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Saturday September 30th, 2023

Sri Lanka’s ‘big match’ fever is healing

ECONOMYNEXT – The season of big-matches is upon us. These cricket encounters are big for the respective schools, not for others. In fact as far as the particular schools are concerned they are huge. It’s THE event of the year.

Today there are big-matches in all parts of Sri Lanka, so many that few can escape them for the spectacle is not contained by the walls of the schools. It not only spills over to the streets but climb over the walls of other schools as well. Well, the girls’ schools at least.

For history and spectacle, however, it can be argued that no match comes even close to the Royal-Thomian encounter. Royal College and St Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia have played this annual encounter for over 140 consecutive years. That’s including the war years and the period of Covid-19 related lockdowns.

All good fun for the most part. And so, over the years we have come to expect phrases such as ‘Big Match Fever,’ and ‘Mad March Days.’

Today, several decades after leaving St Thomas’ I feel that it’s not a disease; the Big Match, the Battle of the Blues that is, is a healer. There’s nothing ‘mad’ about March; the Big Match provides sanity in a world of routine and grind marked by chaos, uncertainty and drudgery.

For me, like for countless Royalists and Thomians, the Roy-Tho is not only the oldest continuously played cricket series in the world but an extraordinary carnival that adds value to comradeship and friendship.

It’s all about memories, traditions, sportsmanship and life in general. It is a holiday unlike any other.

We walk into the SSC, where the big match has been played for decades except for the last two years when the venue was shifted to Suriyawewa due to containment protocols related to Covid-19, and we are suddenly in this incredible space where we just don’t have to guard our tongues or worry about perceptions being wrecked.

We can be frank, open and basically ourselves without having to think twice before saying or doing anything. It’s not a shut up and sit down event but a get up and speak up one where everyone is equal.

We all have school memories. Among them, those associated with the Royal-Thomian are the most precious. The truth is, as schoolboys we never thought about memories. We just had fun. Incredible fun. Little did we know that we were in fact creating memories that would stay with us and keep us warm when we are battered by the harsh and freezing winds of life.

It’s not just students and old boys. It’s everyone associated with the two schools including teachers, non-teaching staff, parents, friends, girlfriends and others who identify with each School for as simple a reason as living close by!

I still vividly remember the 1990 Big Match. Naresh Adikaram, the Thomian captain, lost his father a few days before the Roy-Tho. He attended the funeral, and a few hours later was at the SSC, leading his boys. He scored over 70 runs in that match. Such courage, such composure! I am sure it was appreciated and applauded by both Thomians and Royalists.

Of course, what happens in the middle of the ground is hardly what makes the Royal-Thomian so special. The carnival, so to speak, unfolds outside, in the stands, among friends, in the back-and-forth of reminiscences by old men whose firm belief they’ve not aged is a product of the amount of alcohol consumed, the papare bands, dancing in the tents, the supporters affirming yet once again that the only tune they can hold is that of the school song, and the occasions pitch-invasion.

It was not uncommon even back then for some of the most colourful personalities of our generation, from Varuna Botejue, Charya De Saram or Prasad Wimalasekara, to spend weeks before the Royal Thomian planning for the event. I remember being aghast, as a senior student, seeing my younger brother Nishantha running into the field, the college flag in hand. He was just about eight years old then.

Such interruptions are expected, cheered or jeered, and looked back upon with a smile that says, ‘we were so much younger then, and we can only be as young again on the three days in March when we attend the Royal Thomian.’

And we graduated from the boys’ tent to the Stallions, the Colts, the Mustangs and other horse-enclosures that don’t have anything to do with age but nevertheless celebrate merry-making to the maximum, such as the Stables, set up by Krishan Perera and his team 19 years ago.

On the Thomian side, I still remember how seriously cricket legends like Michael Tissera and Anura Tennakoon would come and invest so much of their time and energy helping to advise, support and mentor our team. All this while the late Warden Neville De Alwis and Sub Warden former Bishop Duleep De Chickera would be warning the ‘yakos’ such as myself to kindly refrain from assaulting prefects during the match.

It’s a pilgrimage as holy as any other. This is why Royalists and Thomians time their visit to the ‘mother-country’ so that they can go to the Big Match. It’s a temple where there’s community worship of things that matter: friendship, camaraderie and memories that just don’t age.

The Sane March Days are here again. Let the Big Match healing begin!

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  1. Udaya says:

    Waste of space for writing, this should not be in a business website.

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  1. Udaya says:

    Waste of space for writing, this should not be in a business website.

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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