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Friday June 21st, 2024

How Sri Lanka’s elections are decided by macro-economists and the IMF: Bellwether

ELECTION BY INFLATION: Since 1954-5 in particular macroeconomists who cut rates and triggered currency crises that decided the next election.

ECONOMYNEXT – The outstanding achievement of inflationist macro-economists in Sri Lanka and elsewhere is their ability to elect a new government, usually socialists or nationalists if liberals were in power, after driving countries into currency crises or asset bubbles after cutting rates for ‘growth’.

Stabilization programs, despite halting greater inflation and more hardships from hyperinflation, provide fertile ground for fringe elements to come to power even as economies start to recover.

No liberal government, with free trading aspirations, can now survive in a country where forex shortages are created by spurious economic doctrines founded on statistics, backed by the International Monetary Fund more often than not.

Sri Lanka’s post-independence currency troubles emerged soon after the central bank was set up in 1950.

At the time Fed was firing a commodity bubble, by purchasing Liberty bonds (in what would now be called yield curve targeting) pushing up Sri Lanka’s export prices until 1951.

At the time the Sri Lanka’s currency board had just been abolished and 3-month T-bills were 0.4 percent according to central bank data.

The Fed tightened in 1951, some export commodity prices fell, but rice prices rose requiring more subsidies from the budget.

Stabilization Programs and Illiberalism

Sri Lanka ran BOP deficits in 1952 and 1953 as the central bank printed money. Reserves fell from 216 million US dollars to 114.3 million by year end 1953.

Then 3-month bills were pushed up to 2.48 percent. Attempts were made to cut food rations. Food rations had started during the Second World War as the Bank of England lifted convertibility (floated in today’s terminology) and ran un-anchored policy printing money.

Sterling monetary instability also worsened after World War II, with Keynes driving British economic policy and Sri Lanka also had some exchange controls dating back from British policy, though a currency board regime does not really need them.

There was a leftist hartal in 1953.

In 1954, Sri Lanka’s politicians acted decisively and pushed the budget into surplus in what would be the country’s first stabilization program without IMF help with fx reserves down to 114.3 million dollars.

Growth fell, inflation also fell, but in the slowdown the nationalists started to peddle their wares.

The Sinhala Only Act was an election issue. The Sinhala only by nationalists upset the Tamil community.

When nationalists come, or leftists come, policies reverse, as liberal economic policies of free trade and private enterprise as well as small government and fiscal prudence are discredited.

German Nazism after Reichsbank/Fed Excesses

Rewind to 1931.

Much the same happened in Germany, during the administration of Chancellor Heinrich Bruning, where a stabilization program helped bring Hitler to power.

The Fed had as the time already triggered the Great Depression by inventing the policy rate (about 1920) and open market operations (in 1923) in the previous decade.

The usual socialist messing up of the economy, expropriation, coupled with the global depression leads to a belief that a ‘strong man’ can also solve the problem, economist Friedrich Hayek later explained.

In Germany the Social democrats (Marxists essentially) were ruling at the time, and with their policies discredited, nationalists under Hitler peddled their ideology easily and came to power, targeting the Jewish minority.

West Germany Stands Out as Central Bankers Win Elsewhere

By the end of World War II, with Germany in shambles, nationalists were defeated by outside forces and liberals came back with a hard money and stability doctrine not policy rate (money printing) driven growth.

They closed the Reichsbank, set up the Deutsche Mark under full control of the politicians, in the Austrian-Ordoliberal tradition, established free trade and full free market competition under a full liberal democracy. There was not an inflationist macro-economist in sight.

The Deutsche Bank as a formal institution was established much later.

West Germany’s Ordoliberals were so successful that the Social Democrats were relegated to the political backwoods until shortly before the break-up of the Bretton woods, unlike in Sri Lanka where Socialists went from strength to strength.

In 1959, The SPD officially abandoned its Marxism of expropriation and anti-capitalism under its Godesberg Program as the economy boomed and support for a strong currency and private sector grew gaining strong public support.

