The PA’s 2010 Budget builds on the progress made last year in institution-building and public finance reforms. In 2009, the war in Gaza has imposed a burden on the budget as it required substantial non-wage emergency spending. The 2009 recurrent deficit on a cash basis was in line with the budget target. However, non-wage expenditure commitments were above budgeted amounts, and there was a shortfall in donor aid relative to the budget’s external financing requirements including Gaza’s emergency spending, which led to the accumulation of non-wage arrears. The 2010 Budget envisages a tightening of the fiscal stance to reduce the recurrent deficit to $1.24 billion from $1.59 billion on a commitment basis in 2009. Toward that end, it is important to step up structural reforms, including implementation of a social safety net and electricity sector reform, and to enhance commitment controls and cash management to minimize further arrears accumulation and recourse to bank borrowing.
There is an urgent need to secure adequate donor assistance to finance the 2010 recurrent financing requirements. A front-loading of that assistance is especially important given the aid shortfalls during the first quarter of the year. External recurrent financing requirements for April to December 2010 are projected at about $1.1 billion, given the $174 million already disbursed in the first quarter of 2010. The $1.1 billion is in addition to about $0.7 billion needed for public investment in the Palestinian territories in 2010.
Concerted actions by the three parties (the PA, the GoI, and the donor community) are critical to sustain the economic recovery and reduce significant risks to the economic outlook. Perseverance by the PA in institution-building, reforms and good governance, supported by adequate and timely donor aid, is needed to achieve increased self-reliance and sustain private sector confidence. A breakthrough in the peace process and removal of restrictions on a wider scale are essential for a durable and regionally balanced growth in the Palestinian territories. This requires action on three fronts. First, lifting Gaza’s blockade is essential to stem the continuing decline in Gazans’ living standards. Second, removing impediments to private and public investment in the West Bank’s Area C, which represents about 60 percent of its territory, is needed to tap the West Bank’s full growth potential. Finally, lifting restrictions on the Palestinian territories’ external trade, especially on exports to Israel, is key to a sustained rise in real GDP per capita and a balanced growth pattern.
I. RECENT ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTS
3. The 2009 unemployment rate in the WBG is still high at 25 percent, with only a modest decline in the West Bank. While there was no significant decline in the West Bank’s unemployment rate in the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2008, it declined from about 20 percent to 18 percent in the second half of 2009, reflecting the pickup in growth during the year. The lag between unemployment decline and output growth will likely diminish as the private sector gains confidence in the sustainability of the improved economic and trade conditions. In Gaza the unemployment rate remained virtually unchanged at about 39 percent, reflecting the still suppressed economic activity. While there has recently been some easing on an ad hoc basis for pre-approved batches of commercial goods and building materials, there are few indications for private investors of better near-term prospects for Gaza.
4. Inflation declined significantly in 2009, despite some rebound in the second half of the year. The twelve-month CPI inflation rate, after falling from 12 percent in mid-2008 to 2 percent in mid-2009, rose to 4 percent by end-2009, and further to 5 percent by February 2010. The CPI fluctuations during 2009 reflected largely changes in world petroleum and food prices. The variation in inflation during the year was much larger in the WBG than in Israel, given food’s higher weight in the former’s consumption basket. The depreciation of the shekel vis-à-vis the dollar by an average of about ten percent in 2009, despite a partial reversal later in the year, reinforced the favorable impact of the fall in inflation on real incomes, given the importance of dollar-denominated sources of income including donor aid and remittances.
5. Domestic banks have not been significantly affected by the global crisis and private sector deposits and credit continued to grow in the West Bank, but not in Gaza. Overall, banks in the WBG have had very limited exposure to global markets, and applied conservative lending practices domestically. The non-performing loans (NPLs) and watch list loans7 fell as a share of total bank loans from 11 percent at end-2008 to 3.6 percent at end-2009. In the West Bank, private sector deposits and credit rose by 5 and 23 percent (respectively) in real terms in the year to December 2009, reflecting the improved economic conditions and better investment climate. The rise in credit also reflected the increased supply of loanable funds as the Palestine Monetary Authority (PMA) lowered the limit on bank deposits placed abroad from 65 percent to 55 percent of total deposits. In contrast, in Gaza deposits remained broadly stagnant over the same period, while private credit contracted by about 17 percent, reflecting the limited recovery in economic activity and weak private investment. The PMA has made good progress in institutional reforms with intensive Fund technical assistance (Box 1).
6. Limits on the inflow of cash in shekels into Gaza have eased, but other restrictions remain. An agreement between the Israeli authorities and the PA in 2009 has allowed monthly shipments of shekels into Gaza, but not Jordanian dinars and U.S. dollars. The removal of the remaining restrictions is important to ensure sound exchange risk management by banks and settlement of non-shekel transactions and salaries. Another problem faced by the PMA and banks has been the accumulation in 2009 of large shekel cash surpluses in Palestinian banks due to Israeli banks’ refusal to accept their cash deposits on concerns about possible legal implications. This is lowering Palestinian banks’ interest income and raising their insurance costs. The cash surplus lessened temporarily in 2009 when Israeli banks accepted, on an ad hoc basis, deposits of limited amounts of shekels.
b. Total clearance revenues declined slightly in 2009 as a share of GDP from 18.4 percent to 18.0 percent. Clearance revenue performance in Gaza has been especially weak due to repressed economic activity and imports, while in the West Bank performance has picked up significantly in the second half of 2009.9