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Sunday June 16th, 2024

Sri Lanka seeks to raise more debt, hike spending in vote on account supplement

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is seeking parliamentary approval to spend 156 billion rupees more and raise up to 357 billion rupees in gross debt, in a supplement to a vote-on-account or a mini-budget running up to April 2020.

“We request a supplementary estimate of 101 billion rupees for recurrent expenditure and 55 billion rupees for capital expenditure be approved for the vote on account,” Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa who is also Finance Minister told parliament.

Rakapaksa also sought parliamentary approval to raise a debt limit from 721 billion rupees in the original vote on account to 1,078 billion rupees or 357 billion rupees for the four months.

The original vote on account estimated revenues at 745 billion rupees and total outflows including spending and debt repayment at 1,470 billion rupees.

Rajapaksa who took over after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected President in November, said there were payment arrears and a revenue shortfall in 2019.

“In addition, to account for foreign debt, we request 2,011 billion rupees in a supplementary estimate,” Rajapaksa said.

“High interest loans had been taken, and some foreign loans exceeded estimates, so they have still not been accounted,” he said.

In 2019 Sri Lanka raised extra foreign debt, under new debt management law to pay loans in 2020.

Sri Lanka had also slashed taxes in a so-called ‘stimulus’ for 2020 with value added taxes halved, some taxes abolished, the cost of which has been estimated at about 500 to 600 billion rupees for the full year according to government spokesmen.

Rajapaksa blamed the last administration for running large payment arrears for suppliers which he had to pay.

He said out of about 2,400 billion rupees in revenue targets for 2019, collections had reached about 1,600 billion rupees by November, which grew to about 1,800 billion rupees in December, causing a shortfall of about 600 billion rupees.

Rajapaksa said there were arrears suppliers for expenditure incurred in 2019 around 156 billion rupees.

He said the government owed 45.86 billion rupees to banks for an interest bonus given for senior citizens.

Another 25.7 billion rupees were owed to pharmaceutical suppliers for state hospitals.

Road development contractors were owed 18.45 billion rupees, urban development contractors were owed 6.66 billion rupees and construction of schools had a price tag of 2.8 billion rupees, Rajapaksa said.

Election related expenses were 1.2 billion rupees, with another 400 million rupees required for the 2020 general elections.

The government also owed 23.51 billion rupees for fertilizer suppliers, which has caused problems in providing the fertilizer subsidy, Rajapaksa said.

Military and other state-dependent institutions were owed 5.5 billion rupees.

Capital projects at provincial, district and local government levels required 3.9 billion rupees, while Northern rehabilitation and resettlement needed another 3.1 billion rupees, Rajapaksa said.

Higher education and water supply projects had 2 billion rupees in delays while irrigation and rural development contractors were owed 6.6 billion rupees.

Other delayed payments totalled 13.3 billion rupees, Prime Minister Rajapaksa said.

Sri Lanka’s government will present a supplementary estimate to increase spending by 156 billion rupees for 2020 and expand the debt ceiling, as provisioned finances had run out by November, the Prime Minister said.

“The provisions were not enough to repay expenditure in November and December, so funds required for functioning the vote on account for the first four months of 2020 could not be released,” Mahinda Rajapaksa said in parliament on Wednesday.

“In addition, to account for foreign debt, we request 2,011 billion rupees in a supplementary estimate,” he said.

“High interest loans had been taken, and some foreign loans exceeded estimates, so they have still not been accounted,” he said.

An Active Liability Management Act allows for the government to raise extra funds to repay maturing debt.


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Sri Lanka state airport agency swimming in cash after sovereign default

ECONOMYNEXT – State-run Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd is swimming in cash after a sovereign default halted debt repayments allowing it to post a profit of 29.7 billion rupees with 10.4 billion rupees in interest income, official data showed.

In April 2022 Sri Lanka declared a sovereign default after printing large volumes of money over more than two years to enforce rate cuts and blowing the biggest hole in the balance of payments in the history of the island’s money printing central bank.

Interest earnings of Airport and Aviation Services also shot up to 10.4 billion rupees in 2023 from 6.1 billion in 2022 and 3.3 billion rupees in 2021 before the sovereign default.

Under the terms of the default or ‘debt suspension’, state agencies like the Airport and Aviation Services, and Sri Lanka Port Authority were also not required to service loans, even if they had the cash to repay loans.

AASL’s finance income shot up in 2023 “mainly because the company has invested surplus cash saved by not servicing the foreign loans obtained by the company due to the temporary debt moratorium policy of the country,” the Finance Ministry said in a report.

Sri Lanka’s rupee and foreign currency interest rates also shot up in 2022 and 2023 as rate cuts enforced by money printing were lifted to clear anchor conflicts.

