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Friday February 23rd, 2024

Sri Lanka, IMF to continue discussions to renew reform deal

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka and the International Monetary Fund will continue discussions to reach a staff level agreement for the next phase of the program, a statment issued after the mission concluded a review mission said.

“The team will continue its discussions in the context of the First Review with the goal of reaching a staff-level agreement in the near term,” the statement said.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Colombo, Sri Lanka – September 27, 2023: An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission team led by Mr. Peter Breuer and Ms. Katsiaryna Svirydzenka visited Colombo from September 14 to 27, 2023 to discuss economic and financial policies to support the approval of the First Review of the program under the EFF arrangement.

At the end of the mission, Mr. Breuer and Ms. Svirydzenka issued the following statement:

“The people of Sri Lanka have shown remarkable resilience in the face of enormous challenges. Sri Lanka has made commendable progress in implementing difficult but much-needed reforms. These efforts are bearing fruit as the economy is showing tentative signs of stabilization. Inflation is down from a peak of 70 percent in September 2022 to below 2 percent in September 2023, gross international reserves increased by $1.5 billion during March-June this year, and shortages of essentials have eased. Despite early signs of stabilization, full economic recovery is not yet assured. Growth momentum remains subdued, with Q2 real GDP contracting by 3.1 percent on a year-on-year basis and high-frequency economic indicators continuing to provide mixed signals. Reserve accumulation has slowed in recent months.

“Sustaining the reform momentum is critical to put the economy on a path towards lasting recovery and stable and inclusive economic growth. The authorities have met the program’s primary balance targets and remain committed to this important pillar of the program so as to support their efforts to restore debt sustainability. However, revenue mobilization gains–while improved relative to last year–are expected to fall short of initial projections by nearly 15 percent by year end. While partially due to economic factors, the onus of fiscal adjustment would fall on public expenditure if there were no efforts to recoup this shortfall. This could weaken the government’s ability to provide essential public services; and undermine the path to debt sustainability. To increase revenues and signal better governance, it is important to strengthen tax administration, remove tax exemptions, and actively eliminate tax evasion.

“Against continued uncertainty, it also remains important to rebuild external buffers by strong reserves accumulation. Building on the Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s success in controlling inflation, refraining from monetary financing will help keep inflation in check. Other challenges include maintaining cost recovery of electricity pricing.

“The government has made steady progress on structural reforms. Key legislations passed in Parliament, including the new Central Bank Act and the Anti-Corruption Act, could improve governance if implemented effectively. The IMF Governance Diagnostic report would inform future reform measures to strengthen governance when published. A new welfare benefit payment scheme was enacted with new eligibility criteria that aims to improve targeting, adequacy, and coverage of social safety nets. To ensure financial stability, steps were taken on conducting bank diagnostics, developing a roadmap for addressing banking system capital and liquidity shortfalls, and improving the bank resolution framework.

“The authorities have also made headway on regaining debt sustainability through the execution of the domestic debt restructuring and advancing discussions with external creditors. As Sri Lanka is restructuring its public debt which is in arrears, Executive Board approval of the first program review requires the completion of financing assurances reviews. These financing assurances reviews will focus on whether adequate progress has been made with debt restructuring to give confidence that it will be concluded in a timely manner and in line with the program’s debt targets.

“Discussions are on-going, and the authorities are continuing to make progress on their plans for revenue mobilization targets, anti-corruption efforts, and other important structural reforms.

“The IMF team held meetings with President and Finance Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Central Bank of Sri Lanka Governor Dr. P. Nandalal Weerasinghe, State Minister Mr. Shehan Semasinghe, Chief of Staff to the President Mr. Sagala Ratnayaka, Secretary to the Treasury Mr. K M Mahinda Siriwardana, and other senior government and CBSL officials. The IMF team also met with Parliamentarians, representatives from the private sector, civil society organizations, and development partners.

“We would like to thank the authorities for the excellent collaboration during the mission. The team will continue its discussions in the context of the First Review with the goal of reaching a staff-level agreement in the near term. We reaffirm our commitment to support Sri Lanka at this difficult time.”