READ MORE: Godesberg Program of the SPD (November 1959)

But the UK, the country that defeated Germany, remained mired in Cambridge economics, Sterling crises and IMF programs till Thatcher came.

The US was only slightly better.

Economics was under siege from the so-called Saltwater universities with a virulent form of Post-Keynesianism, coupled with toxic statistics, displacing classical economic principles.

Paul Samuelson, of MIT was a key driver of mindless econometrics in what could now be called data driven monetary policy.

Monetary policy deteriorated in the Fed with macroeconomics coming to the fore with lean-against-the-wind policy, with the ‘wind’ also being originally fanned by the Fed with rate cuts.

In Sri Lanka in 1961, the Bank of Ceylon was expropriated and the People’s Bank was set up.

In 1961 the Federal Republic of Germany appreciated its currency around the same time as the Fed invented central bank swaps to borrow from other central banks without going to the IMF after printing money and losing gold.

Sri Lanka where Anglophone qualified ‘development’ economists who were by now pushing import substitution after severely depleting reserves, started going to the IMF from 1965.

J R Fails to Defeat Macro-economists

J R Jayawardene, the Finance Minister who originally created a central bank in 1950 and made the country a member of the IMF the day after, brought B R Shenoy – probably the greatest classical economist produced in South Asia – to help in 1966.

Shenoy advises the country not to print money and float the currency, and avoid periodic devaluations, saying the calculations about equilibrium exchange rates which had by then emerged – with the expansion of econometrics – are suspect.

This is advanced thinking as the Fed has not floated yet.

Macro-economists in Ceylon predictably ignore his advice and instead print money for rural credit and start multiple exchange rates, Latin-America-style, amid rising central bank activism.

In 1969, with reserves severely down, an import control law was brought in, discrediting Dudley Senanayake’s free trade plans as central bankers won the day yet again.

In 1969, as the Fed fired global inflation, Germany’s Social Democrats were able to form a coalition government in Germany for the first time since they lost, helping bring Hitler to power so many decades ago.

In 1971, as oil, food commodities and gold prices soared, President Nixon closed the gold window, floated the dollar and imposed import tax surcharges (Nixon shock).

Nixon is impeached later.

As the Bretton Woods and the US dollar collapsed, Sri Lanka closed the economy completely in the 1970s going much further than Nixon.

Econometric Corruption Spreads

The collapse of the US dollar led to the Great Inflation of the 1970s as reserve currency countries struggled to find an anchor for floating exchange rates.

Statistical corruption of economic principles reaches a new high.

Academic inflationists, apparently with no knowledge of central bank operational frameworks, clutch at the latest statistical formula.

Blaming statistical formulae, imports and trade deficits are regurgitated from classical mercantilism as excuses for monetary instability allowing macro-economists to escape accountability for inflationary suppression of rates.

Wage-spiral inflation, oil shock, gives a new life to ‘cost-push’ inflation.

Nominal effective exchange rates are made popular by Fred Hirsch and Use Higgins.

Leftist uprisings proliferate worldwide.

Econometricians then came up with real effective exchange rates as currencies collapsed and inflation diverged widely in the 1970s and worsened in the 1980s.

Germany rejects the ideas and starts to target money supply and shifts to inflation later in the 1970s.

The deep knowledge operational frameworks (OFs) of note issue banks that classical economists from Ricardo to Hume to Torrens had developed in the 19th century seems to have disappeared by then in the unusually effective brainwashing at Anglo-American universities.

In 1978, the IMF effectively ended external anchoring without a credible replacement domestic anchor, plunging many countries like Sri Lanka into a blackhole of monetary instability.

The exchange rate goes haywire, and inflation rockets.

As inflation goes up budgets go haywire as the state is unable to manage rising expenses.

The macro-economists artfully blame budget deficits for monetary instability (which is dumb in the first instance, since credit is credit whether it’s private or state), not inflationary central banking.

