Sri Lanka
Second and Third Reviews Under the Stand-By Arrangement-Staff Report; Press Release on the Executive Board Discussion; and Statement by the Executive Director for Sri Lanka.

Economic conditions are improving in Sri Lanka, and are likely to show strong growth. The current account remains strong, and tourism arrivals are rapidly improving. Monetary conditions are stable, and the central bank’s policy stance is appropriate. Reforming the board of investment will address the factors that have eroded the tax base and discouraged domestic investors. Fiscal policy adjustment is needed. Tax reform will put in place legislative changes to permanently reform tax concessions. Financial sector reform has continued in line with the program.

Abstract

Economic conditions are improving in Sri Lanka, and are likely to show strong growth. The current account remains strong, and tourism arrivals are rapidly improving. Monetary conditions are stable, and the central bank’s policy stance is appropriate. Reforming the board of investment will address the factors that have eroded the tax base and discouraged domestic investors. Fiscal policy adjustment is needed. Tax reform will put in place legislative changes to permanently reform tax concessions. Financial sector reform has continued in line with the program.

I. Background

1. Context. The program has been on hold for several months following a significant breach of the end-December domestic budget borrowing ceiling, with the deficit reaching nearly 10 percent of GDP against a program target of 7 percent. Overall economic conditions are improving as expected, and the economy is likely to show strong growth this year, reaching 6½ percent driven by favorable developments in the agricultural, tourism, and service sectors. Inflation remains subdued in the single digits (Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Figure 1.

Sri Lanka: Economic and Program Performance

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2010, 333; 10.5089/9781455208593.002.A001

Sources: CEIC Data Company Ltd.; Bloomberg LP; and Fund staff estimates.

2. Political developments. President Rajapaksa was re-elected to a second six-year term in January by a sizeable majority. The ruling party’s margin of victory in the April parliamentary elections fell just short of a two-thirds majority required for constitutional amendments. In April the president carried out his pre-election promise to significantly streamline the cabinet, and cut the number of ministerial posts from 90 to around 40. The post-election appointments of key ministers—foreign, power, oil—as well as key posts—chairmen of the Board of Investment (BOI), the tourism board, the tea board, and the state oil company—are widely regarded as qualified professionals, most with private sector experience.

3. External sector. The current account remains strong as remittance inflows continue at a high rate and tourism arrivals are rapidly improving. The current account was roughly in balance in 2009 for the first time since 1984 mainly owing to a steep fall in imports. However, high remittance flows, the pick-up in economic activity, and the expected response to the June trade liberalization (described in paragraph 19 below) are all likely to deliver strong import growth in the months ahead. Export growth has been slow to recover and clouded by the possibility of a withdrawal of the GSP+ concessions from the EU scheduled for August 2010, although negotiations for its renewal continue. The precise impact of a GSP+ withdrawal is not certain but is unlikely to be large economically. It could though have social consequences by affecting small employment-intensive producers.

uA01fig01

Sri Lanka: Interest Rates

(in percent)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2010, 333; 10.5089/9781455208593.002.A001

4. Monetary and exchange rate developments. Monetary conditions are stable (Figure 2). Reserve money continues to increase in line with expectations. All interest rates—policy rates, treasury bill rates, and lending rates—have declined significantly since early-2009, and have been relatively stable since late-2009. Credit growth has shown some signs of picking up in the period following the elections, and demand for loans has strengthened. Following central bank intervention in the face of sharp increase in foreign investor interest and capital inflows in the second half of 2009, reserves have stabilized at about $5 billion—equivalent to over four months of imports—compared with $1¾ billion projected for end-2009 at the time of program approval. In rebuilding reserves, the central bank’s intervention in the foreign exchange market has prevented foreign exchange inflows from appreciating the exchange rate, and the bank has allowed the rate to trade within a recently widened, although still narrow band (Figure 3).

Figure 2.
Figure 2.

Fiscal and Monetary Developments

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2010, 333; 10.5089/9781455208593.002.A001

Sources: Central Bank of Sri Lanka; CEIC Data Company Ltd.; Bloomberg LP; and Fund staff estimates.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.

External and Financial Developments

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2010, 333; 10.5089/9781455208593.002.A001

Sources: Central Bank of Sri Lanka; CEIC Data Company Ltd.; and Fund staff estimates.

5. Financial sector. Following the turmoil in 2009, financial sector conditions have stabilized. Non-performing loans have been on the decline since late-2009. The Sri Lankan stock market price index has doubled since the end of the war in May, reaching an all time high in recent weeks (Figure 3).

6. The 2009 budget outturn. The budget deficit in 2009 reached nearly 10 percent of GDP, against a program target of 7 percent. Domestic borrowing exceeded the program ceiling by just under 2 percent of GDP. The main factors for the overrun are:

  • Capital spending was 1½ percent of GDP higher than anticipated. A large part of this is related to faster-than-programmed, lumpy disbursements for a couple of large foreign-financed infrastructure projects and their domestic counterpart funds (see paragraph 7 below).

  • Interest payments exceeded original program projections by nearly 1 percent of GDP. As part of treasury’s debt management strategy of replacing high interest treasury bills—originally scheduled to mature in 2010—with longer maturity bonds, some cash payments were moved forward into 2009. The authorities also underestimated in the original budget interest payments implicit in the price of reissued treasury bonds.

