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Sunday January 29th, 2023

Sri Lanka’s Board of Investment hit by multiple resignations

ECONOMYNEXT -ECONOMYNEXT – The Board of Investment of Sri Lanka, the state investment promotion agency had been hit by resignations of several board members and senior officials.

Board members Harsha Cabraal PC, Sanjay Kulathunga and Harsha Subasinghe as well as Chairman Sanjaya Mohottala and Director General Pasan Wanigasekara have tendered their resignations, sources said.

The resignations came in the wake of an internal tussle between a trade union and senior management and recent questioning of BOI officials by the parliament’s committee on public enterprises.

Among points of contention had been a newly appointed committee.

A letter with over 800 signatures from union members questioning management action had been sent, sources said.

Questions had also been raised about the investments in zones made in 2017 and 2019 before the current management took office.

A media statement releaed by the BOI’s communications unit said several members of the board had stepped down.

The agency had to to compete against international promotion agencies and leadership felt the need to get new talent the statement said.

The full statement is reproduced below:

MEDIA STATEMENT

Prominent members of the Board of Directors of the Board of Investment have stepped down from their positions.

The Chairman, members of the Board of Directors and Director General assumed office with the singular intent of supporting His Excellency the President’s vision to double Sri Lanka’s GDP in this decade. In line with this, the Board of Investment’s role in transforming the country into a preferred investment destination by creating a compelling investment climate arose through the conceptualisation and execution of strategic and proactive investment promotions.

To achieve this strategic agenda, the cabinet and the leadership team of the Board of Investment recognised that many transformations were required internally to enable the Board of Investment to compete against over 1,000 international promotion agencies active globally. They also recognised that this task could not be achieved in silos, and that collaborative efforts through a public-private partnership model was essential.

This included the infusion of specialist skills through the acquisition of new talent for selected positions and also the obtaining of specialist professional services to attract and create new investment portfolios to stimulate the country’s trajectory towards a knowledge driven economy.

Unfortunately, the efforts of the leadership to achieve this urgently required transformation, was strongly and continuously resisted by isolated factions both within and outside the organization,who have put their self-interest over the public. Such factions either failed or refused to comprehend the competitive realities of the international promotion landscape, in which Sri Lanka needs to compete much more effectively, if it is to attract FDI at the scale the country needs.

It is also a matter of regret that the progressive agenda of the leadership has come into question in public fora, also implying mismanagement based on events that occurred during 2017 and 2019, a period prior to the time of the current leadership.

The many distortions and misconceptions publicised about the Board of Investment as a result of this confusion, has affected the reputation of the Board of Investment internationally, as well as the reputations of its key personnel.

Despite these unfortunate developments, the leadership of the Board of Investment remain confident
about the significant potential their programme of reforms can provide to support Sri Lanka’s economic progress in future, if it is continued to its natural culmination. They are hopeful that all stakeholders will collectively work in that manner necessary for the greater good of Sri Lanka and all its citizens.

(Colombo/Dec02/2021)

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Sri Lanka operators seek higher renewable tariffs, amid exchange rate expectations

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s renewable companies say they need tariff of 40 to 45 rupees a unit to sell power to the Ceylon Electricity Board and the agency owes them tens of billions of rupees for power sold in the past.

The association has strong exchange rate expectations based on the country’s dual anchor conflicting monetary regimes involving flexible inflation targeting with a reserve collecting target.

“In the coming year of course because of the rupee devaluation, I think the solar energy sector might require tariffs closer to RS 40 or RS 45, hydropower will also require tariffs on that scale,” Prabath Wickremasinghe President of the Small hydropower Developers Association told reporters.

“I think right now what they pay us is averaging around RS 15 to RS 20.”

Some of the earlier plants are paid only 9 rupees a unit, he said. The association there is potential to develop around 200 Mega Watts of mini hydros, 700 to 1000MW of ground mounted soar and about 1,000 rooftop solar.

In addition to the rupee collapse, global renewable energy costs are also up, in the wake of higher oil prices in the recent past and energy disruption in Europe.

The US Fed and the ECB have tightened monetary policy and global energy and food commodity price are now easing.

However in a few years the 40 to 45 rupee tariffs will look cheap, Wickremesinghe pointed out, given the country’s monetary policy involving steep depreciation.

From 2012 to 2015 the rupee collapsed from 113 to 131 to the US dollar. From 2015 to 2019 the rupee collapsed from 131 to 182 under flexible inflation targeting cum exchange rate as the first line of defence where the currency is deprecated instead of hiking rates and halting liquidity injections.

From 2020 to 2022 the rupee collapsed from 182 to 360 under output gap targeting (over stimulus) and exchange rate as the first line of defence.

“The tariffs are paid in rupees,” Wickremasinghe said. With the rupee continuing to devalue in other 5 years 40 rupees will look like 20 rupees.”

