~ Maju Varghese
Every year, India pays an enormous amount of money as commitment charges to the multilateral institutions for not utilising the loans sanctioned by them. Investopedia defines commitment charges as the fee charged by the lender to a borrower for an unused or un-disbursed loan since it has set aside the funds for the borrower and cannot yet charge interest.
According to the CAG, between 2009-2015 India paid commitment charges up to 602 crores to the external lenders. In 2014-15 itself, India was holding Rs. 2,10,099 crores of unutilised funds thus inviting a commitment charge of Rs. 110 crores. Finance Ministry had found that between 1991 and 2009, the government had paid approximately Rs 1,400 crores as the commitment charges for loans not utilised.
The commitment charges are coupled with interest while reporting by the ministry of finance which makes it difficult to understand the charges paid to different agencies in a fiscal year. The CAG observed that putting commitment charges under the head “interest obligation” is misleading as it does not reflect the nature of expenses.
Arun Jaitley, the Indian Finance Minister minister of India, has been raising the issue of commitment charges. In the 94th development committee of the World Bank, he raised the issue of commitment charges which is highest among multilateral development Banks and demanded its withdrawal. This was again repeated when the demand when the CEO of World Bank visited the country and met the Finance Minister. India is among the countries which are graduating from a low-income country to lower middle-income country resulting in loss of concessional finance from IDA loans.
World Bank charges a commitment charge of 0.25 per cent per annum on un-disbursed loans even if they are committed to be drawn in subsequent years. This is in addition to a front-end fee, a fee paid by the borrower to the lender before the loan offtakes, of 0.25 per cent on loan agreement amount (applicable on current loans). These commitment charges begin accruing 60 days after the loan agreement is signed. Despite resistance from the countries, the World Bank has stated that it will not be able to remove commitment charges due to its cost recovery guidelines.
According to the CAG, India had a total outstanding debt of 51,04,675 crores as on March 31, 2015. This increased to around 57,021,582 crores on August 15, 2016, which means a per capita debt of Rs 44,032. This comes to around 41 per cent of the GDP. To service this massive debt, India pays about 36,318 crores as interest payment every year. CAG further reports that in 2014-15, 77 per cent of the long-term internal borrowings and 73 per cent of the external borrowings were utilised for debt servicing, implying that a larger percentage of debt was being used for paying the existing debts. This, in turn, meant the lower percentage of debt was available for meeting developmental expenditure to promote growth.
Swatch Bharat and commitment charges
The World Bank had approved a US$1.5 billion loan for Swachh Bharat Mission-Gramin (SBM-G), Modi government’s much-hyped flag-ship campaign on Sanitation to support the government’s efforts to ensure all citizens in rural areas have access to improved sanitation. The loan sanctioned in 2015 is the Bank’s biggest lending in the social sector.
The mission has provision for incentivizing states on their performance in the Swachh Bharat Mission. The performance of the States will be gauged through an independent survey based measurement of certain performance indicators, called the Disbursement-Linked Indicators (DLIs). However, due to lack of independent verification of results, India missed the first disbursement of the loan. According to the media reports, India is likely to miss the second tranche too. Despite not receiving a single paisa, India has paid the commitment charge, interest, and front-end fees of USD 15.40 million so far.
The payment of commitment charges to the multilateral agencies because of governmental inability to plan and implement shows a lack of seriousness in using public money. CAG has mapped and pointed out the inefficiency of governments in utilising funds. The money that we pay as fine and commitment charges are a waste of public resources as pointed out by CAG in the reports from time to time. The proposal to set up a public debt and management agency for proper planning of external debt is still pending in spite of various statements by the finance minister.
Multiple CAG reports on debt need to be taken on a priority basis, and an oversight mechanism should be created within the parliament of India through a standing committee to look into external debt and also its investments abroad and making it transparent and accountable to the citizens of the country.