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Sri Lanka urgently needs ‘National Consensus’ on deepening economic crisis, policy analysts and politicians say



From left: Dhananath Fernando COO Advocata Institute, Prof. Ranjith Bandara, MP SLPP, Dr.Suren Ragavan, MP SLPP/SLFP , Patali Champika Ranawaka, MP SJB, Dr. Harsha de Silva, MP SJB, Vijitha Herath, MP JVP and Sathya Karunarathna, Research Analyst - Advocata Institute.( Pix by Thushara Athapaththu)

The longer reforms are postponed, the worse the problem becomes which makes remedies even more difficult to implement

The only path out is for all parties, the government and the opposition to work together on a common minimum programme of reforms

The reforms are so difficult that no party will want to even contemplate let alone implement them fearing loss of popularity

Sri Lanka is already in one of the worst economic crises in its history

by Sanath Nanayakkare

We are no longer talking about a crisis that is about to engulf us. We are now in its midst, though not its depths. The hope that the 2022 Budget would give the right signals, has evaporated, Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, a leading policy analyst and an advisor of the Advocata Institute said, last week.

He made these comments at Advocata’s latest event , “A National Consensus for Economic Reforms or “ආර්ථිකයට ජාතික සම්මුතියක්?”.

Professor Samarajiva provided a breakdown of severe economic and social challenges facing the country. His keynote speech stressed on the importance of building a national consensus to implement immediate reforms to tackle a wide range of issues ranging from unsustainable debt to shortages of essential items in the country.

The present macroeconomic instability lies in the failure of the state to implement deep structural reforms to the economy for nearly twenty years. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed Sri Lanka’s fundamental weaknesses that have plagued the economy for a long period of time. The event brought together politicians representing the main political parties to discuss the importance of a united course of action, to drive Sri Lanka’s economy towards a path of growth.

Prof. Rohan Samarajiva, explained the seriousness of the crisis. “We cannot get out of the crisis without taking some bitter medicine. It is increasingly becoming clear that debt restructuring in the context of an IMF (International Monetary Fund) programme is essential. Unlike in previous IMF programmes, we cannot afford to abandon discipline at the earliest opportunity. Unless we own the reforms, we will keep falling back”. He said, stressing that what we need is a common minimum program of reform agreed by many. ” We need an attention-grabbing action that will credibly communicate the intentions of the national government. Divesting Sri Lankan Airlines on the same lines as Air India is a good candidate. The objective is to protect the taxpayers of this country from having to continually cover the losses of this technically bankrupt state-owned company”. He said, highlighting the importance of immediate measures to improve public finances. The national carrier Sri Lankan makes a daily loss of LKR 129.03 Million rupees. In the last four years of operation it has cost the economy 137 billion in the form of accumulated losses.

MP Vijitha Herath of the JJB, reflected on the need for a national consensus. He remarked that “the Sri Lankan economy is in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). We are right now using minor reforms to push back certain death. But we need surgery to help the patient”, highlighting the need for deep structural reforms. He further commented that there is space for all parties to come together and agree on such a programme of action for the benefit of the nation. However, he laid out conditions for this including the President shedding his executive powers for a collectively agreed upon period of time.

Prof. Ranjith Bandara, MP, SLPP commented that “We need to prioritise the issues we need to solve. We need to be policy consistent in the long term”. Highlighting another key aspect of policy reform to achieve long term stabilisation.

Trade reform is another area to boost productivity and achieve growth. Dr. Harsha De Silva elaborated on this aspect. “Import substitution mentality should be abandoned. We need to face and compete in the competitive international economy. We have been excluded from the global value chain because of our narrow mindset of import substitution and complete self sufficiency”.

Patali Champika Ranawakaa- MP, SJB, commented on the importance of energy sector reforms to address the present crisis. ” The power issue is the next crisis. If the rain dries out for 6 weeks then we are certainly headed to a big power crisis. Substitutes to generating electricity ( kerosene) are also scarce. This crisis could lead to a rift in society” highlighting the urgency of reforming the energy sector. Dr. Suren Ragavan- MP, SLPP, was of the opinion that ” We need national consensus which capitalises on the unique competencies and skills of the different communities” further emphasising on the need for national reconciliation to come out of the present economic crisis as one country shedding communal differences.

