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Foreign Minister tells virtual C’wealth Foreign Affairs Ministers’ meeting urgent need for debt relief

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Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, leading a delegation to the 20th Virtual Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting (CFAMM) on the sidelines of the 75 UN General Assembly, on Wednesday, called for innovative thinking, collective and integrated strategies to address the multi-dimensional and cross cutting challenges in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Highlighting that e-commerce and e-governance would define the competitive edge of countries in the post COVID-19 world, Minister Gunawardena called for assistance to advance digitalization of economies and services within Commonwealth member states, the Foreign Ministry said.

He cited Sri Lanka’s experience of conducting the first ever tea and rubber auctions via a digital platform, while the country also remained the first in South Asia to adopt international standards for digital transactions.

He also proposed mobilizing existing scientific and technical expertise and knowledge in the Commonwealth towards ongoing research related to COVID-19. In this regard, the Foreign Minister highlighted the partnership between the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and Oxford University in sharing expertise and knowledge acquired in immune responses in individuals to dengue infection, to understand immune responses to COVID-19 infections.

Minister Gunawardena noting the unprecedented and adverse economic and social impact induced by the crisis on countries underlined the urgent need for debt relief, loan repayment moratoriums and financial stimulus to ease current difficulties.

Focusing on Sri Lanka’s commitments under the Action Plan of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, Minister Gunawardena informed that Sri Lanka planned to reduce 30% of GHG emissions by 2030 and move towards a resilient and cleaner future with low carbon economic growth by transitioning to hydro, solar and wind power. He also underlined the need to identify the barriers, risks and potential opportunities for scaling-up climate finance for small states, including Sri Lanka.

The meeting was chaired by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State of the United Kingdom, Dominic Raab MP, as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. The CFAMM, which traditionally takes place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, was held virtually this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Sri Lanka delegation to the virtual CFAAM included Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK Saroja Sirisena and Director General, European Union and Commonwealth of the Foreign Ministry Dhammika Semasinghe.

 

 

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Police want to catch those who fled WP to escape curfew

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By Pradeep Prasanna Samarakoon

Police had launched a special operation to apprehend persons who left the Western Province hours before the imposition of the weekend quarantine curfew in the province, Western Province Senior DIG Deshabandu Thennakoon said.

The SDIG said that police had received information that large numbers had left the province. “Many people have gone on trips and some to their native places to avoid the curfew. We have found that some had booked holiday resorts, hotels and guest houses outside the province soon after the announcement that the curfew would come into force from midnight Thursday.” The SDIG said that the special operation would focus on guest houses and hotels and other such places outside the Western Province. “We appealed to the people not to leave the Western Province. A special operation was launched to identify if people have travelled out of Colombo, circumventing Police road blocks, and to obtain information on such persons.”

The SDIG said that action would be taken against people who had travelled out of Colombo in violation of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance. 

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Parliament sittings limited to one day next week

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Party leaders, who met on Thursday, at the Parliament Complex, decided to limit next week’s sittings of Parliament to one day due to the COVID -19 pandemic, the Pparliament Communication Division said.

Accordingly, Parliament will convene on Nov 03 from 10.00 am to 12.00 noon only and on that day, two regulations to the Medical Ordinance submitted by the Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi will be taken up for debate. Also, no time will be allotted for the Questions for Oral Answers.

The meeting, chaired by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, decided to meet on Nov 12 and pass the Appropriation Bill presented by the Minister of Finance for the service expenditure for the financial year 2020 following the second and third reading.

It has been decided not to allow anyone other than Members of Parliament, invited officers, Security Personnel and the Parliament staff to enter the Parliament complex on the sitting days. The media will also not be allowed to enter the Parliament premises to cover parliamentary sittings. Leader of the House Dinesh Gunawardena, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando, Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, Prof. G.L Peiris, Dullas Alahapperuma, Mahinda Amaraweera, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Prasanna Ranatunga, Ali Sabri and MPs Mahinda Samarasinghe, Rauff Hakeem, Dilan Perera, as well as the Secretary General of Parliament Dhammika Dasanayake and the Deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff Neil Iddawela were present at the meeting on Thursday.

 

 

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State Minister Cabraal dispels fears about Sri Lanka’s debt service capacity

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State Minister of Money and Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal has said nobody should harbour fears of Sri Lanka’s ability to service its debt. Fears being expressed in some quartes are unfounded he has said, issuing a media statement.

