BiZnomics Research Team, being a body of professional Economic and business researches, felt it opportune to discuss national economic conditions including the country’s total debt stock (domestic and foreign borrowings), and the revenue-generating solutions including Hambantota port as an asset in stimulating economic growth takes the opportunity to speak to Dr. Kenneth De Zilwa, a business Cycle Analyst who has over 17 years of experience at all functional levels in senior management positions at banking and a senior consultant at the China Harbor Engineering as the subjects are very current and relevant to the ongoing discussions on the objective making the general public aware.
What is Sri Lanka’s economic condition?
To answer this we need to understand the models of development used by the two governments. Sri Lanka has witnessed two economic models in the past 10 years, namely, investment driven, local supply based and local enterprise driven economic model of 2010-2014 and a more liberal, external supply based consumption model ushered during 2015 to 2019. The resultant outcomes of these two are now in the public domain and could be compared and contrasted. In the 2010-2014 period the average GDP growth rate, which is the approximation used to indicate overall expansion of the country’s production, was at 6.78pct. The average growth rate in 2015-2019 was 3.70pct; indicating a 45pct decline from the earlier period. This implied a significant slowdown of real economic activity in the country. To put this in context we have to understand that the 2010-2014 growth was achieved despite the many global shocks, namely, we witnessed the food crisis, the second great depression of 2008 (second since the Grest Depression of the 1930s) which saw the global financial system collapse and the global oil crisis. In contrast, in the past 5 years we had not witnessed any external shocks, apart from the depreciation of the Turkish Lira and its aberrations on global markets.
Similarly, we find price volatility in interest rates and exchange rates. The commodity volatility had been passed on to the real economy, making input cost of production and consumables more expensive despite the dramatic fall in global crude oil prices. In fact it was observed by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka that the rupee depreciation by 18pct in 2018 viz a viz the US Dollar brought about a LKR 1,000 billion loss to the economy during 2014 to 2019 i.e. while during the last 5 year period, the total depreciation cost to the country was LKR 1,780.0 billion incremental debt servicing cost to the country. The erratic behavior of markets can thus be costly for the development agenda. Therefore we can argue that the free markets based model adopted in 2015-2019 was
not conducive for the real sector development and economic growth. Going forward we envisage that a new business model will be introduced for Sri Lanka to kick start the economy with an emphasis on properly aligned macroeconomic policies which will stimulate local Agro-Industrialization and unleash the entrepreneurial activity across multiple sectors. This will lift the GDP growth rate to well above its historic average of 4.75pct.
How much is Sri Lanka in debt and what is the solution for this?
Sri Lanka debt has been a talking point since 2014 and the reason for that was the rapid development that was undertaken during the 4-year period after the war. This clearly brought about an increase in the national debt stock. The country’s total debt stock (domestic and foreign borrowings) increased from LKR 4,590 million to LKR 7,390 million with significant amounts of funds utilized in the creation of balance revenue asset and capacity building, for the country needed to be integrated and the journey towards industrialization undertaken . Many of such capital intensive projects have a long term payback period and the cash flow from such projects was gradually building up, with less stress on the fiscal front of government business. In 2015 however, the new government moved away from adding capital assets to the country’s economy and was focused on shifting economic policy towards less state led investment capital. They therefore, commenced disposing of already created assets via long term lease agreements to various foreign countries. Hambantota port is a classic example where the port’s revenue-generating business venture was leased back to the construction company at the cost of construction and not based on the discounted future cash flow method. The argument was that asset disposing was necessary given the country’s debt burden.
Similarly, we find price volatility in interest rates and exchange rates. The commodity volatility had been passed on to the real economy, making input cost of production and consumables more expensive despite the dramatic fall in global crude oil prices. In fact it was observed by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka that the rupee depreciation by 18pct in 2018 viz a viz the US Dollar brought about a LKR 1,000 billion loss to the economy. In fact during 2010-14 i.e.last 5 year period, the total depreciation cost to the country was LKR 1,780.0 billion adding to the incremental debt servicing cost and debt stock of the country.