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Saturday May 25th, 2024

Sri Lanka reaches staff level agreement with IMF: Statement

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has reached a staff level agreement with the International Monetary Fund for the next phase phase of the program, the Washington based lender said in a statement.

Once approved by the board Sri Lanka will get access to 337 million dollars in funds.

Sri Lanka’s economic policies are bearing fruit, the statement said.

Board approval is subject to completing some prior actions and more progress on debt restructuring.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Colombo, Sri Lanka – March 21, 2024: After constructive discussions in Colombo, IMF Senior Mission Chief Mr. Peter Breuer and Deputy Mission Chief Ms. Katsiaryna Svirydzenka issued the following statement:

“The IMF team reached staff-level agreement with the Sri Lankan authorities on the second review under the economic reform program supported by a 4-year Extended Fund Facility (EFF) arrangement and concluded the 2024 Article IV Consultation discussions. The EFF arrangement was approved by the IMF Executive Board for a total amount of SDR 2.3 billion (about US$3 billion) on March 20, 2023.

“The staff-level agreement is subject to the approval by IMF management and the IMF Executive Board in the period ahead, contingent on: (i) the implementation by the authorities of prior actions; (ii) the completion of financing assurances review, which will focus on confirming multilateral partners’ committed financing contributions and whether adequate progress has been made with the debt restructuring to give confidence that the restructuring will be concluded in a timely manner and in line with the program’s debt targets.

“Upon completion of the Executive Board review, Sri Lanka would have access to SDR 254 million (about US$337 million), bringing the total IMF financial support disbursed under the arrangement to SDR 762 million (about US$1 billion).

“The authorities are making good progress in implementing an ambitious reform agenda under the EFF with commendable outcomes, including rapid disinflation, robust reserve accumulation, and initial signs of economic growth while preserving the stability of the financial system. Public finances have strengthened following substantial fiscal reforms. Program performance was strong, with all quantitative performance criteria and indicative targets for end-December 2023 met except for the indicative target on social spending. Most structural benchmarks due before end-February 2024 were either met or implemented with delay. Reforms in some areas are still ongoing.

“The economic situation is gradually improving. Growth turned positive after six consecutive quarters of contraction, registering 1.6 percent and 4.5 percent y-o-y growth in the third and fourth quarters of 2023 respectively. High-frequency economic indicators point to a continued pick-up in manufacturing, construction, and services. Inflation has come down from a peak of 70 percent in September 2022 to 5.9 percent in February 2024. Gross official reserves increased to US$4.5 billion at end-February 2024 with sizeable foreign exchange purchases by the central bank.

“Sustaining the reform momentum is critical to put the economy on a path towards lasting recovery and stable and inclusive economic growth. We welcome the authorities’ commitment to fiscal reforms. Continued progress towards the introduction of the property tax is critical, together with revenue measures to meet the revenue mobilization goals in 2025 and beyond. Revenue administration and anti-corruption efforts to boost tax collections are also key. Maintaining cost recovery in fuel and electricity pricing will help minimize fiscal risks arising from state-owned enterprises.

“While inflation has decelerated faster than expected, continued monitoring is warranted to help anchor inflationary pressures and support macroeconomic stability. Against ongoing external uncertainty, it remains important to continue to rebuild external buffers through strong reserves accumulation.

“Sri Lanka’s Agreements in principle with the Official Creditor Committee and Export-Import Bank of China on debt treatments consistent with program parameters were important milestones putting Sri Lanka’s debt on the path towards sustainability. The critical next steps are to finalize the agreements with the official creditors and reach Agreements in Principle with the main external private creditors in line with program parameters in a timely manner. This should help restore Sri Lanka’s debt sustainability over the medium term.

“The authorities’ recently published Action Plan to implement the key recommendations of the Governance Diagnostic Report is a welcome step. Sustained efforts to implement these reforms will be essential for addressing corruption risks, rebuilding economic confidence, and making growth more robust and inclusive.

The IMF mission team met with tea plantation workers in Nuwara Eliya and learned first-hand about some of the challenges Sri Lanka’s most vulnerable face. Continued efforts to improve targeting, adequacy, and coverage of social safety nets, particularly Aswesuma, remain critical to protect the poor and the vulnerable.

“The IMF team held meetings with President and Finance Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Central Bank of Sri Lanka Governor Dr. P. Nandalal Weerasinghe, Minister of Power and Energy Mr. Kanchana Wijesekera, 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 team also met with Parliamentarians, representatives from the private sector, civil society organizations, and development partners.

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Sri Lanka power outages from falling trees worsened by unfilled vacancies: CEB union

HEAVY WINDS: Heavy rains and gusting winds have brought down trees on many location in Sri Lanka.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s power grid has been hit by 300,000 outages as heavy winds brought down trees, restoring supply has been delayed by unfilled vacancies of breakdown staff, a union statement said.

Despite electricity being declared an essential service, vacancies have not been filled, the CEB Engineers Union said.

“In this already challenging situation, the Acting General Manager of CEB issued a circular on May 21, 2024, abolishing several essential service positions, including the Maintenance Electrical Engineer in the Area Engineer Offices, Construction Units, and Distribution Maintenance Units,” the Union said.

“This decision, made without any scientific basis, significantly reduces our capacity to provide adequate services to the public during this emergency.

“On behalf of all the staff of CEB, we express our deep regret for the inconvenience caused to our valued customers.”

