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.

(Colombo/Feb06/2020)