Caption for the landscape image:

Uganda risks losing Shs210b in loan guarantees acquired

Scroll down to read the article

Several economists say the government could particularly lose the Shs209.98b should the associated borrowers fail to repay it in the agreed time. PHOTO/FILE

New data from the Treasury shows that the government’s exposure to the disbursed and outstanding guaranteed debt reached Shs209.98b ($56.22m) by the close of December 2023, representing an 8.1 percent year-on-year increase.

Disbursed and outstanding guaranteed debt is the amount that has been disbursed but has not, as yet, been paid back or forgiven. Put another way, it is the total real disbursements minus actual repayments of principal. With disbursements exceeding repayments, the total portfolio of loans the government has guaranteed now stands at Shs448.21b ($120m).

Several economists this newspaper reached out to for this article noted that the government could particularly lose the Shs209.98b should the associated borrowers fail to repay it in the agreed time. The government’s finance researchers have already computed a potential expected loss of Shs368.83m ($98,747.332) that could materialise between 2024 and 2028.

Economist Fred Muhumuza says the majority of projects in which the government consents to guarantee for loan acquisition are those in which it has some interest, and occasionally private investors who need big cash from some lenders but with less money or corresponding collateral. This, he elaborates, entails institutions like the Uganda Development Bank (UDB) or the controversial specialised hospital in Lubowa.
“These institutions can seek the government to be their guarantor while borrowing from a particular lender, assuring the State repayments before the loan goes due,” he explains.

Active loan guarantees
The government had 12 active loan guarantees by the close of December 2023, which was an increase from the 2022’s count of nine. The Finance ministry attributes this rise to the disbursement of loans from various entities, including the Islamic Development Bank, International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation, Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) Fund, and Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa. Most of this was concentrated in two entities—UDB (holding nine out of 12 loans) and the Islamic University in Uganda (holding the remaining three loans).

The largest amounts of guaranteed loans were held by different creditors: Islamic Development Bank ($29.1m or Shs110b), the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa ($26m or Shs98b), the Opec Fund for International Development ($20m - Shs76b) and the India EXIM Bank ($5m or Shs19b). Others were the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation ($10m or Shs38b), the African Development Bank ($15m or Shs57b) and the European Investment Bank ($15m or Shs57b).

Despite the increase in gross exposure, the nominal value of the disbursed and outstanding guaranteed debt in relation to GDP remained approximately the same as the previous year, at around 0.12 percent, an indication that this debt’s proportion relative to the country’s size of the economy remained stable.
“The current portfolio of guaranteed loans features long maturity periods ranging from seven to 25 years, with a weighted average maturity of eight years. This indicates a low annual exposure of the government in case of default, as debt service is spread over a longer period,” the Treasury said in a fiscal risk assessment report for the 2024/2025 fiscal year.

“There is a notable concentration of repayments in 2024, totalling Shs48.2b ($12.9m). Ninety-eight percent of this sum is attributed to Uganda Development Bank Limited (UDB),” it added.
The Treasury is, however, not worried about this, arguing that “given UDB’s Aa rating by Moody’s, its obligations are deemed to be of high quality and subject to very low credit risk. 

Consequently, the likelihood of UDB defaulting on its guaranteed debt obligations is considered extremely low. This rating reflects the bank’s robust financial position and its ability to honour its commitments, thereby providing a high level of assurance to creditors and the government as a guarantor regarding the repayment of debt.”
In comparison, IUIU’s internal ratings suggest it has a moderate risk of default. While its rating indicates a higher level of credit risk compared to UDB, it does not show an imminent risk of default.

“However, [the] government should be mindful of the moderate credit risk associated with its obligations, which may necessitate closer monitoring and risk management strategies to mitigate potential default risks,” the Finance ministry warned.
Government’s antidote
The government has realised that these obligations’ timing depends on the occurrence of some uncertain future event, usually outside of its control, something that triggers unplanned expenditure from its reserves.

Now the Treasury has decided to not issue any contingent guarantee to private individuals in the five ywwears to 2028 due to the “considerable risk they carry relating to accountability, transparency and prudent use of public resources.” This is aimed to equip itself with sustainable measures to efficiently and sustainably manage public debt.

This offer now remains available to “priority sectors that have been identified in the National Development Framework/Plan as being of ‘national strategic importance’ and are expected to deliver a net positive broader economic benefit for the country,” the Finance ministry’s documents on public debt sustainability show.