Related Sri Lanka’s rupee depreciation and economic crises; the deficit lie

In the 1980s East Asia latches on to the dollar with currency boards (or currency+board+plus regimes where foreign reserves exceed reserve money), and imports the stability the US Fed achieves under Volcker and Greenspan which was called the Great Moderation.

These countries grew with both monetary and political stability and used the renewed free trade agenda of Western nations in the Great Moderation to grow their economies.

J R Jayewardena came to power on the back of trade and economic controls of the 1970s, driven by money printing as well as bad Fed policy involving the so-called ‘Great Inflation’.

In the belief that the ‘strong man’ can take the economy forward, an authoritarian constitution is enacted, in a repeat of what happened in Germany after Weimar socialism.

Open Economic Reforms Discredited by Unanchored Money, REER

But the depreciation of the rupee led to a period of ‘Greater’ Inflation within Sri Lanka until 1995, even as the US, Europe and East Asia grew in the Great Moderation of low inflation, directly as a result of the IMF depriving the country of a credible monetary anchor.

Sri Lanka tries money supply targeting without a floating rate and fails. As the Fed tightened in 1980, Sri Lanka went into the worst BOP deficit up to then of 191 million dollars.

In Latin America, external defaults begin.

J R ends up with severe social unrest and a second leftist uprising on top of the northern rebellion which turned into an intensified civil war after the 1983 nationalist riots. There was high inflation and a stabilization program around the time as well.

JR brings the greatest classical economist East Asia has produced, Singapore’s former finance minister Goh Keng Swee, as Sri Lanka is shunted into an IMF bailout within two years of the most radical economic reforms the country had ever seen.

Goh tells J R not to print money and not to depreciate the currency, as Sri Lanka is similar to Singapore and is a trade dependent country.

Related How Sri Lanka rejected Singapore monetary advice and politicians, people paid the price

Macro-economists ignore the advice. Instead, in 1985, macro-economists set up Regional Rural Development Bank linked to the central bank to give refinance (printed money) credit.

Jayewardene held on to power with electoral gimmicks and authoritarianism as the currency collapsed and inflation soared.

Import substitution again came to the fore, spreading to onions and potatoes.

Stabilization and Jan Bala Meheyuma

Fast forward to 2001.

Ranil Wickremesinghe came to power as Prime Minister on the back of the 1999/2000 currency crisis and IMF stand by arrangement, the ‘pariwasa government’, and the Jana Bala Meheyuma.

He completes the stand-by and starts a new IMF program – not to restore stability, but a pure reform program, labelled ‘Regain Sri Lanka’ with monetary stability already restored. The economy recovers strongly with a ceasefire also in place.

The JVP attacks him on fuel pricing as oil and fertilizer prices soar with Ben Bernanke misleading Greenspan into printing money to target positive inflation in what was later called the ‘mother of all liquidity bubbles’.

The just-ended 2000 currency crisis has also seen Sri Lanka’s CPC borrowing from Iran to import oil amid forex shortages in a precursor to supplier credits in the post-war flexible inflation targeting driven currency crises.

Though inflation is low, and the economy is in full recovery mode, Wickremesinghe is attacked by his political foes on a peace deal with the Tamil Tigers. When then-President Chandrika Kumaratunga takes over ministries while he is in the US, people flock to the road to support him as he lands in Katunayake.

Wickremesinghe sends them home empty handed and later he ends up without a government.

Because the Fed is targeting positive inflation using core inflation, ignoring the commodities, using hedonics and other tools that understates inflation amid a private sector productivity boom, a massive asset price cum commodity bubble is formed by 2008.

Amid a civil war and the Fed’s housing cum commodity bubble, Sri Lanka has another currency crisis with capital flights from rupee bonds, and goes to the IMF in 2008.

In the next election Mahinda Rajapaksa wins, despite the IMF stabilization program, with a war victory, in an unusual first for Sri Lanka on nationalist considerations.

