Harini Weerasekera

COVID-19, Fiscal Policy and Public Debt in Emerging Economies

One year into the pandemic, Sri Lanka’s already tight fiscal space has become further constricted, leaving some tough decisions to be made in the pandemic recovery period. A third wave of COVID-19 that the country is currently experiencing will further delay such recovery efforts. Although some fiscal tools have been included in Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 recovery plan, there is consensus that the size and scale of the country’s fiscal stimulus package have been inadequate against the scale of the crisis. Conversely, wealthier countries have been rolling out some of the historically largest fiscal stimulus packages. This blog discusses the global tilt towards fiscal policy reliance in the aftermath of the pandemic and deliberates on how far the developing world can adopt a similar strategy.

Taxing Tobacco: What Did Budget 2021 Miss?

At a juncture when government finances are tight, policy solutions such as taxing tobacco which can be leveraged to boost government revenue, without threatening economic growth, are essential. However, Sri Lanka’s 2021 Budget does not specify any tax increases on cigarettes. Instead, it proposes a simplification of taxes across a variety of sin goods and other goods. Details on how such a complex proposal is to be implemented across an array of industries are yet to be revealed. This blog dissects some of these issues pertaining to cigarette tax proposals in Budget 2021.

A Win-Win Strategy: Why the Government Should Increase Tobacco Taxation in the Forthcoming Budget

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. 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.

Building Back Better: Reviving Sri Lanka’s Economy Beyond COVID-19

The Sri Lankan economy is likely to face a contraction in 2020 as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic but there is potential for this to be followed by a sharp V-shaped economic recovery. The means of navigating such a recovery path were discussed at a webinar panel discussion held last Thursday (15th October) to mark the release of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka’s (IPS) flagship report ‘Sri Lanka: State of the Economy 2020’.

Cigarette Smuggling in Sri Lanka: Hype vs. Reality

In the run up to elections, Sri Lanka is once again witnessing various news activities highlighting how the government is losing revenue due to increased consumption of illicit cigarettes and beedi. However, the wider government policy on tobacco control is aimed to reduce smoking rates and the related direct and indirect costs – which was estimated to amount to 6% of government revenue in 2015 – through taxation. This blog argues that although controlling the availability of illegal cigarettes in the market is important, this should be done through regulation so that both legal and illegal cigarette consumption remains low in the country.