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Saturday September 30th, 2023

Sri Lanka standup comedian arrest stifles free speech: CPA

ECONOMYNEXT – The arrest of a Sri Lankan standup comedian under provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act was a move to stifle freedom of speech, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said.

Natasha Edirisooriya, who had made a controversial remark on the young Bodhisatva at a recent performance, was taken into custody on May 28 for allegedly “insulting” Buddhism, Sri Lanka’s most widely practised faith.

The CPA said in a statement on Wednesday May 31 that Edirisooriya’s arrest is the “latest move to stifle freedom of speech in the guise of protecting religious harmony”.

Referring to media reports that people who attended the standup event were also to be questioned by the police, the CPA raised concern over what it called the shrinking space for freedom of expression in Sri Lanka, adding that it has had a chilling effect on dissent.

“Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act makes it an offence for a person to propagate war or to advocate national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. Arrests made under the pretext of curbing speech that threatens ethnic and religious harmony, under this provision – without any serious consideration of whether such speech amounts to incitement, discrimination, hostility or violence – is violative of the fundamental right to freedom of speech guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution and Article 19 of the ICCPR itself,” the CPA said in its statement.

Sri Lanka’s use of the ICCPR Act has been the subject of controversy since the arrest of writer Shakthika Sathkumara, who faced up to 10 years in prison if he was found guilty as he was charged under Section 3(1) of the ICCPR Act and Art 291(B) of the Penal Code of Sri Lanka. Sathkumara, who was in pre-trial detention for months over a controversial short story, was discharged in February 2021 days ahead of a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) session.

In August 2022, the Human Rights Watch called for amendments to the ICCPR Act to prevent its abuse in prosecuting members of ethnic and religious minorities for speech that is protected under international human rights law.

The CPA in its statement further said it had previously highlighted how such provisions are abused and weaponised to target individuals belonging to minority groups, stifle dissenting voices, and criminalise free speech, serving as a distraction from more pressing socio-economic and political issues at a time of an exceptional crisis.

“CPA also notes media reports indicating the introduction of new laws meant to safeguard and uphold religious harmony. Such an announcement is in a context where there is a plethora of laws with the actual challenge not due to a lack of laws but to the lack of proper implementation of such laws and holding perpetrators accountable for incitement and violence. This is confirmed with Sri Lanka’s recent experiences where despite the availability of evidence, no action was taken against alleged perpetrators. In some instances, rather than pursue accountability, authorities appointed individuals accused of incitement to state mechanisms, further entrenching ethno–nationalism and impunity in Sri Lanka,” the statement said.

Against such a backdrop, the CPA said it urges authorities to desist with efforts to restrict fundamental rights and measures that erode the rule of law and weaken Sri Lanka’s fragile peace. (Colombo/Jun01/2023)

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Sri Lanka bank bad loan expansion slows in June quarter

ECONOMYNEXT – Bad loans at Sri Lanka’s banks, measured as ‘Stage 03’ loans to total loans and advances expanded by 0.5 percent to 13.7 percent in the second quarter of 2023, central bank data shows, which is a slower pace than the previous three quarters.

Bad loans went up 1.9 percent in the September 2022 quarter, and 1.0 percent in the December quarter and 1.3 percent in the March quarter, as debt moratoria also ran out.

In Sri Lanka and other countries, large spikes in bad loans are usually ‘hangover’ of macro-economic policy deployed target growth.

Amid a stabilization effort, credit can also contract, making the bad loans bigger.

Sri Lanka’s bad loans usually spike after period of credit growth re-financed by printed money (reverse repo injections made to artificially target a call money rate), and not real deposits, which then trigger balance of payment deficits which require steep spikes in rates to restore monetary stability.

Sri Lanka economic bureaucrats cut rates with the printed money in the belief that there is a growth shortcut by cutting rates to target real GDP, which has led to external crises since a central bank was set up in 1950.

However, policy worsened after 2015 when the International Monetary Fund taught the country to calculate potential out and dangled the number in front of a central bank which had taken the country to the agency multiple times after running down reserves.

In December 2019, inflationists also cut taxes on top of rate cuts, deploying the most extreme Cambridge-Saltwater macro-economic policy ‘barber boom’ style with predictable results.

When rates are hiked to restore monetary stability, bad loans rise and a currency collapse destroys purchasing power of the consumers and sales of firms which had taken loans.

When central banks cut rates with liquidity injections bad loans also go up in floating rate regimes (the housing bubble), but balance of payments are crises are absent. (Colombo/Sept29/2023)

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Sri Lanka expects restructuring decisions from all creditors: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is engaging positively with all foreign creditors State Minister for Finance Shehan Semasinghe said this week as an International Monetary Fund review hangs in the balance on restructuring.

