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Ill-timed and unacceptable rating action by Moody’s renews concerns of subjectivity – CBSL



A recent rating action by Moody’s Investors Service (Moody’s) on the Sri Lankan economy reflects, among other things, “serious governance weaknesses of such agencies, where they systematically overlook positive developments and expectations in emerging economies, but attribute much greater weight to downside risks. The ill-timed and unacceptable rating action by Moody’s renews concerns of subjectivity, the CBSL said in a statement.

Extracts of the statement:

The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) wishes to express strong displeasure on the recent assessment by Moody’s Investors Service (Moody’s) that led to the rating action, after being placed under review for downgrade three months ago in a similar fashion. Once again, Moody’s irrational rating action with regard to Sri Lanka comes a few days before a key event, namely the announcement of the Government Budget for 2022, and this apparent hastiness and the view expressed during discussions with Moody’s analysts that the nature of the Budget is irrelevant to the financing plans of the Government clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding of such analysts.

It also reflects serious governance weaknesses of such agencies, where they systematically overlook the positive developments and expectations in emerging market economies, but attribute much greater weight to downside risks. Moody’s assessment has also failed to take into account the latest developments in strengthening the country’s external position through an array of measures, some of which have already yielded intended outcomes, as announced by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) on 26 October 2021. Moreover, the assessment exposes the rating agency’s ignorance on the well-established political stability within a democratic setup, when it claims about “governance weaknesses” and “challenging domestic political environment”, and its obvious insensitivity to the challenges faced by a country that is recovering from adverse external events without bringing pain to investors who have stood by Sri Lanka during various difficulties that the country has undergone in the past.

In addition to the six-month strategy articulated in the Road Map presented by the CBSL on 01 October 2021, Moody’s assessment has failed to recognise the medium to long term funding arrangements that are being finalised with various bilateral sources, which are due to be materialised in the near term. They include, among others, credit lines of several billions of USD from India and the Middle Eastern counterparts to procure petroleum; an arrangement for a large forex loan from a Middle Eastern nation as a bilateral long-term loan, and the proposals received for the syndicated loan arrangement that are being evaluated at present. In addition, a substantial amount of funds is expected from the already lined-up prioritised project loan related inflows to the Government. The recent discussions on bilateral currency SWAP arrangements with several central banks are also expected to provide the country with additional support in the near term.

Without considering such cashflows, any assessment on the repayment capacity of the Government carries prejudice. Rating action based on such biased assessment is unfair and detrimental to the country’s prospects, as Sri Lanka is emerging strongly from the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, such action by an international rating agency calls into question the validity of its advice to the investor community. Nevertheless, it is clear that international investors have continued to put faith in Sri Lanka’s plans for recovery, as repeatedly reflected in their preference to hold Sri Lanka’s International Sovereign Bonds (ISBs) to maturity, despite claims by Moody’s about a heightened risk of default by Sri Lanka.

The GOSL is in the process of preparing its Budget for the forthcoming year to be presented on 12 November 2021 with economic activities returning to near normalcy, and the country is already experiencing strong signs of revival of tourism and other activities that generate non-debt creating foreign currency inflows, including the monetisation of under-utilised non-strategic assets. This untimely rating decision taken prior to the Budget shows that Moody’s has not taken all the relevant information to form its assessment of the country’s performance and the expected path, into account. Even a layman would recognise that the Budget is an important statement for a country as it sets the tone for policy initiatives and structural reforms which could help alleviate the external challenges and improve fiscal settings in the near to medium term. Legitimacy of financing, in the form of an Appropriation Act, includes all foreign financing with a clear direction of the fiscal path. Therefore, it is surprising that Moody’s fails to provide due consideration to the forthcoming Budget, disregarding the vital information that would be released with the announcement of the Budget, in arriving at its rating action.

Such action by Moody’s is not new to Sri Lanka since Sri Lanka has experienced similar rating action by Moody’s several times in the past as well. For instance, Moody’s placed Sri Lanka on review for downgrade on 17 April 2020 right at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and just after the Government signed a Foreign Currency Term Financing Facility (FTFF) with China Development Bank (CDB), hindering the implementation of the arrangement and delaying fund receipts. The downgrade was effected on 28 September 2020, just ahead of the ISB maturity in October 2020. Further, Moody’s placed Sri Lanka under review for downgrade on 19 July 2021 whilst the CBSL was finalising a currency SWAP with the Bangladesh Bank and was about to repay a maturing ISB. Such questionable action generates credibility considerations as to whether Moody’s actions are driven by economic considerations only.

