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Slump in imports trigger surge in coconut oil prices

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By Suresh Perera

With the drastic drop in imports, coconut oil prices in the market have surged to a new high as local production is grossly insufficient to meet the annual consumption of around 200,000 metric tons, industry officials said.

In 2020, local coconut oil production was a negligible 20,000MT, which translated into a yawning gap that had to be bridged by importing 180,000MT, they said.

“This has been the position over the past few years as dominant imports dwarfed local supplies”, they pointed out.

The ban on the import of palm oil has also compounded the issue as customers will now have to depend wholly on coconut oil resulting in inevitable pressure on the demand curve, they pointed out.

Prices have soared with a 750ml bottle of coconut oil fetching Rs. 550-600 in the local market, they said, while predicting the upward trend to continue due to short supply.

The local production of coconut oil fell by the wayside as high prices of nuts was a challenge to compete with imports, says M. L. D. Niroshana, Director-General of the Coconut Development Authority.

On an average price of Rs. 85 each, it requires nine to ten nuts to extract a litre of coconut oil, and they need to sell a 750ml bottle for around Rs. 500 to make a small profit. However, this was not feasible when imports were available at a more competitive price, he noted.

Earlier, a 750ml bottle of coconut oil was selling at anything between Rs. 320-380. With the slump in imports following the aflatoxins controversy, prices have zoomed as supply can no longer meet the demand, market sources said.

Consignments of palm oil imported before the ban was announced are still available in the marketplace, but after existing stocks are lapped up, there will be more pressure exerted on the demand for coconut oil that’s bound to see prices going through the roof, they warned.

“Market forces are at play because there existed a big gap between imports and local production of coconut oil. With many importers now reluctant to order fresh stocks due to uncertainty over contamination fears, and coupled with the ban on palm oil, the market is grappling with the demand for this essential consumer commodity”, Niroshana outlined.

Sri Lanka’s production in 2020 was 2,760 million nuts, which fell short of the 3,000 million target. The figure was envisaged to reach 3,600 million at peak. During October, November, December and January, there’s a shortage of nuts, but production picks up with an increase in yield during May-August.

“There is neither a short-term solution nor a question of expediting the production process as it takes 10 years for coconut trees to yield. The government grants a subsidy for fertilizer and water to growers in a bid to push up production”, Niroshana elaborated.

As in any business, private millers are also driven by profits. In the short-term, the price of nuts cannot be expected to dip to Rs. 35-45 each for millers to make a margin by selling coconut oil, the Director-General said.

As long as nut prices remain high, local coconut oil will also be costly as they go hand in hand, he pointed out. “More millers will be encouraged to take to extracting coconut oil if imports are limited and market conditions and prices are good”.

On the other hand, the export of copra is more lucrative as prices are attractive in foreign markets. This segment earned an export income of US$ 661 million in 2020, Niroshana further said.

In a bid to mitigate the ballooning prices in the market, the government has permitted only the state-owned BCC Lanka to import desiccated coconut up to a maximum of 13,000MT per month under a Special Commodity Levy (SCL) of one rupee per kilo, industry officials said.

On the recommendation of the Industries Ministry, the consignments will be allowed for a period of three months with effect from April 28, 2021, they said.

The stocks are likely to be imported from Indonesia instead of India because of the raging coronavirus pandemic there, they noted.

According to a Finance Ministry directive, a SCL of Rs. 300 per kilo will be imposed on importers of desiccated coconut.

Retail coconut prices still remain relatively high with each fetching anything between Rs. 85-100 depending on the size, market sources said.

A coconut grower in Nattandiya said the average farmgate price for nuts has now dropped to Rs. 50-55 each. In the case of small nuts, two are sold for the price of an average nut.

He said the average farmgate price was Rs. 75 each about one and a half months ago when retail market prices shot up to Rs. 100-125 per nut.

 

 



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Pandora Papers disclosure: Int’l cooperation essential to hold wrongdoers accountable – TISL

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Three RTI applications filed calling for information about asset declarations submitted by Nirupama Rajapaksa

Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) says international cooperation through diplomatic channels is essential to hold offshore enablers and asset destinations accountable.

TISL has said that in addition to a complaint filed with the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), three RTI (Right to Information) applications have been filed seeking asset declarations submitted by Nirupama Rajapaksa. TISL has also written to the FIU (Financial Investigation Unit) calling for immediate investigation into potential money laundering claims.