High winds had rains have brought down trees across power lines and transformers, the statement said.

In the past few day over 300,000 power outages have been reported nationwide, with some areas experiencing over 30,000 outages within an hour.

“Our limited technical staff at the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) are making extraordinary efforts to restore power as quickly as possible,” the union said.

“We deeply regret that due to the high volume of calls, there are times when we are unable to respond to all customer inquiries.

“We kindly ask consumers to support our restoration teams and to report any fallen live electrical wires or devices to the Electricity Board immediately without attempting to handle them.

The union said there were not enough workers to restore power quickly when such a large volume of breakdowns happens.

“We want to clarify that the additional groups mentioned by the minister have not yet been received by the CEB,” the union said.

“Despite the government’s designation of electricity as an essential service, neither the government, the minister in charge, nor the CEB board of directors have taken adequate steps to fill the relevant vacancies or retain current employees.

“We believe they should be held directly responsible for the delays in addressing the power outages due to the shortage of staff.”

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Melco’s Nuwa hotel to open in Sri Lanka in mid-2025

ECONOMYNEXT – A Nuwa branded hotel run by Melco Resorts and Entertainment linked to their gaming operation in Colombo will open in mid 2025, its Sri Lanka partner John Keells Holdings said.

The group’s integrated resort is being re-branded as a ‘City of Dreams’, a brand of Melco.

The resort will have a 687-room Cinnamon Life hotel and the Nuwa hotel described as “ultra-high end”.

“The 113-key exclusive hotel, situated on the top five floors of the integrated resort, will be managed by Melco under its ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel brand ‘Nuwa’, which has presence in Macau and the Philippines,” JKH told shareholders in the annual report.

“Melco’s ultra high-end luxury-standard hotel and casino, together with its global brand and footprint, will strongly complement the MICE, entertainment, shopping, dining and leisure offerings in the ‘City of Dreams Sri Lanka’ integrated resort, establishing it as a one-of-a-kind destination in South Asia and the region.”

Melco is investing 125 million dollars in fitting out its casino.

“The collaboration with Melco, including access to the technical, marketing, branding and loyalty programmes, expertise and governance structures, will be a boost for not only the integrated resort of the Group but a strong show of confidence in the tourism potential of the country,” JKH said.

The Cinnamon Life hotel has already started marketing.

Related Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Life begins marketing, accepts bookings

(Colombo/May25/2024)

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Sri Lanka to find investors by ‘competitive system’ after revoking plantations privatizations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will revoke the privatization of plantation companies that do not pay government dictated wages, by cancelling land leases and find new investors under a ‘competitive system’, State Minister for Finance Ranjith Siyambalapitiya has said.

Sri Lanka privatized the ownership of 22 plantations companies in the 1990s through long term leases after initially giving only management to private firms.

Management companies that made profits (mostly those with more rubber) were given the firms under a valuation and those that made losses (mostly ones with more tea) were sold on the stock market.

The privatized firms then made annual lease payments and paid taxes when profits were made.

In 2024 the government decreed a wage hike announced a mandated wage after President Ranil Wickremesinghe made the announcement in the presence of several politicians representing plantations workers.

The land leases of privatized plantations, which do not pay the mandated wages would be cancelled, Minister Siyambalapitiya was quoted as saying at a ceremony in Deraniyagala.

The re-expropriated plantations would be given to new investors through “special transparency”

The new ‘privatization’ will be done in a ‘competitive process’ taking into account export orientation, worker welfare, infrastructure, new technology, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

It is not clear whether paying government-dictated wages was a clause in the privatization agreement.

Then President J R Jayewardene put constitutional guarantee against expropriation as the original nationalization of foreign and domestic owned companies were blamed for Sri Lanka becoming a backward nation after getting independence with indicators ‘only behind Japan’ according to many commentators.

However, in 2011 a series of companies were expropriation without recourse to judicial review, again delivering a blow to the country’s investment framework.

Ironically plantations that were privatized in the 1990s were in the original wave of nationalizations.

Minister Bandula Gunawardana said the cabinet approval had been given to set up a committee to examine wage and cancel the leases of plantations that were unable to pay the dictated wages.

Related

Sri Lanka state interference in plantation wages escalates into land grab threat

From the time the firms were privatized unions and the companies had bargained through collective agreements, striking in some cases as macro-economists printed money and triggered high inflation.

Under President Gotabaya, mandating wages through gazettes began in January 2020, and the wage bargaining process was put aside.

Sri Lanka’s macro-economists advising President Rajapaksa the printed money and triggered a collapse of the rupee from 184 to 370 to the US dollar from 2020 to 2020 in the course of targeting ‘potential output’ which was taught by the International Monetary Fund.

In 2024, the current central bank governor had allowed the exchange rate to appreciate to 300 to the US dollar, amid deflationary policy, recouping some of the lost wages of plantations workers.

The plantations have not given an official increase to account for what macro-economists did to the unit of account of their wages. With salaries under ‘wages boards’ from the 2020 through gazettes, neither employees not workers have engaged in the traditional wage negotiations.

The threat to re-exproriate plantations is coming as the government is trying to privatize several state enterprises, including SriLankan Airlines.

It is not clear now the impending reversal of plantations privatization will affect the prices of bids by investors for upcoming privatizations.

The firms were privatized to stop monthly transfers from the Treasury to pay salaries under state ownership. (Colombo/May25/2024)

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