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Tuesday May 30th, 2023

Crisis-hit Sri Lanka takes baby steps to boost dollar earnings

  • Sri Lanka is facing unprecedented economic crisis with sovereign debt default
  • Debt restructuring discussions are at initial level, IMF loan date unpredictable
  • Government is encouraging people to go abroad to boost remittances

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is fast-tracking a move to utilise all its resources to send citizens abroad to earn as jobs are lost in an economic contraction in the wake of a forex crisis and domestic salaries have lost value.

Sri Lanka has already raised interest rates and taxes in the run up to a deal with the International Monetary Fund to reduce money printing which created forex shortages. The sovereign debt defaulted island nation is in the initial stage of debt restructuring discussions with its creditors who must agree on a plan for Sri Lanka’s anticipated 2.9 billion US dolalr deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be approved.

Sri Lanka is now taking some baby steps to raise its dollar earnings within and outside the country.

On Friday, the Ministry of Labour and Foreign Employment conducted a job fair titled “Glocal Fair” to showcase employment opportunities available to Sri Lanknas  both globally and locally.

“Our Ministry is responsible for providing a wide range of services such as employment to the country’s youth and directing them for foreign jobs, giving them solutions for the issues faced by the foreign workers and the local workers as well,” Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Minister of Manusha Nanayakkara said at the job fair.

“We have decided to go the villages and give our services to the people.”

The government has already introduced some incentives to Sri Lankan migrant workers who remit their foreign earnings in dollars. Those incentives include houses, apartments, and electric vehicle import licenses, all of which have now become a luxury.

Sri Lanka’s foreign remittances have declined by over 47 percent to 2.2 billion dollars in the first eight months of 2022 mainly because migrant workers stopped sending their earnings through formal channels as the central bank maintained a peg and a parallel exchange rate until March this year.

Though the central bank has allowed some flexibility,  remittances did not recover as migrant workers still do not have confidence in the formal banking system amid speculations of a collapse of the system after the economic crisis, analysts say.

Record number of passports, sportsmen for sale 

The Department of Immigration and Emigration has overstretched itself to cater to the unprecedented demand for passports this year partly because more Sri Lankans are leaving the country and partly due to workers seeking jobs abroad.

The department has already issued a record 385,000 passports in the first six months of this  year compared to 105,000 in the same period last year.

It was forced to ask the public to make an appointment to visit the the Controller General to obtain passports.

Sri Lanka migrant workers who left the country this year have almost doubled to 221,551 in the first nine months of this year, compared to the same period last year, with workers in skilled, professional, and unskilled categories showing record high numbers.

The foreign ministry this week launched an e-channelling service to do away with long queues for consular services including the authentication of government certificates. The move was to ease the process and help Sri Lankans migrate quickly.

This week, President Ranil Wickremesinghe issued a gazette for Sri Lanka’s China backed Port City’s regulator to acquire operating licenses for an annual fee of 2,000 US dollars.

“We see some liquidity in the dollar market, but it is below the level we saw before the economic crisis,” a currency dealer told EconomyNext.

The island nation has already curbed many imports including some essentials to save dollars and has been encouraging exports of merchandise goods, services, and even sportsmen.

“In March, we trained 120 swimmers in four districts under the Sri Lanka Life Saving (SLLS) for both pool and coast lifeguards, and some were selected for the foreign market,” Amal Edirisuriya, Director of the Department of Sports told reporters in Colombo this week.

“In the future, we are planning to carry out this process within the 25 districts and to give 200 more lifeguard employments to our children.” (Colombo/Sep30/20220)

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Sri Lanka cabinet approves President’s proposal to resume Japanese LRT after soared ties 

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal by President Ranil Wickremesinghe to resume the unilaterally cancelled Japan funded Light Rail Transit (LRT), cabinet spokesman said, as the island nation is in the process of mending ties with Tokyo.

However, any such deals are likely to take place after the debt restructuring and Sri Lanka starts to repay its foreign loans to come out of default, analysts say.

Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa unilaterally cancelled the 1.5 billion US dollar LRT and East Container Terminal (ECT) projects in 2021. Japan agreed to fund the LRT project while it was one of the tripartite members of the ECT project along with India and Sri Lanka.

The abrupt cancellation hit the diplomatic ties between the two countries and Sri Lankan government officials have said Japan had given the project to Sri Lanka at a very lower financing cost.

President Wickremesinghe returned from Japan late last week after having met top officials of the Japanese government including its prime minister.

“In recent history, due to the stopping of several agreements and proposals suddenly, President Wickremesinghe went to Japan after creating the background to clear some of the worries we have,” Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena told the weekly media briefing.

“Before he went, he got the approval from the cabinet to resume the discussion on the light railway project. He got the approval from the cabinet to get parliament approval for bilateral agreements signed or any other investments project. Any change or cancellation of a project could be done only with the approval of the parliament.”

Japan has backed Sri Lanka under Wickremesinghe’s presidency after the island nation declared sovereign debt default. (Colombo/May 30/2023)

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Sri Lanka to tighten grip on television with broadcast law

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has formulated a broadcast authority law to regulate electronic media which will be made public soon, Cabinet spokesman Minister Bandula Gunawardana said.

“The draft prepared by a cabinet subcommittee under Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapaksa has discussed with various parties will be given to all media institutions and broadcast media,” Gunawardana said.

“We do not have to hide or force anyone. A legal framework that can be acceptable to all for all sectors.”

“In a week or two Minister Wijedasa will discuss with state and private stakeholders.”

At the moment Sri Lanka has issued frequencies without conforming to an “international procedures”, he said.

In Sri Lanka television frequencies are issued under a state television act.

Successive administrations in Sri Lanka has since around 1980 mis-used state television duopoly which including for conducting elections according to critics.

Private television as well a raio emerged around the 1990s and has since over shadowed state media.

There have been calls by ruling party politicians from time to time to control private media. There is now calls to control social media.

At a Committee on Public Accounts meeting of the Department of Government Information, ruling coalition legislators called for regulation of television content. (Colombo/May30/2023)

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Sri Lanka rupee at 296.75/297.25 to dollar at open, bond yields steady

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee opened at 297 /297.50 against the US dollar in the spot market on Monday, while bond yields were steady, dealers said.

The rupee closed at 296.75 /297.25 to the US dollar on Monday after opening around 296.50 /297.50 rupees.

A bond maturing on 01.09.2027 was quoted at 26.50/75 percent steady from Friday’s close at 26.50/65 percent.

Sri Lanka’s rupee is appreciating amid negative private credit which has reduced outflows after the central bank hiked rates and stopped printing money. (Colombo/ May 29/2023)

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