Sri Lanka has the worst central bank in South Asia after Pakistan. Both central banks started with the rupee at 4.70 to the US dollars, derived from the Reserve Bank of India, which was set up as a private bank like the Bank of England.

India started to run into forex shortages after the RBI was nationalized and interventionist economic bureaucrats started to run the agency. Sri Lanka’s and Pakistan’s central bank were run on discretionary principles by economic bureaucrats from the beginning.

The Central Bank of Sri Lanka was set up with a peg with gold acting as the final restraint on economic bureaucrats, but it started to depreciated steeply from 1980 as the restraint was taken away.

Now under so-called ‘exchange rate as the first line of defence’ whenever the currency comes under pressure due to inflationary policy (liquidity injections to target an artificially low policy rate or Treasuries yields) the currency is depreciated instead of allowing rates to normalize.

Eventually rates also shoot up, as attempts are made to stabilize the currency which collapses from ‘first line of defence’ triggering downgrades along the way.

After the currency collapse, the Ceylon Electricity Board, finances are shattered and it is unable to pay renewable operators.

Unlike the petroleum, which has to stop delivery as it runs out of power, renewable operators continue to deliver as their domestic value added is higher.

However they also have expenses including salaries of staff to pay.

The CEB which is also running higher losses after the central bank printed money and triggered a currency collapse, has not settled renewable producers.

“In the meantime, we have financial issues with the investors and CEB owns more than 45 million rupees in the industry,” Warna Dahanayaka, Secretary of Mini Hydro Association, said at the conference.

“We can’t sustain because we can’t pay the salaries and we can’t sustain also because of the bank loans. Therefore, we are requesting the government to take the appropriate action for this matter.”

Sri Lanka and Pakistan have identical issues in the power sector including large losses, circular debt, subsidies due to depreciating currencies.

In Sri Lanka there is strong support from the economists outside government for inflationary policy and monetary instability.

The country’s exporters, expatriate workers, users of unofficial gross settlement systems, budget deficits and interbank forex dealers in previous crises have been blamed for monetary instability rather than the unworkable impossible trinity regime involving conflicting domestic (inflation target) and external targets (foreign reserves).

The country has no doctrinal foundation in sound money and there is both fear of floating and hard peg phobia among opinion leaders on both sides of the spectrum regardless of whether they are state or private sector like any Latin American country, critics say.

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Sri Lanka top chamber less pessimistic on 2023 GDP contraction

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s top business chamber said it was expecting an economic contraction of up to 2 percent in 2023, which is much lower than projected by international agencies.

“The forecast of 2023 is quite negative in terms of the international forecasters,” Shiran Fernando Chief Economist of Ceylon Chamber of Commerce told a business forum in Colombo.

“Our view is that there will be some level of contraction, may be zero to two percent. But I think as the year progresses in particular the second half, we will see consumption picking up.”

The World Bank is projecting a 4.2 percent contraction in 2023.

In 2022 Sri Lanka’s economy is expected to contract around 8 to 9 percent with gross domestic product shrinking 7.1 percent up to September.

Most businesses have seen a consumption hit, but not as much as indicated, Fernando said.

“Consumption is not falling as much as GDP in sense and we are seeing much more resilient consumer,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s economy usually starts to recover around 15 to 20 months after each currency crisis triggered by the island’s soft-pegged central bank in its oft repeated action of mis-targeting rates through aggressive open market operation or rejecting real bids at Treasuries auctions. (Colombo/Jan28/2023)

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Acuity Knowledge Partners with Sri Lanka office to be bought by Permira

ECONOMYNEXT – Permira, an investment fund with operations in Europe, US and Asia is buying a majority stake in Acuity Knowledge Partners, which has a 500 seat center in Sri Lanka for a undisclosed sum.

Equistone Partners Europe, from which Permira is buying the stake will remain a minority investor, the statement said.

In 2019, Equistone backed a management buyout of Acuity from Moody’s Corporation.

Acuity Knowledge Partners says it serves a global client base of over 500 financial services firms, including banks, asset managers, advisory firms, private equity houses and consultants.

“Despite the current challenges for the financial services sector, we have experienced continued growth and a strong demand for our solutions and services,” Robert King, CEO of Acuity Knowledge Partners, said.

“Given the significant demand within the financial services sector for value-added research and analytics, and the need for operational efficiency, with Permira’s deep experience in tech-enabled services and its global network, I am confident the business will continue to flourish.”

London headquartered Acuity has offices in the UK, USA, India, Sri Lanka, Costa Rica, China and Dubai, UAE.

Equistone was advised on the transaction by Rothschild & Co and DC Advisory, and Latham & Watkins acted as legal counsel. Robert W. Baird Limited served as financial advisers to Permira, and Clifford Chance is acting as legal counsel.

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