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Should Sri Lanka engage a LNG floating regassification vessel for electric power?



Part 3

What are the Health Safety Security and Environment (HSSE) requirements? What are the key insurance requirements?

What are the legal complexities and the means of resolving disputes?

What are the risks to the Sri Lankan Tax payer?

This Part 3 is largely in response to questions raised via email by readers of Parts 1 and 2.

Nalin Gunasekera

has spent 40 years in the offshore oil and gas industry with Royal Dutch/Shell, Mitsui and Mitsubishi, global leaders in leasing vessels and in the LNG business. His experience has been in Australia, NZ, South East Asia, PRC, West Africa and South America. The writer trained in Engineering in University of Ceylon and was a post graduate Colombo Plan scholar at University College London and is the recipient of Anniversary Technical Excellence Award from Shell for project recognised as a ‘market trend setter’.

What are the Health Safety Security and Environment (HSSE) requirements?

Safety and security are always major concerns to those unfamiliar with such installations.

Offshore installations such as FSRUs are regulated by various authorities who have jurisdiction over them. These are subjected to regulation and standardization by the coastal state GOSL, flag state, class (Classification Society), international and national standardization bodies and maritime regulators such as IMO, MARPOL, SOLAS and their regional directives. In view of the floating nature of the FSRU there are several parties involved, whose relationships should be clearly understood.

A Classification Society

is an independent, impartial, technical organization that establishes and administers standards, known as the Rules, for the design, construction and periodic survey of ships, offshore structures including floating systems and their facilities. Their principal concern is safety of the facilities and its personnel. Classification is the process of verifying compliance to their prescriptive Rules. It is often a prerequisite for obtaining insurance, fulfilling regulatory requirements or may be voluntarily elected as a means of demonstrating due diligence or as a component part of project quality assurance. Classification societies are empowered to act on behalf of national authorities in a number of aspects in most countries. This is because most countries do not have specific rules, design codes and standards specific for such specialised offshore installations. The FSRU will be classed by the likes of Lloyds, DNV-GL, ABS or Bureau Veritas.

It was noted during a presentation by the writer in about 2018 in Colombo that there are no items classified by Class Society that were then in operation in SL (as reported by the then Lloyds Register representative in SL). This reflects the poor adherence to international standards by the agencies of GOSL, by not mandating even basic industry practices.

A Flag State Authority

is the regulatory authority of the government of the state whose flag a vessel is entitled to fly. Flagging of the FSRU is not mandatory should the vessel not be in transit, however most countries that do not have codes and standards for offshore installations register the vessels in a port of registry. Usually, the vessel carrying a flag of convenience offers the vessel as collateral for financing purposes, which is an important factor in securing bids in a tender. The Flag State also prescribes safety measures. The term ‘’ describes the business practice of a in a country other than that of the ship’s owners, and flying that state’s on the ship. Ships may be registered under flags of convenience to reduce operating costs by avoiding regulations, inspection and scrutiny by the owner’s country. Normally the nationality (i.e. flag) of the ship determines the taxing jurisdiction. The Flag State has the and responsibility to enforce regulations over registered under its flag, including those relating to inspection, certification, and issuance of and prevention documents. As a ship operates under the laws of its flag state, these laws are applicable if the ship is involved in an such as maritime and nautical issues and disputes. This should be understood by agencies of GOSL.

Coastal State

is Sri Lanka. The regulatory authorities of GOSL exercise administrative control over the waters and seabed in which the FSRU is operating.

The relationships, requirements, and responsibilities between them are complex and not easily understood. This is because of (a) the number of regulatory authorities that may have jurisdiction on a particular project, (b) differences in scope and content of the regulatory systems in different countries (and to a lesser extent the Flag states) (c) the fact that few regulatory authorities have adopted their requirements to specifically address FSRUs.

In the writer’s experience, the scope and certification the classification society is empowered to perform are different for each flag and coastal state authority involved on a particular project as well as for different types of floating systems. Based on the writer’s experience in a number of countries, it is essential to identify and define, as early in the project as possible, all the relevant regulatory jurisdictions and requirements and to identify any unique technical and jurisdictional issues for early resolution with the Classification Society and the relevant regulatory authorities. The classification societies assist in defining these areas and resolving interpretations of relevant technical requirements, when engaged for this purpose, then report to all parties.

Gas leaks and subsequent explosions are not like oil leaks. Oil leaks pose relatively minor risks. Gas explosions engulf the entire region, when the flammable gas is under pressure. In a few seconds the explosion could destroy the entire infrastructure and the results are catastrophic. If the FSRU is to be located at the entry to the port, this could pose the threat of destruction to the entire ports’ activities. FSRUs are now typically located well away from port activities, and in open water.