  • Other recurrent spending is a key determinant of the authorities’ fiscal adjustment efforts. Excluding grant-related spending, this spending exceeded programmed levels by just under ½ percent of GDP, mostly because of subsidies and transfers. About ¼ of this overrun was related to the resettlement of the war’s internally displaced persons (IDPs).

  • Lower revenue. Revenue lagged program projections by ¼ percent of GDP, mainly because higher revenue-yielding imports had not yet recovered.

7. Sources of higher capital spending. To help assess fiscal developments given the difficulty of predicting the timing of disbursements for large infrastructure projects, staff established a detailed project-by-project framework for monitoring specific foreign-financed project commitments and spending under the program, including for reconstruction in the north and east. This framework currently incorporates over 80 infrastructure projects either already underway or where financing is currently being sought, including some 35 for postwar reconstruction. Based on this framework, higher capital spending in 2009 relates to faster-than-programmed implementation of foreign-financed projects, including some $150 million (½ percent of GDP including domestic counterpart funds) in disbursements for the Chinese-financed southern port project which were not expected until early 2010.

8. Fiscal developments in 2010. Revenue has been increasing as a share of GDP broadly as projected, reflecting a modest increase in revenue-yielding imports. Spending through April was governed by the pre-election (vote-on-account) budget. With parliamentary passage of the full-year budget not expected until July, spending since April has been governed by a temporary presidential directive. According to the constitution, this directive gives the government the authority to limit spending on a discretionary basis. The authorities have indicated their intention to use this discretion to limit domestic borrowing to cover only debt service, which if carried out would imply an annualized deficit through July in the range of 7-8 percent of GDP. The authorities have committed in the LOI to limit spending under the decree to a level consistent with their overall 2010 deficit target (see paragraph 17 below). Domestic budget borrowing through early-June has been relatively tight, consistent with this deficit target.

9. Donor financing. The ADB recently approved a $50 million loan to improve fiscal operations, and a $150 million emergency loan for projects to support the rehabilitation of refugee communities in the north and east. The World Bank recently approved projects totaling $108 million, consisting of $50 million for north and east local service improvement, $40 million for higher education, and $18 million for sustainable tourism. Sizeable bilateral project loan disbursements from China, India, and Japan—primarily infrastructure-related—continue.

10. Internally displaced persons. According to the UN resettlement of IDPs has accelerated since October 2009, with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reporting that about 247,000 have either returned to their places of origin or to host families, leaving about 50,000 in three government camps. The IDPs remaining in the camps are allowed full freedom of movement. On May 28th, the president issued instructions to shut down the remaining camps within the next three months and complete the resettlement by August 2010. The UN’s assessment is that there has been good progress in resettling IDPs but that further work is needed in improving their post-resettlement quality of life, including through reconstructing housing and ensuring opportunities to pursue livelihoods.

11. Program performance and changes to program design. All quantitative targets for end-March have been met (Letter of Intent, Table 1). The end-April structural benchmark on submission to parliament of a full-year 2010 budget consistent with program targets was not met and it has been changed to parliamentary approval of the budget by end-August 2010. The submission of the Finance Company Act to parliament, an end-May structural benchmark, has been delayed, but the authorities expect submission before the Executive Board discussion of this review. The remaining three structural benchmarks—the approval of the pre-election budget, addressing the outstanding debts of the key state enterprises, and prudential guidelines for credit card companies have been met (Letter of Intent, Table 2).

Table 1.

Sri Lanka: Selected Economic Indicators, 2008–2012

Main exports (percent of total, 2008): garment (43), tea (16)

GDP per capita (2008, est.): US$1,972

Unemployment rate (2008): 5.4 percent

Poverty rate (2007, incidence): 15.2 percent

FDI (2008, est.): $691 million

Public debt (2008): 81.1 percent of GDP

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Sources: Data provided by the Sri Lankan authorities; CEIC Data Company Ltd.; Bloomberg LP.; and Fund staff estimates and projections.

The budget presentation now places grants above the line according to standard practice. Previously grants were classified below the line as a budget deficit financing item. The consolidated government balance includes the Ceylon Electricity Board and the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation.

Excluding central bank Asian Clearing Union (ACU) balances.

Staff estimates based on total stock outstanding of foreign exchange commercial debt plus nonresident purchase of rupee-denominated treasury bonds.

Table 2.

Sri Lanka: Summary of Central Government Operations, 2008–2012

(In percent of GDP, unless otherwise indicated)

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Sources: Data provided by the Sri Lankan authorities; and Fund staff estimates.

II. Policies and Discussion

A. Improving the Investment Climate

12. Promoting private investment. The authorities have determined that in the postconflict environment and with elections over, and given the infrastructure needs of the country, now is the time to undertake a wholesale reform of the investment regime, including reforms aimed at reducing the currently high cost of doing business in Sri Lanka. To this end the government has established a high-level committee headed by the senior advisor to the president to identify laws and regulations obstructing investment. In addition, the government began liberalizing the trade regime and announced its intention to ratify a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with India in line with its development strategy. The Ministry of Economic Development, the BOI, and the Department of National Planning of the Ministry of Finance will be identifying in the coming months areas where there are large investment needs, and will begin formulating a national investment strategy. The finance ministry has also called on all ministries and government institutions to develop profiles of investment opportunities for foreign and domestic investments, public-private partnerships, and joint ventures with the government. A concession agreement with a foreign investor to build and operate a new container terminal at the port of Colombo is at an advanced stage of negotiation, while the authorities will also be calling for investment proposals for a new industrial zone next to the major southern port project under construction and a number of tourism zones.

