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To Leave or to Stay? Years of bad economic policy are killing the aspirations of Sri Lanka’s youth



By Sathya Karunarathne

Overseas migration for work or study, seems a popular option for Sri Lanka’s youth. Central Bank data shows that in 2019 alone the age group 25-29 recorded the highest number of departures abroad for skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled employment. This age group also recorded the second-highest number of departures for professional, middle, and clerical level jobs. UNESCO’s Eurostat data collection on education for 2020 states that the total number of Sri Lankan students overseas is 24,118.

A significant segment of the youth population seem dissatisfied with the available opportunities and choices within Sri Lanka.The above numbers reflect their lack of faith in a better and safer society in the years to come. For decades this lack of opportunity was blamed on the war. However, even twelve years after the conclusion of the war little has changed.It is worthy to explore why.

How did we get here?

The island nation’s predicament was in the making for almost 70 years.Consecutive governments since independence have failed to successfully implement policies to deliver economic growth and better living standards.

Trade is the engine of growth but over the last fifteen years Sri Lanka has shied away from trade led growth. Although Sri Lanka was South Asia’s first to embark on economic liberalisation in 1977 and despite the relatively robust economic performance that resulted even during the war years, Sri Lanka began to move away from international trade and investment.

Starting in 2004 import tariffs were raised in an ad hoc fashion to finance a growing defence budget. By 2009 Sri Lanka had one of the world’s most complex import tax regimes made up of para tariffs, (taxes above custom duties) and customs duties. By 2009 the overall protection more than doubled from 13.4 percent to 27.9 percent. Sri Lanka’s import policies by this time were as protective as they had been 20 years ago. While Sri Lanka continued to miss the boat of economic globalisation our East Asian neighbours such as Vietnam and Thailand have risen to prosperity by successfully integrating with global value chains.

This was compounded by an increase in state spending and increased state involvement in the economy. Much of it is financed by debt. Sri Lanka’s state expenditure has ballooned. Due to excessive borrowing, the central government’s highest recurrent expenditure is on interest payments which were at 36 percent in 2020. The country boasts a bloated public sector. The Ministry of Finance states that 30 percent or the second largest of the central government’s recurrent expenditure is spent on salaries and wages. This amounted to a staggering 794.2 billion in 2020 an increase of 15.7 percent from 2019. The Economy Next reported in June that 86 percent of tax revenue went into salaries and pensions in 2020. Moreover, these salaries are only a part of the problem, much expenditure is wasted sustaining mismanagement, corruption, and negligence within some 527 SOEs whose cumulative losses outweigh profits.

Tax revenues have not kept pace with expenditure and the tax system is weighted towards indirect taxes. In 2020 of the share of Sri Lanka’s tax revenue only 22.1 percent was direct taxes with 77.9 percent being indirect. This is highly regressive as a large component of indirect taxes end up on goods and services consumed by the average Sri Lankan imposing a higher burden on low income earners.

Consecutive government’s reluctance to rectify these economic miscalculations through hard reforms have brought the island to a precarious state of high levels of accumulated debt with exponentially growing interest payments.The country now has a debt to GDP ratio of over 101 percent, while foreign reserves have declined to 2.8 billion- sufficient for less than two months of imports.Fitch ratings have estimated that Sri Lank’s foreign currency debt service obligations until 2026 amount to USD 29 billion. Sri Lanka’s debt is on an unsustainable path.

So what’s at stake for young

people in all this?

Sri Lanka’s youth sit helplessly as bungled policy results in the economy tanking, taking them further away from their aspirations, hopes and dreams. Labour force survey for the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020 reported a startling youth unemployment (15-25 years) rate of 25.7 percent. In terms of education level, the highest unemployment rate is reported from the GCE A/L and above group. Although the labour force is educated their main source of employment remains in the informal sector. Nevertheless, skills gap and mismatches have been identified as a major obstacle preventing employment. For example, a 2019 survey estimated a shortage of 12,140 ICT graduates.A World Bank study recognised poor English language skills as another impediment.

In addition to this, COVID exacerbated Sri Lanka’s challenge of providing employment. Unemployment as a percentage of the total labour force increased from 4.5 percent to 5.2 percent between 2019 Q4 – 2020 Q4.19 This coupled with the country’s poor economic conditions will lead to more job losses in the coming months.For instance, with banks rationing letters of credit those employed in the import sector are in panic. Additionally, with prices of essential items increasing the demand for other products and services will decline as people are forced to deprive themselves of small luxuries such as ordering a meal from a restaurant to survive.This poses a threat to business operations and employment.