TISL has said in a media statement: “The Pandora Papers exposé provides clear evidence of how the offshore industry promotes corruption and demonstrates the importance of ensuring the transparency of beneficial ownership of entities. Particularly in Sri Lanka, the Pandora Papers refer to extensive assets held offshore by former Deputy Minister of Water Supply and Drainage, Nirupama Rajapaksa and her husband, Thirukumar Nadesan. TISL in its initial statement following the revelations, called on the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that independent investigations are carried out expeditiously into the revelations made by tPandora Papers. Since then, the President has called on the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption (CIABOC) to investigate the claims made by Pandora Papers.

TISL has taken several steps since the initial statement, pertaining to the revelations made by Pandora Papers.

One 07 October 2021, TISL filed a complaint with CIABOC, calling for an investigation into the alleged unexplained assets of the former Deputy Minister and her husband who has been identified as Politically Exposed Persons (PEP). TISL noted that the transactions revealed through this exposé could amount to offences under Section 23A of the Bribery Act, Section 4(1) of the CIABOC Act, and relevant provisions of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law, and requested the Commission to probe into the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Nirupama Rajapaksa relating to her tenure as a Member of Parliament. TISL requested CIABOC to investigate whether public funds have been embezzled and laundered to these foreign safe havens.

TISL also wrote to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka on 13th October, calling on them to coordinate with relevant law enforcement authorities at both local and international level to investigate potential money laundering allegedly committed by the former Member of Parliament and her spouse. The FIU, as the central independent body established in terms of the provisions of the Financial Transactions Reporting Act No. 06 of 2006 (FTRA), is empowered to facilitate the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offences related to money laundering and terrorist financing.

Through the letter TISL requested the FIU to take further steps to furnish the authorities with evidence, examining the financial transactions that have flowed in and out of Sri Lanka by coordinating with local and foreign financial institutions connected to these two individuals.

TISL has also filed three Right to Information Requests to the Elections Commission, Parliament of Sri Lanka and the Presidential Secretariat, calling for the Declarations of Assets and Liabilities of Nirupama Rajapaksa as an election candidate, Member of Parliament and Deputy Minister respectively

 The Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No 1 of 1975 makes it mandatory for Parliamentarians and senior public officials to annually submit a declaration of assets and liabilities, which includes the assets and liabilities of their spouse and dependent children. If the former Parliamentarian has not disclosed the overseas assets revealed through Pandora Papers, she will be in breach of the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law. Therefore, her asset declarations would be a key tool to identify whether the overseas assets of the deputy minister, her spouse and children revealed through Pandora Papers have been disclosed at the time.”

TISL Executive Director, Nadishani Perera, commenting on the matter stated “We urge the relevant authorities in the country to take immediate action to independently investigate the revelations made by Pandora Papers. It is important that the due process is followed without any interference, obstructions or delays. For the PEPs implicated, there remains a path to clearing their name, if they were to heed the call of the public by making the relevant asset declarations public. A thorough and impartial investigation will also bolster faith in the law enforcement agencies of the country and prove to be an important deterrent against perpetrators of white-collar crimes.”

The TISL Executive Director also noted that “while it is important to take stringent action to prevent foreign currency unlawfully flowing out of the country into secrecy jurisdictions, it is also imperative that countries like Sri Lanka take this issue up on a diplomatic level in order to ensure financial institutions in countries such as Singapore are also held accountable and that steps are taken to recover any proceeds of crime back to our country from these asset destinations.”

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German flight delay caused by pilot’s credit card problem, says AASL chief

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By Sirimanta Ratanasekera

Chairman of the Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka (AASL) Ltd, Maj Gen (Retd) G. A. Chandrasiri said that a false and malicious accusation had been levelled that the officials attached to the Bandaranaike International Airport had unnecessarily delayed a German charter flight that arrived at the airport for emergency landing with 226 passengers.

Maj Gen Chandrasiri denied the allegation.

A Condor flight with 226 passengers travelling from Germany to the Maldives made an emergency landing on 26 Sept at the BIA around 11.25 am due to inclement weather in the Maldivian air space.

However, when the flight attempted to leave Sri Lanka around 1 pm, officials of the German charter airline, Condor, faced delays of about one hour when paying landing fees, since their credit cards had not been activated to make international payments.

“Now some parties, with vested interests to tarnish the good name of our airport, are spreading false rumours that the credit machines at the airport were dysfunctional. This is a malicious accusation,” Maj Gen Chandrasiri said.

He said that a three-member committee, led by a President’s Counsel, had been appointed to conduct an investigation and he would receive the investigation report within two days.