13. Reforming the Board of Investment. To attract greater foreign direct investment, the government in early-June began implementing a new policy of broad-based reform of the Board’s investment promotion regime which during the conflict years relied on large-scale tax holidays and duty exemptions to attract investment, sharply eroding the tax base and distorting the playing field for local industries. The planned reforms would aim to widen the revenue base and improve the investment climate by shifting emphasis away from tax concessions toward greater predictability for investors and increasing the ease of doing business, mainly by harmonizing the development activities of different ministries, public institutions, and other public and private agencies. On June 1 the authorities instructed the BOI, and the BOI agreed, to work with the relevant ministries to develop before end-August an investment profile and a reasonable incentive package. This profile would aim to concentrate the BOI’s efforts on only large investments for which impediments need to be clearly identified and addressed, rather than purely relying on tax concessions. The authorities intend to finalize the specific enabling legislation for these reforms as part of the 2011 budget (a new structural benchmark). Until then, as instructed by the authorities, the BOI will refrain from granting any further concessions until new regulations are finalized.

uA01fig02

Stock of BOI Projects with Tax Holidays

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2010, 333; 10.5089/9781455208593.002.A001

Source: Data provided by the Sri Lankan authorities.

B. Monetary and Exchange Rate Policy

14. Monetary policy. The central bank has maintained its recent monetary easing as bank lending is slowly beginning to rebound and output remains below potential. Measures of inflation and broad monetary aggregates are also within a comfortable range. Staff and authorities agreed that in the postelection environment a rapid increase in credit growth is a possibility, and that there may be a need for the bank to tighten its policy stance in the months ahead.

uA01fig03

Sri Lanka: CPI Inflation

(eop, year-on-year)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2010, 333; 10.5089/9781455208593.002.A001

15. Exchange rate policy. The central bank took advantage of the large capital inflows to rebuild reserves and prevented the strong foreign exchange inflows from appreciating the rate by intervening. However, an increase in import growth is likely, which would reduce the net supply of foreign exchange to the market. The authorities recognize this, reiterating their commitment to allow the exchange rate to move flexibly as needed to meet the program’s reserve targets, and agreed that smoothing the path of intervention would be the right approach. Consistent with staff advice, the authorities have gradually introduced modest two-way exchange rate flexibility to signal to markets that exchange rate policy will not be anchored on a specific peg going forward. The daily intervention range is still quite narrow, however, and staff urged the central bank to consider further widening and to allow for greater two-way movements in the rate.

C. Fiscal Policy

16. The fiscal adjustment strategy. Although the government missed the program’s 2009 deficit target and election-related delays have postponed tax reforms, the authorities expressed their commitment to a strategy in line with the program’s original goals for reducing the deficit and bringing about fiscal and public debt sustainability. The authorities aim to bring this about through a combination of cuts in recurrent spending—while securing spending for ongoing resettlement and rehabilitation of the IDPs and protecting the most vulnerable in society—and tax reforms that simplify the system, expand the base, and result in a sustainable increase in revenue yield. Given that tax reforms are likely to take time to yield results, the authorities have based this year’s budget on the assumption that revenue will increase by only by a small amount as a share of GDP, in line with the growth in taxed imports, with deficit reduction in 2010 driven by cuts in recurrent spending. At the same time, staff and the authorities agree that infrastructure spending is needed to boost medium term growth prospects and to address the needs of the war-torn north and east, and the fiscal strategy will need to allow room for the government’s public investment program. As scope for further cuts in recurrent spending narrows, deficit reduction beyond this year will need to be realized mostly through improvements in revenue—the authorities target revenue to increase to 15½ percent of GDP in 2011 from 14¾ percent assumed for this year, and 16½ percent in 2012, bringing the ratio more in line with comparator countries (Box 1). If the tax reforms are carried out as described below, these targets would be achievable. This, together with the substantial expenditure cuts proposed for this year and modest additional cuts in 2011 and 2012, would allow the government to reach its budget deficit goal of 5 percent of GDP by 2012. The government’s ultimate goal is to bring public debt down to 60 percent of GDP.

17. The 2010 budget. In line with this strategy the government submitted to parliament on June 8 a budget with full-year expenditure appropriations consistent with a 2010 deficit target of 8 percent of GDP. This compares with an original program target of 6 percent, or about 6¾ to 7 percent after making adjustments for post-conflict reconstruction spending which had been anticipated at the time of the first review. Non-interest recurrent spending—led by cuts in subsidies and transfers and a½ percent of GDP cut in defense spending—would be reduced by over 1 percent of GDP, to the level (excluding grant- and IDP resettlement-related spending) targeted in the original program, a key factor as part of the strategy of sustainable deficit reduction. The higher deficit target differs from the original program mainly comes from a more cautious revenue projection and higher than originally expected interest payments (although with real interest rates returning to historical levels in 2009, the interest bill is expected to fall somewhat in 2010). Budgeted infrastructure spending is consistent with projections under the program’s project monitoring framework. The budget is expected to be approved by parliament before end-July (a new structural benchmark).

Sri Lanka: Central Government Operations, 2009–2010

(In percent of GDP)

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Sources: Data provided by the Sri Lankan authorities; and Fund staff estimates.

The budget presentation now places grants above the line according to standard practice. Previously grants below the were classified line as a budget financing item.

