New measures treating the symptoms rather than the disease
Harsh enforcement of price controls may worsen food shortages.
The Commissioner of Essential Services has been granted the power to seize food stocks held by traders and retailers and regulate prices.
There is serious concern with the steep rise in the price of essentials which has taken place over the past two years. Advocata’s Bath Curry Indicator (BCI), which tracks commonly consumed items, shows a 30% increase in retail food prices in August 2021 compared to August 2020.
The reasons for the increase in prices include import restrictions and tariffs that have disrupted markets. The classic example is turmeric that retailed at Rs.650 per kg prior to the import ban but now retails at Rs 3500 per kg according to the DCS and at around Rs 4400 to Rs6900 on online retailers . Other products are similarly affected.
The recent ban on fertiliser is likely to result in even further increases in the prices of vegetables and cereals over the forthcoming harvests. These restrictive policies have been compounded by the acute shortage of foreign currency caused by the on-going balance of payments (BOP) crisis. Lack of foreign exchange has imposed additional restrictions on imports resulting in shortages causing prices to spike.
While the increases in prices is a real concern, the causes are complex and are largely due to poor policies.
The balance of payments crisis arises not due to trade policy but due to the levels of aggregate demand in the economy, principally through consumption and investment influenced by the prevailing fiscal and monetary policy. The tax cuts towards the end of 2019, fiscal dominance of monetary policy and non-pass through of global commodity prices through price controls and administered prices have contributed towards excess import demand.
This is evident in the trade data: despite the stringent import restrictions imposed after April 2020, import demand for the six months to June 2021 have surged by 30% over the same period in 2020. While exports in the period have also risen, it is the rapid rise in imports that have caused the negative trade balance.
Price controls and administered prices have led to shortages and hoarding.
Instead of addressing the problem at the root, the government is trying to control the symptoms. Previous attempts at price controls have not succeeded as Advocata’s research in 2018 has shown but better enforcement is not the solution. Instead, the Government should address the policy weaknesses that are the cause of the problem.
Trying to negate policy missteps in fiscal and monetary policy through trade policy in an untenable exercise for it impacts economic efficiency hence growth and productivity and also leads to issues with economic distribution.
Harsh enforcement of price controls could in turn create black markets resulting in significant welfare losses in the form of a deterioration in product quality, elevate scarcities, disadvantaging the poor who are less sophisticated and in the long run lead to higher prices, lower output due to lower investment.
We urge policy makers to urgently address the root cause of the current crisis by increasing tax revenues via more progressive tax policies – by increasing the tax base for both direct and indirect taxes and reducing the tax gap through greater tax effort. Further, it is best where possible to use well targeted cash transfers to vulnerable segments of the population to improve affordability instead of cutting taxing, imposing price control or using administered prices on utilities.
Advocata Institute highlights the negative effects of harsh price controls.
The root causes of the present crisis lies in loose monetary and fiscal policies compounded by import controls and exchange control restrictions. Therefore restoring macroeconomic stability is a priority.
Cash transfers to vulnerable segments is a better mechanism to implement distributive policies rather than intervening in market prices through tax subsidies, price controls or administered prices.
Advocata is an independent policy think tank based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. We conduct research, provide commentary and hold events to promote sound policy ideas compatible with a free society in Sri Lanka. Visit advocata.org for more information.
Global CEO Forum fetes one of most influential SL entrepreneurs
In tribute to the late Merril J. Fernando, the esteemed Founder of Dilmah Tea, the Global Brand Creator 2023 Award was bestowed at the Global CEO Forum held recently in Sri Lanka. This prestigious accolade was presented to Kirmali Fernando (the daughter-in-law of late Merril J. Fernando) by the Governor of the Central Bank Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, Kataro Katsuki, Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka, Janaka Abeysinghe, CEO -SLT MOBITEL, Dr. DMA Kulasuriya, Director General-NIBM, Ahamed Ikram, Director-Emerald International , Dilanga Karunaratna- Director Otto Bathware and Anura Siriwardena, Chairman-Global CEO Forum.
