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Lanka busts US$664mn in ‘reserves for imports’ in two months

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has spent 664 million US dollars in providing ‘reserves for imports’ in November and December 2021, as the central bank tried to implement a 200 to the US dollar peg while printing money to sterilize the same dollar sales at fixed interest rate of 6.0 percent.

The central bank bought 61.7 million US dollars from forex markets where compulsory surrender rules have been imposed, creating money, and spent 372.35 million US dollars for imports in November.

In December the central bank bought 71.16 million US dollars from banks and spent 424.7 million US dollars to enforce a peg at 200 and provide ‘reserves for imports’.

A pegged central bank which tries to implement a fixed interest rate has to print money to offset such interventions, injecting new rupee reserves to the banking system as dollar sales from reserves sucks out liquidity from the banking system reflecting the transfer of real wealth out of the country.

Such an ‘unsterilized sale’ will reduce the ability of banks to give new credit and shrink reserve money driving up rates and keeping the exchange rate fixed.

However a soft-pegged central bank re-injects the money into the banking system to ‘sterilize’ the intervention, perpetuating the currency crisis by keeping both interest rate and reserve money fixed.

Central bank data showed that 113 billion rupees had been printed in November.

Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves fell in November. In December reserves were boosted with a swap.

In a remarkable development, Mercantilists and some members of the business community last week called on the central bank to continue to sell reserves which will keep the exchange rate at 200 to the US dollar and default on debt.

The call for reserve sales to enforce the peg came after many businessmen had previously said the 200 to the US dollar peg was not realistic or not market determined.

Due to continued liquidity injections at 6.0 percent and earlier at around 5.2 percent by placing price controls on Treasury bill auctions the credibility of the 200 to the US dollar peg has been lost and people are willing to pay as much as 250 rupees to get the printed money out of the country leading to the emergency of parallel markets.

A float will end the ‘reserve sales’ for imports and consequently also end the need to sterilize the intervention, restore the interbank spot market and balance total inflows with outflows.

As long as reserve sales continue, the liquidity injections also continue (the central bank sells both dollars and rupees to the banking system simultaneously) preventing the credit system from adjusting to the reserve outflow.

However a float also leads to a fall of the currency to a lower level.

Analysts have said that the Mercantilist myth involving sterilized interventions were propagated by John Henry Williams an advocate of the the US dollars as ‘key currency’ in a post-World War II monetary system and others like Arthur Bloomfield, who found instances when gold standard central banks supposedly engaged in sterilized interventions and lived to tell the tale.

Such ideas were rejected in East Asian countries like Singapore, which do not have a fixed policy rate.

“..[W]e wanted to indicated to academics, both local and foreign; that what is fashionable in the West is not necessarily good for Singapore,” Singapore’s economic architect and former Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee said in a landmark speech.

“A perceptive mind is needed to distinguish the peripheral form the fundamental, transient fads from permanent values.”

The entire ‘Sterling Area’ of which Sri Lanka was a member until a US money doctor set up a sterilizing Latin America style central bank was based on this ‘permanent value’.

The US Fed in 1971 under then Chairman Arthur Burns broke a 300 year old gold standard, sterilizing interventions in 1971, after earlier printing money to target an output gap.



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Weerawansa’s wife sentenced to RI

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Lawyers appearing for Shashi Weerawansa, MP Wimal Weerawansa’s wife, yesterday (27) appealed against a Colombo Magistrate’s Court decision to sentence their client to two years rigorous imprisonment.Colombo Chief Magistrate, Buddhika Sri Ragala found her guilty of submitting forged documents to obtain a diplomatic passport circa 2010. The Colombo Magistrate’s Court also imposed a fine of Rs. 100,000 on Mrs. Weerawansa. If the fine is not paid she will have to serve an extra six months.

Additional Magistrate Harshana Kekunawala announced that the appeal would be called for consideration on 30 May.The case against Mrs. Weerawansa was filed by the CID after a complaint was lodged on 23 January 2015 by Chaminda Perera, a resident of Battaramulla.

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Unions predict end of energy sovereignty

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

A government decision to allow all privately-owned bunker fuel operators to import and distribute diesel and fuel oil to various industries was a rollback of the nationalisation of the country’s petroleum industry and another severe blow to energy sovereignty of the country, trade union activist of the SJB Ananda Palitha said yesterday.Earlier, Minister of Power and Energy, Kanchana Wijesekera Tweeted that ‘approval was given to all the Private Bunker Fuel Operators to Import and provide Diesel and Fuel Oil requirements of Industries to function their Generators and Machinery. This will ease the burden on CPC and Fuel Stations provided in bulk’.Commenting on the decision, Palitha said that according to the existing law those companies only had the power to import, store and distribute fuel for ships. Those companies did not have the authority to distribute fuel inside the country, Palitha said.