The natural gas is to be piped from the FSRU via offshore and land pipelines meeting stringent oil and gas industry practice requirements. Installation of natural gas lines on land in populated areas raises safety issues with natural gas leaks being highly volatile and a high fire and explosion risk. They are usually subject to NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) protests and have led to project cancellations and delays. Now they are subject to BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) constraints given the very high risk with gas lines, leading to catastrophic environmental disasters. The existing oil lines in the Colombo Port to Kolonnawa region are known to be poorly maintained, although leaking oil lines are exposed to a much lower level of risk. Proposals to run highly explosive natural gas lines in densely populated areas should expect louder protests than those during the Port City project. An option for GOSL to avoid high levels of risk in densely populated areas is to locate the FSRU in the vicinity of power generating plants in sparsely populated locations.

The fact that NFE would be responsible for the pipeline operation and maintenance (and not the GOSL/CEB) is a consolation given that NFE is concerned with their global reputation with their large operational portfolio where any failures would impact on their current and future broader business opportunities. Such operational records are closely monitored and reported by the industry and any failures will impact on insurance premiums as well, which concerns NFE. Sri Lanka has a poor duty of care record, an example being the emissions from coal-fired power generation which has led to mass protests.

ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security)

is a security measure put in place in response to the 9/11 attacks by the IMO (International Maritime Organization) as part of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention. With the continuing threat of terrorism, the FSRU is expected to provide ISPS security provisions. In the writer’s experience, measures in excess of the standard provisions may be sought, which are project specific. The residual threats to Sri Lanka from the civil war that ended in 2009 should be noted. Regrettably, the nation continues to face terrorism threats, with the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings being a tragic example.

FSRU will have a high focus on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process which is now mandatory for such projects. EIA is a process of evaluating the likely environmental impacts of a proposed project or development, considering inter-related socio-economic, cultural and human-health impacts, both beneficial and adverse.

An EIA will be carried out for the project as a tool used to identify the environmental, social and economic impacts prior to decision-making. This project has implications of the vessel being in the ocean in open water with a subsea pipeline as well as the pipeline on land via areas of high population density. Natural gas pipelines on land are always a concern and their operation and maintenance are covered by codes of practice such as by API and others. The EIA will identify the hazards and their mitigation of the complete installation, a risk analysis conducted, and methods of mitigation proposed. Today even the removal of the vessel is covered by EIA, in terms of what items are being left behind such as moorings and offshore structures.

The EIA to be carried out aims to predict environmental impacts at an early stage in project planning and design, find ways and means to reduce adverse impacts, shape the project to suit the local environment and present the predictions and options to decision-makers. By using EIA both environmental and economic benefits are achieved, such as reduced cost and time of project implementation and design, avoiding post project execution costs and in defining all the statutory consents required. The EIA reviews all hazards and their mitigation, assess and evaluate the impacts of the project and report the EIA including an Environment Management Plan and a non-technical summary for the general audience for public feedback and raise any concerns to be aired and resolved. The EIA should indicate whether the FSRU could provide the emergency response on a ‘stand-alone’ basis or with the support of facilities of SLPA or any other GOSL authority.

Safety systems continue to evolve as oil and gas operations become more challenging and they predominantly operate in a regime where the systems must meet requirements of prescribed standards. However, the legacy standards may not meet the requirements of highly complex industrial or technical systems such as offshore oil and gas installations in highly explosive environments where consequences of an accident can be catastrophic.

Thus, Safety Case is now being mandated by statutory authorities. Given the complexity of these operations most similar installations prescribe a Safety Case for these FSRUs. Major oil companies have mandated a Safety Case for all such installations since about 1995, which emerged from the Piper Alpha incident in 1988 with 167 fatalities. The writer has mandated a Safety Case for all the writer’s installations since about 2005. There have not been any reports of incidents where the facilities operated under a Safety Case regime. It is noteworthy that where major incidents with catastrophic events occurred, the facilities were not operating under a Safety Case regime, such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

A safety case is a document produced by the operator of a facility which:

Identifies the hazards and risks

Describes how the risks are managed and controlled

Describes the safety management system in place to ensure that controls are effectively and consistently applied.

Safety cases must be produced by the operator of an installation such as NFE. The principle here is that those who create the risk must manage it. It is the operators’ job to assess their processes, procedures, and systems to identify and evaluate risks and implement the appropriate controls, because the operator has the greatest in-depth knowledge of their installation. The Safety Case must identify the safety critical aspects of the facility, both technical and managerial. Analysis of disasters almost always show a combination of technical and managerial flaws which have led to the event occurring.