18. Debt sustainability. A path of deficit reduction from 8 percent of GDP this year to 6¾ percent in 2011 and ultimately 5 percent beginning in 2012 would be consistent with a declining path of the debt-to-GDP ratio, with the ratio falling from 86 percent currently to 74 percent by 2015 (compared to the program’s original target of under 70 percent) even with a cautious output growth assumption (see Table below for the assumptions underlying the baseline projections). The reduction would be larger if the government’s infrastructure spending program improves prospects for growth over the medium term.

uA01fig04

Debt Sustainability Analysis

(Public debt in percent of GDP)

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2010, 333; 10.5089/9781455208593.002.A001

Public Sector Debt Sustainability Framework, 2005-2012

(In percent of GDP, unless otherwise indicated)

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Derived as nominal interest expenditure divided by previous period debt stock.

Derived as nominal rate minus change in GDP deflator.

19. Tax reform. The work of the Presidential Tax Commission is nearing completion—the commission submitted its specific recommendations to the president in May, with the final report expected by end-July (Box 1). Informed by the commission’s work, the government is launching key reforms now, followed by further reforms during the remaining months of 2010 and legislative changes as part of the 2011 budget:

  • Trade and excise taxes. On June 1 the government began implementing an ambitious reform of the trade and excise tax regime, in line with the tax commission’s recommendations, including a reduction in the scope of exemptions, a simplification of the import tariff rate structure, an elimination of surcharges and extra-tariff duties, and a reduction in prohibitively high tariffs on important revenue-yielding items such as motor vehicles.1 This will be followed by further increases in some excise taxes and the elimination of duty concessions on some key commodities. This represents a significant trade liberalization, and could result in higher imports and help boost output growth. The net revenue yield of lower tariffs and a rebound in imports of high tax-yielding item is uncertain, and depends on difficult-to-estimate demand elasticities. But based on historic figures, these measures could ultimately yield an increase in annual tax revenue of ¼ to ½ percent of GDP.

  • Reducing tax concessions. One key element of the BOI reforms described above will be to reduce lost tax revenue from various concessions including ad hoc tax holidays on VAT and corporate income taxes and duty exemptions. As tax concessions offered in the past under the BOI regime have been the largest contributor to Sri Lanka’s eroded tax base, limiting new concessions and reforming the BOI would be the most significant base-broadening tax measure as part of the government’s tax reform strategy—this measure could ultimately yield as much as 1½ percent of GDP in annual revenue, depending on how narrow the new concession regime is defined. Since a sizeable portion of existing concessions are set to expire over the next two years (with nearly all expiring by 2015), and more importantly since all new investments will be fully taxed until the new regime is in place, these reforms could have a significant near-term revenue impact.

  • income taxes and VAT. The authorities are committed to taking steps to rationalize the VAT rates, and broaden the VAT and income tax bases (as noted in paragraph 7 of the LOI). These changes will be introduced as part of the 2011 budget law (included in the new structural benchmark of submission of the budget to parliament by end-November). Base broadening could allow for a reduction in rates—which is expected to increase compliance—depending on the revenue yield of other tax reforms and minding the need to meet the government’s overall tax revenue goals. The authorities are currently considering a menu of options to achieve these results, and will take into consideration the recommendations of the Tax Commission. Staff will discuss the specifics of the government’s planned reforms during the next review.

Background to the Presidential Tax Commission

Sri Lanka’s revenue-to-GDP ratio has been on a declining trend since the 1990s. Reversing the erosion of revenues is critical to restore health to public finances and to reach the steady-state fiscal deficit target of 5 percent as stipulated by the Fiscal Management Responsibility Act.

Sri Lanka: Revenue Performance, 1995-2009

(In percent of GDP)

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Sri Lanka’s current revenue ratio of 14½ percent of GDP is low compared with other Asian emerging market countries. Using this set of comparators, Sri Lanka’s central government revenue is unusually dependent on taxes on goods and services, driven in particular by VAT and excise tax collections. The revenue yield of direct taxes in Sri Lanka is low, reflecting the narrow base, despite relatively high rates by emerging market standards. Corporate income tax collection is lagging mainly owing to the narrow base, which has been eroded by widespread exemptions under the BOI regime and tax evasion. Personal income tax collections are also low, though comparable to other Asian emerging market countries, reflecting a narrow base due to exemptions and low compliance. On the trade side, multiple taxes on imports, which have been adopted in recent years for revenue enhancement, have created a complex and distortionary trade regime. The revenue productivity of VAT is below average in Sri Lanka owing to a relatively narrow base from exemptions and low compliance. Against this background, a Presidential Tax Commission was appointed in June 2009 to study why tax revenue-to-GDP has declined and what measures—including base broadening measures and simplification of the highly complex tax regime—are needed to achieve a revenue-to-GDP ratio comparable to other emerging market countries.

uA01fig05

Central Government Revenue as % of GDP

Citation: IMF Staff Country Reports 2010, 333; 10.5089/9781455208593.002.A001

1/ General government revenue.Sources: CEIC; and Fund staff estimates.

Ahead of the final report to be published in the summer of 2010, the Tax Commission has submitted to the government its specific recommendations. The Commission’s recommendations complement the ongoing reform of investment incentives under the BOI, with the aim of reaching a revenue ratio of 20 percent of GDP by 2016.

Performance of Value-Added Tax

(VAT)

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Sources: IMF, Country documents; World Economic Outlook (IMF); Taxes and Investment in Asia and the Pacific (IBFD); Corporate Taxes Worldwide Summarie (PricewaterhouseCoopers); and Fund staff estimates.