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‘HSBC’s Economic Forum shines a light on economic recovery’



The panel discussion with the Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, Frederic Neumann, HSBC’s Chief Asia Economist and Co-Head of Global Research for HSBC Asia, Aayushi Chaudhary, HSBC Economist for India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka and Duminda Hulangamuwa, Country Managing Partner for Ernst & Young, Sri Lanka & Maldives and Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, moderated by Savithri Rodrigo

Over 200 corporate leaders attended the second Economic Forum sponsored by HSBC recently which was to discuss and share insights into the latest global trends and opportunities emerging for economic growth in Sri Lanka.

Frederic Neumann, HSBC’s Chief Asia Economist and Co-Head of Global Research for HSBC Asia along with Aayushi Chaudhary, HSBC Economist for India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka outlined significant hurdles and provided a roadmap for steering the economy towards recovery. The event, under the theme “Navigating the Market Landscape and Opportunities in Sri Lanka”, was held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.

During the forum, Neumann emphasized that Sri Lanka must attract productive investments to boost exports, a crucial factor in strengthening the country’s balance of payments over the next five years. He highlighted the record high foreign direct investments flowing into Asia and stressed the need for Sri Lanka to capitalise on this opportunity.

Aayushi Chaudhary acknowledged that Sri Lanka has faced a prolonged period of challenges, many of which have brought down the growth potential of the economy and will require time to address. These challenges have persisted since 2017 she said. She noted the subdued growth outlook and high borrowing costs could impede investment in the near-term. However, she expressed optimism, suggesting that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the ongoing recovery is gaining momentum. That said, the hard work must continue in terms of pushing ahead with structural reforms and foreign debt restructuring negotiations. She also pointed towards Sri Lanka earning close to USD 8-9 billion this year in tourism and remittances.”

The Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe, who delivered the keynote address, said that the Central Bank was targeting inflation and was well ahead having reached the 2024 goal by July 2023. He pointed out that the Government was endevouring to build its external reserves to sustainable levels so that it would have a sufficient buffer and cushion to meet any kind of shock. He further said it was obvious that it was a gradual process but with forecasts in foreign remittances coming into the country doing better than expected and tourism improving, the country was moving in the right direction. “The economy is gradually stabilizing and going into growth mode and there are opportunities for the private sector. I encourage the private sector to take the lead and use these opportunities that come up due to potential growth and changes in the global landscape.”

Mark Surgenor CEO of HSBC Sri Lanka and Maldives highlighted the positive development that the international community is increasingly interested in Sri Lanka’s economy. He noted the numerous delegations visiting from the West and East, creating a dynamic environment for discussions and engagement regarding potential investments. Surgenor expressed optimism about this trend and stated that HSBC remains committed to supporting businesses and customers in seizing these opportunities for the benefit of Sri Lanka’s future.

The forum also facilitated a panel discussion which was joined by Dr. Weerasinghe, Neumann, Chaudhary and Duminda Hulangamuwa, Country Managing Partner for Ernst & Young, Sri Lanka & Maldives and Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, moderated by Savithri Rodrigo.

Kevin Green, Country Head of Wholesale Banking for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, reminded customers of HSBC’s unique position in the local, regional and global arena, and that HSBC stands ready to support customers with their banking needs, be it payments, trade or cash management, international connectivity, or achieving their own sustainability goals. (HSBC)

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ComBank supports students facing Year 5 scholarship exam



Seminars in progress

As students and parents begin the final countdown to the 2023 Year 5 scholarship examination, the Commercial Bank of Ceylon in partnership with Derana FM is completing a series of preparatory workshops for the young candidates, with leading tutors and model question papers.

The latest in the programme series was conducted at Sri Thilakarathnaramaya Purana Viharaya, Kalawana for 500 students by scholarship exam tutor Mr Winsara Samarasinghe. A separate programme was held for parents of the students, to provide them guidance on supporting and training their children to pass the examination.