This is an excellent opportunity for countries such as Sri Lanka to be exposed to global HSSE practices rather than be lagging behind having no duty of care as evidenced in recent events. The writer’s insistence in mandating a Safety Case in the region has been appreciated long after the writer’s departure having an incident free record in their operations.

Notably an EIA was issued by Sojitz (Sojitz ref project 0443480) based on their proposal for an FSRU dated 21 Aug 2019, for public comment. Extensive comments were issued by the writer to GOSL, having been responsible for similar EIAs in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and Thailand. The comments were ignored by GOSL which appears to be a total lack of very basic duty of care to the public at large, which is a serious concern in exposing these high risk complex projects to the oversight of the GOSL representatives today. Such disregard by the government sets a dangerous precedent when GOSL’s agencies such as CEB is clamouring to undertake such complex projects, unaware of even the basics of this industry.

What are the key insurance requirements?

There are a host of insurance requirements, the key items being the following.

The installation will require to procure Protection and Indemnity insurance, more commonly known as P&I insurance, this is a form of mutual maritime insurance provided by a P&I Club. Whereas a company provides “hull and machinery” cover for shipowners, and cargo cover for cargo owners, a P&I Club provides cover for open-ended risks that traditional insurers are reluctant to insure. They are backed by a group of reinsurers who spread the risk. Typical P&I cover includes: a carrier’s third-party risks for damage caused to cargo during carriage; war risks; and risks of environmental damage such as oil spills and pollution and damages by any catastrophic event due to any explosion. P&I insurance for these offshore floating installations are now mandatory, which typically exceed about USD 400 mil. P&I insurance has been a serious omission in the recent CEB tenders. The importance of P&I insurance should be known after the recent X-Press Pearl disaster, a Singapore-flagged container ship that caught fire and sank north of Colombo, causing extensive environmental damage. The P&I insurance will indemnify and include wreck and debris removal and a pollution liability in respect of the FSRU.

The replacement value of the vessel will be covered under marine hull and machinery insurance.

There are occasions when Business Interruption insurance must be procured when (a) the performance of certain items in the facility cannot be guaranteed for the duration of the contract when only warranties apply (b) as a form of relaxing the terms of payment guarantees, and (c) as required by the bankers to guarantee their revenue stream.

Disproportionately high demobilisation and removal costs (often in excess of USD 50 million) are being incurred globally with these moored floating systems . Statutory authorities are planning to introduce trailing liabilities to hold previous owners liable for decommissioning costs if they sold ageing assets to new owners that lacked the financial and technical capacity to decommission the facilities. Such incidents have taken place where the taxpayer has to fund such expenses running into more than USD 100 million. Some form of insurance to cover such eventualities is now being proposed. The best example is in Australia where the removal cost has exceeded USD 200 million paid for by the tax payer in removing the vessel. See Northern Endeavour debacle hits $209M with much more to come

The insurance is procured via brokers to whom the attributes as such as Safety Case will be given credit to lower the premiums, given the lower risk exposure from the extensive analysis and the precautionary measures taken. Naturally the lower insurance premiums would be reflected in lower electricity prices.

The EIA will give an estimate of the above scope for P&I cover and the scope of the emergency response required. The EIA should indicate whether the FSRU could provide the emergency response on a ‘stand-alone’ basis or with the support of facilities of SLPA or any other GOSL authority. Often regional facilities available are considered when determining the emergency response, such as from India. It is hoped that minimum standards of insurance be covered in these projects as practiced elsewhere with the minimum cover stipulated, without burdening the taxpayer. The buck stops with the insurance companies.

What are the legal complexities and the means of resolving disputes?

These vessels operate typically under multiple jurisdictions some of which overlap, which are notoriously complex to understand. It is necessary to check Sri Lanka’s cabotage policy of permitting foreign flagged vessels operating in Sri Lanka’s waters. The FSRU will be foreign flagged as explained under HSSE above and offered as collateral to banks. The cabotage policy governs the operation of vessels between two places along coastal routes in the same country by a transport operator from another country, practised by many nations worldwide including developed nations. For some of these nations, it is so strictly implemented that no foreign-flagged vessels are even allowed to operate within their domestic waters for long periods. Obtaining waiver in some cases have involved seeking parliamentary approval in the host country should there be no precedent. In the writer’s experience the powerful maritime lobbies of host countries prevent foreign flagged vessels from operating in their waters and the employment of expatriate foreign personnel, in the operation of the FSRU. These may cause delays should there be no such precedent; the writer has faced such challenges elsewhere.

The vessel will be under the jurisdiction of the port of registry of a flag of convenience such as Liberia and Panama. Marshall Islands is becoming popular as a flag of convenience as explained under HSSE. As a ship operates under the laws of its flag state, their laws are applicable if the ship is involved in an such as maritime and nautical issues and disputes. Admiralty law or maritime law is a body of that governs nautical issues and private maritime disputes. This should be understood by GOSL, who has limited jurisdiction.