Only public corporations or State-owned enterprises with the financial capacity to repay their debts will be given this consideration, the Finance ministry adds, following evaluation of their creditworthiness. And they “shall be required to be audited at least once during their lifetime by the Auditor General or a recognised and accredited audit firm” and “shall only be provided if the proceeds of the underlying loan are earmarked to fund development expenditure.”

We could not get a comment from Mr Moses Kaggwa, the director of economic affairs in the Finance ministry, by press time. He, however, in February, told this publication that this measure had been in place for a while, adding that the majority of projects requesting the State’s guarantee fall short of convincing financial institutions of their projects’ viability.

“Seeking a guarantee is a sign that the bank is not convinced that the project is viable,” he said, adding that “the private sector should borrow based on their credit history, relationship with the bank, business plan, expected cash flow and its security from financial institutions that believe and are convinced of the viability of a project after project appraisal.”

Mr Corti Paul Lakuma, the head of the macroeconomics department at the Economic Policy Research Centre, refutes this to some degree, arguing that a firm running to the government for a loan guarantee doesn’t mean that its credibility has been undermined and it is seeking refuge. He hastens to clarify that some creditors are “just big and their operations demand that prerequisite like some sort of collateral.” This, he further observes, doesn’t demand the government completely wipe away the private sector in issuing loan guarantees because it leaves some genuine ones in isolation.

“The government should evaluate this on a case-by-case basis because some institutions like in the telecom and energy sector demand a lot of money to set up and operationalise and sometimes require a guarantee from the State to assure their creditors some degree of confidence,” he says.

The case-by-case evaluations, he explains, can be expedited by considering the type of investment and what benefits it has to the country’s growth and development.
Muhumuza concurs, stating that the lockout of the private sector needs restraint because some enterprises are truly in need and are able to pay back despite the government’s attempt to protect itself from defaults. 

Credit rating system
The Finance ministry plans to employ a credit rating methodology that will analyse a beneficiary’s financial situation, debt service capacity and willingness, and creditworthiness.
“The outcome of this analysis and quantification will be an ordinal risk rating arising from the total weighted rating of individual indicators and will be aligned with Moody’s rating scale. Any entity with an overall internal risk rating above five, or with any individual risk indicator rated above seven, is considered ineligible,” the Treasury data shows.

Any entity requesting a guarantee shall be required to have existed for, at least, five years, except for the case of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) under public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements and its assessment will be according to the Public Private Partnerships Act. This will require the sector line ministry to be involved in the formulation and monitoring of projects for which funds are acquired.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) developed the PPP fiscal risk assessment model (PFRAM), which can be used for risk analysis in a PPP environment, to assist governments in better assessing and understanding the risks from PPPs. The results of this risk assessment can be converted into quantified risk. The maximum loss, risk rating, likelihood of distress, and expected loss are a few methods used to quantify it.

“Maximum loss is the worst loss the government may sustain from a guarantee or any risk exposure. For example, in a loan guarantee, the maximum loss may be the face value of the loan. If the government guarantees both principal and interest payments, interest payments need to be included in the maximum loss,” the Treasury notes.

By multiplying three variables—exposure at distress, probability of distress, and loss-given distress—one can estimate the expected loss, which is the credit loss a government would anticipate from a portfolio of guarantees or an individual guarantee on average over time.
“To ensure Uganda’s total public debt exposure remains sustainable, government shall ensure the benchmarks [above] are observed before approving a new loan guarantee arrangement. If one of [those] benchmarks is exceeded, owing to unforeseen circumstances, the Finance minister shall report the rationale and the need for an exemption to Cabinet and Parliament,” the Treasury says.

Guarantee fees

The government plans to levy a guarantee fee on the beneficiary equal to 0.3 percent of the guarantee duration annually, based on the total nominal value of the guaranteed facility. There is a cap of two percent of the nominal value on the total fee for any guarantee, though. The objective of this is to periodically assess the beneficiary’s credit standing and financial status, as well as the debt service performance of the underlying credit facility.

“In case the beneficiary’s financing position is inadequate or deteriorating, the risk rating increases, or the debt service performance is unsatisfactory, the [government] can decide to charge an ad-hoc additional fee of up to 0.7 percent per year, which is not bound by the 2.0 percent cap,” the Treasury states.