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Sri Lankans may need to wait for Monetary Board meeting minutes despite new Act

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lankans may have to wait more time to read the meeting minutes of the Central Bank’s Monetary Board, a top official said, despite a new act that has made the central bank to be more transparent and accountable for its decisions.

Many central banks including the United States’ Federal Reserve, India’s Reserve Bank, and Bank of Mexico release the minutes of their monetary policy meeting to ensure transparency.

The new Central Bank Act passed by the Parliament in line with the guidance by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) includes measures for Sri Lanka’s central bank to be more transparent and accountable.

These measures include releasing the Monetary Policy Report every six months and the first such report was released on February 15.

However, the central bank has not taken a decision to release the minutes of the Monetary Board meetings on the monetary policy.

“Going forward, one day this could happen,” Chandranath Amarasekara, Assistant Governor at the Central Bank told reporters on Wednesday (21) at a media briefing.

“Right now, we have just started working on the new Central Bank Act. We are not there yet. There is no such decision on releasing minutes yet.”

The central bank in the past printed billions of rupees to keep the market interest rates artificially low and provide cheap funding for successive governments to propel a debt-driven economy.

It’s decision, however, led Sri Lanka into an unprecedented economic crisis in 2022 with sovereign debt default.

It also propped up the rupee currency artificially in the past to maintain a stable exchange rate at the expense of billions of US dollars. The move also contributed for the economic crisis and later the central bank was forced to allow over 60 percent depreciation in the rupee in March 2022.

However, none of the top central bank officials was held responsible for wrong decisions to hold interest rates artificially low with money printing and propping up the rupee. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Amid mass migration, Sri Lanka to recruit volunteers as English teachers

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka is planning to appoint foreign and expatriate volunteers to teach English for Sri Lanka students, the Ministry of Higher Education said, amid thousand of teachers migrating to other countries after the island nation’s unprecedented economic crisis.

Over five thousand teachers have left the country with the Education Ministry permission using the government’s circular of temporarily leaving state jobs while tens of thousands of teachers have left the country without informing the relevant authorities, Education Ministry officials say.

That had led to an acute teacher shortage in the country.

Suren Raghavan, the State Minister for Higher Education said the shortage has aggravated because most of the graduates who have an English degree become writers and join the private sector due to higher salary.

“They do not join government schools. This is a problem all over the country which is why we need to have an online system,” Raghavan told EconomyNext.

Separately he said on Thursday at a press conference that he had spoken to Canadian and Australian High Commissions to get the assistance of where their English teachers who have experience in teaching English as a second language in South Asia.

He also said that there is a number of teachers in the Unite Kingdom have shown interest in teaching English and they have experience in teaching in other Asian countries such as Burma and India while the teaching would be done free of charge.

The new move also comes at a time when the country’s English literacy rate is on the decline, according to the Minister.

President Ranil Wickramasinghe announced the English-for-all initiative three months ago with plans to improve English literacy at school and university level. (Colombo/Feb 23/2024)

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Sri Lanka tea production up 1.4-pct in Jan 2024, exports up 6.8-pct

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s tea production was up 1.4 percent to 18.73 million kilograms in January 2024, with high growns falling and low and mid growns rising, industry data shows.

High grown tea in January 2024 was 3.56 million kilograms, down from 3.36 million, medium growns were 2.6, up from 2.5 million kilograms and low growns were 12.56 million, up from 12.32 million kilograms last year.

Exports, including re-exports were up 6.88 percent to 18.76 million kilograms, industry data published by Ceylon Tea Brokers show.

Export earnings were reported at 102 million US dollars, up from 99.5 million dollars last year. The average FOB price was 5.45 US dollars a kilo down from 5.67 dollars last year.

Tea in bulk was 8.5 million kilograms valued at 12.79 billion rupees, tea in packets was 7.8 million kilograms valued at 13.1 billion rupees and tea in bags was 1.8 million kilos, valued at 5.06 billion rupees.

The top buyer was Iraq with 2.5 million kilos, up from 2.1 million last year followed by the UAE with 1.99 kilos, up from 1.86 million last year.

Russia bought 1.98 million kilos, down from 2.0 last year, Turkey bought 1.72 million kilos, from 2.3 million last year, while Iran bought 1.32 million, up from 614 million last year. (Colombo/Feb23/2024)

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