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BASL: Looming economic crisis could impact rule of law and democracy

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) on Friday warned that looming economic crisis could impact rule of law and democracy and called on government to address the economic crisis without any further delay.

The BASL in a statement signed by its Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya said that the BASL was gravely concerned of the signs of a looming economic crisis in Sri Lanka and its possible impact on the Rule of Law and Democracy and on the living conditions of the people.

“We believe that the present crisis is the crescendo of the crisis emanating from the systematic undermining of the rule of law and governance based on executive convenience and expediency rather than on institutional independence and autonomy over a long period of time by successive governments,” the BASL said.

It said that the spiraling inflation, shortages of essential goods including gas, the unavailability of foreign currency, the inability to remit monies overseas, the downgrading of Sri Lanka’s ratings by multiple international rating agencies; the temporary closure of the fuel refinery at Sapugaskanda; reports of the operations of certain foreign airlines being suspended; warnings of a possible power crisis are all indicators which demonstrate the urgency of the need for the Government to address the economic crisis without any further delay.

Full text of the BASL Statement: The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) is gravely concerned of the signs of a looming economic crisis in Sri Lanka and its possible impact on the Rule of Law and Democracy and on the living conditions of the people.

The spiraling inflation, shortages of essential goods including gas, the unavailability of foreign currency, the inability to remit monies overseas, the downgrading of Sri Lanka’s ratings by multiple international rating agencies; the temporary closure of the fuel refinery at Sapugaskanda; reports of the operations of certain foreign airlines being suspended; warnings of a possible power crisis are all indicators which demonstrate the urgency of the need for the Government to address the economic crisis without any further delay.

In this respect, a downturn in the economy can have far reaching adverse consequences to the Rule of Law and Governance of a Country. At its worst, economic decline can result in a complete breakdown of Law and Order, but even prior to that, serious repercussions flow from growing financial hardships that have to be borne by citizens that perpetuates inequality and the ability of citizens to enjoy or vindicate their rights, be they public or private rights. It goes without saying that the worst affected by economic hardship are the most vulnerable in society.

It is an undisputed fact that since March 2020 there has been a gradual erosion of foreign reserves from approximately USD 7 billion. Although it was announced by the Central Bank that the reserves have increased to USD 3 billion, it remains to be ascertained how much of that are usable reserves to repay the debt and used to redress the prevailing balance of payments crisis. Even out of the available reserves a large proportion contains moneys obtained in the form of short-term foreign exchange swaps.

There have been several sovereign credit ratings downgrades in the corresponding period by all the major credit rating agencies. The latest being the downgrades by Fitch Rating Agency to CC and Standard and Poor’s (S & P) to CCC. The International Sovereign Bonds yields across all tenures have remained in double digits for over a period of 2 years. This has made rollover of maturing sovereign bonds not feasible.

There have also been reports of a flight of foreign capital both from the equities and as well as the money markets. Foreign participation in both markets at present is only negligible. The Economist magazine named Sri Lanka as one of the most vulnerable countries to the expected fallout in emerging markets from the anticipated raising of interest rates by the Federal Reserve of the United States. Debt to GDP from approximately 85% in 2019 is now estimated to have risen to approximately 104% of GDP. However, in the same period the government revenue as a percentage of the GDP has fallen from approximately 12% to 10%. Year on Year headline inflation in the month of November 2021 was recorded at 9.92% and December 2021 recorded a double digit figure of 12%, the highest in the past 7 years. The Net International Reserve Position of the Country has been negative for over three months consecutively. All of this has resulted in the scarcity of foreign exchange to sustain essential imports.

The ability of the government to meet its total dollar requirements of approximately USD 6.9 billion in 2022 is being questioned, although the Central Bank has pledged that such commitments will be met. Questions as to the stability of the financial sector are also being raised.