The governing law of the contract for the lease and supply of LNG and export of natural gas would not be based on laws of Sri Lanka. This is because these companies, banks and financiers who participate, do not have the time and resources to scrutinise Sri Lanka’s laws and usually laws of Sri Lanka do not apply to such contracts. Applicable laws familiar to the lawyers from these companies and banks such as the laws of UK, New York or Singapore are common in these transactions which have been proven over the years offering a good balance between the parties involved in transactions.

Usually, the expectation is that these disputes are eventually settled by arbitration outside the host country such as in London, via London Maritime Arbitrators Association. Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) is becoming increasingly popular for disputes arising from leased FSRU type vessels. Singapore has well trained lawyers involved in drafting these contracts known to the writer. Several cases have been assigned to SIAC since these vessels are also typically converted in Singapore shipyards and Singapore’s banks are also involved in syndicate financing. A record of present case studies are available to settle disputes. Several banks who provide equity finance and debt finance for these projects in the region are in Singapore and their disputes have been settled via SIAC.

What are the risks to the Sri Lankan Tax payer including the ‘end-of-life-burden’?

One of the great risks from CEB’s tender is in separating the FSRU contractor from the pipeline contractor. Unforeseen delays with pipeline installations are common. Offshore installations rarely run-on schedule, with some being delayed by six months or more being extremely sensitive to weather downtime in Sri Lanka, which is subject to monsoons. Further delays in laying gas pipelines across high density populated areas are extremely likely with land acquisition issues, environmental protests by politicians and the public. Usually, FSRUs are delivered on time, within 22 months, with similar conversions gained over more than 100 conversions in Singapore, where the writer has worked since 1994. FSRU suppliers wish to have their revenue stream early from the date of award of contract and would impose liquidated damages for any delay in pipeline delivery, whilst unable to supply regassified LNG. This could be of the order of USD 150,000 to 200,000/day for six months coming from the taxpayer’s account.

Usually the installation of FSRU and the offshore pipeline would be undertaken by the same contractor, which would not be the case with separate contractors as with CEB’s tender. These mobilisations/demobilisations could be of the order of USD 10 mil, which could have been saved, if performed by the same contactor as proposed by NFE.

The above are the advantages of a single point responsibility as proposed by NFE versus CEB’s attempt to separate the tenders where CEB would be responsible for the interface, with CEB lacking any exposure, inter alia, to any form of offshore oil and gas industry standards, codes, practices, industry norms, risks, Classification Society rules, insurance

requirements, offshore health, safety, security, and environmental practices.

There has been a trend to contract an overall tolling rate where payment is on the basis of LNG regassified and is expressed as $/mmbtu (million BTU). However, the actual rate will be dependent on the terminal utilisation (load factor). The utilisation cannot be determined accurately without carrying out detailed met ocean studies which should be (a) acceptable to a Classification Society and (b) acceptable to by Insurance companies. Usually utilisation could be of the order of 50%, which would double the actual rate. QED Consulting quotes estimated tolling rates (tariffs) in the range $0.60-0.94/mmbtu based on a 50% load factor. The contract with Excelerate for the Puerto Rico FSRU Aguirre terminal states $0.47/mmbtu. The rate for the first Bangladesh terminal is also stated to be $0.47/mmbtu. For the second Bangladesh terminal $0.45 has been stated. Assuming a 50% load factor the actual rates will again be around $1/mmbtu. The above rates are based on studies carried out by Oxford Institute of Energy Studies.

CEB lacking any exposure to highly specialised offshore oil and gas business and taking responsibility for the complex contractual and technical interface between the pipeline and FSRU would be a monumental disaster in the making. NFE poses no such interface risks with a single point responsibility for the whole project.

The removal costs of the FSRU could be of the order of USD 50 million as a minimum, could even well exceed USD 200 million, which is a significant ‘end-of-life-burden’ to the taxpayer. Its mitigation via insurance and relevant contractual obligations are noted above.

FSRUs are generally leased for longer periods than 10 years proposed by CEB for the vessel, examples being Lumpung Indonesia 20 years, Grace Columbia 20 years, Bahrain FSU 20 years, Armada Mediterrana Malta 18 years, Punta-de-Sayag, Uruguay 20 years, Port Qasim-3, Pakistan 20+5+5 years. Amortising the vessel in 10 years incurs a higher lease rate for the vessel depreciated over a shorter term, incurring a higher charge to GOSL. The short lease period exposes a lower period of depreciation of the vessel for amortisation with a higher lease rate, with a higher cost of electricity payable by the taxpayer.