Maj Gen Chandrasiri said that the German charter airline so far had not raised any issue or made any complaint in the incident. He said that the AASL would inform the Condor airline of the situation after he received the report.

“As at 2020 January, the BIA had been an airport catering to around 20,000 passengers daily. This came to a halt following the pandemic. Now, it is coming back to its former situation. It is at this juncture those with malicious interests try to tarnish our name. If the flight in question made a normal landing it would have been our responsibility but it was an emergency,” Maj Gen Chandrasiri said.

AASL Operational Director Shehan Sumanasekera said that there had been some false media reports about the incident. “I myself monitored the entire scenario from CCTV and made inquiries from relevant officials. There were no lapses on the part of the airport or officials. It was a problem with the credit cards of the pilots of the flight.

State Minister of Aviation and Export Zones Development DV Chanaka said that he too had called for a report on the matter, which is due to be submitted tomorrow.

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Verite shows how Lanka can achieve sustainable debt dynamics

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Verité Research, a private think tank that provides strategic analysis for Asia, hosted the online discussion Steering out of the Debt Crisis: Recipe for Budget 2022 on Oct 14. The event was anchored around addressing Sri Lanka’s debt and USD liquidity crisis, and featured presentations by Executive Director, Nishan de Mel, Research Director, Deshal de Mel, and Analyst Anushan Kapilan. An expert panel included Dr. Shantayanan Devaranjan (Georgetown University), Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe (former Senior Deputy Governor – CBSL) and Dr. Mick Moore (Institute of Development Studies – UK).

A press release issued by the think tank said: Verité Research presented analysis pertaining to debt management and fiscal measures, including specific proposals to increase government revenue and improve the allocation of expenditure.

The Verité Research analysis showed that Sri Lanka can achieve sustainable debt dynamics by meeting two conditions with regard to its domestic debt, and two further conditions with regard to its foreign debt. The presentation explained that, despite some challenges, achieving these conditions was feasible for Sri Lanka – provided policy-makers choose to do so.

The main challenges arise from poorly formulated fiscal/budget measures, coupled with the pandemic-induced setbacks which have resulted in successive downgrades of Sri Lanka’s credit ratings. As a result, Sri Lanka has been locked out of global capital markets, and rapidly depleted its foreign reserves, as it has continued to pay back foreign bondholders, at the expense of negative feedback on the local economy.

The Verité Research analysis showed that the worst is yet to come. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserve would be completely depleted by the end of 2022 if no surprise inflows materialise, and even if they did, the crisis would simply re-emerge in 2023. This means that even if Sri Lanka can claim to be technically solvent, it does not have the liquidity to sustainably pay back its foreign debt until the country credit rating is improved by at least two notches.

The current path of repaying debt offers a high return to bondholders at the expense of huge pain to domestic businesses and consumers, and makes the credit rating outlook even more precarious. The solution is to share the pain with bondholders by pre-emptively restructuring the debt. This can improve the foreign reserve position more quickly, and thereby improve the country’s credit rating more quickly as well. This alternative path is less painful to the local economy, offers a faster recovery, with a higher probability of success. It is a better path for the Sri Lankan economy than repaying foreign bondholders in full, even if it were able to do so.

A clear distinction needs to be made between a forced restructuring which would occur if a country were to default in a disorderly way without negotiating with creditors, and an orderly pre-emptive restructuring of debt following negotiations with creditors. The sooner Sri Lanka moves to an orderly pre-emptive debt restructure, the easier it would be to do so, and the more favourable it would be for the Sri Lankan economy. Delaying the decision is damaging and can result in outcomes that are highly disruptive.

Currently the primary deficit is at 7.4% of GDP. At the current GDP growth rate of a little under 4% (predicted by Verité Research), it is necessary to reduce the primary deficit to around 2% of GDP or less to help stabilise the debt.

The Verité Research analysis showed that in the base case scenario with no policy changes, the debt to GDP Ratio would increase to 123.08% by 2025, however with prudent fiscal measures it can be kept down to 108.8% by 2025.

The fiscal measures proposed included the reduction of the personal income threshold to LKR 1 Mn per Annum; the reintroduction of PAYE with a threshold of LKR 1.5Mn; reintroduction of WHT on interest income; increasing the VAT rate to 10% in 2022 and to 12% in 2023; reducing the VAT free thresholds from LKR 300 Mn to LKR 150 Mn in 2022; simplifying the corporate tax regime to a three-tier regime; and increasing the total taxes on cigarettes and alcohol in line with increases in inflation and GDP according to a tobacco taxation formula introduced in the 2019 budget.

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