Following is a statement issued by the State Minister of Money & Capital Markets and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal on 30th October 2020 “With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, all countries including Sri Lanka, observed a contraction in economic activity, reduction in foreign exchange earnings, decrease in revenue collection, and increase in health and welfare related expenditure. However, the prompt and measured policy support provided by the Government and the Central Bank enabled Sri Lanka to contain the unfavourable effects of Covid-19 to a great extent, and return the economy to near-normalcy by mid-May 2020. In fact, most economic activities have displayed a notable revival from May onwards, and this recovery is on-going. The recent detection of a new Covid cluster is now being decisively addressed by the Government, and this wave is also expected to be short-lived. Accordingly, the expansion of the fiscal deficit and the increase in debt levels in 2020, should not be generalised as a prolonged debt distress, but rather as a “one-off” deviation from the clear fiscal consolidation path that has been well articulated in the new Government’s policy framework.

“The election of a new President in mid November 2019 and the formation of a single-party Government with a sizable majority in August 2020, has enable the new Government to address the uncertainties in the political and policy spheres observed during the period 2015 to 2019. Consequently, Sri Lanka has been able to address public health concerns swiftly, as well as take difficult economic decisions with greater confidence. For example, when the Government was of the view that it was necessary to conserve forex, given the likelihood of low foreign exchange earnings due to the pandemic, and the need to prioritize foreign debt service obligations, the Sri Lankan authorities imposed restrictions on non-essential imports from March 2020. Such decisive and bold action, along with the reduction in global petroleum prices, resulted in a substantial saving of nearly US$ 3 billion in terms of expenditure on merchandise imports in the first nine months of the year, compared to the same period of the previous year. This saving, along with the better-than-expected outcomes in terms of merchandise exports, services exports other than tourism, and workers’ remittances, is now projected to compress the external current account deficit to below 1.5% of GDP in 2020.

“It would also be noted that capital flows and official reserves were also affected during the early months of the global outbreak of Covid-19. However, growing business confidence due to decisive action by the Government and the Central Bank has enabled the country to stabilize the exchange rate with only a marginal depreciation of around 1.5% so far this year, even while the Central Bank was able to purchase/absorb US$ 300 million from the domestic foreign exchange market during the year. As a result, official reserves remain close to US$ 6 billion, after settling foreign debt service repayments of around US$ 4 billion thus far during the year, including the repayment of the matured International Sovereign Bond of US$ 1 billion in October 2020. In the meantime, it would be further noted that the Sri Lankan authorities are presently negotiating a loan of USD 700 million from the China Development Bank which is expected to be at an interest rate and terms of repayment that are significantly more favourable than the USD 1 billion Sovereign Bond that was just re-paid. In addition, an attractive, exchange rate risk-free, Forex SWAP facility has been introduced for any foreign investor who invests in Sri Lankan government securities, which is expected to boost foreign exchange inflows particularly from the Middle-East, in the period ahead.

 

“In terms of growth performance, Sri Lanka is once again set to embark on a growth path, following the setback in the first half of 2020 caused by the pandemic. The formulation of the new Government Cabinet and State Ministerial structure, with clear performance indicators has been geared towards improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the economy. These new governance structures are bound to enhance agriculture and agro-based and mineral-based industries, increase export opportunities, as well as facilitate large projects within the Port City, Hambantota Port, and dedicated industrial zones. The expected revitalization of state owned enterprises, together with the private sector-led growth projects would also revert the Sri Lankan economy to the high growth path that was observed prior to 2015 whereby annual growth rates of over 6.5% were regularly recorded.

“In the meantime, Sri Lanka’s entire local debt stock of about Rs. 7.7 trillion (USD 42 billion) as at end July 2020 is being rolled-over and re-priced now at interest rates which are almost half of what was paid in 2019, while the Rupee remains stable. It may also be noted that a new trend has been established where greater reliance is being placed on domestic financing, and that strategy has already improved the “domestic: foreign” ratio of the debt from 51:49 at end 2019 to 56:44 now, which trend the authorities are keen to improve further in the period ahead. It is therefore clear that the Government’s commitment and support towards better debt management, both directly and indirectly, has already started to take effect.

“Sri Lanka is justifiably proud of its immaculate debt service record, without a single default. It would also be noted that Sri Lanka has experienced similar challenging circumstances previously, with high levels of debt. For instance, during 2001-2004, the country’s debt to GDP ratio was well over 100%, and by end 2005, it was at 91%. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka was able to gradually reduce the debt to GDP ratio to just 72% by end 2014 through decisive and innovative action.”

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