The BASL notes with deep concern the statement made in late December by the Joint Chambers of Commerce calling upon the government that if actions as envisaged by the recently announced Roadmap by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka are not materialized within the anticipated timeframes to reconsider other alternative courses of action available to the country such as engaging with the IMF to explore the funding options they can offer. The Joint Chambers have warned that if conditions do not improve many local companies would look to relocate their business operations overseas and that the ability to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the country will be constrained.

The BASL acknowledges that the government has been confronted with extraordinary challenges in the form of the pandemic which has caused disruptions to the economic activities. It also recognizes the fact that the government has taken measures to address the challenges arising thereof. Similarly, the Government has sought to undertake remedial measures to address the fallout from the prevalent crisis consequent to the loss of access to financial markets and the resulting paucity of foreign exchange domestically thereof. However, none of those measures have brought about the desired results and have failed to build confidence to reverse the flight of foreign capital from the equities and money markets. Neither have these steps resulted in regaining access to international financial markets to raise debt.

Enjoyment of a living standard based on desired lifestyle choices and income has become a challenge. Our members who are mostly self-employed are particularly vulnerable and adversely impacted by these events as savings and assets form the bedrock of their economic safety net. Some of the measures taken by the Government have directly impeded the ability of our members to perform their professional duties, particularly the purported regulation that compels the conversion of foreign inflows into rupees within a stipulated time period.

We believe that the present crisis is the crescendo of the crisis emanating from the systematic undermining of the rule of law and governance based on executive convenience and expediency rather than on institutional independence and autonomy over a long period of time by successive governments.

In these circumstances, the BASL calls upon the government to seek the assistance of acknowledged independent and non-partisan experts both domestically and internationally and also of multilateral institutions that have a proven record of providing resources financially as well as in the form of technical expertise that will enable sustainable solutions to this crisis.

It is our belief that such assistance will result in the prescriptions that manifest to the world Sri Lanka’s belief in institutions as a country where effective governance is not contingent on personalities. It will manifest the fact that Sri Lanka has the desire and institutional capacity to respond to the exigencies brought by the present crisis via prescriptions that subscribe to the Rule of Law. Moreover, it is our belief that only such a response will create the institutional framework that ensures the efficient collection of revenue and the result in the efficient allocation of scarce resources and the formulation of monetary policy that ensures economic stability rather than a permissive one which facilitates executive expediency and convenience.

The achievement of these outcomes is in our opinion indispensable to resolve the crisis at hand.



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More than 6 bn worth of substandard drugs dispensed to patients

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The Committee of Public Accounts (COPA) has disclosed that Rs. 6,259 million worth of drugs faced a quality failure from 2011 to 2020 due to improper storage. The COPA report has further revealed that 99% of such drugs had already been dispensed to patients when the condition was brought to attention. In that situation, it was not possible to recover the cost of substandard drugs from the suppliers, the Parliament said.

The Committee on Public Accounts has directed the Ministry of Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine to expedite the process of facilitating better storage of drugs to ensure their safety.

It has also been observed that the temperature in the warehouses, owned by the Medical Supplies Division, is maintained properly and that the medical supplies are stored in the corridors of the central drug warehouses and hospitals.

Furthermore, the Secretary to the Ministry has pointed out that if there is a system to detect the failure of drugs as soon as they are received, the loss can be recovered from the suppliers and if the quality testing of 60 drugs can be done by the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, this situation can be avoided to some extent.

These concerns and observations were contained in the first report of the Second Session of the Ninth Parliament on COPA, which was tabled in Parliament recently (20) by Prof. Tissa Vitarana, the Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts.

The report contains information about the investigations of seven state institutions summoned before the Committee on Public Accounts and one Special Audit Report during the period from 04.08.2021 to 19.11.2021.

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CBSL Chief: Economy could be stabilised in year or so if …

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By Hiran H. Senewiratne

The prevailing Balance of Payments (BoP) crisis could lead to a major social crisis as the available foreign reserves were only sufficient for a few weeks’ imports, Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe warned on Monday.

