The La’o Hamutuk Bulletin Vol. 5, No. 1: January 2004
Table of contents:
The Banking and Payments Authority (BPA)
For definitions of the words in bold, click on the word to see its definition in the glossary.
Every country needs to administer public financial resources and make decisions about monetary policy, such as managing the exchange rate, setting interest rates and other decisions regarding a country’s currency. In addition, all governments need financial services: to collect taxes, pay salaries and make payments for materials purchased on behalf of the public. Governments also need to regulate financial institutions like banks and foreign exchange dealers which do business in their countries. In East Timor these services are provided by the Banking and Payments Authority (BPA).
The BPA was formerly known as the Central Payments Office (CPO). The CPO was created early in 2000 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) following the invitation by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the IMF to participate in the Joint Assessment Mission in September 1999, and to take responsibility for the design and construction of East Timor’s financial institutions. The IMF identified and employed people to create and operate the CPO and the Central Fiscal Authority (CFA) which became the BPA and the Ministry of Planning and Finance. The IMF also wrote the UNTAET regulations creating and defining the duties of the BPA. The BPA regulation in East Timor is the same as the regulation which the IMF wrote for the Banking and Payments Authority in Kosovo, which is not an independent country.
The BPA includes a banking and payments department, bank licensing and supervision department, and statistics and economics division. The accounting and budget division writes quarterly and annual reports for the governing board and external auditors as well as managing the BPA’s budget. The BPA also has an administration department and an information technology (IT) division.
Financial services to the government
The BPA provides banking and financial services to the government. All government financial resources are managed by the BPA, which performs all the functions of a bank except that it cannot lend money to individuals or businesses except for commercial banks. It can only invest money in other national governments or central banks. The BPA regulation states that the government is not legally permitted to keep public money in any bank other than the BPA. This is to ensure public funds are managed by the public, not a private institution like a commercial bank.
As part of its banking services to the government, the BPA makes payments for the government, such as salaries to government employees or payments to foreign or domestic businesses which have provided good or services to the government. When the government needs to make payments it instructs the BPA to do so on its behalf.
Currently people can pay taxes and fees to the government through the Banco Nacional Ultramarino (BNU). This is because the BNU was operating in East Timor before the BPA came into existence, and agreed to receive tax payments in an informal agreement with UNTAET. The UNTAET regulation which created the BPA also stated it must be the only recipient of public funds, which made it illegal for the BNU to receive tax payments. Therefore the BPA opened a separate account with the BNU for each government tax. For example, a separate account was opened for income tax, excise tax and so on. Each day the BPA transfers the funds out of the BNU and into the BPA. The BPA has the same arrangement with Institução de Microfinancas de Timor Leste (IMTL), and in the future people will also be able to pay tax at Bank Mandiri and the Australia New Zealand bank (ANZ).
In addition to the government’s and banks’ accounts the BPA keeps accounts for international finance institutions like the IMF, World Bank and Asian Development Bank. When East Timor joined each financial institution the BPA opened an account for them. These `dormant’ accounts are not used on a daily basis like the accounts of banks. They are used to pay the annual subscription fee East Timor has to pay as a member of each international finance institution.
Each bank in East Timor — the ANZ, BNU and Bank Mandiri — is legally required to open two accounts with the BPA. One account is a general account for payments between banks. There is no minimum amount for this account and the balance is determined by the bank. Banks also have collateral accounts which are used to guarantee interbank transactions. The minimum balance is US$50,000, and the BPA pays interest on these accounts, totaling $260,000 in the last financial year (2002-2003).
All financial transactions (transfers of money) between banks in East Timor are processed through the BPA. As most transactions here are in cash, there are not many transfers.
The BPA is also responsible for supervising all banks and foreign exchange dealers operating in East Timor. It also supervises the IMTL but not microfinance projects run by international and national non-governmental organizations. All banks and foreign exchange dealers need to obtain a license from the BPA to operate in East Timor. The BPA’s governing board decides whether or not the BPA should issue the license. Licensed financial institutions are then registered with the BPA.
All financial institutions have to submit to regular examinations by the BPA, including both on-site and off-site examinations, which are a monthly report from the institution to the BPA. The BPA analyses all reports and compiles monetary statistics which it publishes in the newspapers and its own bulletin every quarter.
