Sri Lanka was once considered a development success story. But within the last few decades, this legacy was lost to governance failures and economic mismanagement. In recent years, the country has been characterised by a glaring lack of fiscal discipline reflected in the inability to raise sufficient revenue even to cover current spending. In this context, institutions have a major role to play in ensuring that governments do not fail. Effective institutions can (1) assure the provision of quality services which is essential for eradicating poverty and promote shared prosperity; (2) guarantee high-quality public spending and minimise corruption; and (3) ensure that all citizens benefit from economic growth and that development is not lop-sided. With this understanding, this blog discusses how a Fiscal Council (FC) can help Sri Lanka regain fiscal credibility and improve its overall economic performance.
Having kept monetary policy too loose for too long, Sri Lanka started its tightening cycle in August 2021. It signalled firm intentions to regain the Central Bank of Sri Lanka’s (CBSL) focus on price stability by engineering a reduction in demand through high interest rates and withdrawing liquidity from the economy. Effectively, in the current dire growth outlook for Sri Lanka, the policy intention means forcing a recession to tame inflation. In choosing between the options of an aggressive hike that will lead to a recession or tolerating a prolonged inflationary spiral bordering on hyperinflation, the former is preferable. Once inflation takes hold, the damage can be corrosive, especially its deeply regressive impacts on lower income households. But a contractionary strategy to suppress demand will not achieve the desired outcomes if (a) inflation expectations are not well anchored and people expect rapid price increases to continue, and (b) supply side factors remain unaddressed.
On 08 March, Sri Lanka devalued the rupee against the US dollar, entering into a floating exchange rate regime. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka had to abandon the pegged exchange rate as defending the rupee with dwindling reserves was impossible. The inter-bank exchange rate shot up once the banks were assured that the exchange rate was floated. The initial shoot-up was followed by further rallying of the US dollar reaching close to Rs. 300 per USD. With the gradually weakening rupee, inflation is also ascending to worrisome levels calling for radical changes, including adopting a currency board. This article discusses the effectiveness and suitability of a currency board for Sri Lanka in the current macroeconomic context. It argues that a currency board will be helpful to stabilise inflation in the short run but in the long run, Sri Lanka will be better off with a more flexible exchange rate regime.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine deepens the existing global economic woes – persistent supply chain bottlenecks and associated rising inflation – clouding the prospects of a smooth global economic recovery from the pandemic. The ongoing military conflict in Europe could not have come at a worse time for Sri Lanka given its own prevailing high inflation, rising energy costs, and scarcity of foreign exchange. Against this backdrop, this article discusses the economic impact of the European conflict on Sri Lanka, the sectors that will be hit hard, and ways to mitigate the negative impact.
The landscape of sovereign borrowing has evolved from a small group made up of multilateral organisations, a few commercial banks, and the ‘Paris Club’ of rich countries to something much more complicated. In recent decades, emerging markets and developing economies have borrowed proportionately more from international bond markets with their dispersed private investors, and tapped new non-Paris Club lenders like China. From the sovereign’s perspective, this makes a potential debt restructuring operation particularly complicated.