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Monday April 22nd, 2024

Sri Lanka, the Wedding Isle

ECONOMYNEXT – Every wedding is special for participants and ordinary for the rest of the world. The wedding between Devoushi Cooray and Jacob Stone was special to me for the lovely bride was my niece.

But the wedding would have been special to me even without that connection because of where it was held: a place of unparalleled natural beauty.

‘The Villa,’ in Bentota (town on the southwestern coast of the island about an hour’s drive from capital, Colombo) was originally a grand colonial house. Known as the Mohotti Walauwwa, it was remodelled by renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa in the 1970s.

The Villa is a place of wide vistas, extensive gardens and beachfront dining facilities. The sea is a short walk away down a sandy, palm-fringed path. Inside, the pastel hued walls are adorned with paintings by local artists.

There were over 120 colleagues and friends who had come from overseas. For most of them, this was the first visit to Sri Lanka. They had come all the way from Australia , UK, US, France, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Hungary and Brazil.

They had come because they wanted to share the special moment of someone they loved, but all of them, without exception, were overawed by the location. Not only did they feel it was a perfect place for a wedding, they were appreciative of the Sri Lankans they met.

Despite a war for 30 long years, a devastating tsunami, two insurrections and an unprecedented financial crisis, the beauty of Sri Lanka still remains intact.

Sri Lanka is the oldest democracy in Asia and is the only country in the world where people physically fight each other to pay bills when they go out with friends.

Despite the financial crisis this custom still continues. This kind of generosity is extremely rare in the world today. The guests got to see a slice of it during their brief stay and that’s what I felt when talking to Jacob’s father Brad and his uncle, Greg.

Nothing could dampen their spirits, not even the rain which inauspiciously came down just when the bride’s father, Priyantha was delivering his speech out in the garden where the ceremony was being held.

He was able to continue, emotions notwithstanding, because a friend rushed in with an umbrella and held it for him until he was done. One could put it all down to the temper of the moment, the festivities of a wedding and so on, but I like to think that location had something to do with it. It was all about friendship, love, happiness, loyalty and the extraordinary and unique beauty of Sri Lanka.

I returned to Kuala Lumpur the following day. Reflecting on the wedding, the beautiful architecture and the exquisite landscaping, not to mention the innumerable bits and pieces of magic afforded by the lovely beach in Bentota, it occurred to me that what Sri Lanka needs is to develop basic infrastructure to turn all its many scenic locations into iconic stay-in destinations for tourists of all kinds.

Sri Lanka, in short, is a place you would visit to attend a wedding, for example, but will compel you to consider a repeat visit of a longer duration. It is a land that will absorb all sorrows because it is made of smiles that are inevitably infectious. Even in the worst weather conditions.

Indeed, Sri Lanka is an ideal wedding-location. Just imagine a wedding by the sea, a river, a lagoon or a splendid reservoir built hundreds and even thousands of years ago. You could have it up in the mountains overlooking rolling acres of tea, in the middle of a jungle, somewhere steeped in history evidenced by rich archaeological treasures or even in the middle of a cluster of humble villages peopled by those whose dignity derives from a long association with life lessons embedded in Buddhist philosophy. You could time it to coincide with the spectacle of a cultural pageant. Many options. All open-ended. I know that the happy couple would take away memories they would cherish all their lives.

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IMF official: Sri Lanka’s road ahead is challenging, critical to keep up with reform momentum

ECONOMYNEXT –International Monetary Fund’s First Deputy Managing Director Gita Gopinath said Sri Lanka’s future with many reforms are challenging, but it is critical to keep up with the reform momentum.

Gopinath stated this after meeting the island nation’s State Finance Minister Shehan Semasinghe Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe, and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena on the sideline of the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington.

“I commended them on hard-won economic gains in the past year. The road ahead is challenging and it’s critical to keep up with the reform momentum,” Gopinath wrote on her X platform.

Under IMF programme, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has implemented a raft of hard reforms including higher taxes.

Sri Lanka agreed to the IMF programme after it declared bankruptcy with sovereign debt default in April 2022.

Semasinghe after the meeting tanks Gopinath for acknowledging Sri Lanka’s economic progress.