Every quarter each bank has to submit a consolidated report on its overall financial status, since all of the banks operating in East Timor are from other countries. The on-site inspection is an annual audit carried out at the bank’s premises by BPA inspectors who examine all the accounts and financial statements.
The BPA can check the financial condition of a bank but it cannot interfere with a bank’s operations. For example, it cannot limit the $2.00 per month some banks charge their depositors.
The BPA has a management team which consists of the General Manager from Portugal, the Deputy General Manager for Payments from New Zealand, the Deputy General Manager for Supervision from East Timor and the Chief Accountant from Uganda.
The IMF recruited and pays the salaries jointly with the UNMISET of the General Manager and Deputy General Manager for Payments. These managers do not have to meet all of UNMISET’s reporting and evaluating requirements, and are not likely to be terminated once UNMISET’s mandate ends in June 2004, as these positions are part of the BPA management structure. UNMISET pays for the Chief Accountant and the Senior Economist.
The legislation governing the BPA gives the General Manager a lot of authority within the BPA and consequently with a lot of influence over East Timorese monetary matters. According to the current General Manager, East Timorese leaders asked the Bank of Portugal to recruit someone, and the Bank then asked the IMF to identify and recruit this position. The Bank of Portugal also pays the IMF half his salary. The General Manager is therefore evaluated by the Bank of Portugal, the IMF and the government of East Timor. The General Manager evaluates the other managerial staff on the basis of the work they do at the BPA. If an international adviser performs poorly, it is the General Manager (not the IMF) who decides whether he or she continues working at the BPA.
The BPA has a governing board which is supposed to consist of three executive members (the General Manager of the BPA, the Deputy Manager for Payments, and the Deputy Manager for Supervision), and four non-executive members from civil society. The governing board is responsible for deciding policy and monitoring its implementation. It is also the oversight body of the BPA.
Currently the governing board consists only of the three executive members (two internationals and one East Timorese), although the BPA regulation, promulgated in November 2001, states at least four members of the governing board must be East Timorese. No civil society members have yet been appointed. Consequently there is no effective oversight body.
Who pays for the BPA?
The BPA has its own income. It earns money by charging fees for the banking services provided to the government and agencies which have accounts with the BPA. For instance, banks are charged 0.6% on each cash withdrawal from the BPA. The largest portion of its income last year (41%) came from fees paid by the government, amounting to $562,401.
The BPA also earns interest on the funds it invests overseas (see diagram at right). Most of the capital kept in the BPA is invested abroad. The BPA manages money on the principle of an acceptable level of risk. This means balancing the risks of investing money against the gains that can be made. Some investments have a low level of risk and the interest earned is also low, whereas other means of investments might provide higher returns but higher risks. East Timor’s public funds are deposited in central banks in other countries to earn interest. The BPA would not tell La’o Hamutuk which central banks they invest in. The BPA is allowed to invest East Timor’s money in countries that violate international law or abuse human rights.
The BPA earned $1,371,710 from all its activities over the 2002-03 financial year (see pie chart below). Its expenses include staff salaries, administration, interest on funds it keeps in its accounts and costs incurred importing new US dollars The total expenses amounted to $910,935 over the same period. The BPA’s income exceeded its expenses by $460,775. This surplus is placed into reserve accounts which are used to cover potential losses in the future. If the BPA’s net income in a given financial year exceeds five percent of the total amount in bank accounts held by the BPA, the excess can be transferred into the national government budget.
As East Timor uses the U.S. dollar, the BPA cannot influence the exchange rates. The BPA has not set limits on interest rates. Interest on loans is currently very high (17% per year) because the lack of regulation concerning insurance and land registration increases the risk of loans and reduces the certainty of collateral. When insurance and property can be used to guarantee loans, banks will charge less interest for loans because they will be less risky. If the BPA set limits on interest rates below the current level, the banks would not lend any money as they would consider this too risky.
The BPA is responsible for ensuring that there are enough notes (dollar bills) in East Timor to cover all cash transactions, but it cannot print currency. Therefore, it manages the importation and distribution of U.S. dollars. Many dollars leave East Timor as payments for imports from Australia and Indonesia. East Timor imports much more than it exports. Other dollars are withdrawn from circulation due to age or poor quality and sent back to the U.S. to be destroyed. The BPA has to import new dollars from the U.S. at considerable cost. This year 25% ($230,000) of the BPA’s expenses were transport costs for shipping dollar notes.