“Only the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and Lanka Indian Oil Corporation (LIOC) can distribute fuel inside the country. There is a controversy about the licence given to the LIOC as well. If the government wants other companies to import fuel, it needs to change the laws. The Minister does not have the power to make these decisions. A few months ago the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration used to rush Bills that adversely affected the country through Parliament. Now, since they don’t have a majority in parliament, they are using the Cabinet to make decisions that are detrimental to the country’s interests.”

Palitha said that the controversial government move would further weaken the CPC, and that the ultimate aim of the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe government was to make the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) purchase fuel from private distributors. With a weakened CPC and a CEB under the mercy of private companies, the Sri Lankan state would have little control over the country’s energy sector, he warned.

“The CEB already can’t pay the CPC, and therefore how can it pay private companies? It will have to sell its assets. This is another step in the road to fully privatise the energy sector. When this happens no government will be able to control inflation or strategically drive production through fuel and energy tariffs. The people will be at the mercy of businessmen and the government will only be a bystander,” he said.

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Modi government moves to ‘solve’ Katchatheevu issue

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The Narendra Modi government is mulling restoring the traditional rights of Tamil Nadu fishermen in Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 285 acres, sandwiched between India and Sri Lanka in the Palk Bay, with the BJP hoping the move could lift its political fortunes in the southern state.The government will push Sri Lanka to implement “in letter and spirit” the 1974 agreement reached between Indira Gandhi and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, then prime ministers of India and Sri Lanka, on the island.This will have to be done by withdrawing the “Executive Instructions” issued in 1976 without questioning Sri Lanka’s “sovereignty” over Katchatheevu, sources aware of the internal discussions in the BJP told the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald.

Sources added that the discussions were “ongoing” at “various levels” including reaching out to Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka. The recent visit of TN BJP chief K Annamalai to Sri Lanka is also part of the outreach. Many feel the instructions issued in 1976 “superseded the provisions of the legally valid” pact between India and Sri Lanka, thus making Katchatheevu a subject of dispute in the Palk Bay.While the 1974 agreement gave away Katchatheevu, which was part of the territory ruled by the Rajah of Ramanathapuram, to Sri Lanka, the 1976 pact drew the maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Mannar and Bay of Bengal.

“We cannot disturb the agreement signed in 1974. We are now finding ways and means to implement the agreement in letter and spirit. All we plan is to ask Sri Lanka to invoke Article 6 of the Katchatheevu pact. If Sri Lanka agrees, the issue can be sorted through Exchange of Letters between foreign secretaries of both countries,” a source in the know said.Another source said the time is “ripe” to push forward on the issue. “With fast-changing geopolitical situation in the region, we believe Sri Lanka will slowly come around and accept the rights of our fishermen,” the source said.

“The opinion within the party is that time is ripe to push this cause, with Sri Lanka beginning to realise that India can always be relied upon, given PM Ranil (Wickremesinghe) is pro-India.”

Articles 5 and 6 of the 1974 agreement categorically assert the right to access of the Indian fishermen and pilgrims to Katchatheevu and state that the “vessels of Sri Lanka and India will enjoy in each other’s waters such rights as they have traditionally enjoyed therein”.

However, fishermen from India were prohibited from fishing in the Sri Lankan territorial waters around Katchatheevu in 1976 following the signing of an agreement on the maritime boundary. The battle for fish in the Palk Bay has often ended in Indian fishermen being attacked by Sri Lankan Navy for “transgressing” into their waters.The BJP, which is yet to make major inroads in Tamil Nadu, feels a “solution” to the long-standing issue will give the party the much-needed momentum ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls and provide a chance to get into the Tamil psyche. Political analysts feel that it might also allow the BJP to needle the DMK and the Congress by pointing out that it has restored the rights “surrendered by them,” to Tamil fishermen

Senior journalist and Lanka expert R Bhagwan Singh said: “If BJP succeeds in its efforts, it will certainly help the saffron party in the coming elections.”

But a source said the move will “take time”. “We don’t want to rush and create an impression we are forcing Sri Lanka. We will take it slow. We will take every stakeholder into confidence and reach an amicable settlement with Sri Lanka. All we want to do is restore traditional rights of our fishermen,” the source said.CM Stalin also raised the issue at an event on Thursday, telling Modi that this is the “right time” to retrieve Katchatheevu.

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