CEB’s tender has omitted both Bureau Veritas who has classed 17 FSRUs worldwide and ABS and included only Lloyds and DNV. Such omission could cost the taxpayer in change of class of a vessel when converting a candidate vessel and reflects preferential treatment in a open tender.

It is questionable whether GOSL/CEB would be in a position to ‘take over’ the FSRU operations, for which a highly specialised skills set is required and a competency audit in the form of due diligence to secure P&I insurance.

Typically, these FSRU projects are leased, operated and removed by the vessel owner, particularly in countries such as Sri Lanka, which is incapable of running even a very basic coal generation plant without interruption. Sri Lanka could well be left with an inoperable facility of negative value such as the Urea Fertiliser Plant which was sold as scrap soon after start up. FSRU is cutting edge technology. GOSL is taking unnecessary risks in placing CEB to undertake this project, unlike NFE taking responsibility for the entire project. NFE has inherited the portfolio of the previous owner GOLAR who pioneered this industry in 2009, it comes with a wealth of experience.

The Urea Fertiliser Project was a multibillion rupee project which was sold as scrap soon after starting. Ronnie de Mel, then Minister of Finance and Planning, said in an address to Parliament on 21 December 1977: “We propose to introduce legislation very soon to make chairmen and directors of corporations personally liable for their actions in those corporations. They will make it a point to study their projects a little more carefully when they know that they will be personally held liable and that they will be charged and surcharged for any losses or lapses on their part.”

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Foreign exchange, foreign policy, and economic roundtables



by Uditha Devapriya

Sri Lanka’s Central Bank will be settling a USD 500 million bond the day after tomorrow. Earlier this month, Ajith Nivard Cabraal tweeted that the Bank had set aside the required amount from its foreign reserves, reiterating the country’s commitment to honouring its debt obligations. Perhaps in response to this development, bondholders appear to have regained confidence about our prospects: latest figures show that bond market prices are converging with face value, though this may well be a temporary gain.

The January 18 settlement is the first of two that will have to be made to our International Sovereign Bond (ISB) holders this year. The second, amounting to USD one billion, is due on July 25. The Central Bank’s strategy is one of doubling down on these debt obligations while renegotiating loans from other governments. This strategy isn’t as muddled up as it is made to be by its critics: unlike governments, ISB holders don’t negotiate, and if they are asked to, it’s usually on the eve of a default or severe economic crisis.

In strategising a way out, then, the Central Bank has identified its priorities: it will pay up on its ISB commitments and devote foreign exchange to little else.

It’s difficult to predict how that will affect our foreign relations in the longer term. The country is presently governed by a party that promised never to sell or lease out its assets. Yet, today, officials are travelling everywhere, negotiating with this government and that, hoping for more lifelines. We have clearly exhausted other options: we can’t raise anything from bond auctions, and we are rejecting the IMF line. Since governments are easier to talk with, we are hence talking with as many of them as possible. It’s doubtful whether this is the only option available, but it’s probably the best shot we can give.

In giving that shot, however, are we exposing ourselves to the pressures of regional and extra-regional power pressures? Consider the countries we have gone to so far: Oman, China, and India. Negotiations with India have been successful, with Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar stating that Delhi is ready to stand with Sri Lanka. Though his government has remained quiet over requests for credit lines, these may well come our way.

On the other hand, Beijing has responded to Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s call to Foreign Minister Wang Yi to restructure its debts, with Cabraal declaring that a new loan is on the blocks. As for Oman, though negotiations have stalled over requests to explore the Mannar Oil Basin in return for interest-free credit, this too is a window that remains open.

These developments are, all things considered, intriguing. In the face of the worst global health crisis in over a century, our foreign policy has taken a massive beating. The fertiliser imbroglio with China and the withdrawal of Chinese projects from the North over alleged Indian pressure, as well as the visit of the Chinese Ambassador to the North, are cases in point here. All these point to an increasingly complicated foreign policy front. The question is, will the country’s foreign exchange problems complicate it even more?

Perhaps more so than the 1970s, when it faced a severe balance of payments crisis, Sri Lanka is gradually giving way to a foreign policy dictated by depleting foreign reserves. The administration’s dismissal of W. D. Lakshman and appointment of Cabraal, in that regard, accompanied a shift of focus, during the fourth quarter of last year, to the country’s foreign exchange situation. This has spilled over to our external relations.

Here the Central Bank has had to reckon with a contradiction: between its insistence on not going to the IMF and its assurances about meeting ISB obligations. Though it’s debatable whether the Bank has addressed, let alone resolved, that contradiction, it’s clearly making use of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy to pay bondholders their due.