The rupee is allowed to re-appreciate from 120 to 113.

But in 2012. rate cuts with printed money triggered a currency crisis within the IMF program giving rise to another stabilization program. The rupee fell to 130 to the US dollar.

Ranil Defeated by Potential Output Targeting

Fast forward a little to 2015.

Wickremesinghe came back to power in 2015, just as the economy is recovering very strongly from a currency crisis triggered by central bank rate cuts in 2011/2012.

The IMF then teaches Sri Lanka to calculate potential output. The central bank prints money to cut rates in 2015, amid a spending bout for the 100-day program, and triggers another crisis.

In this IMF program, there is no cost cutting. Instead, ‘revenue based fiscal consolidation’, a type of IMF backed state expansion, which rejects cutting government spending, is in operation.

Spending is ok, but deficits are supposed to be cut by tax hikes only, not cutting expenses (spending-based consolidation), putting the entire burden of adjustments on private citizens.

Sri Lanka then starts to print large volumes of money to narrowly target the call money rate in another deterioration of the central bank’s operating framework. The rupee falls from 130 to 152.

There is a stabilization program which discredits Wickremesinghe’s administration and taxes are hiked.

Hot on the heels of the 2016 crisis, another currency crisis is triggered in 2018 despite tax hikes on revenue based fiscal consolidation, due to targeting potential output with printed money, as inflation falls.

Yield curve targeting, Liberty-Bonds-style, also emerged in the period.

Instead of borrowing from Iran, the petroleum utility gets suppliers’ credit after potential output targeting driven fore shortages, and then converts them into state bank loans.

Related Shock revelation on how Sri Lanka’s CPC ended up with billions of dollar debt

CPC runs losses despite market pricing oil. The borrowings later add to national debt after a default.

The rupee falls to 182 and another stabilization program is put in motion.

Wickremesinghe’s goose is cooked and his economic policies are discredited.

Nationalists Rise on Stabilization Program

Nationalists have a field day on the stabilization program and revenue-based-fiscal-consolidation in 2018. This time Muslims are targeted.

Hitler blamed the jews for a ‘stab in the back’.

Muslims are blamed for sterilization pills. A prominent Buddhist monk calls for a Hitler to come to power.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa comes to power and takes oaths in front of Ruwanwelisaya, a Buddhist dagoba, built by King Dutugemunu.

Macro-economists and think tanks, who are advising, descends on him like vultures and taxes are cut on top of rate cuts saying there was a ‘persistent output gap’ in the most extreme macro-economic policy seen in the island up to then.

Covid comes. As the economy recovers from Covid, the printed money triggers forex shortages despite the worst import controls since the 1970s. All kinds of shortages appear.

People come to the streets, dwarfing the 1953 hartal and the Jana Bala Meheyuma.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s goose is cooked.

Poor people starve. Poverty rockets, Latin-America-style, as the rupee collapses. Outmigration picks up, Latin-America-style.

Another Stabilization Program

After the Rajapaksa’s ouster, Wickremesinghe comes to power again and goes about fixing the country, helped by newly appointed central bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe who markets prices interest rates. Longer term yields go far above the policy rate.

Unusually, going against the usual IMF advice to destroy the currency, to destroy savings, to destroy salaries and trigger more social unrest, he allows the currency to appreciate amid deflationary policy.

Because many nationalist elements are supporting President Wickremesinghe, nationalism is muted in the current stabilization program.

Instead of Muslims, nationalist elements tried to use archaeology against Wickremesinghe.

However, the strategy is less successful than in the past since it was a nationalist-backed administration that created the crisis in the first place. It seems also that Wickremesinghe knows more history than the nationalists.

Sri Lanka has destroyed the currency as well as domestic capital since 1977, but has not become an export powerhouse like East Asian nations with monetary stability did, or services hubs like the Middle Eastern currency-board-style nations.

The rupee is now probably allowed to appreciate on some econometric formula, not with any belief in sound money.