D. State Enterprise Reform

20. Reforming public enterprises. The government has put in place measures aimed at improving the operations of public enterprises. In May the government began replacing the heads of all public enterprises with private sector managers who have operational experience, with the mandate to run the enterprises on a commercial basis and improve profitability. At the same time the finance ministry issued a directive to profit-making state enterprise instructing them to pay dividends to the budget. This process is already underway, and is expected to yield around ¼ percent of GDP in annual non-tax revenue.

21. State-owned enterprises. The financial performance of the Ceylon Petroleum Company (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) was better than expected in 2009 with a deficit just short of ½ percent of GDP against an indicative target of ¾ percent. The CPC limited its losses as international market prices for petroleum products remained below domestic retail prices. The CEB’s losses were less than expected owing to favorable rainfall which allowed a shift to relatively cheap hydro power from more expensive thermal electricity generation. For 2010, the projected losses remain at ½ percent of GDP in line with the program target. Going forward, new management with a mandate to operate more commercially is expected to improve these enterprises’ performance, and intends to restructure the outstanding non-performing debt of the CPC and CEB. Electricity is costly in Sri Lanka, and the Power and Energy Ministry has announced its intent to rationalize electricity prices beginning in early-2011. The government’s program to put in place longerterm measures to reduce generation costs, drawing on assistance from the ADB, remains on track.

E. Financial Sector

22. Financial sector reform. The program’s financial sector reform agenda is on track with the issuance of prudential regulations on credit card companies and payment service providers (a structural benchmark) and the expected submission to parliament of the amendments to the Finance Companies Act (a structural benchmark), both of which address regulatory gaps that led to stresses in the financial sector in 2008-09. The Central Bank is also amending loan classification standards to temporarily facilitate the workout of the legacy of higher non-performing loans due to the global crisis. However, the conditions set forth to encourage a workout of problem loans falls below international best practice and staff suggested that a well-defined framework for corporate restructuring would be preferable to ensure that the most viable enterprises are both financial and operationally resurrected. The financial sector reform agenda has also been broadened to include the introduction of a deposit insurance scheme, regulation of pension funds, and steps to deepen capital markets (see Letter of Intent).

III. Program Design and Risks

23. Program extension and rephasing. The authorities acknowledge that the implementation of the key fiscal reforms has been delayed by one year. With the war and the elections over, however, they recognize that they now face a unique opportunity to press ahead with a bold reform agenda that incorporates all the elements of the original program design. They believe that the SBA program will be important for strengthening the government’s efforts toward meeting its policy goals going forward. In line with this, and to support the wide range of policy reforms that the government is planning to undertake this year and next, the authorities have requested a one-year extension of the program through end-2011. They have requested that the remaining undisbursed funds be rephased in line with this extension (Table 7).

Table 3.

Sri Lanka: Monetary Accounts,2008–2012

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Sources: Central Bank of Sri Lanka; and Fund staff projections.
Table 4.

Sri Lanka: Balance of Payments, 2008–2012

(In millions of U.S. dollars, unless otherwise indicated)

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Sources: Data provided by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka; and Fund staff estimates and projections.

Includes public corporations.

Net of ACU debit balances.

Valued at historical cost through 2002, and at market cost since then.

Comprises Sri Lanka Development Bonds (SLDBs), Foreign Currency Banking Union (FCBU) borrowing and other commercial loans.

Comprises SLDBs, FCBUs, and other commercial loans.

Table 5.

Sri Lanka: Preliminary External Financing Requirements, 2008–2012

(In millions of U.S. dollars)

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Sources: Sri Lankan authorities; and Fund staff estimates and projections.
Table 6.

Sri Lanka: Financial Soundness Indicators - All Banks

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Source: Central Bank of Sri Lanka.

As of March 2010.

Table 7.

Sri Lanka: Reviews and Disbursements under the Proposed Stand-By Arrangement

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24. Program design. To reflect Sri Lanka’s graduation from PRGT eligibility, the Technical Memorandum of Understanding (Attachment II) and the table of quantitative performance criteria have been revised to exclude the ceiling on the contracting of non-concessional external debt.

25. Risks. The government’s policy proposals, if implemented, would address past slippages and put the program back on track. There are risks however:

  • The government has taken significant steps already to reform the trade tax regime, suspend granting of new BOI tax concessions, and to reform public enterprises, and has indicated positive intentions for further reforms. But some of these reforms will not be fully articulated until late-2010 when the 2011 budget is prepared, and implemented only in 2011. The government’s statement of intent is encouraging, but there can be no guarantee that the reforms will ultimately be implemented as currently intended.

  • The revenue yield from the current and planned tax reforms is far from certain, with both positive and negative risks. In this regard, the relatively cautious revenue assumption the authorities are using on which to base the 2010 budget is a welcome sign that the authorities are keenly aware of these risks.

  • As in 2009, there is the risk that the government would exceed the spending limits spelled out in the budget. The end of the war and elections delivering the government a solid majority and a long horizon could, however, strengthen the government’s ability to carry out its commitments on deficit reduction in 2010.

  • A further intensification of the existing international financial turmoil could trigger a quick capital outflow given the some $1½ billion in Sri Lanka’s short-term liabilities to external investors. A sharp increase in imports from the recent trade liberalization could also put pressure on the balance of payments. Although Sri Lanka has an adequate reserve buffer against these events, they would still have a negative impact on investor confidence. Access to Fund disbursements through future adherence to the program’s targets should help mitigate these risks.