For their part, economic experts have shifted in their response to what the government is doing. While earlier they warned about impending defaults, now many of them have turned to questioning the current policy of repaying bondholders no matter what.

Nishan de Mel of Verité Research, for instance, points out correctly that defaulting is not the same thing as declaring bankruptcy. Suggesting that the former is preferable, he contends that the government should do what it can to renegotiate its debts. On the other hand, as Dushni Weerakoon of the IPS rightly observes, restructuring debt may be easy for a country with a reputation for defaults, like Ecuador, but it is unviable, lengthy, and costly, at least in the short and medium term, for a country like Sri Lanka.

What of the IMF line? It’s obvious that Sri Lanka can no longer negotiate for more breathing space from the IMF without conditionalities being imposed on it. The only way it can obtain such space, in other words, is by succumbing to those conditionalities.

Now, defenders of the IMF line may argue, justifiably, that there’s no give without take, and that if we go to that body we will have to eat humble pie, gratefully. But the question to ask here is, who are we asking to take on these burdens? Who are we asking to endure more of the same? Have IMF advocates considered these problems?

The IMF is not a charity: it has provided financial assistance to almost 90 countries on condition that fiscal discipline be enforced in the long term. If we go down that road, we will need to give back something, like public sector retrenchment and fuel price formulas. These have generated enough backlashes elsewhere. Are we ready to risk them here?

So long as the government fears an uprising from the people, it will not choose the IMF line. To say this is not to defend the powers that be. They have contributed to the mess we are in. But to admit to that is not to deny that, whatever that mess may be, to opt for structural adjustment, when social pressures are peaking, would be politically inadvisable.

That is why Basil Rajapaksa’s billion rupee economic relief package, tabled earlier this month despite much criticism, is intriguing: among other things, it promises a LKR 5,000 allowance to 1.5 million government workers, pensioners, and disabled soldiers. Its underlying thrust is not less money, but more: not spending cuts, but spending hikes.

The urban and suburban middle-classes have responded to the package with characteristic ambivalence. While demanding for relief from the government, they are also questioning the efficacy of printing money. What they have failed to realise is that that printing money is the only resort the government has to grant the kind of relief being demanded. It’s a classic either/or scenario: you get the relief with printed money, or you don’t.

Though economists don’t spell it out exactly in these terms, they do observe that printing money can only lead to greater inflation, implying that the only alternative is to stop doing so. But what are the socio-political costs of such measures? What are the knock-on effects they will have on economic relief for the masses? To ask these questions is not to split hairs, but to raise valid concerns that have not been addressed by the other side.

That is not to say that the government’s measures have been farsighted. They have not. Though Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) policies, which the regime is advocating, may get us space in the short term, it is not the type of reform we should be enacting in the longer term. The policies we need require radical reform and radical action. However viable it may be, printing money should not be considered a substitute for such reform.

To suggest one option, one of Sri Lanka’s most brilliant economists, Howard Nicholas, has advised that we industrialise, noting that the historical record has been better for countries which opted to do so. The example of Vietnam shows how even a sector like textiles can be used to propel industrialisation. That is an example Sri Lanka under Ranasinghe Premadasa followed, at least according to Dr Nicholas, but it is one we have since abandoned, in favour of orthodox prescriptions of fiscal consolidation and untrammelled privatisation.

Sri Lanka needs to consider these options without caving into stopgap measures and orthodox alternatives. How do we do that? As Dayan Jayatilleka suggested some time ago, we should convene an economic roundtable. Such a roundtable will likely prevent economic discussions from becoming a monopoly of elites, thereby helping the government, and the opposition, to align the interests of the economy with the interests of the masses.

This has been a long time coming. Both the government and the opposition have tended to view economic priorities as distinct from other socio-political concerns. Yet the two remain very much interlinked. In that sense, caving into economic orthodoxy while ignoring social reality would be detrimental to the future of the country and the plight of its people. To this end, we need to think of alternatives, and fast. But have we, and are we?

The writer can be reached at

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Lanka has always supported the one-China policy unconditionally – Dr Kohona



CGTN interview with Lankan ambassador to China

2022 marks the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Sri Lanka. To know more about the development of that relationship, CGTN reporter Su Yuting sat down with Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to China Palitha Kohona.

Kohona said the relationship between China and Sri Lanka is very warm and is built on a solid foundation, adding that it is a relationship that has lasted over 2,000 years. Sri Lanka and China have moved closer to each other in recent times, and the two countries have supported each other at multilateral fora on many occasions.

Sri Lanka was one of the first countries to recognize the newly established People’s Republic of China and the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1957.

