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Thursday September 21st, 2023

Sri Lanka in last stages of making debt restructuring plan: President

ECONOMYEXT – Sri Lanka is in the final stages of a debt re-structuring plan prepared with international experts and which will be presented to the International Monetary Fund and negotiations will begin with creditor nations, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

Negotiations would begin with state creditors first.

“The finalization of the debt restructuring plan has commenced in collaboration with Lazard and Clifford Chance, who are international financial and legal experts,” President Wickremesinghe told in his inaugural address to a new session of parliament.

“We would submit this plan to the International Monetary Fund in the near future, and negotiate with the countries who provided loan assistance.

“Subsequently negotiations with private creditors would also begin to arrive at a consensus.”

He said an economic planning framework would be presented in an interim budget for the rest of the year and in the 2023 budget.

IMF discussions will continue in August.

“It is our expectation to conclude the staff level negotiations expeditiously and successfully,” he said.

“We are also looking at formulating necessary policies, rules and regulations, and programmes, to strengthen the export economy,”

“Our economic legacy is based on foreign trade. From the ancient times, Sri Lanka was known worldwide as a major economic hub located on the Maritime Silk Road (MSR), and was identified as the ‘Granary of the East’.

“Sri Lanka was the center that distributed rice from the entire region across the world.”

Sri Lanka however lost the ability engage in international trade after a central bank was set up in 1950 which printed money to suppress rates, created forex shortages and broke the currency peg and triggered trade and economic controls.

As domestic credit surged with liquidity injections and sterilized interventions the country lost reserves and ended up as a top customer of the IMF, repeatedly.

Sri Lanka went to the international bond markets with bullet repayments in 2005 and sovereign bond holdings ratcheted up sharply from 2015 under flexible inflation targeting with output gap targeting (printing money for stimulus).

In 2022 Sri Lanka defaulted for the first time. Soft-pegged Latin American nations, default repeatedly.

Sri Lanka is now in the worst currency crises in the history of the central bank with the rupee down to 360 to the US dollar from 200 at the beginning of the year.

Sri Lanka now has a budget deficit over 10 percent of GDP with taxes cut in 2019 for stimulus on top of money printing.

Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka aimed to have a primary surplus in the budget by 2025.

National debt which had soared to 140 percent of GDP was expected to be brought down below 100 percent by 2032.

“If we build the country, the nation and the economy through the national economic policy, we would be able to become a fully developed country by the year 2048, when we celebrate the 100th anniversary of independence,” he said.

“When I draw long-term plans in this manner some ridicule me. Yes, I am not like other politicians. I have long term plans.

“My planning in not for my own betterment, but for the young generation of today. I clearly know that I would not eat the fruit of the tree that I plant. But tomorrow, our children of the future generations will enjoy the fruit.”

He made no mention of plans to tame the domestic operations of the central bank and bring back the monetary stability lost in 1950 through ‘independent monetary policy’ with a peg, now called flexible inflation targeting with a peg.

Sri Lanka is planning to institutionalize flexible inflation targeting and flexible exchange rate and extreme form of a reserve collecting peg with a high 6 percent inflation targe, from 2015 to 2019 through a new monetary law. (Colombo/Aug03/2022)

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Sri Lanka’s 2022 EPF returns falls to lowest, single digit in near two decades – CB data

ECONOMYNEXT – The 2022 annual average return on Sri Lanka’s largest contributory pension scheme, the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), has fallen to its lowest in nearly two decades, Central Bank data showed.

The annual average return in the last year fell to 9.52 percent from the previous year’s 11.40 percent, a central bank response to a Right to Information (RTI) request showed.

Returns on EPF has raised concerns among contributors after the government decided to include EPF investments in the government treasury bonds under the domestic debt optimization (DDO) process.

Last year’s lower return has been recorded despite market interest rates being more than 30 percent towards the end of the year. In contrast, the fund has given a double digit return in 2020 when the market interest rates hovered in single digits.

Analysts have predicted the returns to be further low with the central bank opting for the government’s DDO option.

A central bank analysis on DDO showed the return on EPF could fall to as low as 6.79 percent if the DDO option was not chosen within the next 12 years as against 8.02 percent if opted for DDO.

