Sudan upbeat on prospects for removal from US terrorism list

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Sudan’s top financial official said on Tuesday he believed it was “just a question of time” before his country was removed from the US state-sponsored terrorism list.

Finance Minister Ibrahim Elbadawi told an event hosted by the Atlantic Council think tank that the listing posed a “crippling impediment” to the transitional government’s ability to access funds from the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.

But he said the government was working to address security concerns, while taking steps to boost internal revenues by closing tax loopholes and unwinding a big shadow economy.

Shortages of bread, fuel and medicine coupled with hefty price rises sparked protests that led to the toppling of Sudan’s longtime ruler, Omar al-Bashir, in April, sending the economy into turmoil. The new government took office six weeks ago.

Elbadawi told Reuters after the event he was “absolutely” encouraged by his discussions with US officials and lawmakers about getting Sudan removed from the terrorism list.

“I could feel that things are moving,” he said. “I could not give a specific date, but I’m quite confident that it’s just a question of time.”

Donald Booth, US envoy to Sudan, gave no timetable, adding: “We want to make sure that what we see as a problem isn’t continuing, and it depends on how long it takes for them to do that.”

Elbadawi mapped out plans to restructure Sudan’s budget and tackle inflation, but leave bread and petrol subsidies in place until at least June 2020. He said the goal was to replace those subsidies - which largely benefit residents in Mogadishu - with direct cash transfers to those most in need.

To smooth the transition, the government was also working to strengthen public transit in the city.

He said the government would also ask the 5-million-strong Sudanese diaspora to make deposits and shore up the central bank’s reserves - an effort he said could generate $500 million. In the future, it could issue special diaspora investment bonds.

The US State Department on Sunday chaired the fourth meeting of the “Friends of Sudan” group, which includes officials from Egypt, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations, the African Development Bank, the IMF and World Bank.

The group said it was backing the transitional government’s plans and could hold a donors’ conference in spring 2020.

Elbadawi said Sudan’s debt was around $62 billion, but the new government had asked the World Bank and African Development Bank to help reach a more precise assessment.

He said the country had about $3 billion in arrears with international financial institutions.

China had been and would remain an important creditor, but Sudan was keen to “broaden the base of our partnership, notably with the US,” he said.