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Moody’s downgrade ‘unwarranted, erroneous suggesting reckless reaction’

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Government wades into battle with facts, figures and projections

In an extraordinary hard-hitting rejoinder to Moody’s downgrade of their Sri Lanka rating from B2 to Caa1 with a stable outlook, the Ministry of Finance, State Ministry of Money, Capital Markets and Public Enterprise Reforms (headed by former Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal) and the Central Bank accused the well-known rating agency of an “unwarranted and erroneous” finding that suggests a “reckless reaction.”

It said that “instead of understanding the economic turnaround as well as awaiting the Budget that is due in November, the downgrade of SL at the beginning of the Economic Revival is inexplicable.”

“This hasty rating action seems similar to the previous premature and reckless downgrades by rating agencies in the immediate aftermath of the ending of the internal conflict in 2009 and during the political impasse at the end of 2018. In both instances, the rating actions were proven to be hasty and erroneous, and those actions only resulted in several investors suffering unnecessary loses and missing out on emerging opportunities.”

“Moody’s rating downgrade fails to recognize and do justice to the ground reality of the ongoing rapid economic recovery backed by vastly improved business confidence arising from the return of political stability and policy stability after a lapse of five years,” the presentation said.

It went on to stress that Sri Lanka, like many of its peers in the emerging market group, experienced initial capital outflows, exchange rate depreciation, showdown in activity and pressure on government finances in response to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But, the swiftness with which decisions were taken followed by the landslide victory of the government, enabled Sri Lanka to move along a recovery path towards growth and stability,” it said.

Since May, merchandise exports had bounced back, and by July, had returned to pre-Covid monthly averages of USD one billion, the presentation supported by graphs and charts said.

It argued that SL recognized the probable external sector pressure early, and decisively curtailed non-essential imports in order to prioritize external debt service obligations. The cumulative trade deficit by end December is expected to be around only USD 5.8 billion, significantly down from USD eight billion the previous year.

“The savings on the import bill due to the curtailment of non-essential imports as well as significant reductions in the fuel import bill is expected to be over USD 2.0 billion,” the presentation said.

Discussing the vital tourism sector, it said that although inbound tourist movements are yet not possible given the global pandemic situation, other service exports, including IT services and shipping remain robust. It added that workers’ remittances have recorded a sharp increase in spite of the initial expectations of a slowdown and at current trends, “the cumulative decline in workers remittances is likely to be marginal, compared to previous expectations of a decline of 15%.”

On foreign direct investment, it admitted that FDI inflows had slowed, but the investment pipeline is strengthening. While FDI slowed in the first half of this year (from a peak of USD 2,000 billion in 2018), looking ahead prospects were promising particularly with expected inflows into the Port City project and for new manufacturing projects.

“The expected finalization of new legislation for the Port City within a month will result in the realization of investment by those who have already completed due diligence on such investment,” the presentation said. “Other expected investments include import alternative industries as well as investments by international financial institutions.”

“FDI inflows during 2020 are expected to be over USD 750 million, which is only about USD 400 million less that in 2019. At the start of the pandemic, FDIs were expected to be only around USD 300 million for the year 2020.”

The presentation further said that stock market indices have improved dramatically to pre-Covid levels and are likely to gain further momentum. Also, foreign inflows to the government securities market have already showed signs of resumption and according to initial responses, are likely to increase in the coming months, particularly in the wake of the attractive SWAP arrangements offered by the SL authorities.

With increased emphasis on domestic agriculture, agro-based industries and resource-based industries, domestic economic activities have turned around remarkably and recorded V-shaped recoveries. A bumper Yala crop was expected to follow the bumper Maha. Industrial production has rebounded, electricity generation is normalizing with greater reliance on hydropower generation and the construction sector has gradually gathered pace.

The exchange rate had appreciated sharply since mid-April and remains stable at appreciated levels, allowing the Central Bank to accumulate reserves through market purchases of foreign exchange. Foreign inflows following the Moody’s downgrade enabled the Central Bank to purchase USD 30 million from the forex market on Sept. 29.