Trade unions and some politically motivated fractions opposed the government move to include the EPF investments under the DDO. However, parliament approved the move early this month.

According to the data made available from 2005, the central bank, which is the custodian of the EPF, has given the highest return of 16.03 percent in 2009.

The island nation’s largest pension fund has almost 21-million member accounts including 18.3 million non-contributing accounts due to some members having multiple number of accounts.

The 3.38 trillion-rupee ($10.6 billion) worth fund as of end 2022 is managed by the central bank, including its investment decisions.

As of end 2022, the central bank has invested 3.23 trillion rupees or 95.7 percent of the total EPF in government securities, while 84.1 billion rupees has been invested in listed companies in the Colombo Stock Exchange, the central bank said quoting the EPF audited financial statement. (Colombo/September 21/2023)

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Malaysia to support Sri Lanka’s bid to join RCEP

ECONOMYNEXT – Malaysia has agreed to support Sri Lanka’s application to become a member of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a major regional trade agreement.

The RCEP is a free trade agreement among the Asia-Pacific nations of Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe met the Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim during bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday (20).

During the meeting, the Malaysian Prime Minister expressed a strong desire to bolster economic ties between the two nations, according to a president’s media division statement.

He emphasized Malaysia’s eagerness to facilitate increased investments from Malaysian companies in Sri Lanka.

Ibrahim also expressed positivity towards Sri Lanka’s request to commence negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries, which could potentially open up new avenues for trade and economic cooperation.

Wickremesinghe is in a drive to bolster international ties and integrate the country with the global economy.

So far this week he met with the leaders of Bangladesh, Nepal, Malaysia, Iran, South Korea, as well as representatives from global bodies such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, USAID, Meta, the Commonwealth, and attended other forums.

Sri Lanka aims to expand its economic reach first within South Asia and then extend further.
Data shows that Sri Lanka has been able to boost exports with FTAs.

Over the past two decades Sri Lanka’s exports have not grown as much as competitors.

Economists involved in trade have pointed out that Sri Lanka should make joining the RCEP a priority instead of trying to negotiate multiple smaller deals for which it does not have the bandwidth in government, or the technical resources to do multiple trade agreements. (Colombo/Sep21/2023)

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Is Tibet Prepared for a Post-Dalai Lama Era?

ECONOMYNEXT – Tibetans have shaped and sustained their lives for more than 60 years under the leadership of the 14th Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader turned 88 in July, and as his longevity is discussed amongst his followers, there is also concern about Tibet’s future without his physical presence.

In 2011, the Dalai Lama divested himself of all political authority, yet, as the architect of democratic governance, he continues to remain a larger-than-life figure for Tibetans.

Along with that come other challenges; safeguarding the democratic system he initiated, engaging younger generations in the cause for Tibet’s freedom, protecting the country’s environment, the influence of external forces and the possible geopolitical fallout of India’s continued support of the Tibetan cause.
Ever since the Lhasa uprising of 1959, and the setting up of a government in exile in Dharamsala, India, the first Tibetan Constitution introduced by the Dalai Lama in 1963 has undergone many changes.

In 1991 the Supreme Justice Commission was added to the other two pillars of democracy, the Legislature and the Executive. Along with that, an Independent Audit Commission, an Independent Public Service Commission and an Independent Election Commission were set up, and women were assigned two seats in the Legislature. The current operational body of the Tibetan government in exile is known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

The debate on Tibet’s sovereignty, which fell under the control of the Chinese in 1951, is ongoing, with the Chinese government terming it the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’ and the CTA and Tibetan diaspora referring to it as the “Chinese invasion of Tibet.”

Despite the reforms and the Dalai Lama divesting himself of all political power the spiritual leader exerts considerable influence and therefore there is still, a heavy dependence on him, notes MP Youdon Aukatsang. Speaking at a webinar titled “Tibetan Democracy in Exile’ organised by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, South Asia, on September 15, Ms Aukatsang pointed to a recent constitutional crisis which was finally resolved following the Dalai Lama’s intervention. “Tibetans must take full responsibility for political matters as envisaged by His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” she said.

There is also the challenge of dealing with the internal dissent amongst Tibetans, which she claimed is spearheaded by China.

