Govt considering pandemic responses, including R100 billion social bond

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The government is considering a range of proposals to help the economy recover from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, including the potential sale of a R100 billion social-impact bond.

The suggestions have been submitted to the government by its own departments, a panel of presidential advisers and a group of independent economists, several of whom spent large parts of their careers in senior state positions.

The proposal for the bond was submitted by Intellidex, a South African capital markets and financial services consultancy, according to Stuart Theobald, its chairman. While it wasn’t solicited by the government, it is being considered, he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration is under pressure to come up with a response to the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak. While the government has won praise for its speedy response to curb the spread of the disease, including a strict five-week shutdown, concern is growing that too little has been done to support struggling businesses and the country’s poorest people. The cabinet considered economic measures at a meeting on Monday.

With a budget deficit that could widen to more than 10% of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund, South Africa has very little financial room to stimulate an economy set to contract this year. A social-impact bond would tap the growing trend for investments that meet the requirements of environment, social and governance strategies. Some financial returns are typically sacrificed for measurable social returns. If those pre-defined targets are not met, there are often financial penalties.

Health Expenditure

The Treasury didn’t immediately respond to queries about the bond. If the proposal gets the go-ahead, it would be sold domestically and internationally and would fund unforeseen health expenditure and could be used to mitigate the economic impact of the crisis, Theobald said.

In January, Ecuador sold the first-ever sovereign social bond, raising $400 million to fund affordable housing, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, which partially guaranteed it.

The government is also considering other proposals from the group of economists, put together by Miriam Altman, an economist who serves on the government’s National Planning Commission. Two former deputy directors general at the Treasury, Michael Sachs and Andrew Donaldson, are also part of the group.

The recommendations include R200 billion of guarantees for bank lending to struggling businesses, the purchase of between R10 billion and R20 billion of government bonds by the central bank every week until the crisis subsides, wage support and tax on the wealthy.

The Banking Association South Africa, which represents banks, said it’s developing its own guarantee proposal.

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