The IMF created the BPA and is still involved through regular missions. The IMF continues to provide technical assistance if needed. The managerial staff together with the IMF are responsible for deciding if and when technical assistance is necessary. This has addressed the immediate needs of providing a system of making payments for the government and a means of licensing and regulating banks.
The BPA will become the independent, central bank of East Timor once the new banking law is passed by Parliament. As East Timor uses the US dollar, the BPA is more an independent means of providing payment services and regulating banks rather than a means of formulating monetary policy, where it is limited to giving policy advice to the government based on the statistics it compiles.
For central banks in developed and developing countries with their own currencies, formulating monetary policy has proved very problematic. Currency speculators who trade in currencies have caused massive economic problems in particular. This is one result of the deregulated global economy promoted by the international finance institutions and the world’s most powerful economies.
Glossary of Banking Terms
Bank. An institution which provides financial services to individuals, groups and businesses. These services can include storing money in accounts, transferring money overseas, making payments on behalf of the account holders, providing currency exchange services and lending money. Banks earn money by charging fees for their services, investing money and charging interest on their loans.
Collateral. Money or property used as a guarantee. Usually people need to give a bank collateral before the bank will lend them money. For example if a person wanted to borrow money to start a business they could use their house as collateral. If the business failed the bank would take and sell their house, returning any money above the amount borrowed to the person.
Devalue. Reduce the value of a currency relative to other currencies.
Economics. The study of how goods (food and clothing) and services (education, health care) are produced, distributed and used.
Exchange rate. The value of one currency in relation to another. The values of different currencies are constantly changing. The exchange rate is used to determine how much of one currency you can buy with another currency. For example, one U.S. dollar might buy 8,500 Indonesian rupiah.
Exports. Natural resources like oil, agricultural products like coffee and other goods and services which a country produces and sells in other countries. For example, East Timor exports coffee.
Foreign exchange dealer. Someone who buys and sells different currencies.
Imports. Goods and services produced in other countries which are brought into a country and sold. For example, some of East Timor’s imports include diesel fuel and Gudam Garam cigarettes.
Inflation. An increase in prices of goods and services. This can happen when the supply of money increases or when the demand for a limited number of goods increases. In East Timor, inflation occurred when a large number of internationals were highly paid by UNTAET.
Interest. A charge or payment for using someone else’s money. For example, a bank pays interest on money kept in an account because it can use the money for investments. If a bank lends money it charges a higher rate interest to the person, group or business which uses the money.
Interest rate. The percentage of the amount in an account or loan which is paid or charged in a given time period. The BPA can set interest rates, although it doesn’t do so at the moment in East Timor. Interest rates have important impacts. If interest on loans are high, fewer people take out loans. If interest rates are lower, more people will borrow money. By setting interest rates a bank can influence people to spend more money than they have.
Monetary policy. A set of actions or decisions about the national currency. These decisions can be about the foreign exchange rate of the national currency, or setting limits on the interest rates banks can charge.
Statistics. Information regarding numbers. The BPA is concerned with the collecting information about the prices of goods and services in East Timor. The BPA uses the statistical information to make decisions regarding monetary policy.
East Timor-Nigeria Exchange on Petroleum Development
Seven East Timorese activists from six local NGOs are visiting Nigeria during the second half of January to study the oil and gas industry. La’o Hamutuk has organized this group, which includes (L-R) Jesuina Soares (La’o Hamutuk), Carlos A. B. Florindo (ETADEP), Julino Ximenes da Silva (Perkumpulan HAK), João da Silva Sarmento (La’o Hamutuk) and Liliana E. A. C. Hei (Grupo Feto Enclave Oecusse) standing; Aurelio Freitas Ribeiro (KSI, and Justino da Silva (NGO Forum) in front.
Hosted by Oilwatch Africa and Environmental Rights Action, the East Timorese hope to learn from Nigeria’s experience about the negative and positive impacts of forty years of petroleum development. The group will meet with communities in the Niger Delta, government officials, and local NGOs to see how oil and gas operations have affected their environment, politics, living standards, and quality of life, and to see what good and bad lessons East Timor can learn from Nigeria’s experiences. After they return to East Timor, members of the delegation will develop and communicate their understanding to civil society and responsible officials here.
