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Thursday December 8th, 2022

Sri Lanka to ban open account imports to curb Undiyal/Hawala

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka will shortly ban open account imports in a bid to stop the demand of unofficial transfers made through Undiyal/Hawala net settlement systems, Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said.

“We see that there is a large volume of money going through the Hawala/Undiyal systems,” Governor Weerasinghe said.

“Sometime it is for imports that are not essential.”

About 25 percent of the country’s 1.6-1.8 billion dollars a month are on open account and another 12 percent or so on documents against payment/documents against acceptance (DA/DP), central bank officials said.

“Some imports are made via open account or DA/DP terms instead of letters of credit (LCs) and settlements are made outside the banking system.

Weerasinghe said the Finance Ministry will shortly issue a gazette notice through the Import and Export Control Law.

“Some time will be given, after that a certificate will have to be given that settlements will be done by the banking system only. That is the type of mechanism that is being devised.”

The Import and Export Control Law was enacted in 1969 when economists/Mercantilists printed money through the islands intermediate regime central bank and got an administration led by then Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake into trouble, critics say.

Sri Lanka parallel rates for Undiyal transfers are around 400 rupees a dollar or higher compared to around 365 to the US dollar for the banking system where there are forex shortages.

Governor Weerasinghe said remmittances which were around 500 million US dollars a month had fallen to around 300 million a month, showing the volume that is by passed.

Another demand for parallel transfers came from parents sending money to children through the banking system. Weerasinghe said banks have been asked by the central bank to give small volumes of dollars needed for parent so that the demand for Undiyal falls.

The demand for DA/DP will only be allowed for exporters who bring raw materials in the future.

Governor Weerasinghe said the exchange rate was no longer being controlled and expatriate workers were also getting a fair rate through the official market. Therefore he wanted everyone to return to formal channels.

Forex shortages are caused by extra money printing by the central bank which drives up credit and imports.

Parallel exchange rates emerge when the rupees trying to rush out the country are greater than the inflows.

At the moment there is a surrender requirement (central bank purchases of dollars for new money despite the distressed exchange) which critics say tends to push the currency down.

Foreign exchange shortages and balance of payments crises are a problems peculiar to countries that operate ‘flexible exchange rate’ which are neither clean floats nor hard pegs.

A flexible exchange rate or a soft-peg collapses triggering balance of payments deficits and parallel exchange rates (the peg loses credibility) when economists print money to delay market interest rate rises coming from increases in private credit or budget deficits.

However Governor Weerasinghe had taken the right step by hiking policy rates to 14.50 percent from 7.50 percent and Treasuries yields are now around 22 percent, which will eventually curb bank credit which turn private savings into imports through construction or consumption spending.

Treasury bill and bond rates have also gone up, which will reduce money printed by the central bank which trigger currency pressure and divert more private savings to the budget deficit to pay salaries of state workers.

But concerns have been raised that any attempt to force food importers to open Letters of Credit before private credit falls and the forex shortages end, could lead to food shortages as is already found in the case of medicines and fuel.


Sri Lanka can trigger food shortages as in medicines with new trade controls: Bellwether

When banks stopped issuing letters of credit as they could not find enough dollars due to money printed by the central bank creating shortages of medicine and fuel, Sri Lanka’s essential goods importers kept the people fed with open account imports and settlements via Undiyal.

Undiyal allowed them to bid at a higher market rate, give a better rate to expatriate workers, and get priority foreign exchange to feed the people using the free market. (Colombo/April29/2022)

Comments (2)

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  1. Ashan says:

    Please find fast what them carry 102 ton printing pepper to uganda

  2. A V Thomas says:

    Actually this is very good move and but in order to import through Banks we need sufficient foreign currency and a stable exchange rates to me more competetive in the market with less expensive to the public and good political atmosphere
    Good Luck Governor

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  1. Ashan says:

    Please find fast what them carry 102 ton printing pepper to uganda

  2. A V Thomas says:

    Actually this is very good move and but in order to import through Banks we need sufficient foreign currency and a stable exchange rates to me more competetive in the market with less expensive to the public and good political atmosphere
    Good Luck Governor

Sri Lanka in deep talent drain in latest currency crisis

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka businesses are facing a drain of talent, top business executives said as the country suffers the worst flexible exchange rate crisis in the history of its intermediate regime central bank and people lose hope.

“We are seeing a trend towards migrating,” Krishan Balendra, Chairman of Sri Lanka’s John Keells Holdings told an economic policy forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“We have seen an impact mainly on the tourist hotels side, quite an exodus of staff (migrating) to countries we have not seen in the past. 

“We have seen people go to Scotland, Ireland. It has usually been the Middle East and Maldives. Australia seems like a red hot labor market at the moment.”

Sri Lanka’s rupee collapsed from 200 to 360 to the US dollar after macro-economists printed money to suppress rates.

Sri Lanka operates a ‘flexible exchange rate’ where errors in targeting interest rates are compensated by currency depreciation especially after the 1980s.

Classical economists and analysts have called for the power to mis-target rates and operate dual anchor conflicting monetary regimes should be taken away to prevent future crisis.

Currency crises are problems associated with flexible exchange rate central banks which are absent in hard pegs and clean floats.

“Something new we are seeing is that older people, even those in their 50s, which was a surprise, are looking at migrating,” Balendra said.

Businesses are trying to retain talent as real wages collapse.

Balendra said as businesses they see some stability returning and based on past experience growth is likely to resume, and they were communicating with the workers.