“Sri Lanka has always supported the one-China policy unconditionally and was a vocal advocate of China’s readmission to the United Nations. So, it could be said that the relationship between two countries is on a very solid foundation,” said the ambassador.

CGTN: Sri Lanka is one of the important countries along the route of the Belt and Road Initiative. What are your expectations for future cooperation in this regard?

Kohona: Sri Lanka has warmly welcomed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It has also benefited from BRI-related investments. The Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port with its adjoining industrial zone resulted from the Belt and Road Initiative. We are now seeking more investments from China, for the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port area. These investments should be a catalyst for businesses from other countries and regions for the Colombo Port City and the Hambantota Port. The BRI is expected to result in $4-8 trillion of investments. Some countries and regions are already doing extremely well economically as a result of the BRI investments. For example, African countries. Sri Lanka looks forward to more BRI-related investments. With judicious management of such investments, Sri Lanka should also be able to share in the future of common prosperity envisaged under the BRI.

CGTN: Sri Lanka is one of the five countries Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is visiting at the start of the year. What’s the significance of this trip and what outcomes do you expect from it?

Kohona: Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit is the first visit undertaken this year. This by itself is significant. We believe that he will discuss a range of matters of mutual interest. China has been extremely helpful to Sri Lanka in managing its current financial difficulties. It is expected that during the visit, the parties will discuss enhancing Chinese investments in Sri Lanka and encouraging a larger number of Chinese tourists to visit Sri Lanka once the pandemic-related restrictions are relaxed. Sri Lanka is hoping that China and Sri Lanka would be able to create a bubble for Chinese tourists to visit Sri Lanka. Furthermore, we hope that more Sri Lankan products, agricultural, fisheries and industrial (goods) would be able to gain access to China’s lucrative market.

CGTN: How has China contributed to Sri Lanka’s fight against COVID-19?

Kohona: China has been the main supplier of vaccines to Sri Lanka. Three million doses were gifted to Sri Lanka by China and 24 million were supplied commercially. Sri Lanka is currently managing the COVID-19 pandemic reasonably well. It is largely due to the use of the Chinese Sinopharm (vaccine) that Sri Lanka has been able to achieve this level of success in managing the pandemic. We are currently talking to Sinopharm about the possibility of establishing a vaccine plant in Sri Lanka. We Sri Lankans will remember the Chinese generosity for many years to come.

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The international plot to force Sri Lanka into the USA’s trap is thickening




With the dawn of the Year 2022 I wish you all happiness, good health, and fulfillment of your needs and targets. But I cannot wish you prosperity, because only the rich are enjoying that privilege. The maximum tax on the rich including multi billionaires still remains at 14%. The average maximum in Europe is 40% while that in Scandinavian country is over 50%. Thus it is clear that the burden of the present economic crisis is being placed on all the people including the poor, but not on the rich.

The economic crisis according to MRI reports has forced over 50% of family incomes to drop below the poverty line. The malnutrition rate has gone up to 18.3% (which means that one in five children under five years of age will be thin, stunted and mentally deficient, while the others too will be adversely affected to various degrees). While hunger and starvation is the immediate impact, the future generations too will suffer badly. Therefore my wish for the New Year is that the Government will identify all those who are hungry and ensure that these families get free dry rations to prevent the spectre of starvation. This must be the priority. Highways and some development projects can wait.

This was the change that the people expected after this new Government was put into power with a huge majority, in Parliament. Daily the people are getting more and more angry in the face of their plight due to the steeply rising price of goods and gross mismanagement of the economy. While we welcome the package of relief measures provided by the Finance Minister to usher in the New Year, we regret that it has been given only to a small section of the population (for instance the government servants, but here too it is not clear even whether this will be confined to permanent employees alone or whether it will be inclusive of all temporary employees as well).

This type of uncertainty also applies to other recipients of the package. The large majority of the people employed in the private sector are not benefited. Even the Samurdhi recipients who are really the needy group are only getting an increase of Rs.1,000/-. Sixty percent of the employees are in the informal sector and they too are left out. Majority of those working in the plantation sector are yet to receive the Rs.1,000/- pay rise, thus flouting agreements arrived between the Government and the companies, together with the unions. But the basic cause of the economic difficulties faced by the people, the steep rise in the prices of all goods including essentials, has not been addressed.

The international plot that I referred to in an earlier article seems to be getting implemented with the rapid explosion of the forex (dollar) crisis. The Foreign Reserve has fallen to USD 1.6 billion from its normal value of around USD eight billion. The import through Letters of Credit (LCs) has now become impossible, specially after Fitch Rating dowgraded us to CC. This low rating has convinced the world that we are a poor risk country for Foreign Direct Investments (FDI). There is even a danger that there may be a shortage of essentials, like medicines and food items.

