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Sunday July 14th, 2024

Sri Lanka Port City Special Economic Zone to be dollarized

INVESTMENT MAGNET: The Colombo Port City is expected to attract around 15 billion US dollars in investments.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Colombo Port City Special Economic Zone would be dollarized, according to a draft law for the area, protecting its workers and businesses from the depreciation and monetary instability coming from a currency which does not have a credible anchor.

Foreign and domestic investors who conduct business (authorized persons) within the Economic Zone would have to be approved by a Colombo Port City Economic Commission, according to a draft law to be presented to parliament shortly.

All Investment applications would have to be made in foreign currency.

The money would also have to come from abroad. No domestic bank would be allowed to fund such investments through their foreign currency banking units.

“No foreign currency deposit in an account maintained or operated in Sri Lanka, in any licensed commercial bank or licensed specialised bank within the meaning of the Banking Act and no foreign currency raised through a foreign currency loan obtained from any such licensed commercial bank or licensed specialised bank, shall be used by an authorised person for the purpose of such investment, within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City,” the draft law says.

“As such, subject to the provisions of subsection (5) of this section and section 39 of this Act, all investments made to carry on business in and from the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City shall, in the interest of national economy, be raised outside Sri Lanka.”

Land plots would be sold in US dollars. Workers in the zone would be paid dollar salaries.

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Resident workers would be allowed to remit their salaries to a bank account.

The salary which will be exempt from income tax “shall be deemed to be a permissible credit to a personal foreign currency account of such resident employee.”

The Commission is also expected to issue regulation to allow businesses to convert rupee proceeds made by “a citizen of Sri Lanka or resident when using retail facilities or services at restaurants, cinemas, entertainment facilities, shopping facilities, or parking facilities, within the Area of Authority of the Colombo Port City, into a designated foreign currency.”

The port city would also have an off-shore financial centre.

Dollarization allows people’s salaries and lifetime savings as well as the capital to be protected from monetary expropriation by soft-pegged central banks prone to currency depreciation and balance of payments crises.

Currencies depreciate due to a conflict in monetary anchors, where money is printed to keep rates down and the exchange rate is also targeted.

Dollarization involving adopting one or more free floating currencies such as the US dollar and Euro target a low inflation rate of around 2 percent (a credible domestic anchor).

It is possible to adopt more than one foreign currency at the same time (currency competition).

Currency boards also issue money which do not depreciate against the chosen strong currency it is pegged to (credible external anchor) as money printing is prohibited and overnight rates float.

But if money is printed to target a domestic interest rate or a higher level of inflation, that currency will depreciate.

Any attempt to defend the exchange rate (external anchor) while printing money to will trigger a ‘run’ on the foreign reserves of that central bank (a conflict between anchors), typically called a balance of payments deficit.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has depreciated from 4.77 to around 200 to the US dollar amid money printing and conflicts with domestic and external anchors.

Such central banks impose exchange controls and also import controls in order to be able to keep on printing money.

John Exter, a Federal Reserve ‘money doctor’ who helped set up a soft-pegged central bank abolishing the earlier currency board, observed as follows in explaining the planned new Monetary Law Act which later brought currency crises, chronic depreciation and output shocks.

Exter said the currency board was “particularly conducive to foreign investment because investors, especially those within the Sterling area had every assurance that the rupee exchange rate would not get altered in terms of Sterling and that there would be no impediments to realizing profits or repatriating capital”.

During Ceylon’s currency board era, Malaysian and other firms raised capital in the Colombo stock market.

However Exter claimed the automatic rule-based sustainable system was a “mark of Colonialism” and it was “tantamount to a renunciation of a basic element of monetary sovereignty”.

Ironically the Port City Economic Zone would now be dollarized, going beyond a currency board. A currency board, while preserving free convertibility of the rupee, would have given profits of note issue (seigniorage) to the Treasury.

The Port City, reclaimed by China Harbour Engineering group is expected to attract over 15 billion US dollars of investments. (Colombo/Mar28/2021)

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UNESCO DG to discuss archaeological endeavours in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s president has said that he will discuss initiatives for long-term archaeological endeavours in the Anuradhapura city with visiting UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay.

Azoulay will visit Sri Lanka from July 16-19 and take part at the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s membership of UNESCO at the Nelum Pokuna Theatre in Colombo.

She will also travel to UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the island, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

“I have invited the Director General of UNESCO to visit Sri Lanka and discuss initiatives for long-term archaeological endeavours in the Anuradhapura city. Several universities overseas have shown interest in supporting us for these activities, and we are moving forward with their collaboration,” Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“Anuradhapura boasts a rich history spanning over a millennium, once renowned as a hub of trade and economics. Preserving and exploring this ancient city’s archaeological treasures remains a significant endeavour.”

“New archaeological efforts in the Anuradhapura district are now imperative,” Wickremesinghe said during a ceremony to inaugurate a 150-kilowatt solar power system installed by the LTL Group at the Sri Maha Bodhiya premises in Anuradhapura on Saturday (13).

Wickremesinghe pointed out that UNESCO has undertaken extensive archaeological projects in Angkor Thom in Cambodia, and Luang Prabang in Laos.

“However, we have not taken the necessary steps to implement these activities in Anuradhapura city. Therefore, I have advised both the Department of Archaeology and the Cultural Triangle to undertake these initiatives.”

These efforts are part of a comprehensive program aimed at establishing Anuradhapura as a globally renowned city, Wickremesinghe said.

While Sigiriya has gained international fame, Sri Lanka has not adequately highlighted Anuradhapura’s historical significance as a major trade and economic center in the past, the president pointed out.

