In-house seminar on ‘Political Economy of Fiscal Policies and Regulations to Promote Healthy Diets in Sri Lanka’ by Sunimalee Madurawala
30 November 2022
‘Political Economy of Fiscal Policies and Regulations to Promote Healthy Diets in Sri Lanka’ was the subject of IPS’ in-house seminar in November, presented by Research Economist Sunimalee Madurawala. Her presentation discussed findings from the political economic analysis of an ongoing IPS study, funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
Fiscal interventions are crucial to correct market failures, create incentives to reduce dietary risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and generate governmental revenue. NCDs have posed a critical health challenge for Sri Lanka for several decades. In 2019, NCDs accounted for 83 per cent of all deaths recorded in Sri Lanka. Unhealthy dietary patterns have been identified as one of the main behavioural causes of escalating NCD incidences.
In her presentation, Sunimalee stressed that a proper understanding of the political economy can help formulate better policies to meet the NCD challenge and create a healthy food environment. Sri Lanka has introduced various measures including fiscal policies and regulations to promote healthy dietary patterns. The study focused on two main fiscal interventions by the government (1) the tax on Sugar-sweetened Beverages (SSB) introduced in 2017 and (2) the Traffic Light Labeling (TLL) for SSBs introduced in 2016.
The study was conducted using mixed methods, including a literature review, a documentary review of policy documents and Key Informant Interviews (KIIs). The documentary review revealed that despite a commendable recognition of NCDS and nutrition as policy issues and framed well in the policy documents prepared by the health sector, critical elements were overlooked. These include funding sources and financing mechanisms for proposed strategies, gender sensitivity and identification of stakeholders. According to the study findings, the policy development stage is hindered by industry interference, coordination and communication gaps among stakeholders, and poor representation by civil society organizations. Inadequate resources and a lack of monitoring and evaluation procedures have been identified as areas that need to be addressed during the implementation stage.
She pointed out that the study findings indicate the importance of continued focus on NCDs and nutrition in policy framing, and active and continuous participation of all stakeholders throughout the policy cycle. The findings also show the importance of addressing technical and legal issues at the policy development stage, so policy implementation is not hindered. Sunimalee emphasised the significance of raising awareness among the public and stakeholders on NCDs and nutrition and managing industry interferences and responses. She underscored the role of high-level political commitment on nutrition such as a central coordination mechanism in addressing the NCD and nutrition challenge in Sri Lanka.