The poor state of the country and the people which is due to the economic crisis and the pandemic, is exerting a huge pressure on the economy and its hope of revival. The pressure to return to the post 1977 neoliberal policies which led to our economy facing the danger of an American takeover with its conversion into a military base during the period of the Yahapalanaya Government rule has now emerged with greater force. The dollar crisis and the collapse of the economy is forcing Sri Lanka to go on bended knee to the IMF and accept their neoliberal terms. In this context the present Government which resisted going to the IMF as well as the pressure to sign the disastrous MCC and SOFA agreements may be forced to give in. This must not be allowed to happen.

During the most severe economic crisis that occurred in 1972-73 the above problems which are mainly due to the uncontrolled profiteering by unscrupulous traders and others such as big mill owners was tackled by the SLFP/LSSP/CP coalition by expanding and strengthening the cooperative movement. Direct dealings between the producer via multi-purpose cooperatives, inclusive of the small farmers, and the consumers, through the consumer cooperatives minimized profiteering by the middleman. This not only ensured low prices to the consumer, specially of essentials, but also a fair farm gate price to the cultivator.

The LSSP again appeals to the Government to revive the cooperative movement and other Government agencies like the Marketing Department and Paddy Marketing Board. The other major factor responsible for the price rise is the problem of inflation. Inflation which had increased to 9.9% in November 2021 rose steeply in one month to 12.1% in December. This is largely due to the printing of currency notes which has reached massive proportions. For instance in October 2021 the Central Bank printed Rs.130 Billion (equal to USD 65,000,000 ) but this is only the tip of the iceberg. From December 2019 to August 2021 Sri Lanka’s debt increased by Rs.2.8 Trillion – a massive 42%. The claim that this was to maintain a low interest rate is advanced but whether it is correct is questionable. If correct it may help the entrepreneur but it is a severe blow to those who depend on interest from their saving deposits to survive, like government pensioners and other retired persons in the private sector.

Another factor is the drop in the availability of vegetables, fruits and rice mainly due to the lack of chemical inputs. The latter will really be an important factor after the February/March harvest. Which is likely to be, according to some estimate, 30% below the normal average. But the price of vegetables and fruits which are generally harvested at two monthly intervals has been badly affected by the lack of chemical fertilizers and other inputs. This in turn has led to the middleman seeking to retain his profits in the context of the drop in the supply of vegetables and fruits. There is a chain of exploitation by traders which spreads from the farmer to the Dambulla market, then the Manning market and from there to the economic zones and finally to the boutiques.

During the 1970’s crisis this chain of exploitation was eliminated through the Marketing Department, which should be restored and strengthened.

The gradual shift to organic agriculture is both the short term and the long term answer. This process requires time and a planned scientific approach. The seed varieties which were suitable for chemical agriculture must be replaced by indigenous natural varieties improved through further research. It is necessary to ensure that all the inputs like Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium etc. are freely available for organic farming. Nano particles with 43% Nitrogen have been developed by the SLINTEC Nano Technology Centre. Pilot studies have been successful with both rice and tea.

The large scale production requires considerable investment and a private-public partnership should be achieved. The phosphorous should be converted into triple phosphate by establishing a long felt need – a sulphuric acid plant which must be set up soon. This would also lead to the chemical industrialization of the country. Potassium can be a local product at village level as well as provided by a larger scale industry utilizing plantain trees and leaves once the fruits are plucked. The promotion of the poultry industry will increase production of egg shells which could be the source of Calcium. Few items like Magnesium may need to be imported. Once these inputs are available organic farming can take off with practically no dependence on imports.

While the above measures should help Sri Lanka attain self-sufficiency in food a major weakness is the lack of industrial development. Well before States like Andra Pradesh in India captured the digital software market, Sri Lanka had the opportunity to go ahead of India, but this opportunity was unfortunately missed (a loss of USD 7-8 Billion) due to bureaucratic bungling. Nevertheless local players like Virtusa and HCL Technologies have grown and could be followed by others. The Vidatha movement which I happened to initiate can be developed to a greater extent to provide the science and technology required by the SME sector.

I am happy to learn, that beside finding a wide local market, over a thousand products are now being exported. The hi-tech institutes like SLINTEC and SLIBTEC which I initiated as centers of research and development have unfortunately veered towards playing an educational role. It is important that they should be the source of research for hi-tech industries that can effectively compete in foreign markets. In this way Sri Lanka can become not only self-sufficient in agriculture for food, as well as a centre for commercial agriculture, but it can also become a developed economy with greatly expanded export capability. This is the way out of the present “sinister” crisis which threatens our future. We can remain a truly independent sovereign nation which is no longer a poor country, but become a developed industrialized nation.

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