The GOSL and the CBSL are closely engaging with all stakeholders, including the international investor community. Such engagements have helped clear any doubts of investors on the Government’s willingness and the ability to honour all upcoming debt service obligations, as it has done throughout history. The Sri Lankan economy has demonstrated strong signs of broad-based recovery, with a real GDP growth of 8.0 per cent in the first half of 2021. The vaccination drive is progressing at full strength, covering over 60 per cent of the population with both doses and almost 100 per cent of the population over 30 years, thus providing confidence of a strong rebound in economic activity in 2022. With the revival in tourism and the fruition of efforts to strengthen foreign exchange earnings through merchandise exports, exports of services, worker remittances, as well as domestic and foreign investments, the medium term growth path is likely to be robust. Improving performance of merchandise and trade in services in a fairly short period of time has shown the economy’s ability to reach its potential despite misplaced fears raised by Moody’s. It is deeply disappointing that Moody’s seems to be attempting to derail this potential of the country by downgrading Sri Lanka’s rating based on a static methodology, which is irrational, particularly at the time of a global pandemic. The Government’s commitment towards fiscal consolidation through expenditure rationalisation would complement the gradual rise in government revenue with normalising activity, thereby narrowing the fiscal deficit, that has not been recognised.

Moody’s. The pro-growth reforms implemented by the Government has laid the foundation for a domestic production led export-oriented economy over the medium term, despite some adjustment costs in the transition. Ignoring such ability and commitment of the Government has led to ill-informed conclusions by Moody’s.

Against this backdrop, the Government wishes to re-assure all stakeholders, including the international investor community, that Sri Lanka remains committed to honouring all forthcoming obligations in the period ahead. The Sri Lankan authorities welcome direct engagement with investors and invite investors for regular one-on-one discussions without being distracted by such unfounded announcements by external agencies.

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ComBank partners with PayHere to offer Q+ users a unique eCommerce experience



Commercial Bank’s Group Chief Marketing Officer Mr Hasrath Munasinghe (2nd from right) and PayHere Founder/CEO, Mr Dhanika Perera (2nd from left) exchange the agreement in the presence of PayHere Head of Developments, Mr Karvin Mendis (extreme left) and the Bank’s Senior Manager – Card Centre Mr Seevali Wickramasinghe.

The Commercial Bank of Ceylon has partnered with PayHere, Sri Lanka’s largest Aggregated Internet Payment Gateway Service, to offer users of its Q+ Payment App a unique, user-friendly and secure eCommerce experience.

Commercial Bank customers can now conveniently pay for their purchases via the Q+ app to over 3300 registered PayHere Online Payment Service enabled merchants. The Bank’s Credit, Debit and Prepaid Card holders who pay through Q+, the fastest-growing QR app in the country, will not be required to tap in their card details as this information is already stored on the app, the Bank said.

Payments to PayHere merchants via the Q+ Online Pay facility will enhance customer convenience as the transaction will only require the entering of users’ mobile numbers registered with the app. Disbursements via Q+ require authentication using a static PIN which ensures the safety and security of transactions, making the Q+ App more secure than a normal card as the customers’ sensitive data is not transmitted to merchant websites.

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TAMAP drives Stakeholder Forum for Good Agriculture Practice



Secretary of Agriculture Prof. Udith K Jayasinghe addressing the forum

The inaugural meeting of the GAP Stakeholder Forum was held with the support of the Technical Assistance to the Modernisation of Agriculture Programme (TAMAP) at the Department of Agriculture in Peradeniya on 17 November 2021. Prof. Udith K Jayasinghe, Secretary Ministry of Agriculture, graced the occasion as the Chief Guest.

The Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) programme, introduced by the Department of Agriculture in 2016, was a promising step taken to minimise adverse impacts of agriculture on the ecosystem and human health while meeting steadily rising demand for food. Although the programme had an encouraging start, the overall conversion of farmers to implementing GAP remained low. Over the past six years, 1500 farmers registered as GAP producers out of the 1.8 million farmers in Sri Lanka. To align with the current policy of the Sri Lankan Government to improve ecological friendliness of farming, it is important to transform all production units towards GAP farms.

Studies showed that to achieve this goal, the GAP implementation strategies needed to be updated and infused into the mainstream agriculture, facilitating a quick transformation of the current approach towards a macro-level system. Therefore, the requirement for a rapid strategizing of such an approach followed by periodic review of GAP performance arose. This initiated the need for a stakeholder forum.

The key purpose of the forum is to provide a common platform for key stakeholders to meet in formulating a strategy to mainstream SL GAP, propose a way forward for implementation such recommendations, and to regularly review program performance and adopt remedial action to achieve GAP objectives.

