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Why the Government Should Increase Tobacco Taxation in the Forthcoming Budget

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A Win-Win Strategy:

by Harini Weerasekera

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many economies struggling to revive economic activity and boost growth. Economic stimulus packages of varying sizes, shapes and forms have been disbursed by governments around the world to keep their economies afloat. What this means is that governments of developing countries in particular, face extremely tough fiscal policy choices; in some cases, compelled to spend money that they do not necessarily have.

Sri Lanka is no exception to this. COVID-19 has pushed what was already a high spend-low revenue economy into further fiscal turmoil. IPS has stressed that getting the country’s fiscal house in order is the need of the hour, in order to effectively respond to the pandemic, on top of dealing with an already mounting debt burden.

When government finances are tight, policy solutions that can be leveraged to boost government revenue without threatening growth and which support additional pandemic-related spending in the coming years, are essential. Increasing tobacco taxation is an excellent example.

IPS Study on Tobacco Taxation

A recent study by IPS projects that government tax revenue can be boosted by LKR 37 billion by 2023, if taxes on cigarettes are streamlined and raised in line with inflation. Although the government assumed a policy stance of cutting taxes across the board when they came into power, excise taxation of sin-goods such as cigarettes is one area where it is still politically feasible to raise taxes in order to boost much needed revenue. For example, back in 2019, the government increased excise taxes on tobacco to offset an overall reduction in VAT rates on goods.

This month’s budget is therefore an opportune moment to increase tobacco taxation, which will simultaneously help raise revenue at a critical time for the country, and generate significant and positive health benefits that would flow from reducing smoking.

Why Cigarette Taxation?

Although tax rates on some types of cigarettes in Sri Lanka have been raised in recent years, the most-sold brand of cigarettes in the country remains affordable according to the World Health Organization (WHO) affordability index. Further, the tax structure for cigarettes is not streamlined, and tax policy changes have been implemented in an ad-hoc manner. What this means is that there is further space to reduce cigarette affordability by using appropriate tax policy. This will ease health costs to the government from tobacco related-illness which can then be redirected towards pandemic related health costs, whilst also securing additional tax revenue in these difficult times.

In order to do this, IPS recommends in our latest study, that the government and related institutions deploy an incremental approach to revising cigarette taxes over the next four years (2020-2023). Sri Lanka currently has a five-tier tax structure for cigarettes based on cigarette length, some of which remain affordable and accessible to the young and poor in particular. Adopting a uniform excise tax system that is periodically adjusted for changes in inflation, in line with the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) protocol, will reduce overall affordability of all types of cigarettes.

Implementing these recommendations will result in Sri Lanka’s government revenue from cigarettes increasing by Rs 37 billion by 2023; cigarette consumption reducing from one billion sticks by 2023; and prevention of 140,000 premature deaths from cigarette consumption in the future.

Additionally, a forthcoming study by IPS finds that the net effect of tobacco control policies on national income is positive, as a result of consumers switching their spending from tobacco products to other goods and services.

 

A Link between Tobacco Taxation and Illicit Trade?

While industry lobbyists, the world over, are resistant to cigarette tax increases, and argue that increased taxes promote illicit tobacco trade and beedi consumption – the evidence shows otherwise. According to WHO FCTC Knowledge Hub research, there is a negative correlation between illicit trade share and cigarette prices, globally (Figure 1). Instead, it is the existence of informal trade channels, easily crossed borders, weak governance, ineffective customs/tax administration, corruption and complicity of producers/importers, among other reasons, that cause large-scale illicit trade of tobacco. Hence, illicit trade should be controlled through organizational changes in tax administration such as more investigations, more tax and customs officers, and technology, rather than by keeping cigarette taxes/prices low.

Similarly, there is concern that beedi consumption has risen due to tax increases on cigarettes. However, the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) trend surveys over the years have found that there is no pattern of switching from cigarettes to beedi in response to cigarette price increases. However, authorities should consider taxing beedis too; avoiding tax increases on cigarettes, on the other hand, will not aid in reducing consumption of either cigarettes or beedis.

Moreover, controlling the consumption of various tobacco products needs to be tackled using different strategies, as outlined by internationally recognized sources such as the WHO.

 

 

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NSB introduces special credit scheme for shrimp farming industry

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National Savings Bank (NSB), in collaboration with one of its fully owned subsidiary, Sri Lanka Savings Bank(SLSB), has planned to introduce a special loan scheme to offer credit facilities under a lower interest rate with a view to accelerating the development of shrimp farming industry in Sri Lanka.

