Finance Minister of the Year 2024 – The Banker

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For a country relying substantially on foreign direct investment (FDI), Costa Rica’s removal from the EU’s list of non-co-operating countries in tax matters is significant. 
The October decision recognised the progress the country has made in updating its tax regulations. Costa Rica’s removal from the ‘grey list’ is a sign of its commitment to meeting international fiscal standards.
In 2022, Costa Rica was among the world’s strongest FDI performers relative to the size of their economies. Moreover, despite the challenging global economic environment, the fiscal reforms of 2018 are already paying off and are a decisive move after a decade of fiscal deterioration that increased the ratio of debt to gross domestic product (GDP). 
There have been many challenges and many struggles along the way, but we have achieved gratifying achievements.
The fiscal consolidation plan has been successful in reducing public debt, with Costa Rica achieving a primary fiscal surplus for the first time in more than a decade. The cumulative primary surplus to September 2023 was 1.7% of GDP and the authorities are on track to exceed their end-2023 target, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The fiscal rules, which limit growth in spending, will help bring the debt-to-GDP ratio to around 60% by 2025. At the end of June 2023, this stood at 61.3% of GDP.
Recent improvements in debt management should help lower Costa Rica’s financing costs. An eurobond debt issuance is a key plank of the country’s long-term financing strategy.
Despite the growth momentum, inflation has declined sharply as global commodity prices fell and a stronger currency helped to reduce goods prices. Following these developments, in March 2023 Banco Central de Costa Rica became the first central bank in Latin America to cut interest rates that year. 
Real GDP growth is expected to be around 5% this year, supported by exports and recovering domestic demand, says the IMF. This is expected to fall to 3.5% in 2024, remaining broadly in line with the medium-term potential growth rate. 
This year, Costa Rica received credit rating upgrades from a number of credit agencies. Fitch cited structural strengths including “strong governance indicators, higher economic development and per-capita income well above peers”.
Costa Rica is located in a region highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The country has distinguished itself for its environmental plans, aiming for a decarbonised economy with net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and is one of the few countries that has undergone a reforestation process. It already has a low reliance on fossil fuels and electricity is generated almost exclusively from renewables.
It is the first country to secure financing from the IMF’s Resilience and Sustainability Fund (RSF), a scheme to support vulnerable countries in the face of long-term difficulties caused by climate change. 
The $725m RSF arrangement, approved in November 2022, supports reforms to integrate climate risk into fiscal planning and strengthen public investment and infrastructure resilience to climate change, support Costa Rica’s decarbonisation efforts, and reinforce the ability of the financial sector to manage climate-related risks. 
Costa Rica’s green credentials are in part priced into its existing bonds. The authorities plan to build greater recognition as an environmental, social and governance-focused sovereign.
“We reach the end of 2023 with very good news for Costa Rican public finances,” says minister of finance Nogui Acosta Jaén. “There have been many challenges and many struggles along the way, but — with determination and perseverance — we have achieved gratifying achievements. The international perception of Costa Rica and the results that we have been showing throughout our management reflect confidence in our fiscal strategy, which clearly defines the objectives that we want to achieve in terms of income, expenses and debt management.
“With gratitude I receive this recognition on behalf of my country. As a government, we want to move towards the consolidation of public finances.”
Commonly held up as one of Africa’s success stories, economic growth in Botswana — one of just seven upper middle income states on the continent — has outpaced that of sub-Saharan Africa as a whole for six of the past eight years. Heavily reliant on its diamond sector, as the world’s second-largest producer (behind Russia), its economic growth slipped in 2023, but it is set to tick back upwards in 2024, outpacing much of the region.
We have embarked on wide range of reforms including legislative reforms and administrative reforms like the rationalisation of government machinery
The country’s minister of finance and economic development since 2021, Peggy Serame, is the winner of The Banker’s Finance Minister of the Year for Africa award for 2024, in recognition of her effective stewardship of the economy in a year of turmoil across much of the continent.