IV. Staff Assessment

26. Overview. Although the immediate risk of a balance of payments crisis has receded and much progress has been made in rebuilding reserves and advancing financial sector reform, 2009 was a lost year in terms of deficit reduction and tax reform. The war is over and elections are now past, and since then the government has given significant positive signals that it will exploit the window of opportunity offered by the current stable environment to launch reforms that improve private sector growth, attract investment, and address the fiscal vulnerabilities. The authorities have proposed a solid post-election policy agenda that would address past slippages and, if implemented, would result in significant progress toward meeting the program’s original goals, including fundamental and sustainable budget deficit reduction.

27. Monetary policy and exchange rate policy. The central bank’s policy stance so far has been appropriate, although there may be a need to tighten its stance if credit picks up sharply in the coming months. The exchange rate will need to show more flexibility if rapid growth of imports begins putting pressure on the balance of payments.

28. Reforming the Board of Investment. For 30 years, the investment promotion regime has relied primarily on wide-spread, often ad hoc tax concessions that have significantly eroded the tax base and distorted the playing field for domestic investors. Reforming this regime is fundamental to address these weaknesses. By undertaking these reforms, the government has demonstrated a recognition that in the post-war economy a stable and simple business environment is what is critical for attracting investment, and that large tax concessions are no longer necessary.

29. Fiscal policy. Although the budget outturn for 2009 and election-related delays in fiscal reforms call for some recalibration of the program, the program’s original goals of fundamental and sustainable deficit reduction remain unchanged. In line with this, the government’s proposed 2010 budget would be a first step toward meeting these goals by incorporating significant cuts in recurrent spending and allowing room for much needed public infrastructure investment. Beyond 2010, further deficit reduction will need to be driven primarily through increases in revenue to bring the ratio to GDP closer to key comparator countries. This adjustment will also need to preserve social spending and meet the need to resettle the remaining internally displaced persons and rehabilitate the war-torn north and east.

30. Tax reform. The government has already taken significant actions as part of their effort to simplify the complicated and inefficient tax system, address distortions, broaden the tax base, and ultimately bring about a sustainable increase in revenue. The reform of trade and excise taxes not only corrects a complicated and difficult to enforce regime which had been built up over the past decade, but will also add much-needed predictability to the tax system. By halting new tax concessions under the Board of Investment regime, the authorities have taken the first step in reversing the most significant source of tax base erosion. Further steps are needed however to put in place legislative changes to permanently reform tax concessions under the new regime, and to simplify and broaden the bases for the VAT and income taxes.

31. Financial sector reforms. The government’s actions so far have gone a long way toward addressing past weaknesses in the financial sector, and have demonstrated the authorities’ commitment take the necessary steps to strengthen regulation and its legal framework. This work will continue in important areas, including putting in place a deposit insurance system and establishing a regulatory framework for pensions.

32. Risks. The government has yet to carry out its commitment to deficit reduction, and actions on tax reforms have been delayed by one year. The fiscal performance so far this year and the recently-enacted tax reforms are first steps in helping to build the government’s credibility toward meeting its goals, but if this is to continue, it will be important that the government meets all of its deficit targets going forward, and carries out its commitment to enact the promised additional tax reform measures in the 2011 budget. The revenue yield from the tax reform measures is far from certain, and the government will need to be prepared to adjust tax rates if needed to meet its revenue targets.

33. Despite the poor 2009 fiscal performance, the government’s 2010 budget proposal, if carried out, would go a long way to address past fiscal slippages. The government’s significant up-front actions on tax reform are an important signal that the government has the will to bring its fiscal program back on track. Financial sector reform has continued in line with the program, and has gone far to address regulatory weaknesses. On this basis the staff recommends the approval of the Second and Third Reviews, and supports the authorities’ request for an extension and rephasing of the program.

1

In designing these reforms, the authorities have been mindful of the WTO tariff commitments.

Attachment I Sri Lanka: Letter of Intent

Colombo, June 19, 2010

Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn

Managing Director

International Monetary Fund

Washington, D.C. 20431

Dear Mr. Strauss-Kahn:

This letter serves as a supplement to the July 16, 2009, Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies and our October 30, 2009, Letter of Intent.

1. The macroeconomic environment in Sri Lanka continues to improve following the end of the conflict and the approval of the Stand-By Arrangement with the International Monetary Fund. Output growth is rebounding and inflation remains subdued in single digits. Rising investor confidence and an increase in remittances have allowed us to rebuild international reserves from very low to now comfortable levels.

2. With the peace restored and following the Presidential and parliamentary elections, we now face a unique opportunity to ensure continuity in policies that have been initiated in recent times to put Sri Lanka on a path of higher, sustainable future growth and prosperity as per the Mahinda Chintana vision for the future. Critical to this will be policies that ensure that macroeconomic stability is maintained while allowing for much-needed infrastructure investment to boost growth prospects and address the development challenges in lagging regions, including the conflict-affected north and east.

3. The government’s economic program is ambitious in a wide range of areas, including steps toward (i) fiscal consolidation through continued enhancement of the quality of public spending; (ii) rationalization of the tax system; (iii) improvement in state-owned enterprise performance; and (iv) further strengthening of the financial sector. We continue to believe that our program with the IMF has strengthened the government’s efforts toward its policy goals. With the near-term risk of an external crisis averted, the program’s emphasis can now shift toward growth-enhancing policies that address some of the economy’s key structural weaknesses. In line with this, and to support the wide range of policy reforms that we will be undertaking during this period, we wish to extend through end-2011 our program with the IMF, which we see as a mitigating arrangement against external vulnerabilities.

