel is an example of an opening that Mongolia’s economic crisis affords, then there are indeed opportunities arising to be hopeful about.

The Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs presents awards to forum panelists.

 

All photos © of Ganzorig Ulaankhuu.

Acknowledgements: We thank Bataa Tserenbat for expertly organizing the event, Zula Luvsandorj for chairing our amazing all-women panel, and Ganzorig Ulaankhuu for taking photos at the event and sharing them with us.