Wickremesinghe has been duped into legalizing potential output targeting through a deadly monetary law and giving ‘independence’ to macro-economists who believe in 7 percent inflation and central bank swaps.

The Reform Lie

Mercantilists and macro-economists who earlier spread the narrative of imports, trade deficits, current account deficits, lack domestic production and real effective exchange rates to escape accountability for external instability and IMF programs, come up with yet another excuse.

They now blame the lack of reforms for monetary instability and repeated trips to the IMF, conveniently forgetting that the 1980s repeated IMF programs came with the most radical reforms ever.

Each time, rate cuts trigger external instability and downturns, leftists and nationalists are elected by a desperate public who are looking here and there for saviour.

Liberal policies are rolled back and post-independent policies that gripped the nation from 1956 to 1977 are brought back.

Monetary instability involving dual anchor conflicts (a reserve collecting central bank trying floating rate OFs) is unchanging, and continues under different labels.

Corruption is also blamed for the crisis. Dollar earning exporters are themselves blamed for forex shortages and the currency crisis by some in another strange twist, which however is rejected by the central bank.

Who will IMF and the Central Bank Elect in the Upcoming Elections?

In summary, history shows that a stabilization program, which comes after rate cuts for growth, is when fringe elements are mostly likely to be elected.

The JVP, a leftist party which believes in expanding the state (in line IMF’s progressive Saltwaterist revenue based fiscal consolidation) is now doing well on social media.

Some of the younger demographics that supported Gotabaya Rajapaksa after the 2016 and 2018 stabilization programs are active in social media hoping to find salvation within the JVP.

In the confusion, a widespread belief that the currency crises and default was caused by corruption, and not aggressive macro-economic policy, is being strengthened.

The belief also helps the JVP, which has not been in power, and is projecting a clean image, regardless of its economic credentials and violent past.

That the 1970s problems came from Harold Laski’s Marxist ideas on top of monetary instability from the central bank is not known.

In any case it was before the time of the current generation of young voters.

On rare occasions, stabilization programs have helped build liberal democracies in the past, when nationalists and socialists were responsible for the crises.

Germany after WWII when the Social Democrats were confined to the backwoods for three decades and Korea in 1987 are key examples.

Korea’s Great Peoples’ Struggle or June Uprising which made the country a liberal democracy, better than Japan, came on the back of stabilization and the first currency appreciation in the history of its central bank under its previous authoritative administration.

Springtime of the Peoples after Railway Bubble and Puran Appu

The 1847-1848 Commercial Crisis or the Panic of 1847 in Britain also did not lead to nationalism but to the enhancement of liberal ideas sweeping the region, with most countries then under monarchs.

The 1847 banking panic also marked the end of the British Railway bubble

The 1847-1848 crisis saw widespread political crises in the gold area, not just the UK and Ceylon.

It was also called the ‘Revolutions of 1848‘ or the ‘Springtime of the People’.

The ensuing crises was mostly a liberal democratic struggle that led to the end of monarchies, freedom of the press in several dozen European nations.

As commodity prices deflated and coffee prices collapsed, many plantations in Ceylon went bust and Governor Torrington had to put new direct taxes on the people, IMF style.

The 1848 ‘Matale Rebellion’ was seen in Sri Lanka. This involved Gongale Godabanda, Puran Appu and others where it started with a tax protest in front of the Matale kachcheri.

This is why the IMF’s progressive taxation that has caused so many problems for the people and made a reformist government unpopular, should be a warning to the ruling class.

Wealth taxes are also on the horizon, in further depletion of wealth and savings for investment for the future.

Politicians on both sides of the isle, who have socialist tendencies, like direct taxes and only criticize VAT, which is a superior tax.

But people feel income tax, where money is taken in big chunks, before a voluntary transaction is made.

The IMF’s planned wealth tax is a type of expropriation where people who have invested their savings and built houses are punished even when there is no cash flow and are also likely to turn people away from reformist leaders.