“All creditors are engaging positively with us,” Minister Semasinghe said. “We expect decisions from all our creditors. For us earlier the better.”

Sri Lanka is negotiating with Paris Club creditors and several non-Paris Club creditors like India and Saudi Arabia together and China separately. China is an observer in the Paris Club meeting.

The Paris Club held a meeting on Sri Lanka on September 22 with China as an observer.

Though Paris Club creditors have a well-oiled mechanism to give a quick decision on countries that default, the entry of China which had earlier not been willing to restructure debt, but was willing to give fresh loans to repay instalments, have complicated matters.

“Let me say again that we support Chinese financial institutions in actively working out the debt treatment with Sri Lanka,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on September 26.

“We are ready to work with relevant countries and international financial institutions to jointly play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka navigate the situation, ease its debt burden and achieve sustainable development.”

There are expectations that Sri Lanka may be able to wrap up a preliminary deal with official creditors as early as October 2023 around the time IMF’s annual sessions take place in Morocco.

Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe is to make an official visit to China October.

Sri Lanka is expected to finalize a refinery deal in Hambantota among other investments during the visit, according to reports.

Completing Sri Lanka’s external debt restricting is key to completing the first review of the island’s reform and stabilization program with the International Monetary Fund, which is expected in October or November.

Without completing a review Sri Lanka will not have formal IMF economic targets for December, and no disbursement of the second tranche.

World Bank and IMF with the G20 group, which include India and China has formed Global Sovereign Debt Roundtable has been trying to fine tune debt restructuring going beyond the Paris Club.

IMF’s Senior Mission Chief for Sri Lanka Peter Breuer said Sri Lanka’s debt is ‘spread around quite a bit’ to a question whether an IMF review could progress without China, possibly indicating that the lender would prefer to have the country on board.

“This is a process that we have that applies in the case of Sri Lanka to both official creditors, meaning other countries that have lent to Sri Lanka on a bilateral basis as well as commercial creditors, for example, bond holders,” Breuer told reporters in Colombo.

“And as you know, the government is in discussions with all of these groups. In Sri Lanka’s case, the debt is spread around quite a bit externally and domestically.”

READ MORE Sri Lanka’s external debt restructure ‘progress’ decision by IMF exec board

Out of Sri Lanka’s 36.59 billion US dollars of central government debt, multilaterals held 29.8 percent or 10.9 billion US dollars which will not be restructured.

Bilaterals held another 29.9 percent of which Paris Club was 12.1 percent and China 12.7 percent.

Of the commercial debt which was 40.3 percent, China Development Bank held another 6 percent, relating to a monetary instability loan it has given as a bailout without asking for rate hikes to stop output gap targeting.

China without AIIB held 6,850 million US dollars or 18.7 percent of central government external debt. (Colombo/Sept29/2023)

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Sri Lanka can build strong tourism ‘eco-brand’: UN official

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka can build an ‘eco-brand’ catering especially to younger tourists who feel strongly about the environment, United Nations Resident Representative to Sri Lanka, Azusa Kobota said.

About 70 percent of global travellers prioritise sustainability in their holiday choices, marking a ten percent increase from 2021, while around 30 percent of travellers feel guilty about flying, due to carbon emissions, she said.

“As the world embraces green thinking during this time of economic recovery efforts, the objective of the tourism sector cannot simply be about increasing the number of inbound tourists,” Kobota said at an event marking World Tourism Day in Colombo.

“It has to be about enhancing their experience through green lenses, by implementing a responsible, eco-conscious paradigm for the sector and building a stronger eco-brand around the sustainable agenda for Sri Lanka,”

“This is no longer about reducing the trade offs between growing the industry and protecting the environment.

“We must see nature as our asset and solutions to be obtained for the exponential growth for our future generations.”

The sustainable tourism market is estimated to have earned 195 billion US dollars in 2022, and is expected to reach about 656 billion US dollars in 2032, she said.

“Tourists, particularly the younger generations from gen X,Y,Z are deeply, deeply conscious about the long term choices of their actions, and the adverse impact of tourists on the environment.

“Statistics show that a significant proportion of global travellers, about 30 percent, feel guilty about flying due to the environmental impact and 22 percent say they actively prefer public transport and bicycle rental options, over renting a car.”

Sri Lanka welcomed one million tourists by September 26 and is expecting more that 1.5 million tourists by the end of the year. (Colombo/Sept29/2023)

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