For many years, countries in sub-Saharan Africa have spent large amounts on subsidizing fuel and electricity. For both sources of energy combined, this averages around 3-4 percent of GDP. That’s about the same magnitude as public spending on health in many countries. Now we need to ask some important questions. Is this a good use of scarce resources? Where does this money go? Is it helping to support the livelihood of the poorest in African economies? Is it helping to boost the country’s competitiveness? The answers are largely, no. I believe this money can and must be used better to invest in the critical physical and social infrastructure required to sustain growth in sub-Saharan Africa. A recent IMF paper backs this up.
Let’s face it. Everybody loves cheap energy. Almost all human activities require energy consumption and, if something is so basic, it seems pretty obvious that it should not be denied to anyone and government should make it as cheap as possible to both households and companies, including through subsidies. This can help households avoid paying exorbitant energy bills at the end of the month, something that the poor may not be able to afford even for basic needs like heating and cooking.
Companies may also need energy subsidies to help them stay competitive. Energy subsidies appear even more appropriate, and even the obvious thing to do, in countries that have a large supply of energy, like oil producers. After all, this natural wealth in the form of energy belongs to the people; why shouldn’t it be cheap?
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