The webinar moderated by Ms Tenzin Peldon, the Director and Editor-in-Chief of Voice of Tibet, included Ven Geshe Lhakdor, Director, Tibetan Library and Archives and honorary Professor, University of British Columbia, Gondo Dhondup, President of the Tibetan Youth Congress and Sujeet Kumar, an Indian parliamentarian and the Convenor of the All Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet.

The current Sikyong, Tibet’s political leader Penpa Tsering and Dr Jurgen Murtens, a member of the German Bundestag also addressed the webinar.

The democratic model, Aukatsang states is successful, yet it is a work in progress. The current make up of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) has 45 members representing the three provinces of U-Tsang, Do-med and Do-tod, the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism as well as the traditional Bon faith, Europe, North America and Australasia. It is headed by the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aukatsang would like to see a modification in the composition with more representation from the diaspora, and less from the provinces to better reflect the changing demography. She also proposes an increase in the number of members of the Standing Committee from 11 to 15 and calls for the establishment of a dispute resolution mechanism rather than the direct impeachment process, which is the current practice.

Though the 1991 reforms made way for women’s representation in the TPiE, (currently 10 ministers and the Deputy Speaker are women), Aukatsang is hopeful there would be “more meaningful engagement of women in leadership roles,” for, as she points out, they are the custodians of Tibetan culture and language. Women have also distinguished themselves as founders of several non-governmental organisations and in the field of education.

Her sentiments were reflected by the Sikyong, Penpa Tsering when he said that unless the administration is ready to adapt to demographic and social realities, its relevancy will be challenged.

When the Buddha was on his deathbed, and his followers were fearful of being on their own, the Buddha had advised that the focus should be on his teachings and not his physical presence. Likewise, says Ven Geshe Lhakdor, Tibetans must continue to abide by the teachings of the Dalai Lama, and not worry about his absence. When Tibetans were prohibited from displaying photos of the Dalai Lama, they hung up empty picture frames, he said, aware that the Dalai Lama remains within them.

Ven Geshe Lhakdor also advocates a separation of Church and State, pointing out that clergy must involve themselves in the spiritual upliftment of society, rather than in politics. The idea of the religious ruling a country is outdated, he points out, adding that once clergy get into a “political mindset” they are unable to send out good signals to the people. He adds that their responsibility is to safeguard culture and harmony and be role models.

The principles of democracy are a reflection of Buddhist teaching the Venerable noted, pointing out its time to extricate oneself from a tribal mentality. The focus must be on a long-term, robust vision, rather than quick fixes. He also believes that Tibetans must safeguard themselves from internal fragmentation, even more than external threats.

One unique feature of the administration is that it is free of corruption, the Venerable notes, despite being surrounded by corrupt systems.

Even though Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of independent India, sought and had the cooperation of all Chief Ministers to offer refuge to Tibetans in 1959, MP Sujeet Kumar is of the opinion that the current Indian Parliament is rather diffident in openly rooting for Tibet against China.

While acknowledging that Indian parliamentarians have huge constituencies and are busy, he is hopeful his colleagues would take more interest in Tibet and her issues.

Tibetans alone have the right to decide on the Dalai Lama’s successor, says Kumar, and India must back that. India should also rally the support of other nations to help Tibet charter her own course in a post-Dalai Lama scenario.

Kumar would like to see more Tibetan youth become part of India’s trillion-dollar digital industry.
He is concerned, however, at the lack of enthusiasm amongst the youth to use social media to fight disinformation being circulated about Tibet.

Acknowledging that youth could be more engaged in social media to fight disinformation, Gondo Dhondup says all Tibetans are “born to be activists” and to the cause, even though it is difficult to envisage a freedom movement without the Dalai Lama.

Youth are the agents of change, and Tibet’s future citizens, therefore they must stay informed. The TYC organises leadership training, and Tibetans, even those scattered around the globe must take advantage of the programmes, Dhondup says.

While calling on India to introduce a national policy on Tibet, Dhondup cautions that India’s waterways that originate in Tibet are under threat. The rivers are either “diverted or polluted” affecting downstream villagers, and India must ensure her water security, Dhondup explains.

The recently concluded G20 summit was themed “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, and that gives India an opportunity to be more vocal about the environment, he says.

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