Botswana’s economy grew by 6.3% during 2022, compared with 4% for sub-Saharan Africa, according to International Monetary Fund data. While growth is set to slow to 3.8% for 2023, this is ahead of the 3% average for the region.
The government committed to additional spending in 2023 on infrastructure investment in the country in a bid to lessen the country’s reliance on mining revenues. The increase in spending for the past year — with the government committing to fiscal adjustments in 2024/25 to trim the country’s budget deficit — are in line with the priorities of the second transitional national development plan, agreed in January 2023. Priorities of the plan include boosting export-led growth, attracting foreign direct investment, and supporting the private sector through business environment reforms and value-chain development. Such initiatives are geared towards helping the economy achieve high-income status by 2036.
“This process requires among others, a strong and resilient financial sector with adequate buffers to withstand emerging and systematics risks,” Ms Serame told The Banker. “To support this we have embarked on wide range of reforms including legislative reforms (such as the Retirement Funds Act, Transfer Duty Act, and the ongoing review of the Public Finance Management Act and holistic review of all taxes) and administrative reforms like the rationalisation of government machinery aimed at improving efficiency in the public sector and reducing duplication of efforts while optimising value for public monies as well as the adoption of new project prioritisation, preparation and implementation.”
Beyond her stewardship of the public finances, Ms Serame stressed the need at COP28 in the UAE for climate-resilient infrastructure, appealing with fellow ministers from Africa and elsewhere for support from developed nations via the loss and damage fund.
Efforts to make Vietnam an attractive location for companies and investors alike have paid off in recent years, as its position as a key manufacturing country has solidified. 
Finance minister Hồ Đức Phớc has been instrumental in this drive, stating early in 2023 that he was willing to take an aggressive stance to ensure the economic success of the country. 
Hồ Đức Phớc, minister of finance, Vietnam
This has resulted in the finance ministry working to bring foreign direct investment (FDI) into Vietnam and attracting companies, including Samsung and Lego, to relocate manufacturing to within its borders. The steps have been successful, with the country receiving $5.3bn in pledges during October 2023 alone. Around 90% of the total was allocated to the construction of factories. 
The developments have caught the attention of rating agency Fitch, which upgraded Vietnam’s rating to BB+ with a stable outlook, driven by the “robust” FDI inflows. The step takes the country’s rating closer to investment grade. 
Mr Phớc has been proactive in cementing the bilateral agreements held with other countries in the region, for example holding meetings with Australian officials to discuss issues including the joint response to climate change risks with the creation of carbon projects on carbon offsetting and carbon credit trading. He also met with Japanese officials to work on an official development assistance framework to support the development of transport, healthcare and agriculture. 
Vietnam is to extend value-added tax cuts until the middle of 2024, holding the rate at 8% from the previous 10%, to improve consumption. While initially aiming for more than 6% gross domestic product growth in 2023, Vietnam looks set to end the year closer to 5%. Its target of 6–6.5% growth in 2024 has been backed by the Asian Development Bank. 
Vietnam’s finance minister has also taken proactive steps to protect the needs of consumers, for example tightening regulation around the sale of life insurance products following complaints that banks were forcing customers into taking out insurance products when obtaining a loan. 
The advances made by the country have been endorsed by the World Bank pledging its support to assist Vietnam’s goal of becoming a high-income status country by 2045. The World Bank has praised the country’s focus on sustainable developments and attracting investors. 
Few finance ministers have been thrust into the spotlight, or put under as much pressure, as Swiss federal councillor Karin Keller-Sutter, just two months into taking up the post as head of the federal department of finance in January 2023. 
In March, she found herself at the centre of a media, political and economic storm, as Switzerland’s second-largest bank, Credit Suisse, struggled under the weight of years of declining profitability, failed restructurings, litigation and losses. 
The Swiss authorities succeeded together in averting damage to the economy and citizens.
