The published information on debt underestimates Sri Lanka’s overall external public debt burden and its distribution amongst external lenders. This problem arises because Sri Lanka’s reporting of external debt is limited to debt held directly by the central government and excludes debt held by state-owned enterprises (SOEs). This reporting problem is especially evident when estimating Sri Lanka’s overall debt obligations to China, since much of Sri Lanka’s debt from China is placed on the books of Sri Lanka’s SOEs. It also exposes a loophole by which debt statistics can be manipulated, and even miscounted, in the midst of such manipulations.
The role played by the Cabinet of Ministers is critical to ensure that the government functions efficiently and effectively. Verité Research has found that the way in which Cabinet portfolios are designed in Sri Lanka impedes the ability of government to be effective.
Verité Research conducted a forum on ” Improving National Budget Practices: Solutions for a Professional Government” on the 27th of February 2020 at Hilton Colombo. At this forum Verité Research discussed how the government can improve its budget process through better formulation, implementation and controls which will lead to effective and efficient management of public finance.
Analysis of past budgets reveal large deviations between budgeted allocations and actual expenditure. This shows that expectations set by the government during the budget speech are not honoured. This Insight analyses budgeting on social services and the rural economy to demonstrate the extent of deviations in promised allocations and actual expenditure. Results suggest that when precise expenditure is not tangible, it is easier to renege on budget promises.
Taxes are the key source of government revenue. Normally, tax share as a percentage of GDP is expected to increase as per capita GDP rises. This Insight shows that in Sri Lanka, this is not the case; the country’s per capita GDP has been rising but the tax to GDP ratio has been falling. Sri Lanka needs to improve its tax revenue to ensure that the government has enough money to spend towards welfare and growth while not running the risks of high budget deficits and debt levels. The example of Georgia in the last decade points to a significant opportunity to reverse this puzzling and strangling trend.