The wealth tax, like the progressive taxation and revenue based fiscal consolation, is in line with old communist ideas, which is coming to Sri Lanka as the result of progressive Saltwaterism of the West.

There is no wealth tax in socialist Vietnam. European style wealth taxes have been resisted by Republicans in the US, a country which already has inheritance taxes when people die. Wealth taxes, especially on homes, are slammed as people, including elders on pension, are still alive.

Progressive Saltwaterism and Unsound Money

Under IMF influence Sri Lanka now has US-style inheritance taxes and personal income taxes, European style-VAT and and Argentina-style monetary policy under flexible inflation targeting with up to a 7 percent target.

A country can still survive socialist style big-government taxes with higher levels of unemployment, like in Europe, if monetary stability is provided.

Before the policy rate for economic intervention (macro-policy), was devised in the 1920s by the Fed, monetary crises were relatively rare, that is why the British were able to rule with only a few rebellions in Ceylon and elsewhere.

Sri Lanka’s central bank which has given coercive powers to a few bureaucrats to cut rates with printed money and create forex shortages, is a key reason for this country’s monetary as well as political instability.

Unlike in West Germany or UK under Thatcher (UK was IMF’s top client until Thatcher-Hayek-Walters), the current reforms will not bring any long term benefits.

As a result, all the reforms that are being done now will be so much water under the drain, as they have been for the last 72 years, since monetary stability will be denied to the people by the use of inflationary rate cuts.

Sri Lanka was a fully free trading, stable country in better shape than Singapore, when it gained independence with a currency board. There were hardly any economic controls to reform.

Singapore on the other hand was devastated under Japanese occupation and Banana Money (Military Yen) by the end of World War II, just like the rupee was with potential output targeting now.

In the final analysis, whoever comes to power may be academic, as the IMF has already denied a single anchor monetary regime to the country with the new central bank law and legitimized printing money for growth which devastated the country after the civil war ended.

In Latin America, nations default repeatedly with 23 percent plus revenue to GDP and 5 percent budget deficits, due to rate cuts enforced with printed money under operational frameworks similar to that of Sri Lanka’s central bank.

After the Second Amendment to its Articles Argentina is now IMF’s biggest client, not Keynes’ birthplace.

The undermining of Milei’s monetary plan, which would have stabilized the country, shows macro-economists and the IMF really rules Argentina policy.

Sri Lanka’s current central bank has allowed the rupee to appreciate, giving immediate benefits to the people, in sharp contrast to earlier programs.

History Set to Repeat

It is however not stable or consistent sound money, but only a temporary gain from external anchoring as the domestic anchor (5 to 7 percent inflation target to be achieved with money printing or depreciation or both) is not yet operative.

The operating framework involving flexible inflation targeting, and the flexible exchange rate is fundamentally flawed.

The benefits are coming now because external anchoring has supplanted the domestic 5 to 7 percent anchor. Inflation is now only 0.9 percent with currency appreciation from deflationary policy.

Unlike in East Asia, deflationary policy is not assured.

On the other hand, external instability is almost guaranteed under flexible inflation targeting, with a 5 or 7 percent inflation target, the latest spurious monetary doctrine peddled to hapless countries which then end up in default, where a reserve collecting central bank is urged to cut rates claiming historical inflation is low.

Not just future, but current domestic credit is disregarded in flexible inflation targeting despite a reserve collecting central bank being operated.

With Sri Lanka having market access, a second default is likely as the money exchange conflicts re-emerge as the economy recovers.

Supposedly, since 1978 (after the IMF’s second Amendment when external defaults proliferated) 58 percent of defaulters have defaulted again.

Meanwhile, after a decade of quantitative easing, US government finances are shot, and the chickens are coming home to roost. Economic nationalism is on the rise in the US.

With Trump in the wings, fully fledged nationalism is also on the cards. The same is happening in Europe.

Sri Lanka will also have to cope with that.