4. While acknowledging the risks in the global economic environment, the government’s policy framework aims at achieving economic growth in excess of 8 percent, while containing inflation at a moderate level. The higher growth is to be achieved by further strengthening the enabling environment for the real economy—in particular, agriculture, SMEs, and other value-adding industries—to respond more positively. This will require a significant boost in investment, and we have already begun steps to improve the investment climate and the ease of doing business. On the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers, a high level committee headed by the Senior Advisor to the President, with technical support from the relevant agencies, has been appointed to identify laws and regulations obstructing investment. Moreover, line ministries are actively identifying specific areas in which to attract foreign direct investment, including from the private sector. The Ministry of Economic Development, the Board of Investment (BOI), and the Department of National Planning will jointly work out a new investment strategy based on such information to ensure that projects supported under a new investment incentive regime are carefully selected and better targeted—the aim would be to shift the emphasis away from a heavy reliance on tax concessions towards greater predictability of the investment regime and increasing the ease of doing business, mainly by coordinating the development activities of different ministries, public institutions and other agencies. Progress to this end will be a focus of discussions during the next review.

5. The budget deficit in 2009 reached 9.9 percent of GDP, including rehabilitation expenditures, against a program target of 7 percent. The main factors for the overrun were faster-than-expected aid disbursements for infrastructure projects, higher interest payments, a shortfall in revenue, and post-conflict rehabilitation and humanitarian expenditure, as well as costly demining of conflict affected areas. Although the 2009 budget outturn, particularly in the context of the continuing adverse impact of global economic conditions, calls for some recalibration of fiscal targets, the program’s original goals of fundamental and sustainable deficit reduction remain unchanged. Spending for the first four months was managed by the Vote on Account approved by the parliament, and thereafter, until the budget for 2010 is passed by the parliament, spending has been strictly limited, as authorized under the Presidential directive based on Section 150 of the Constitution. On June 8, the government submitted to parliament a budget covering the full-year 2010 spending envelope consistent with a deficit of 8 percent of GDP, a 2 percentage point decline from 2009. Deficit reduction will take place primarily through a reduction in security-related spending due to lower procurement spending and a reduction in other non-interest recurrent spending, including by maintaining subsidies and transfers in nominal terms. Despite a significant reduction in current expenditure (by 1.3 percent of GDP relative to 2009), we recognize that the deficit will exceed our original target of 6 percent of GDP, or 7 percent including reconstruction spending. The higher deficit comes from the higher-than-earlier-expected interest payments, and more cautious revenue projections, given the uncertainty in the speed of recovery of external trade sector activity. Parliamentary approval of the 2010 budget is expected in July. Until the budget is passed, we will continue to restrict spending under the Presidential directive consistent with our full-year deficit target.

6. Beyond 2010, we remain committed to further fiscal consolidation in terms of the broad framework stipulated in the Fiscal Management Responsibility Act (FMRA) to reduce the budget deficit. We have thus set a fiscal deficit target of 6.8 percent for 2011 and 5 percent for 2012, and, as required by the FMRA, this medium-term deficit reduction strategy will be presented to with the 2011 budget due in November 2010. The 2011 budget will continue to implement the growth-oriented fiscal and structural policies outlined below. Submission of this budget to Parliament is expected in November 2010.

7. We have developed a plan for comprehensive reform of our tax system in order to make it more conducive to private-sector growth and to reverse the declining trend in tax revenues, so as to support needed reconstruction and infrastructure investment. According to the timetable for this reform plan, we have launched key reforms now, followed by further reforms during the remaining months of 2010 and legislative changes as part of the 2011 budget. Taking into consideration the Presidential Tax Commission’s recommendations, key goals of the Government’s tax reform plan are to simplify the existing tax system, broaden the base, and improve tax administration, with the aim to bring about a sustainable increase in tax revenue. Specifically, the reform will focus on the following areas.

  • Streamlining trade and excise taxes: We have already taken steps to simplify a number of trade and excise taxes. The government has reduced the number of tariff bands to four—viz., 0, 5, 15, and 30 percent—and exemptions will be allowed only on the grounds of national security, health, environment, and international commitments, thus streamlining the dual customs duty structure prevailing for almost ten years. Import surcharges have been incorporated into the new duty structure, and remaining duty waivers granted to limit the impact of high international commodity prices in 2009 are being phased out. Beyond these changes, prohibitive excise taxes applicable on a wide range of items including motor vehicles have been simplified. Moreover, most essential commodities that are being imported and subjected to about ten different taxes will now face a unified “special commodity levy” to make tax administration more efficient and taxation simpler.

  • Reducing tax concessions: One key element of reforms described above will be to reduce lost tax revenue from various concessions including ad hoc tax holidays and duty exemptions. The budget proposal announced in 2008 to cap new tax holidays and limit the granting of exemptions under section 17 of the BOI Act will be taken into consideration in the context of formulation the new incentive regime. The implementation of these together with a new tax incentive regime will be announced before end 2010. We have requested the Board of Investment to reformulate the investment strategy and refrain from granting new concessions until new regulations are finalized. These measures are expected to make a significant contribution to growth and increase in revenue elasticity in the medium term.