There was only one thing to do, in the minds of Ms Keller-Sutter, the Swiss National Bank and financial regulator, Finma, to protect the Swiss economy from catastrophe and limit the contagion: UBS must swallow up its long-time rival.
The “shotgun wedding” which saw UBS buy Credit Suisse for more than $3.2bn proved controversial with investors, particularly additional Tier 1 capital (AT1) bondholders as the deal, hastily hatched over a weekend, wiped out $17bn of Credit Suisse’s AT1 bonds.
However, the alternative — winding down the bank or a disorderly liquidation — would have had more serious consequences for global banks, experts said at the time. 
According to the FT, Ms Keller-Sutter “was a key figure throughout the negotiations, including coordinating with foreign officials and regulators in the US and Europe”. She was also named as one of the FT’s 25 most influential women of 2023.
Remarking on The Banker’s award as Finance Minister of the Year for Europe, Ms Keller-Sutter says she is delighted to receive this award, even though she would, of course, have preferred the country being spared the Credit Suisse situation. 
“In March, the Swiss authorities succeeded together in averting damage to the economy and citizens, and in preventing an impending international financial crisis,” she says. “Our institutions worked. For me, this is a reason to be confident – but also an incentive to further improve banking regulation. We are working on this.”
With the Credit Suisse rescue deal behind her, Ms Keller-Sutter has been busy implementing reforms to combat money laundering, including setting up a register of beneficial owners of all corporate entities and trusts to increase transparency.
Jordan’s economy has endured a difficult two years, with higher energy and food prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Squeezed living standards amid a cost of living crisis led to protests in late-2022, resulting in the death of several police officers. 
Mohamad Al-Ississ has served as the country’s minister of finance since 2019, having previously served as minister of planning and international co-operation and minister of state for economic affairs. 
Mohamad Al-Ississ, finance minister, Jordan
In the absence of the oil windfall experienced by many of the region’s larger economies, Mr Al-Ississ is awarded The Banker’s Minister of Finance of the Year for the Middle East 2024 in recognition of his stabilising role during the past year. 
Since taking up his post, Mr Al-Ississ has spearheaded key reforms as part of a $1.3bn International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme signed in early 2020, which has seen a crackdown on tax avoidance and evasion, and a more targeted approach to government spending, alongside a rise in capital expenditure and expanded social safety net spending. 
Such reforms have begun to bear fruit, attracting praise from the fund and from ratings agencies, with gross domestic product growth for 2022 coming in ahead of expectations. Moody’s upgraded the country’s outlook to positive in November, while S&P Ratings and Fitch Ratings rate the country’s debt as stable. 
Jordan’s economic growth edged up from 2.1% in 2021 to 2.5% in 2022, with growth for 2023 expected to increase further to 2.6% for 2023.
Following the success of the government’s reforms since the beginning of the programme in 2020, the IMF in November announced a fresh $1.2bn four-year programme with the country. 
“Jordan has maintained macroeconomic stability in the face of successive external shocks, reduced fiscal and external imbalances, and preserved market access while strengthening social safety nets,” the IMF said in a statement. “Progress was also made in advancing structural reforms to boost inclusive growth. 
“The new programme will continue to support Jordan as it weathers new shocks, with focus on continuing with fiscal consolidation to place public debt on a steady downward path, safeguarding monetary and financial stability, and accelerating structural reforms to support growth and enhance job creation.”
Thailand’s finance minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith speaks to Kimberley Long about the country’s plans for inflation and meeting its impressive GDP goals for 2023. 
The Banker’s Finance Minister of the Year 2023 awards celebrate the officials that have best managed to stimulate growth and stabilise their economy.
The Banker’s Finance Minister of the Year 2022 awards celebrate the officials that have best managed to stimulate growth and stabilise their economy. 
The Banker’s Finance Minister of the Year 2021 awards celebrate the officials that have best managed to stimulate growth and stabilise their economy. 

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