Whether it is Governor Torrington in 1848 with the British Commercial Crisis or Ranil Wickemesinghe in 2019 or 2024 after the potential output targeting cum/flexible inflation targeting crises, destroying money and credit has powerful political consequences to those who later try to fix the problem.

Even if 90 percent of the things are done right – as now – even this column will pick holes in some leftist aspects of IMF programs and warn about the inevitable consequence of deeply flawed monetary policy, confusing the public.

It is not about reforms or leaders. Sri Lanka’s politicians have been willing to take very hard decisions always to take the country out of crises.

It is about bad unstable money that prevents the fruits of those decisions from coming to the people in subsequent years.

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Indian FM meets Sri Lanka political leaders; focuses on committed deals

ECONOMYNEXT – Indian External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar met President Ranil Wickremesinghe and a range of political leaders during his visit to Sri Lanka, focusing on commitments made by Sri Lanka to India, including land and energy pipeline connectivity.

Sri Lanka has committed to renewable energy deals for the Indian Adani group, Trincomalee port development, an investment zone around the port, a bridge between the island nation’s Northern Mannar and South India’s Rameshwaram, a power grid, and an oil and gas pipeline between the two nations.

Though most of the committed projects have been discussed and some already signed, they face delays amid public protests, court cases on environmental concerns, anti-Indian sentiments triggered by high prices of renewable projects, local politicians as well as perceived Chinese influence, analysts say.

India has been pushing Sri Lanka to fast-track these deals under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Jaishankar’s visit also comes ahead of Sri Lanka’s presidential polls later this year.

Jaishankar met President Wickremesinghe in a one-on-one meeting, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, and Foreign Minister Ali Sabry before delegation-level talks with Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Agriculture and Plantation Industries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, and Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera.

“Appreciated the progress made on various bilateral projects and initiatives. Under President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s guidance, we discussed the way forward for India-Sri Lanka cooperation, especially in power, energy, connectivity, port infrastructure, aviation, digital, health, food security, education, and tourism sectors,” Jaishankar said on his official Twitter platform.

He also met former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, opposition leader Sajith Premadasa, and leaders of various political parties from the North, East, and the upcountry region.

“Interaction of EAM with the leadership of the Government of Sri Lanka provided an opportunity to review and accelerate progress in the multifaceted India-Sri Lanka partnership,” the Indian External Affairs Ministry said in a statement.

One of the key focus areas of discussion was the Vision Document adopted by President Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Modi during the Sri Lankan leader’s visit to India in July 2023.

“Discussions added momentum to the ongoing projects as well as initiatives for promoting connectivity in all its dimensions, particularly in domains of energy, physical infrastructure as well as economic and people-to-people ties.”

Jaishankar also met leaders of Sri Lanka’s upcountry Tamils, who originally came from India as plantation workers. He discussed development and devolution of power with an eight-member delegation of Tamil leaders from the Northern and Eastern provinces, including Shanakiyan Rasamanikkam and M. A. Sumanthiran.

India helped Sri Lanka with financial and humanitarian aid when the island nation faced an unprecedented economic crisis amid delays by the International Monetary Fund loan to rescue Sri Lanka.

“Following Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and stabilization, forging deeper long-term economic cooperation was underlined as a priority for sustainable and equitable growth of Sri Lanka, and mutual prosperity in the Indian Ocean Region,” the Indian External Affairs Ministry said.

Though the Sri Lankan government has claimed that Jaishankar’s visit was a precursor to Indian Prime Minister’s visit, the Indian External Affairs Ministry did not mention anything about a possible Modi visit.

This visit is Jaishankar’s first bilateral visit after the formation of the new government.

The Adani wind power project in the Northern district of Mannar has seen some public protests over environmental concerns after some experts said the project has failed to conduct a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Critics also protest against its transparency.

President Wickremesinghe, opposition leader Premadasa, and Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka are expected to contest in the election to choose the island nation’s 8th leader.

Sri Lankan leaders have been under pressure from India in the past two decades amid increasing Chinese influence in the island nation, seen as a security threat to India, analysts say.

