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Sunday May 19th, 2024

Sri Lanka keeps policy rates unchanged

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’ central bank said it is keeping policy rates, saying market rates have room to fall and fiscal measures have also been announced to boost growth.

Though annual credit growth numbers are low, there has been higher volumes of credit being given to the private borrowers in recent months.

“Going forward, money and credit aggregates are expected to recover gradually, with the expected continued decline in lending rates, and other mechanisms that are being introduced to revive economic activity,” the central bank said in its November policy announcement.

During November 2019, private credit has grown 47 billion rupees to 5,753 billion rupees.

The average weighted new lending rate calculated by the central bank had fallen to 12.87 percent from 13.19 percent.

The central bank has slapped broad price controls on lending rates, for the first time.

The average weighted new deposit rate however has moved up to 8.78 percent from 8.66 percent by end November, after price controls were lifted.

The deposit rates bottomed out at 8.40 percent in August.

Credit to the central government from the banking system was flat in November. But credit to state enterprises rose 14 billion rupees to 803 billion rupees.

The central bank said it was keeping its 8.0 percent ceiling rate of the policy corridor at which money is injected to the banking system unchanged.

However the agency had been injecting cash below the ceiling rate at around 7.50 percent in December, to sterilize and exceed a seasonal demand for cash drowns, making some banks place over 50 billion rupees of excess money in the central bank at the floor 7.0 percent rate.

While the 12-month inflation number had eased to 4.4 percent in November from 5.4 percent in October, the underlying index has started to pick up steadily from around August.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Policy interest rates of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka to remain unchanged

The Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, at its meeting held on 26 December 2019, decided to maintain its accommodative monetary policy stance with the Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank remaining at their current levels of 7.00 per cent and 8.00 per cent, respectively.

The Board arrived at this decision following a careful analysis of current and expected developments in the domestic economy and the financial market as well as the global economy. The decision of the Monetary Board is consistent with the aim of maintaining inflation in the 4-6 per cent range while supporting economic growth to reach its potential over the medium term.

The pace of monetary policy easing in advanced economies appears to be slowing

Most advanced economies, which followed a monetary easing path owing to the general economic slowdown and muted inflation expectations, appear to have paused further monetary easing. However, most of the emerging market policymakers remained open to further accommodation in the period ahead in order to stimulate activity in their economies. 2

Domestic economic activity to recover gradually

As per the provisional estimates released by the Department of Census and Statistics, the Sri Lankan economy grew at the slow pace of 2.7 per cent during the third quarter of 2019 following the growth of 1.5 per cent in the second quarter of the year. Agriculture related activities grew marginally by 0.4 per cent, while Services and Industry related activities expanded by 2.8 per cent and 3.3 per cent, respectively.

Going forward, a steady revival of economic activity is envisaged, supported by improved political stability and short term measures to stimulate the economy. It is expected that this momentum will be sustained through the introduction of appropriate medium to long term structural reforms.

Inflation to remain at low single digit levels in the near term, and stabilise within 4-6 per cent in the medium term

Headline inflation, as measured by the year-on-year change in both Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI) and National Consumer Price Index (NCPI), decelerated in November 2019 driven by the slowdown in food inflation.

Further softening of inflation could be expected in the period ahead mainly due to the impact of the downward tax revisions and the reduction in selected administratively determined prices. Nevertheless, weather affected food price movements could result in increased volatility in inflation in the near term. Projections indicate that inflation is likely to remain in the range of 4-6 per cent over the medium term, with the gradual closing of the negative output gap and well anchored inflation expectations.

Relatively stable external sector amidst challenging economic conditions

Performance on the trade front continued to improve during the first ten months of 2019 with imports contracting considerably and merchandise exports recording a modest growth, thereby leading to a cumulative contraction in the deficit in the trade account. Provisional data suggests a significantly lower current account deficit in the first nine months of 2019 compared to the corresponding period of 2018.

The tourism sector, which suffered a setback following the Easter Sunday attacks, has since recorded a faster than expected recovery. Workers’ remittances were somewhat low, while outflows of foreign investment were observed from the Government securities market and the equity market during the year.

Nevertheless, the Sri Lankan rupee appreciated against the US dollar by 0.7 per cent thus far during 2019, with mixed movements being recorded throughout the year. Meanwhile, gross official reserves remained at US dollars 7.5 billion by end November 2019, which were sufficient to cover 4.5 months of imports.

Growth of monetary and credit aggregates expected to accelerate in 2020

Although a steady expansion in credit disbursed to the private sector in absolute terms was observed during the four month period commencing August 2019, the year-on-year growth of private sector credit continued to decelerate thus far during the year.

Driven by low credit expansion, the year-on-year growth of broad money (M2b) also continued to moderate. Going forward, money and credit aggregates are expected to recover gradually, with the expected continued decline in lending rates, and other mechanisms that are being introduced to revive economic activity.

Market lending rates, which continued to decline, are expected to reduce further

Market lending rates continued to adjust downward in response to monetary and regulatory measures taken by the Central Bank. However, the observed reduction thus far has been less than envisaged, and financial institutions are expected to meet the stipulated reduction in lending rates in the period ahead.

