Published in The Island
By Sanath Nanayakkare
If Sri Lanka has the right policy mix to effectively carry on with its debt rollover and to maintain a surplus in its current account, the country can demonstrate that it has entered a path of debt sustainability boosting confidence of the financial markets, Nishan de Mel, Economist- Verité Research said recently.
De Mel, an economist with extensive academic, policy, and private sector experience said so while speaking at a webinar organised by the Veemansa Initiative.
The webinar revolved round the topic ‘External debt situation in Sri Lanka: Are we heading for a resolution or crisis?, where Governor of the Central Bank Professor W. D Lakshman delivered the keynote speech at the virtual forum.
Speaking further de Mel said: ‘I beg to differ with the Governor that Sri Lanka doesn’t need assistance in this regard and can do this alone- if I heard that right. I understand the concerns that an IMF programme will involve conditions impeding our growth drivers. But we need to get our policy mix right and then we can show that we are effectively managing the debt rollover risk backed with a surplus in the current account. That will boost the financial markets’ confidence in our reserves. I think this is something we shouldn’t reject on ideological terms. We need to look pragmatically at how we can attract bridge-financing as well as reducing the cost of our debt. There may be an alternative approach, but we really need to look at the feasibility of managing our foreign debt stock in a way that it could move on a downward trajectory going forward”.
“We should not deplete our foreign reserves too quickly in the process of switching to domestic borrowings from foreign borrowings. We shouldn’t run the risk of markets losing confidence in the Sri Lanka rupee and its exchange rate in a scenario of depreciation affecting our ability to manage our debt stock. Low interest rates are important for Sri Lanka’s debt dynamics. The Central Bank has seized the opportunity arising from the pandemic to introduce a low interest regime. With low interest rates and a positive growth rate the government’s local debt stock could be well managed. Private credit growth is going to be the main driver in pushing interest rates upwards, so it has to be watched. If we keep our inflation and depreciation rates matched, we won’t have a very high level of risk perception. Then on the foreign debt side also Sri Lanka has a path of sustaining its debt,” he said.
Meanwhile, a First Capital research report issued on February 26, 2021 showed: Foreign reserves dipped by US$ 0.8 bn during the month of January 2021 to US$ 4.8 bn from US$
5.6bn in December 2020. Private credit increased by Rs. 25 bn in Jan 2021. Foreign activity showed net outflow of Rs. 3.1 bn in government securities over the past 2 months.