The Kalawana programme was preceded by similar workshops held at President’s College Maharagama, Dharmaraja College Kandy, Anagarika Dharmapala Vidyalaya Mellawagedara, Joseph Vaz Girls’ College Kegalle, the Dikwella Divisional Secretariat, Vidyaraja College Thawalama, C C College Hanguranketha and Welimada Maha Vidyalaya.

As the Banking Partner to this programme, Commercial Bank also briefed parents on saving for their children’s future and the options for obtaining loans for children’s higher education. Bank counters at these events facilitated the opening of minors’ savings accounts for the children, and parents who opened ‘Arunalu’ children’s savings accounts were gifted an attractive ‘Arunalu’ Till.

Commercial Bank’s flagship children’s savings account ‘Arunalu’ offers a higher interest rate than comparative products in the market and rewards account holders with special cash prizes if they score the first, second or third highest aggregate marks in their schools at the Year 5 scholarship examination.

Sri Lanka’s first 100% carbon neutral bank and the first Sri Lankan bank to be listed among the Top 1000 Banks of the World, Commercial Bank operates a network of 271 branches and 957 automated machines in Sri Lanka. Commercial Bank is the largest lender to Sri Lanka’s SME sector and is a leader in digital innovation in the country’s Banking sector. The Bank’s overseas operations encompass Bangladesh, where the Bank operates 20 outlets; Myanmar, where it has a Microfinance company in Nay Pyi Taw; and the Maldives, where the Bank has a fully-fledged Tier I Bank with a majority stake.

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LOLC Finance offering transformative lending solutions



Charith Jagoda - Head of Microfinance and SME at LOLC Finance PLC

LOLC Finance PLC, Sri Lanka’s premier financial services provider, has announced the launch of its wide-ranging lending campaign aimed at bridging the gap between aspiration and achievement. In light of the economic challenges faced by the nation, LOLC Finance has activated its new lending campaign, reinforcing its role as an economic enabler. The company’s distinctive approach revolves around providing meticulously customized financial solutions that cater to a diverse clientele, ranging from grassroots start-ups to established enterprises.

Under the comprehensive lending portfolio, LOLC Finance offers an array of financial solutions including auto finance, speed drafts, housing loans, mortgage loans, personal loans, corporate loans, working capital solutions, gold loans, educational loans, and flexi interest loans, among others. This diverse portfolio caters to the specific needs of individuals and enterprises across the economic spectrum.

Boasting over 230 branches and a culturally diverse workforce, LOLC Finance stands stronger than ever to provide personalized services to its wide-ranging customer base. Setting itself apart from other NBFI’s, LOLC Finance offers doorstep services for clients, encompassing both service provision and after-sales support. The well-trained employee base of LOLC Finance contributes significantly to the organization’s exceptional service delivery.

“As the largest Non-Banking Financial Institution (NBFI) in the country, LOLC Finance is poised to play a key role in the country’s economic resurgence” stated Charith Jagoda, Head of Microfinance and SME at LOLC Finance PLC. “We see ourselves as enablers of the economy, shouldering the burden of empowering the vulnerable and marginalized, and our lending campaign is an authentication to that commitment. Our lending campaign is not just about loans, it is about building paths to prosperity. We are not just lenders, our commitment to personalized service, our embrace of digital innovation, and our steadfast dedication to the diverse communities we serve define us. We invite you to join us on this journey of empowerment, where together, we fuel ambitions and empower lives of the nation’s people”.

LOLC Finance’s commitment extends beyond financial offerings. The company has established support mechanisms to enhance the resilience of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). These mechanisms include training programs for micro entrepreneurs, facilitating market linkages, debt restructuring, and providing moratoriums during challenging times.

The digitalization roadmap of LOLC Finance adds a new dimension to its customer-centric approach. With the goal of maximizing customer convenience and operational efficiency, the company invests in digital technologies that drive innovation. Offering services such as iPay, Real Time mobile app, and internet banking, customers can access a wide array of financial services without the need for physical visits. Omni channels will be further developed for customers to access financial services through multiple channels while enabling them to switch channels seamlessly.

(LOLC Finance)

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