“Our discussion was insightful and productive, and we appreciate the opportunity to delve into the challenges and opportunities ahead,” the State Finance minister said in his X platform.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to our reform agenda and eagerly anticipate continued collaboration with the IMF to advance our shared goals.”

Sri Lanka was compelled to go for IMF after the unprecedented economic crisis which was followed by a political crisis that ousted former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government who were legitimately elected.

The IMF programme has included reforms in state-owned enterprises, fiscal sector and financial sectors to ensure debt sustainability.

The global lender also has pledged its support to speed up the island nation’s lingering debt restructuring process with private creditors including sovereign bond holders. (Colombo/April 22/2021)

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Sri Lanka motor racing crash claims 7 lives, 4 critical

ECONOMYNEXT – A deadly accident at motor Race Sri Lanka’s hill country town of Diyathalawa has claimed at least 7 lives police said, after a racing vehicle, in the seasonal Fox Hill Super Cross ploughed in to spectators after running off the track.

Another 21 spectators were injured Sunday, and hospitalized and at least four were critical, police said.

Thousands of people come to watch the Fox Hill Super Cross race, which is usually held in April, as large numbers of people head to the cooler climes in the hills.

According to footage taken by spectators one car overturned on the side of the track.

Sri Lanka’s Newsfirst television said Marshalls were waving flags to caution other vehicles, when another car went off the track and crashed into spectators. (Colombo/April21/2024)

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Widespread support for Sri Lanka debt workout, reform progress at IMF/WB meet: Minister

ECONOMYNEXT – There was widespread support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring and acknowledgement of progress made under an International Monetary Fund program, at meeting of the fund and World Bank, State Minister for Finance Shehan Semasinghe said.

“The strides made in our economic recovery and financial stability have been acknowledged as significant advancements towards our country’s prosperity by our stakeholders and international partners,” Minister Semasinghe said in an (twitter) post after attending the meetings.

“Further, it was heartening to note the widespread appreciation and support for Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring process.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to reaching the restructuring targets and confident of smooth progress in the continued good-faith engagements for a speedy debt resolution that will ensure debt sustainability and comparability of debt treatment.”

Sri Lanka ended a first round of talks with sovereign bondholders in March without striking a deal but some agreement on the basis for a deal.

An initial deal with bilateral creditors have been reached, but they may be awaiting a deal with private creditors to sign formal agreements.

International partners have appreciated reforms made under President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Minister Semasinghe said.

“It was great to engage in productive bilateral discussions with all of whom appreciated the recent economic developments, progress in debt restructuring, strengthening of tax administration, and ongoing governance reforms,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has been allowed to re-appreciate by the central bank amid deflationary monetary policy, bringing tangible benefits to people in the form of lower energy and food prices, unlike in past IMF programs.

Electricity prices were cut as a strengthening currency helped reduce the cost of coal imports.

Related Sri Lanka central bank mainly responsible for electricity price cut

The currency appreciation has also allowed losses to the Employment Provident Fund imposed to be partially recouped, helping old workers near retirement, as well as raising disposable incomes of current wage earners on fixed salaries.

Related Sri Lanka EPF gets US$1.85bn in value back as central bank strengthens rupee

The IMF, which was set up after World War II to end devaluations seen in the 1930s after the Fed’s policy rate infected other key central banks, started to actively encourage depreciation after a change to its founding articles in 1978 (the Second Amendment).

The usefulness of money as a store of value, or a denominator of current and future values then decline, leading to loss of real savings, real wages and increases in social unrest.

Before that, members who devalued more than 10 percent after printing money for growth or any other reason, faced the threat of suspension from the organization as punishment.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has appreciated to around 300 to the US dollar now from 370 after a surrender rule was lifted in March 2023.

But there is no transparency on the basis that economic bureaucrats are allowing the currency to gain against the US dollar (the intervention currency of the central bank).

The rupee is currently under pressure, despite broadly prudent monetary policy, due to an ‘oversold position’ in the market after recent appreciation made importers and banks to run negative open positions as the usefulness of the currency as a denominator of future value declined with sudden strenghtening. (Colombo/Apr21/2024)

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