Oil Money Requires Good Management
by Joseph E. Stiglitz*
It is sad but true that most natural resource-rich countries do not grow faster or perform in other ways better than those with fewer natural resources do. This observation would seem to contradict the basic laws of economics since more natural resources should provide more economic advantages and opportunities. Economists and other social scientists have worked hard to explain this anomaly and to figure out how these countries can maximize the benefits of their abundant natural resources.
Yet, the failures are legion and continuous. Oil-rich Nigeria has squandered a quarter trillion dollars of oil revenues and is deeply in debt. Two-thirds of the population of Venezuela still lives in poverty. Civil wars, fostered in varying degrees by struggles over control of oil, gas, and minerals, have devastated a host of resource-rich countries.
Part of this instability is explained with simple economics. Natural resource wealth can destabilize exchange rates. It can cause currency appreciation that weakens sectors of the economy not based on natural resources by making it difficult for manufacturers to export or to compete with imports. Meanwhile, the natural resource sector of the economy provides substantial revenues, but does not create employment throughout the economy. The resulting unemployment can give rise to political and social instability.
But the most fundamental problems that many resource-rich nations face are political. Control over natural resource wealth provides leaders with little incentive to share power, and gives leaders the means with which to buy legitimacy rather than earn it through elections. Leaders undertake costly investments to buy political support through job creation with contracts often awarded to well-connected insiders. Because rent seeking and state subsidies direct investment to unviable projects incapable of attracting private financing, many of these extravagant projects fail to lessen the country’s dependence on natural resource development. The desire by government leaders to control wealth generated by natural resources often discourages the development of democracy and prompts violent conflict and resistance by those who have not benefited from the resource wealth and who feel shut out of centralized, undemocratic political systems.
To avoid these outcomes, political leaders and citizens need to regard their country’s natural resources as the nation’s endowment. These resources do not belong exclusively to the current government or generation, but to all citizens and generations. The current government and generation are simply trustees. To use these resources for one’s own benefit, leaving future generations impoverished, is to steal their patrimony. Leaders inside and outside of government share a responsibility to promote this sense of stewardship in resource-rich countries.
Transparency of information about revenues received and fiscal accounting standards are key to increasing natural resource management and wealth. National accounting frameworks that do not appropriately take account of the depletion of resources are misleading; they prompt governments to think that the economy is becoming wealthier, when it may be becoming poorer. This false sense of wealth leads to bad decisions.
Even more important is information about what the government receives for oil or other natural resources, how this compares with what other countries are receiving, and how the government uses the funds it receives from the sale of natural resources. Governments should recognize that even in more developed countries major oil companies have tried to minimize their royalty payments by under-reporting the effective price of oil and over-reporting their costs. It was only through hard research that such evasion was detected, for instance, in the State of Alaska, and it was only through even harder prosecution that the oil companies finally agreed to pay the more than a billion dollars that they had avoided paying the state.
Companies have strong incentives to maximize profits and the opacity that surrounds oil contracts and payments can lead to abuse. A few oil companies, most notably BP, however, are setting the opposite example, by willingly publishing what they pay. Such disclosure allows citizens in resource-rich countries to become informed about how much the government receives for the nation’s natural resources. It is regrettable that this commitment to good corporate citizenship has not been matched by most other oil companies.
Institutional arrangements like stabilization funds are essential to managing wealth derived from natural resources and ensuring that the money is used to replace the natural resource endowment that is being depleted. Stabilization funds in several countries have helped ensure that public funds are available for the rainy day when they are needed. This is especially important because international arrangements like the IMF, set up at the end of World War II to help finance counter-cyclical fiscal policy, have failed to perform the function for which they were created. The result has been that most developing countries are forced to engage in pro-cyclical fiscal policy, at great cost to the economy and society. Countries today recognize that borrowing is highly risky, and that they must rely on their own resources, especially for stabilization purposes.
There is no issue of greater importance than ensuring the long-run prosperity and stability of resource-rich countries by developing ways to use these resources and the wealth they generate well.
*Joseph E. Stiglitz, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, was chief economist for the World Bank until 2000. He now teaches at Columbia University in the USA. This essay is reprinted with permission from Caspian Oil Windfalls: Who Will Benefit? (Caspian Revenue Watch, 2003).
The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La’o Hamutuk)