To curb the outflow of dollars the country has resorted to increased import restrictions.These unsustainable policy responses have robbed the Sri Lankan youth of the luxury to dream and to aspire. Purchasing a car and housing are two such aspirations that are slipping through the fingers of the average Sri Lankan. Vehicle Importers Association of Sri Lanka (VIASL) stated that the price of certain vehicles in the local market has increased by around Rs.10 million due to import restrictions.20 A 2017/2018 Wagon R which was sold at Rs.3.5 million is now being sold at Rs.6 million. Those building or repairing houses face difficulty as cement importers have limited the release of cement to the market due to partial suspension of imports and price controls resulting in severe shortages. This coupled with high tariffs on construction material will further contribute to making the construction of a house an illusion to the middle-class Sri Lankan.

Even the escape routes of Sri Lanka are closing. Students aspiring to leave the country for higher education fear banks may not issue dollars to finance their stay. Migrants are unable to take their savings with them meaning they face a much harder start in another country- last month the Central Bank issued a new order under the Foreign Exchange Act declaring limits on migration allowances26. Social media is swamped with infuriated complaints on price hikes and scarcity of essentials such as medicine in midst of a pandemic.

It is safe to conclude that young people have found themselves in a perilous socio economic fabric with looming uncertainty.

To leave or to stay?

If the government is to retain young people they must be provided with indications of stability and hope. Excessive reliance on import restrictions as a policy solution to the foreign exchange crisis at hand exhibits the government’s reluctance to implement painful but necessary reforms. Stability and hope lie in reforms the politicians are resistant to.

Increasing sources of government revenue, re-prioritising government expenditure, limiting intervention, relying on markets and recognizing the vitality of trade in a globalised economy is Sri Lanka’s road to prosperity. It will not be easy or painless, the accumulated policy mistakes of the past two decades require some very hard reforms but it is the only sustainable way out of the current mess.

Sri Lanka faces a serious crisis but it presents an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and to rebuild the island’s institutions along with the hopes and dreams of the young.

Sathya Karunarathne is the Research Analyst at the Advocata Institute and can be contacted at Learn more about Advocata’s work at The opinions expressed are the author’s own views. They may not necessarily reflect the views of the Advocata Institute, or anyone affiliated with the institute.

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Lanka inflation hit 70.2% in August



Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the crisis-hit island nation.

(Al Jazeera) Consumer inflation in Sri Lanka accelerated to 70.2 percent in August, the statistics department has said, as the island nation reels under its worst economic crisis in decades.The National Consumer Price Index (NCPI) rose 70.2 percent last month from a year earlier, after a 66.7 percent increase in July, the Department of Census and Statistics said in a statement on Wednesday.

Food prices climbed 84.6 percent, while prices of non-food items rose 57.1 percent in the tourism-dependent South Asian country of 22 million people.The Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) in August said the inflation rate would moderate after peaking at about 70 percent as the country’s economy slowed.

The NCPI captures broader retail price inflation and is released with a lag of 21 days every month.The more closely monitored Colombo Consumer Price Index (CCPI), released at the end of each month, rose 64.3 percent in August. It acts as a leading indicator for national prices and shows how inflation is evolving in Sri Lanka’s biggest city.

Sri Lanka’s economy shrank 8.4 percent in the quarter through June from a year ago in one of the steepest declines seen in a three-month period, amid fertiliser and fuel shortages.

“Inflation is expected to taper from September,” said Dimantha Mathew, head of research for Colombo-based investment firm First Capital. “However, inflation is only likely to moderate and reach single digits in the second half of 2023.”

An acute dollar shortage, caused by economic mismanagement and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has left Sri Lanka struggling to pay for essential imports including food, fuel, fertiliser and medicine.

The country earlier this month reached a preliminary deal with the International Monetary Fund for a loan of about $2.9bn, contingent on it receiving financing assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors.

India on Tuesday said it had begun talks with Sri Lanka on restructuring its debt and promised to support the crisis-hit neighbour mainly through long-term investments after providing nearly $4bn of financial aid.

The High Commission of India in Colombo said it held the first round of debt talks with Sri Lankan officials on September 16.

“The discussions held in a cordial atmosphere symbolise India’s support to early conclusion and approval of a suitable IMF programme for Sri Lanka,” the High Commission said.

Sri Lanka will make a presentation to its international creditors on Friday, laying out the full extent of its economic troubles and plans for a debt restructuring.

The Indian High Commission also said New Delhi would continue to support Colombo “in all possible ways, in particular by promoting long-term investments from India in key economic sectors”.

India’s support to Sri Lanka this year has included a $400m currency swap, a $1bn credit line for essential goods and a $500m line for fuel. In addition, India has also deferred payment on Sri Lankan imports of about $1.2bn and given a credit line of $55m for fertiliser imports.

The High Commission said India had continuing development projects worth about $3.5bn in Sri Lanka, whose president earlier this month asked his officials to resolve obstacles to projects backed by India. He did not specify the obstacles or the projects.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said Sri Lanka will turn a free trade agreement with India into a comprehensive economic and technological partnership.

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Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group turnover tops 1 bn



Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC saw its group turnover increase from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% year on year.Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Wayamba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022,” said Chairman, Raigam Group, Dr. Ravi Liyanage.

