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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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HNB Finance inks partnership with HNB Assurance

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Sri Lanka’s leading integrated financial services provider, HNB Finance PLC, has entered into an exclusive partnership with HNB Assurance PLC, making it significantly easier and faster for HNB Finance customers to obtain insurances required for most of the offerings from the company.A memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed recently by the two companies enables HNB Finance customers to obtain the insurances they require for personal and other offerings from the company, without even having to leave the premises of HNB Finance. Since representatives of HNB Assurance will now be stationed at the offices of HNB Finance, the process of obtaining the necessary insurance policies will be both more convenient and faster, further enhancing the overall customer experience.

“HNB Finance constantly strives to elevate our customer experience, particularly via partnerships with reputed organisations of the calibre of HNB Assurance,” HNB Finance PLC Managing Director/CEO Chaminda Prabhath said. “This also serves as an example of the synergies and strengths that HNB Finance benefit from, by being part of one of Sri Lanka’s largest financial services conglomerates, the HNB Group.”

“We take pleasure in this partnership with another member of the HNB Group and in offering the customers of HNB Finance the highly customer-centric offering of HNB Assurance,” HNB Assurance PLC CEO Lasitha Wimalaratne said. “Superlative customer experience has always been a core pillar of our strategy and HNB Finance customers can now benefit from these capabilities.”

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Mega training programme in SL in ICT related skills by Trainocate

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne

Trainocate, being Asia’s largest IT and human capability development training provider, in a bid to create demand for future ICT related employees will be commencing a mega training program in Sri Lanka targeting youth and corporates.

“With the rapid advancements in digitalization and digital services driven by AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), cyber security and 5G, old paradigms and business models are being challenged. More organizations across sectors are now required to have an online-offline presence and operations, Trainocate’s CEO, South East Asia New Markets and the UAE Zafarullah Hashim told The Island Financial Review.

Zafarullah added: ‘According to a recent World Economic Forum report, by 2022, close to 30 per cent of new job opportunities globally will be in data, artificial intelligence (AI), engineering and cloud computing for the future Digital Economy.

‘The pace of change over the past few years has been accelerated by the diffusion of technology, speed of innovation and rapidly evolving business needs. Jobs have changed and new ones have emerged and replaced existing ones. In tandem with this, the required skills and competencies have also rapidly evolved.

‘Many South Asian countries’ corporates as well as current employees and youth aspiring for employment are not reading this.

‘With a global presence in 15 countries, Trainocate SEANM, a pioneer in delivering cutting edge training and certifications which are industry recognized, will commence helping beginners and professionals to expedite their career advancement through our centers.

‘Trainocate also works with key government and private stakeholders to ensure that beginners and professionals have access to high quality and industry-specific training that meets the demands of different sectors of the economy for an innovative and productive workforce.

‘Knowing which skills are in demand has never been more important. With evolving consumer demands and disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, we function as the bridge between vendors, such as Microsoft, AWS, Google Cloud, and the partner. We are also the bridge between the partner and customers. We do partner enablement programs for partners through the vendors and then from the partner to the customer. A partner has to commit to the vision and the goals of a vendor. You also need to have product knowledge and become certified, which is where we come in.

‘Microsoft has been our main force and we have been providing free fundamental training sessions, as we believe that primary knowledge is key in building the country’s digital transformation journey. Our business operation is carried out between business to business, business to government and business to customers as well.

‘Digital skills are increasingly transferable across different sectors, as more enterprises embark on digital transformation and technology adoption. The Digital Economy entails different types of skills, depending on their job role applications. Tech-Lite roles are job roles that involve the use of foundational digital solutions at work; while Tech-Heavy roles are specialized roles responsible for the development, implementation and maintenance of more complex technological solutions and applications.

‘Trainocate SEANM focuses on developing skills, competency, ability and improving employee performances and organizational productivity. Organizations spend millions in acquiring and upgrading systems or hardware and give truly little thought to the training process. As a result, a vast majority of companies do not make maximum use of the features and benefits of the software in which they have invested. Proper training will increase productivity and reduce downtime which will complete IT projects faster.

‘Traincoate SEANM is rapidly reaching new heights by helping organizations that are going through a tough time and are in the transitioning period towards technology. Trainocate SEANM delivers well-informed and stable individuals who can provide their expertise towards the rise of these businesses. We have trained many blue-chip companies, along with their partners. Our goal is to develop individuals in tools that are already available that they don’t know how to use.

“Trainocate SEANM offers a range of resources, tools, certification and training programs and initiatives to help individuals and organizations identify and acquire the necessary skills to facilitate employment, improve job performance and adapt to job content changes in the midst of technological advancements and business operating model shifts.

‘We are not just a training company, but rather, a guidance company. We have been doing this for 25 plus years and have assessment tools that help us analyze and identify any skill gaps within organizations. We can use this to help the organizations’ HR and L&D teams streamline their training methods, as we can help identify these gaps and guide them on what they need the most.

‘Overall the company is helping organizations to think differently, plan strategically, save money and get the best out of technology. That is our secret to success.’

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Sunshine Healthcare appoints T. Sayandhan as CEO

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Sunshine Healthcare has appointed T. Sayandhan as the Chief Executive Officer of Lina Manufacturing, the pharmaceutical manufacturing segment of the diversified company. Sayandhan, currently CEO of Sunshine Medical Devices, has more than 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry. He joined Sunshine Healthcare in 2017 to spearhead Sunshine Medical Devices and has been instrumental in growing the healthcare business to be the key driver of the Group’s financial performance, helping Sunshine Healthcare to sustain its growth over the few years amidst tough macroeconomic conditions.

Commenting on the new appointment, Sunshine Healthcare Managing Director Shyam Sathasivam said, “As a responsible Sri Lankan conglomerate, we believe the local production of pharmaceuticals plays a vital role in maintaining the resilience of national healthcare systems. When escalating macroeconomic conditions are putting immense pressure on the local healthcare sector, producing pharmaceuticals locally will facilitate access to needed medicines and decrease exposure to imports and international supply chains. At this critical juncture, I believe Sayandhan has demonstrated the right combination of talent and drive to step into this key leadership role at the company.”

Commenting on his appointment, Sayandhan said, “It is a challenging yet exciting time to join Lina Manufacturing when the company is advancing its efforts to develop Sri Lankan-made, innovative healthcare solutions.”

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