The docking of a Chinese nuclear submarine in 2014 led to a dramatic government change in the 2015 presidential poll with the ousting of former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who later accused India of orchestrating his defeat.

Rajapaksa’s brother Gotabaya in 2021 unilaterally canceled a key port terminal project given to India’s Adani group after promising Jaishankar to sign the deal.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was later forced to flee the country in 2022 after mass protests due to his economic policies. (Colombo/June 21/2024)

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Sri Lanka car permit tax losses Rs14bn in two years of partial disclosure

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has lost 14.3 billion rupees in taxes from car permits given to public servants, including doctors, military officers, central bankers, finance ministry and tax officials, in 2019 and 2020 information disclosed by the finance ministry shows.

Inclusive of some 2021 tax losses when imports were banned for the rest of the year, 14.4 billion rupees of foregone revenue from a waived luxury tax is shown.

The list only shows waivers of a so-called ‘luxury tax’ imposed on larger vehicles above a certain value and size.

The list does not show other vehicles imported under car permits such as double cabs or cars below a certain size.

The list also does not seem to include tax free cars imported by politicians.

In 2019, Sri Lanka has lost 8.3 billion rupees from the luxury tax on car permits and in 2019 the loss 5.92 billion rupees.

In 2021 when car imports were stopped as the central bank started printing money to cut rates and target ‘potential output’ only 85.6 million rupees were lost.

Among the biggest tax waivers of over 10 million rupees went to some doctors and military officers. Doctors were among the biggest users of tax slashed car permits in the list.

Sri Lanka at one time did not allow cars imported by state workers to be transferred for many years.

But reportedly after Customs raided a finance company involving a fleet of vehicles, the rule was relaxed by the then President.

Among the largest tax waivers listed were given to Rolls Royce and Maclaren assigned to Melwire Rolling (Pvt) Ltd.

The 45.6 million rupee Rolls Royce was given a 42.1 million rupee tax waiver.

The 41.46 million McLaren was given a 37.9 million tax waiver.

There were also a large number of Audi A5 and Q2 vehicles listed at prices over 80 million rupee. It is not clear whether the disclosure is an error. The market value of the A5 and Q2 are much lower.

Up to end 2023, 138 cars imported under a migrant worker remittance scheme was listed to lose 436 million rupees in luxury taxes.
The total for the three years was listed at 14.86 billion rupees, involving 2,034 cars in 2019 and 1,470 cars in 2020.

It is not known how much the total tax losses or total vehicle imported through ‘car permits’ is. (Colombo/June20/2024)

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Construction of Sampur solar power plant to begin mid-July

ECONOMYNEXT – Joint energy projects between India and Sri Lanka, including the Sampur solar power plant due to begin next month, took centre stage during bilateral discussions between president Ranil Wickremesinghe and visiting Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday.

Wickremesinghe and Jaishankar discussed initiatives aimed at enhancing energy connectivity and developing the renewable energy sector, a statement by his media division said.

“Significant attention was given to plans for an LNG supply, a proposed petroleum pipeline linking the two countries, and advancing oil and gas exploration projects. Additionally, it was announced that construction of the Sampur Solar Power Plant is set to commence in July 2024.”

The visit comes amid delays in key Indian projects including land, oil and gas pipe, and grid connectivity deals, Adani’s wind power plant deals which are facing a legal battle, and port and investment zone projects in the Eastern port district of Trincomalee.

Indian supported projects for developing Trincomalee and expanding the Kankasanthurai port, the ongoing development of Jaffna Airport and Colombo Airport, and the expediting the unique digital identity card project were discussed.

The efficiency of projects supported by the Indian government aimed at bolstering Sri Lanka’s liquid milk industry and fertilizer production, were also examined.

Sri Lankan leaders have been under pressure from India in the past two decades amid increasing Chinese influence in the island nation as the move is seen as a security threat to India, analysts say. (Colombo/Jun20/2024)

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