“We have a degree of conviction that the economy should get better, its the stability phase now and it will get better going forward so without the way our businesses are placed we should see good growth,” Balendra said.

“We can’t chase compensation that’s just not practical and we are not trying to do that especially if people are looking to immigrate but what we can do is show the career opportunities in the backdrop of the situation that people would rather stay here because its home.” 

Sri Lanka unit of Heineken says it is also trying to convince workers not to leave, with more success.

“We are all facing the effects of brain drain and it’s not just the lower levels… What we are doing is a balance of daring and caring,” Maud Meijboom-van Wel – Managing Director / CEO, Heineken Lanka Ltd told the forum.

“Why I say daring is, you have to be clear in what you can promise people, when you make promises you have to walk the talk. So with the key talents and everyone you need to have the career and talent conversations.

“I am a bit lucky because I am running a multinational company so my career path goes beyond Sri Lanka so I can say if you acquire certain skills here, then you can move out of here and then come back too, that is a bit easier for me but it starts with having a real open conversation with walking the talk – dare and care.” (Colombo/Dec7/2022)


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Despite losses, Sri Lanka to resume “park & ride” transport after complaints  

ECONOMYNEXT –  Sri Lanka’s state-run Transport Board will resume its loss-making City Bus service from January 15, 2022 Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardena said, after the service abruptly discontinued with the state-run firm’s director board citing losses.

The City Bus service was introduced in 2021, under the government of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, from Makubura to Pettah and Bambalapitiya.

The service was started to reduce the number of automobiles travelling to and from Colombo and suburbs by providing a comfortable, convenient and safe public bus transportation for passengers and riders who use cars and motorcycles as their means of transportation.

During the time period in which the service was initiated, there were 800 hundred vehicles that would be parked and would use the system, Gunawardena, who is also the Transport Minister, said.

The service was later collapsed due to inconsistencies in scheduling and it was completely stopped after

“Without informing the Secretary or the Minister of the relevant Ministry, the Board of Directors have come to a conclusion that this is loss making route and must be halted,” Gunawardena said.

“The users of the City Bus service brought to our notice and therefore I gave the Secretary to the Ministry of Transport the approval to start the City Bus service from January 15.”

“If we stop all loss making transport services then massive inconveniences will occur to the people in far parts of the island.”

The chairman of the state run Ceylon Transport Board has been asked to handover the resignation letter by the Minister Gunawardana citing that the head has failed to implement a policy decision approved by the government. (Colombo/ Dec 06/2022)

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Sri Lanka may see rates falling next year: President

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s interest rates are high and hurting small businesses in particular but interest rates are required to maintain stability, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“One is, all of you want to know what’s going to happen to the interest rates?,” President Wickremesinghe told an economic policy forum organized by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce.

“I wish I know. The governor has told me that the inflation has peaked. It’s coming down. You all understandably want some relief with the interest rates to carry business on.”

“I understand that and appreciate the viewpoint. It’s not easy to carry business on with such high interest rates. On the other hand, the Central Bank also has to handle the economy. So maybe sometimes early next year we will have a meeting of minds of both these propositions.”

Sri Lanka’s interest rates are currently at around 30 percent but not because the central bank is keeping it up. The central bank’s overnight policy rate is only 15.5 percent but the requirement to finance the budget deficit and roll over debt is keeping rates up.

Rates are also high due to a flaw in the International Monetary Fund’s debt workout framework where there is no early clarity on a whether or not domestic debt will be re-structured.

After previous currency crises, rates come down after an IMF deal is approved and foreign loans resume and confidence in the currency is re-stabilished following a float.

This time however there has been no clear float, though the external sector is largely stable and foreign funding is delayed until a debt re-structure deal is made.

Sri Lanka’s external troubles usually come because the bureaucrats do not believe market rates are correct when credit demand picks up and mis-uses monetary tools given in 1950 by the parliament to suppress rates, blowing the balance of payments apart.

The result of suppressed rates by the central bank are steep spikes in rates to stop the resulting currency crisis.

A reserve collecting central bank has little or no leeway to control interest rates (monetary policy independence) without creating external troubles, which is generally expressed as the ‘impossible trinity of monetary policy objectives’.

However, it has not prevented officials from trying repeatedly to suppress rates, perhaps expecting different results.

After suppressed rates – supposedly to help businesses – trigger currency crises, the normalization combined with a currency collapse leads to impoverishment of the population.

The impoverishment through depreciation leads to a consumption shock, which also leads to revenue losses in businesses.

The suppressed rates then lead to bad loans.

In the 2020/2022 currency crisis the sovereign default has also led to more problems at banks. Several state enterprises also cannot pay back loans.

“…[T]he bad debt that is being carried by the banks is mainly from the private sector or the government sector,” President Wickremesinghe said.

“Keep the government sector aside. We’re dealing with it. How do you handle it? Look, one of our major areas of are the small and medium industries. You can’t allow them to collapse, but they’re in a bad way.”

Classical economists and analysts have called for new laws to block the ability to central bank to suppress rates in the first place so that currency crises and depreciation does not take place in the first place.

Then politicians like Wickremesinghe do not have to take drastic and unpopular measures to fix crises and there will be stability like in East Asia.

Sri Lanka had stability until 1950 when the central bank was created by abolishing an East Asia style currency board. The currency board kept the country relatively stable through two World Wars and a Great Depression.

In 1948 after the war (WWII) was over “we stood second to Japan” Wickremesinghe said.

“But we started destroying it from the sixties and the seventies,” he said. :We started rebuilding an economy, which was affected by a (civil) war, and thereafter the way we went, is best not described here.”

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