The presentation further said that the Debt to GDP ration which increased in recent years is expected to improve in the medium term; that envisaged financing inflows for 2020 favours domestic markets and strategic foreign financing; and that foreign Treasury bills and bonds holdings are likely to attract a substantial volume of investments in coming months.

Other positives outlined includes that official reserves of CBSL had increased to USD 7.4 bn. by end August 2020; a policy environment facilitating high economic growth beyond the recovery stage while preserving macro-economic stability and a “deep and unwavering commitment to our investors.”



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Death threats won’t deter us – EC Chairman

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Nimal Punchihewa (Chairman ECSL) picture by PRIYAN DE SILVA
Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka Nimal Punchihewa told The Island that members of  the election commission won’t be deterred by death threats.
He said that members of the commission  M M Mohamed,  K P P Pathirana and S B Diwarathne have been repeatedly threatened and the police have not been able to apprehend the perpetrators.
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Three people dead after torrential rain in New Zealand

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At least three people have died due to flash flodding in Auckland (picture BBC)

BBC reported that at least three people have died and one is missing after New Zealand’s largest city experienced its “wettest day on record” on Friday.

Auckland is said to have received 75% of its usual summer rainfall in just 15 hours.

A local state of emergency was declared as authorities managed evacuations and widespread flooding.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins thanked emergency services for their swift response to the disaster.The new prime minister travelled to Auckland, where he also expressed his condolences to the loved ones of those who died in the floods.

“The loss of life underscores the sheer scale of this weather event and how quickly it turned tragic”, he said in a news conference on Saturday afternoon.

The downpour flooded the airport, shifted houses and resulted in power cuts to homes for hours.

New Zealand’s defence forces were mobilised to assist with evacuations and emergency shelters were set up across the city.

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Parliament prorogued on Friday night

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President says cabinet agreeable to fully implementing 13 A until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment

Parliament was prorogued from midnight Friday (27) by President Ranil Wickremesinghe under powers vested in him by Article 70 of the Constitution, parliamentary sources said on Friday.

The Department of Government Printing was due to issue the relevant notification on Friday night but it was not out as this edition went to print.However the President’ Media Division (PMD) confirmed the prorogation on Friday evening saying that President Wickremesinghe “is expected” to make a policy statement based on the decisions taken after the 75th Independence anniversary when parliament recommences on Feb.8.

A separate bulletin said that the president had informed the party leaders Conference on Reconciliation that the cabinet was agreeable to “fully implementing (the) 13th Amendment until party leaders decide whether or not to abolish the Amendment.”

Parliamentary sources explained that a prorogation which is a temporary recess of parliament, should not extend to a period of more than two months, However, such date for summoning parliament may be advanced by another presidential proclamation provided it is summoned for a date not less than three days from the date of such fresh proclamation.

Political observers believe that the prorogation is related to the president’s effort to secure as wide a consensus as possible on the National Question. They dismissed speculation that it is related to the scheduled local elections. This issue was clarified by the PMD bulletin.

When parliament is prorogued, the proclamation should notify the date of the commencement of the new session of parliament under Article 70 of the Constitution.During the prorogation the speaker continues to function and MPs retain their membership of the legislature even though they do not attend meetings of the House.

The effect of a prorogation is to suspend all current business before the House and all proceedings pending at the time are quashed except impeachments.A Bill, motion or question of the same substance cannot be introduced for a second time during the same session. However, it could be carried forward at a subsequent session after a prorogation.

“All matters which having been duly brought before parliament, have not been disposed of at the time of the prorogation, may be proceeded with during the next session,” states the paragraph (4) of article 70 of the constitution.

In the light of this constitutional provision, a prorogation does not result in an end to pending business. Thus, a pending matter may be proceeded with from that stage onwards after the commencement of the new session.

At the beginning of a new session all items of business which were in the order paper need to be re-listed, if it is desired to continue with them.At the end of a prorogation a new session begins and is ceremonially declared open by the president.

He is empowered under the constitution to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each session of parliament and to preside at ceremonial sittings of parliament in terms of the provisions of paragraph (2) of article 33 of the constitution.The president is empowered to make a statement of government policy at the commencement of each new session. In the past, it was known as the Throne Speech which was delivered by the Governor-General.

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