Coca-Cola Sri Lanka extends its ‘Adopt A Beach’ program for a third year
Coca-Cola Sri Lanka Ltd. proudly continues its mission to safeguard Sri Lanka’s shorelines by extending the ‘Adopt A Beach’ initiative for a triumphant third year. This exciting announcement aligns with the celebration of International Coastal Cleanup Day on September 16, 2023, emphasizing the paramount significance of coastal preservation.
Commemorating the partnership with an exclusive beach cleanup and an enlightening session at Crow Island Beach, the day’s proceedings were honored by the presence of the Governor of the Western Province and Marshal of the Sri Lanka Air Force, Roshan Goonetileke and key government stakeholders representing the Ministry of Local Government, Colombo Municipal Council, Environmental Police Division, Coastal Conservation Department, Waste Management Authority and the Crow Island Beach Management Society.
Additionally, underlining the vital role that the youth of our nation play in forging cleaner and safer coastal regions, particularly through the realms of media and volunteerism, the occasion also brought together young talents from the media sector and a dedicated team of volunteers from the Clean Ocean Force, Clean Ocean Force Youth Club of the Ocean’s University, Clean Ocean Force Youth Club in Negombo, Rotaract Club Colombo Regent, Shri Vimukthi Youth Association, youth from International Schools and Adfactors Public Relations Lanka.
PLC’s profits surge 80.9% in Q1, amidst challenging environment
People’s Leasing & Finance PLC (PLC), a pillar of strength and stability in Sri Lanka’s financial sector, successfully concluded the 1st Quarter of the fiscal year 2023/24 with a year-on-year increase in Profit of 80.9% in the midst of a challenging economic landscape.
PLC’s top line interest income recorded an impressive 10.2%, reaching Rs. 7,465 million owing to the increased investment income during the quarter. However, the company’s net interest income showed a modest fall when compared to the first quarter of 2022/23. This was mostly the result of higher interest expenses brought on by the repricing of deposits to higher rates in line with higher policy rates. Despite the stated decrease in net interest income, PLC was able to end the first quarter with a profit after tax (PAT) of Rs. 331 million as opposed to Rs. 183 million recorded in Q1 2022/23 thanks to the significant year-on-year reduction in Impairment Charges as well as reduction in operating expenses, demonstrative of an intensified commitment to internal sustainability.
Similarly, PLC Group also recorded a PAT of Rs. 552 million during Q1 2023/24, reflecting a year-on-year increase of 21.5% mainly driven by the significant reduction in the Group’s impairment charges and other losses for loans and receivables.
Even in the face of a highly inflationary environment, PLC successfully reduced total operating expenses by 3.5% compared to the corresponding quarter in the year prior due to a determined effort to increase efficiency through digital initiatives, right-sizing of branches, and improvements in internal processes. PLC recognized the significance of recalibrating its balance sheet in a setting not favourable to business expansion and took strategic measures to ensure the right sizing of its balance sheet resulting a total asset base of Rs. 155,380 million as of 30 June 2023. Backed by these strategic moves, total asset base of the PLC Group also remained resilient at Rs. 179,948 million as of 30 June 2023.
In an extremely volatile and complex business setting PLC adopted a highly disciplined liquidity management approach to ensure financial stability whilst maintaining capital adequacy ratios well ahead of the statutory minimums at the end of Q1. The majority of PLC’s funding needs were met through improved collections enabling PLC to remain watchful in growing its deposit base in a high-interest environment. Despite these measures, the deposit base of PLC remained robust at Rs. 93,228 million as of 30 June 2023, showcasing strong customer confidence. The Group deposit base also remained strong at Rs. 100,439 million, as at 30 June 2023.
Meanwhile, PLC retained its No.1 position as Sri Lanka’s Most-Loved Brand in Leasing and Finance category, as ranked by Brand Finance in LMD Brands Annual. The company’s steadfast dedication to excellence was also evident in its ascent from 51 to 36 in the esteemed “Most Respected Entities” ranking by LMD within just one year, further cementing its position as one of Sri Lanka’s most respected and trusted financial services providers.
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