Policy interest rates maintained at current levels

In consideration of the current and expected macroeconomic developments as highlighted above, the Monetary Board, at its meeting held on 26 December 2019, was of the view that the current accommodative monetary policy stance is appropriate, and that there is ample space for market lending rates to reduce without further adjustment in policy rates.

The Monetary Board also noted that the already announced tax relief as well as the proposed moratorium on capital repayments of bank loans for the SME sector are likely to provide further impetus to the economy. In addition, His Excellency the President is expected to announce the government’s policy statement on 03 January 2020, which will provide further clarity to the broad economic policy framework as well as the fiscal policy direction for the medium term.

In this context, the Monetary Board decided to maintain the Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) and the Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) of the Central Bank at their current levels of 7.00 per cent and 8.00 per cent, respectively.

Monetary Policy Decision: Policy rates and SRR unchanged

Standing Deposit Facility Rate (SDFR) 7.00%
Standing Lending Facility Rate (SLFR) 8.00%
Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR) 5.00%

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Sri Lanka seeks to draw youth into agri-entrepreneurship with 1.6bn funding

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Agriculture and Plantation Industries has earmarked 1.6 billion rupees for the establishment of 160 model farms across the island, that are to be owned and operated by youth agri-entrepreneurs.

“The Ministry of Agriculture and Plantation Industries has taken steps to allocate 1,600 million rupees to establish 160 villages in 25 districts with 6 youth agri entrepreneurship villages in each district,” Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was quoted in a statement.

“Arrangements have been made to provide an amount of one million rupees to each village under the first phase.”

The Minister said the aim of the program is to attract youth to agriculture and to introduce them to new agricultural technology, so they could target local markets and exports.

Under the initiative vegetables, fruits, plantation crops, and fish are to be harvested, and livestock products are to be produced in the villages. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Sri Lanka Navy nabs fishermen engaged in illegal fishing

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Navy apprehended eight persons engaged in illegal fishing in the seas off Ambalanpokkanei, Mullaitivu, Poduwakattu, and Trincomalee, this week.

“The operations also led to the seizure of 3 dinghies and unauthorized fishing gear employed for these illegal acts,” it said in a statement.

“The Sri Lanka Navy remains vigilant and conducts operations to combat illegal fishing in its sea and coastal areas, with a view to supporting legal fishing activities.”

The fishermen were engaging in light-coarse fishing and using unauthorized fishing nets.

They were intercepted by the SLNS Gotabaya and SLNS Walagamba of the Eastern Naval Command.

The individuals were identified as residents of Mullaitivu, Kuchchaveli and Poduwakattu, aged between 21 to 53 years.

The fishermen, dinghies and unauthorized fishing gear were handed over to the Assistant Directorate of Fisheries – Mullaitivu, and the Fisheries Inspector of Trincomalee for legal action, the Navy said. (Colombo/May18/2024)

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Fifteen years after the end of the war, victims still await justice at Mullivaikkal: Amnesty

ECONOMYNEXT – Speaking at a commemoration marking the 15th anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s internal armed conflict on 18 May 2009, which culminated in the brutal Mullivaikkal offensive where countless civilian lives were lost, Secretary General at Amnesty International Agnès Callamard said:

“Today’s anniversary is a grim reminder of the collective failure of the Sri Lankan authorities and the international community to deliver justice to the many victims of Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long internal armed conflict.

It is sobering to stand in the same place where, 15 years ago, countless civilian lives were lost during the last days of the war.

Ahead of this event, we have witnessed clampdown on the memory initiatives, including arrests, arbitrary detentions and deliberately skewed interpretations of the Tamil community’s attempts to remember their people lost to the war. Authorities must respect the space for victims to grieve, memorialise their loved ones and respect their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

UN investigations have found credible evidence of crimes under international law and other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by those on both sides of the conflict, yet there has been little in the way of an independent or impartial national inquiry into such serious crimes.

Meanwhile, the families of those who were forcibly disappeared during the conflict have been left to search desperately for their loved ones. It is truly heartbreaking to hear from victims how long they have been demanding justice in vain.

The Sri Lankan government is best placed to provide answers to the victims, however numerous domestic mechanisms to establish accountability in the last 15 years have been mere window dressing.

The report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released earlier this week too reiterates the gaping deficits in Sri Lanka’s accountability initiatives that has contributed to impunity remaining deeply entrenched.

Tens of thousands of victims and their families continue to suffer in anguish as they await truth, justice, and reparations. We stand in solidarity with them here in Mullivaikkal today.”

Background:

During the internal armed conflict from 1983 to 2009, Sri Lankan government forces and their armed political affiliates committed extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and acts of torture against Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The LTTE also launched indiscriminate suicide attacks on civilian targets like buses and railway stations, assassinated politicians and critics, and forcibly recruited children as fighters.

Violations of international human rights and humanitarian law peaked in the final months of the conflict, most notably in May 2009 when some 300,000 displaced civilians were trapped between the warring parties.

It was at Mullivaikkal, a small village in Mullaitivu district in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, where the final offensive between the Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE took place, killing at least 40,000 civilians according to UN estimates.

Each year, on 18 May, a memorial event at Mullivaikkal brings together thousands of war-affected Tamils to commemorate those lost to the war and demand justice and accountability.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) this week released a report on accountability for enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.
(Colombo/May18/2024)

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