After inflationary rate cuts kill confidence in a currency triggering capital flight and parallel exchange rates, excessively high rates are needed to kill domestic credit and stabilize the currency.

Countries with such flawed operating frameworks in central banks tend to have chronic high nominal interest rates in any case.

AASL’s rupee revenues went up to 48.8 billion rupees in 2023 from 32.2 billion rupees in 2022 as passenger movements increased to 7.5 million from 5.5 million with a recovery in tourism and local traffic.

Sri Lanka’s currency crisis hit in 2022 just as the island was recovering from Coronavirus pandemic triggering fuel shortages and power cuts as money printing triggered forex shortages.

From 2022 March the rupee collapsed from 200 to 370 levels an attempt to float the rupee was failed by a surrender rule (a type of buy-side pegging which pushes the exchange rate down).

In 2023, after hiking rates to kill credit, the surrender rule was removed, leading to a currency appreciation.

The airport agency also made an exchange gain of 6.1 billion rupees in 2023 against an exchange loss of 10.5 billion rupees in 2022 the rupee appreciated. (Colombo/June16/2024)

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Sri Lanka car import relaxing roadmap given to IMF: State Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has submitted a roadmap on relaxing vehicle imports to the International Monetary Fund, State Minister of Finance Ranjith Siymabalapitiya said as the country recovers from the worst currency crises in the history of its central bank.

The import relaxation will allow vehicles for public transport, goods transport, then motor cycles and cars use by private individuals and after that, luxury cars, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

Luxury cars however attract the highest taxes for each dollar spent on imports.

Economic analysts have characterized vehicle import controls as a ‘cascading policy error’ that follows inflationary rate cuts, which then deprive taxes to the state and triggers more money printing and more forex shortages, requiring even higher corrective interest rates and a contraction of economic activities to save the rupee.

According to the latest IMF report car import controls may have led to revenue losses of 0.7 to 0.9 percent of GDP.

Sri Lanka started controlling imports few years after a central bank was set up in 1950 and also tightened exchange controls progressively, so that macroeconomists using post-1920 spurious monetary doctrines taught at Anglophone universities could print money through various mechanisms to suppress rates.

Sri Lanka is working with the IMF as a guide on many issues and the roadmap was submitted to the agency on June 14, Minister Siyambalapitiya said.

The IMF in an economic report released last week the plan was expected to be submitted by June 15.

Whatever the IMF’s faults, which some wags have called ‘progressive Saltwaterism’, the agency does not advocate import controls as solution to balance of payments problems, despite a Mercantilist fixation with the current account deficit in countries with reserve collecting central banks, analysts say.

Import controls have the same effect as import substation on the balance of payments, which is none, classical economists have pointed out and is now mainly a problem associated with macro economists and economic bureaucrats of so-called basket case countries.

Any pressure on the currency or missed reserves targets in the IMF program has come in the past only if the central bank printed money to suppress rates as credit growth picked up from car imports.

Sri Lanka had 3,000 items under import controls when rates were suppressed with printed money from 2020 to 2022 but eventually ended up with the worst currency crisis triggered by macro economists in the history of the country and eventual external default.

A committee made up of the Department of Trade and Fiscal Policy of the Finance Ministry, the Department of Registration of Motor Vehicles, the Central Bank and two associations representing vehicle imports were appointed to come up with the roadmap, he said. (Colombo/June15/2024)

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Chitrasiri Committee presents draft constitution for Sri Lanka Cricket

ECONOMYNEXT – A draft constitution for Sri Lanka Cricket, the governing body for cricket in the island, prepared by a committee headed by retired Supreme Court judge K T Chitrasiri, was presented to President Ranil Wickremesinghe today (15).

The Sri Lanka team were ignominiously knocked out of the Men’s T20 World Cup tournament this week, sparking renewed criticism of the team and the governing body.

Last November, a cabinet sub-committee was appointed to address challenges faced by Sri Lanka Cricket and provide recommendations after consecutive losses became a hot topic in parliament.

After parliament decided to remove the administrators of the sport, the International Cricket Council (ICC) Board suspended Sri Lanka Cricket’s membership.

Based on the sub-committee’s recommendations in its report, the Cabinet then appointed an expert committee to draft a new constitution for Sri Lanka Cricket.

The committee headed by judge K T Chitrasiri includes President’s Counsel Harsha Amarasekara, Attorney-at-Law Dr Aritha Wickramanayake and Chairman of the Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce Duminda Hulangamuwa.

Deputy Solicitor General Manohara Jayasinghe, and Shamila Krishanthi, Assistant Draftsman representing the Legal Draftsman’s Department, and Loshini Peiris, Additional Secretary to the President were also on the committee. (Colombo/Jun14/2024)

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