“The economy can be stabilised in the next 12 month if the IMF negotiations and debt restructuring are finalised within the next seven to eight months. Until then we have to support the poor people,” Dr. Weerasinghe said, addressing a seminar on the “State of the Economy and Talks with the IMF”. It was organised by the Press Club, together with the Press Institute, at Colombo Hilton.

The CB Governor said the current BoP crisis would worsen and, therefore the economic pain could only be minimised if essential policies and measures were implemented in an expeditious manner. But “IMF technical level virtual meetings are likely to conclude this week, and thereafter further discussion will take place to finalise everything,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.

Dr. Weerasinghe suggested that the monetary and fiscal authorities tighten the monetary policy by higher margins and fiscal policy by restoring tax rates to pre-2020 levels.

The Governor said, “We have three categories of creditors namely International Sovereign Bonds, which raise short term funds from global markets, which account for 35 percent of the government debt, while other two creditors are Paris Club and non-Paris Club (India and China).

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the country’s debt needed to be brought to a sustainable level. “For that purpose a debt sustainability analysis needs to be drafted with a fiscal policy for the IMF bailout”, he said.

Speaking about the country’s worsening economic fundamentals, Dr. Weerasinghe said: “The nation is currently experiencing a historically low economic growth and falling trend of per capita GDP since 2017 with rising levels of poverty. It is also running the highest fiscal deficits since 1988 with the lowest ever government revenue as a percent of GDP.

“Amid those developments Sri Lanka’ poverty level will increase, unemployment level soar and local industries will have to shut down due to restriction of importation of raw material. Therefore, we have to seek humanitarian assistance from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other bilateral and multilateral agencies”, the Governor said.

“We are seeking short-term bridging facilities from official creditors until an agreement is reached with creditors on restructuring,” he said.

In his presentation, Dr. Weerasinghe analysed the links between banking and the currency crises. He pointed out that the problems in the banking sector typically precede a currency crisis with the currency crisis deepening the banking crisis, thus activating a vicious spiral.

Sri Lanka also had the highest-ever government debt which was unsustainable at the moment. Debt dynamics might be worsening in the next few years unless the debt was restructured, he said.

Sri Lanka also recorded the highest rate of inflation in 12 years which was increasing sharply and was experiencing the highest-ever levels of money printing by the CBSL, he added

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Dragonfly thought to be extinct found again

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By Ifham Nizam

Scientists have rediscovered Sri Lankan Clubtail (Anisogomphus ceylonicus), one of the rarest species of dragonflies in the country. The team that made the discovery comprised Amila Sumanapala of the Department of Zoology and Environment Sciences, University of Colombo, T. Ranasinghe of the Butterfly Conservation Society of Sri Lanka, and D. Sumanapala of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. According to lead scientist Amila Sumanapala Sri Lankan Clubtail is one of the rarest species of dragonflies.

First collected in 1859, it was only known from the original collection and another collection record made a century after in 1962. This species had not been found anywhere in Sri Lanka for close to 60 years until the team encountered a larva during a survey conducted in 2021.

Anisogomphus ceylonicus is one of the few Odonates of Sri Lanka with no photographic records of a living specimen available hitherto.

The present observation provides the first photographs of a live A. ceylonicus larva and the most recent documentation of the species. These observations, coupled with previous work (Lieftinck 1971, Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013), provide an improved understanding of the species, which might enable further targeted surveys to be made

It was first discovered from Ramboda over 140 years ago based on a female specimen, which was originally described as Gomphus ceylonicus and later assigned to the genus Heliogomphus by F.C. Fraser (Bedjanič & van der Poorten 2013). Almost a century later, Lieftinck (1971) collected an immature male and its exuvia of a clubtail dragonfly from Rambukpath Oya, 10 miles northwest of Hatton in 1962 and described it as Anisogomphus solitaris. However, Bedjanič & van der Poorten (2013) recognized that H. ceylonicus is conspecific with A. solitaris, and thus reassigned it to the genus Anisogomphus. Since the discovery of the species, only these two records have ever been documented (Bedjanič et al. 2014), despite odonatological surveys and numerous biodiversity explorations conducted countrywide.

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