“Cities like Tanjore (Thanjavur), Madurai, and Sanchipuram are often discussed, yet Anuradhapura, the fourth city, has been overlooked. Therefore, it is crucial to develop Anuradhapura city.”

As part of these initiatives, preparations are underway to establish new hotels in Anuradhapura, which will contribute significantly to its development, Wickremesinghe said. (Colombo/Jul13/2024)

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Government committed to improving living conditions in Jaffna: Sri Lanka PM

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s prime minister, who is in Jaffna “to monitor the progress” and “get a little feedback” has said the government is committed to improving living conditions of the people in the northern peninsula.

“This government is dedicated to improving the living conditions of the Jaffna Peninsula,” Dinesh Gunawardena told a Jaffna District Coordinating Committee meeting on Friday, according to a statement by his media division.

“In order to increase the living conditions, we have embarked on an increase in most of the expenditure needed by the departments, and also special allocations for rural and urban development in the local government area.”

Nationalist Gunawardena met with Tamil politicians at the Jaffna Divisional Secretariat Office and participated in the distribution of rice and egg incubators for low income families.

“A special privilege to be with you all, in order to monitor the progress made by all of you, as well as to get a little feedback where we stand today in relation to the reports given.”

Gunawardena joins a string of leading political figures who have visited the north ahead of upcoming polls.

The government was, he said, “committed to improve the services and living conditions, therefore, to provide the necessary infrastructure for developments, which means much to your area.”

The prime minister said he appreciated the efforts of farmers because “farmers are all private sector, I would say. Let us not forget, farmers are all in the private sector, either in the ownership or in the tenancy. They are private contributors to the national development of the economy.”

The poverty numbers are “fairly managed” in the country. Gunawardena said, pointing out that poverty was a key problems in any economy. “Any country, you would agree with me, the richest country, in the United States even, food stamps have been given. So all economies the world are going through difficult situations in relation to the poor.

“We have to look after the poor especially in these remote villages of the Northern Province…”

Minister Douglas Devanada, MPs M A Sumanthiran, Angajan Ramanathan, C Vigneshwaran, Dharmalingam Siddharthan, and other officials participated in the meeting. (Colombo/Jul13/2024)

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Sri Lanka leader’s presidential campaign faces dilemma over coalition: sources

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s presidential election campaign is facing a dilemma over coalition due to rivalry parties with different political ideologies, sources said.

President Wickremesinghe is yet to announce his candidacy for the presidential poll which is expected to be declared by the island nation’s Election Commission after July 17.

However, his close allies and some ministers in the current coalition government have already started a campaign to promote him assuming that President Wickremesinghe will declare his candidacy.

Three sources who spoke to EconomyNext said legislators from the main opposition center-right Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) are ready to join, but they do not want to be in coalition with the ruling Sri Lanka Podujna Peramuna (SLPP).

“SJB members who want to join Wickremesinghe are bit nervous because people wanted to oust SLPP in 2022 for their past sins including corruption and wrong economic policies,” on source who is in a member in the core campaign strategy group told EconomyNext.

Another source said majority of nationalist party SLPP are with the president, but a few key SLPP leaders do not want to back Wickremesinghe because of his market-led economic policies.

“SLPP does not want to be seen as backing Wickremesinghe’s privatization moves. So a few leaders are worried to join the campaign and have different idea of fielding their own campaign,” the second source who is indirectly involved with facilitating meeting between Wickremesinghe and legislators said.

The SJB is leaned towards somewhat liberal economic policies and has ensured to treat all ethnic people equally, while SLPP has backed a state-controlled economy and has given priority for ethnic majority Sinhala Buddhists.

UNDECIDED VOTERS

There is no formal and transparent survey to assess the popularity of possible presidential candidates.

However, an informal survey shows Opposition and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa is leading followed by Marxists Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna leader Anura Kumara Dissanayaka.

The same survey has shown a gradual gain for Wickremesinghe in the last three months.

“He is confident of winning, but he has to win most of the undecided voters for that,” a third source, who is in the campaign planning team, said.

“Still things are very fluid. Majority of the people still don’t understand the benefits of economic recovery and the country getting out of the debt default under the current president. We will have a clear picture by end of next month.”

Wickremesinghe was elected as the president in July 2022 by the parliament after his predecessor Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country in fear of his life amid mass protests and outside the presidential palace.

Wickremesinghe has implemented some tough economic reforms including raising taxes, imposing new taxes, freezing recruitments to state-owned companies, and privatizing loss making government-owned entities in line with commitments agreed with the IMF.

UNPOPULOUR REFORMS

Those reforms have made him unpopulour mainly among government employees and lower income groups.

He has raised the salaries of government employees from April this year while has introduced a new transfer payment called Aswesuma for lower income and vulnerable groups.

Sri Lanka faced an unprecedented economic crisis with a sovereign debt default in 2022. But it has recovered faster than expected under Wickremesinghe administration with difficult and unpopulour reforms.

People protested against the SLPP-led government in 2022 and ousted then leader Gotabaya Rajapaksa and all his relatives from the key ministerial positions for their alleged involvement in corruption and wrong economic policies.

The SLPP which had more than two-third majority in the parliament after 2020 general election, is worried about its perception and electoral performance after the economic crisis.

Analysts say Wickremesinghe has a greater chance to win if he join with SJB than SLPP because of the SLPP’s negative perception.

Sources, however, said they are in discussions with both SLPP and SJB legislators to agree on a common programme for Wickremesinghe’s presidency.

Presidential election is likely to be held either in October first week or second week, Election Commission officials say.

Wickremesinghe lost the parliamentary election in 2020, but entered the parliament in 2021 using the solo seat his party won through the national list.  (Colombo/July 13/2024)

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