Prof. Udith K Jayasinghe, Secretary Ministry of Agriculture who chaired the Forum in his opening statement commented, “GAP programme has emerged a solution to challenges faced by Sri Lankan agriculture today to improve safety of users and ensuring good environmental performance. Reinforced by facilitating legislation and approved national standards, GAP programme provides a strong foundation towards addressing above concerns.”.

Over forty participants were present at the forum, representing the various stakeholder groups comprising producers, distributers, SL GAP team, academics, and market players. Ms D. S. Ratnasinghe, Addl. Director (Agribusiness) and Dr W. M. W. Weerakoon, National Coordinator outlined the status of the GAP programme and the challenges faced.

The deliberations during the forum were broken down into five main areas: Technical, financial, institutional, and social problems faced by GAP stakeholders on maintaining production, supply, product quality, and consumer trust. Gaps in technology transfer and adoption, marketing and quality control measures and means for increased rate of adoption and GAP farm certification; Gaps in current GAP process and procedures, user friendliness and applicability; Future technological needs towards increasing production, productivity, product quality and ecosystem sustainability; and Policy needs for increased adoption of GAP to mainstream GAP into national agriculture agenda.

Prof. G. Pushpakumara, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya and Ms Jayantha Ilankoon, ADG (Dev) moderated the forum through group activity, outcome presentations and strategic discussions on the way forward.

Concluding the forum, Dr Nihal Atapattu, stated, “TAMAP, along with the European Union that provided the funding support is very pleased to have assisted to launch several interventions that would promote recognition of GAP as a premier means of strengthening Sri Lankan agriculture in sustainably meet requirements of the domestic and export markets. TAMAP expects that the Stakeholder Forum launched today will be a milestone event in advancing GAP to achieve its potential in Sri Lanka”.

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HNB’s commitment to expand e-commerce and digital payments wins Daraz award



Daraz Managing Director Rakhil Fernando (fourth from left) handing over the award to HNB Head of Cards – Gauthami Niranjan. Also present (from left): Daraz Partnerships Nimesh Dasanayake, Daraz Senior Manager – Prepayments Sandamina Rajapaksha, Daraz Head of Partnerships Dulika Jayamanne, HNB Cards Business Development Executive - Ashokan Harishanna, HNB Assistant Manager - Cards Business Development and Portfolio Management - Imanka Keshini Hikkaduwage and HNB Cards Business Development Executive – Roshan Chaminda Perera.

HNB has been recognized by Daraz for exceptional contribution to its growth, in an independent endorsement of Sri Lanka’s leading private bank’s commitment to expand e-commerce and digital payments throughout the country.

The award, for the ‘Card Base with Highest Overall Growth’, was presented to HNB at the ‘Daraz Payment Partner Performance Awards 2021’. HNB, which ranks among Daraz’s best banking partners, recorded the highest growth on total payment volume, buyer engagement and total transactions month-on-month, for both credit and debit cards for the year 2020-2021.

“This award is an important validation how the local economy – both businesses and consumers – are benefiting from HNB’s cohesive programme to drive greater adoption of e-commerce and digital payments,” HNB Head of Cards, Gauthami Niranjan said. “These efforts are particularly significant at present, given how digital and contactless payments can assist in reducing the spread of the pandemic and support the Bank’s and the country’s vision to transform Sri Lanka to a cashless economy.”

Currently, HNB Cardholders enjoy multiple offers on Daraz, Sri Lanka’s leading online marketplace, a wholly-owned subsidiary of global e-commerce giant, the Alibaba Group. These include zero-interest instalment plans up to 48 months with attractive discounts for HNB Credit and Debit Cards and 10% off site-wide on Daraz for all HNB Credit Cards on purchases made during Saturdays. In addition, HNB tied up with Daraz for its 11:11 and Black Friday sales, which provided HNB Cardholders access to a range of offers and massive discounts.

HNB has been a pioneer in Sri Lanka’s banking industry in the digital banking and digital payments space. These include the launch of digital wallet and payment app, HNB SOLO and introducing Asia’s first-ever fitness-linked savings product in the form of the HNB FIT Savings Account.

With 254 customer centres across the country, HNB is one of Sri Lanka’s largest, most technologically-innovative banks, having won local and global recognition for its efforts to drive forward a new paradigm in digital banking. HNB has a national rating of AA- (lka) by Fitch Ratings (Lanka) Ltd. The bank was also ranked among the World Top 1,000 Banks list compiled by the prestigious UK-based Banker Magazine for five consecutive years. HNB was also declared Best Sub-Custodian Bank in Sri Lanka at the Global Finance Awards 2020.

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