Shrimp farming industry in Sri Lanka, which came into being around 30 years ago, could be identified as a higher value generating sector among the industries based on aquaculture in the country.

With the objective of achieving a sustainable development in shrimp farming industry in the country, Sri Lanka Aquaculture Development Alliance has been established 15 years back and the permanent members of this organization will be able to obtain loan facilities within a value range of Rs. one Million to Rs. 100 Million under this loan scheme.

This Alliance comprises of 18 farmers’ societies, breeding center societies, seafood societies and shrimp feed societies in Puttlam District, in which the shrimp farming industry is mainly centralized. The Alliance operates the shrimp farming industry, in coordination with the National Aquaculture Development Authority of Sri Lanka, the main state sponsored organization mandated for the task of development of the aquaculture and inland fisheries sector in Sri Lanka and other government institutions. Further, the membership of this alliance represents the entire shrimp farming industry of the country.

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Lanka Realty Investments acquires controlling shares of On’ally Holdings

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CSE turnover almost Rs 3.5 billion

By Hiran H.Senewiratne 

Lanka Realty Investments Plc has acquired 50.8 percent  of the issued capital of Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE)  listed On’ally Holdings Plc for Rs 1.42 billion.

With the transaction Renula Capital and Lanka Reality Investments share prices appreciated significantly yesterday, stock market analysts said.

On’ally Holdings Plc announced that Lanka Realty Investments Plc has acquired 50.8 percent  ( 47,244,050 shares) of the issued capital (93,003,087 shares) of the company with the purchase of shares made on 3rd December 2020 at a price of Rs.30.20 per share. 

Meanwhile, in a separate filing Renuka Capital Plc announced that it has sold and disposed of 40,754,820 Ordinary Shares (43.821 percent ) held by the Company in On’ally Holdings Plc to Lanka Realty Investments Plc at a value of Rs.30.20 per share on the CSE. Renuka Capital PLC is the second largest shareholder of On’ally Holdings Plc.

The turnover stood at Rs 3.44 billion with two crossings mainly; On’ally Holdings crossing which contributed 42 percent to the turnover and Access Engineering. On’ ally 47.2 million shares crossed for Rs 1.43 billion and its share price was Rs 32.20 and Access Engineering one million shares crossed for Rs 25 million and its share price was Rs 25.

With the transaction  Renuka Capital share price appreciated by  more than 50 percent or Rs 2.50 . Its share price startered trading at Rs 5 and at the end of the day it moved upto Rs 7.50. Lanka Reality share Price share price moved up by 13 percent or  Rs 4.60. It’s share price startered trading at Rs 34.40 and at the end of the day it moved up to Rs 39.

In the retail market top five companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were JKH Rs 141.5 million (945,000 shares traded), Expolanka Rs 135.7 million (5.2 million shares traded), Melstacorp Rs 128 million (three million shares traded), Access Engineering Rs 123.3 million (4.9 million shares traded) and Renuka Capital Plc Rs 121.7 million  (18.5 million shares traded).

Amid those developments both indices moved upwards  i.e. All Share Price Index up by 17.26 points and S and P SL20 up by 8.81 points up. The share volume that transacted during the day was 22487.  According to stockbrokers that market sluggish and the latter part of the day  it picked up following the major crossing.

 

 

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SLT and Mobitel launch Green Premier League 2020

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SLT and Mobitel together began an exemplary green initiative project simultaneously with Sri Lankan Premier League (LPL) 2020 called “SLT – Mobitel Green Premier League” (GPL), as a sustainable environmental conservation project. According to the winning score of each team in every match of the LPL, SLT and Mobitel will take necessary actions to plant the equivalent number of plants as forest restoration at Rajawaka forest reserve in Kalthota, Balangoda. Thus, by the end of the LPL tournament, SLT and Mobitel will have taken the necessary actions to plant possibly around 4000 plants in the forest reserve and would have arranged a sustainable maintenance program with the Forest Department in accordance with UN sustainable developments goals. This would be a pioneer project within the context of any cricket premier league in the world!

From the 26th of November 2020 till the 16th of December 2020, SLT and Mobitel will be conducting this remarkable initiative aiming to increase the forest cover in Sri Lanka by planting these trees in 6 hectares in Rajawaka Forest reserve, which has identified as a rich biodiversity site and also the major water catchment area for the Samanalawewa reservoir. With an island-wide reach as the national telecommunications service provider, SLT hopes to inspire sports fans and the youth of the country to undertake their own steps towards environmental conservation and sustainability. SLT will continuously monitor this project in the next two years with the support of the Forest department to ensure the desired outcomes.

 

 

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