Raigam Wayamba Salterns PLC, which was listed in the Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) in 2010 is the front line player in the value added salt market in Sri Lanka and it supplies a range of consumer salt products under the popular brands “Isi”, “Ruchi”, “Welcome” and “Triple Washed” as well as various salt products used as an input for different industries in bulk form.All the consumer products of Raigam Wayamba Salters are SLS certified for its quality and consistency and the processes are ISO certified.’8

The Raigam Wayamba Salterns Group is equipped with salterns, salt refineries and processing plants located in Puttalam and Hambantota districts. In addition to that the raw material supply for these operations has been ensured by the 1,800 Acre saltern established in Kuchchaweli in Trincomalee District by the parent company of the Raigam Group. Further the Puttalam Salt Limited (one of the successor to the National Salt Corporation) is also an associate company of the Raigam Group.

The well-known Raigam brand and state of the art island wide distribution network are distinct strengths of the Raigam Group. The Raigam distribution network operates on a latest IT platform and also includes distribution channels for modern trade, industry and bakery sectors.

Sri Lanka’s economy which was under-performed for two years due to COVID pandemic situation was experiencing the impacts of the foreign exchange crisis in the latter part of the financial year 2021/2022. Despite the fact that the financial year 2021/2022 was filled with many challenges, as a result of prudent management practices implemented and followed, the Raigam Waymba Group was capable of reporting its ever-highest growth in 2021/2022.

The group turnover increased from Rs. 959.6 million to Rs. 1,147 million recording a growth rate of 19.5% Y to Y. At the same time the Profit after Tax grew from Rs. 149.7 million to Rs. 215.6 million at an annual growth rate of 44%. As a result of these successful financial performances the Earning Per share for the year stood at Rs. 0.76 compared to Rs. 0.53 in the corresponding year. This has made a significant impact on the value of the shareholders’ investment increasing the Net Asset Value Per Share form Rs. 5.06 to Rs. 5.74.

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Singer’s legendry sewing industry and Academies developing skills and entrepreneurship in Sri Lanka



A name synonymous with Singer (Sri Lanka), Singer sewing machine has over the years become an indispensable product at local households, helping thousands of women and men to make a living through a sewing business. For over six decades, Singer has been manufacturing its trademark sewing machines in Sri Lanka. Singer brand has claimed many firsts in sewing machine innovations including the world’s first zig-zag machine and the first electronic sewing machine.

Singer Industries, a subsidiary of Singer (Sri Lanka) manufactures traditional, portable and digital sewing machines at a fully-fledged facility, where it provides direct employment for over 100 factory workers and accommodates around 150 service agents. The traditional sewing machines are of two variants such as the straight stich and the zig-zag sewing machine, while the portable and digital sewing machines cater to the modern customers. Singer Industries is mandated with assembly of sewing machines and manufacturing of cabinets and stands for sewing machines.

The sewing machine stands and cabinets are 100% locally manufactured with the help of local suppliers who also depend from sewing machine manufacturing. Singer Industries also consists of a strong R&D section for sewing machine innovations. All the sewing machines produced by Singer Industries are distributed by its parent company, Singer (Sri Lanka) through their 431 distribution touch points. Currently, Singer sustains its dominance as the market leader for domestic sewing machine industry with a market share of 85%. Among the facilities, Singer Industries provides to its customers, it has deployed special service technicians at island wide service centres for technical assistance and support related to sewing machines. Its YouTube channel has access to over 130 technical assistance videos to further support its valued customers.

The name ‘’Singer’’ is closely associated with sewing. One of its major contributions to the local sewing industry is the Singer Fashion Academy. For more than 60 years, the Academy has helped thousands of individuals to develop sewing skills and become entrepreneurs. The Fashion Academy conducts sewing courses and diplomas while a degree pathway is to be implemented soon to further support students. The Academy is also the first and only institute in the country to receive course validation status from the Chartered Society of Designers (CSD) in the UK.

As of today, the academy consists of 54 branches Island wide and offers 22 sewing courses, 2 diplomas and another 10 courses as part of its Diwi Saviya program for low-income families. Annually, over 5000 – 6000 students get enrolled in Singer Fashion Academy’s courses. In addition to the physical classes, the academy conducts online courses and also provides a recorded version of lessons to further facilitate students. During the last decade, over 60,000 students have successfully completed the Fashion Academy’s courses and some of these students have already started their own sewing businesses. The Fashion Academy has helped in developing the passion of sewing among Sri Lankans and as a result, sewing has become a hobby among many.

Sewing can be considered one of the most feasible self-employment opportunities with its potential to generate a good income. A business of one’s own is a luxury at present due to current economic crisis. Many individuals who started their sewing businesses from scratch have developed their businesses to highly profitable ones. Singer Fashion Academy has all the resources ready to help develop sewing skills and is committed to develop a skilled workforce for the betterment of the country.

(Company news release)

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