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ECONOMYNEXT – There will be more clarity on Sri Lanka’s debt restructuring efforts, particularly with regard to foreign debt, upon the return of President Ranil Wickremesinghe to the country after his ongoing visit to France, State Minister of Finance Shehan Semasinghe said.

Speaking at an event in Colombo on Monday June 19, Semasinghe said once a final decision has been made on domestic debt optimisation, the government will inform both parliament and the public.

“This is an extremely sensitive matter that significantly influences the market situation. It is vital that we refrain from making statements that create doubts regarding this optimisation, as it helps maintain stability in our financial market,” the president’s media division said in an official translation of the state minister’s remarks.

“Following the president’s visit to France, we anticipate a better understanding of these issues, particularly concerning the restructuring of foreign debt,” he added.

Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said early May that public bank deposits and stability of the banking system will be safeguarded in any reorganisation of domestic debt.

“There is speculation about the stability of public deposits and banking system stability,” Weerasinghe told a public forum recently.

“In any kind of debt optimisation, we will ensure and safeguard banking system stability as well as the protection of public deposits.”

A key objective of the central bank is maintaining financial sector stability, he said.

Sri Lanka has to at least extend the maturity of some domestic debt to meet the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s annual financing ceiling in 2027-2032, which has to be brought down to about 13 percent of gross domestic product from the current 30 percent.

Sri Lanka banks have said they have received assurances on the effect of any debt restructuring.

IMF Senior Mission Chief Peter Breuer said early May that the international lender is in constant dialogue with Sri Lanka over domestic debt restructuring plans.

Any domestic debt restructuring has to ensure financial stability, he said.

“Our role is to ensure that whatever debt restructuring strategy the authorities decide is consistent with debt targets that are designed for Sri Lanka to restore debt sustainability,” said Breuer.

“As such we do not have any particular view on how the burden should be distributed whether they are external or domestic.

“Having said that, we do have a keen interest to ensure that the domestic economy and the domestic financial system continues to work and are stable.”

Semasinghe, who was speaking at an event held at the Presidential Media Unit reiterated that a final decision on DDO has yet to be made, adding that the government is approaching the issue with the “utmost responsibility”.

“President Wickremesinghe also addressed the matter of domestic debt optimisation in parliament. The Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance have provided clarifications on their stance. Our focus is on finding solutions for optimising the banking and financial system of our country without negatively impacting stability, which is crucial. Consequently, various information and announcements are being released within the country,” he said.

Commenting on criticisms levelled at the government’s economic recovery agenda, Semasingeh said the critics have no plan of their own while President Wickremesinghe rose up to the task.

“He has communicated to the people the progress made by the country since assuming office as president. While the leaders responsible for meeting the needs of the people fulfill their duties, those who have not taken on this responsibility continue to make various statements,” the state minister said.

He was particularly critical of the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, whose opinions he claimed were lacking in any practical ideas.

“The [JVP’s] aim is to find a solution to the economic crisis without relying on the intervention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The government seeks to address the challenges and overcome the crisis through its own programme, without external financial assistance. The specific solution that does not involve the IMF’s intervention is not mentioned,” said Semasinghe.

“The challenging times we have faced are gradually coming to an end, and there is a belief that better progress will be achieved through the government’s programme,” he added.

The state minister claimed that the government has exceeded expectations.

“The IMF predicts a decrease in the negative growth rate from -7.8 to -3 by the end of the year. However, the government’s commitment and efforts are expected to lead to positive developments in 2024.

“The government has achieved more results than anticipated thus far, and it is important to maintain the commitment made by the government,” he said.

The first review with the IMF in September will showcase the progress made and the current programme being implemented, and alternative measures have already been taken to address the slight decrease in income levels, said Semasinghe.

“Overall, the economic process is being successfully implemented in the country, though it may take some more time for the people to feel its effects,” he said.

“As a government, we are committed to advancing this program. Any opposition or attempts to destabilise the political and social stability established can have consequences worse than those experienced during the weak economy of the previous year. Despite short-term challenges, we need everyone’s support to steer the country onto a new path, ensuring a clear future and preventing similar crises from occurring again,

“Two groups exist in the country: one that capitalizes on the people’s suffering during the economic crisis to advance their political goals, and another that genuinely supports the government’s efforts to overcome the crisis. Some individuals attempt to spread misinformation and false news. As a government, we strive to provide accurate information based on correct data and statistics to enable people to make informed decisions,” he said. (Colombo/Jun19/2023)

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