  • Broadening the VAT and income tax bases: The operational modalities of the VAT system and income taxes need simplification to eliminate weaknesses, including the complex and cumbersome VAT refund mechanism, and to improve revenue collection. We have sought technical assistance, with a view to taking concrete steps for improvement. In addition, taking into account the tax commission’s recommendations, our specific actions under review include reducing the number of numeral taxes and broadening the base of remaining taxes. The enabling legislation required for these tax reforms will be finalized as part of the 2011 budget. We expect to make significant progress toward this goal by the time of the next review.

  • Improving tax administration: With financial support from the Asian development Bank under the Fiscal Management Efficiency Project, action has already begun for simplification of procedures and processes, management information system, human resource development, tax audit, and IT use.

    These initiatives together with expected private sector investment and growth will sufficiently broaden the tax base and improve the revenue-to-GDP ratio to 15½ percent in 2011, with the aim of reaching 16½ percent by 2012.

8. Improving the performance and efficiency of loss-making state enterprises will help free resources for infrastructure investment and lending to the private sector. Newly reconstituted management in key public enterprises is expected to improve the performance of these enterprises. A separate Ministry of State Resources and Enterprise Development has been established to concentrate on under-performing state assets and addressing the issues in loss-making enterprises. Electricity prices are comparatively high in Sri Lanka, and a committee has been set up to rationalize the tariff regime and also address the high cost structure by utilizing low-cost coal and alternative energy sources. The government is also committed to dealing with the restructuring of non-performing debt of SOEs, including the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and Ceylon Electricity Board.

9. We continue to remain committed to maintain exchange rate flexibility that reflects market conditions. Monetary policy aims at maintaining price stability while ensuring adequate provision of credit to the private sector. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka also intends to further promote capital inflows, inward investments, and remittances.

10. The comprehensive financial sector regulatory reform agenda remains on track. Prudential regulations for credit card companies and payment service providers (structural benchmark) have been issued. The CBSL intends to issue guidelines to improve banks’ integrated risk management frameworks by end-July 2010. In addition, guidelines to enhance consumer protection will be issued by end-September 2010 to improve transparency and disclosure of banks’ business practices. Amendments to the Finance Companies Act clarifying the legal authority of the Central Bank in enforcing its regulations on all deposit- taking finance companies are to be submitted to Parliament (structural benchmark). Amendments to the Banking Act will also be submitted to Parliament by end-September), incorporating comments already received by stakeholders.

11. The CBSL Roadmap for Monetary and Financial Sector Policies for 2010 and Beyond also announced a number of new reform initiatives including the creation of a deposit insurance fund, regulation of pension funds, and capital market development.

  • The proposed deposit insurance scheme under the Monetary Law Act (MLA) will have a clear governance structure and can be mandated on all licensed banks and finance companies, with the issuance of implementation regulations by end-August 2010 (new structural benchmark). The premiums charged will initially be based on broadly flat rates, with a view to moving toward a more risk-based charging approach later on.

  • The government is proposing to introduce a comprehensive regulatory framework for private-sector superannuation funds by empowering an existing regulatory body (Insurance Board of Sri Lanka) to undertake this function by end-December 2010 (structural benchmark).

  • The government is planning measures to develop the capital market. These measures focus on diversifying the investor base, such as relaxing the restrictions on foreign investors’ participation in the corporate bond market, as well as encouraging listing of securities, and developing a medium-term, benchmark-oriented government debt issuance strategy.

12. Beyond these changes, our policy agenda remains as described in the July 16, 2009 Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies. We have set program performance criteria for end-June 2010 and end-September 2010, in addition to the respective reviews (Table 1). In view of Sri Lanka’s graduation, in the IMF’s classification, from low-income to middle-income emerging economy status, we request the elimination of the performance criterion setting a ceiling on non-concessional debt contracted and guaranteed by the government; our borrowing and government guarantee limits are stipulated in the FMRA and the annual borrowing limits authorized by the parliament. We are of the view that the debt dynamics are favourable, indicating that there is further scope for capital market participation.

Table 1.

Sri Lanka: Quantitative Performance Criteria (PC) and Indicative Targets (IT)

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If the amount of program financing and the cumulative net inflows into the Treasury Bill market and Treasury Bond market is higher/lower in U.S. dollar terms than assumed under the program, the floor on NIR will be adjusted upward/downward by the cumulative differences on the test date.

If the amount of commercial borrowing (including Eurobonds and syndicated loans) is higher/lower in U.S. dollar terms than assumed under the program, the floor on NIR will be adjusted upward/downward by the cumulative difference on the test date.

If the amount of official external debt service by the central government in U.S. dollars is higher/lower than assumed under the program, the floor on NIR will be adjusted downward/upward by the cumulative differences on the test date.

If the amount of debt service on syndicated loans by the central government in U.S. dollars is higher/lower than assumed under the program, the floor on NIR will be adjusted downward/upward by the cumulative differences on the test date. The adjustor is introduced from end-December 2009.

The floor on NIR will be adjusted upwards by any repayments for the foreign currency loan from the CBSL by the Bank of Ceylon and the People’s Bank in excess of the repayment schedule. This adjustor is not applicable from January 2010 onwards.

If the amount of external loans is higher/lower in rupee terms than assumed under the program, the cumulative ceiling on net domestic financing of the central government will be adjusted downward/upward by the cumulative difference in external loans on the test date. From end-December, external loans will be defined as external program loans and external commercial loans (including Eurobonds and syndicated loans).

If the amount of external debt service by the central government in rupee terms is higher/lower than assumed under the program, the ceiling on net domestic financing of the central government will be adjusted upward/downward by the cumulative difference in external debt service payments measured in rupees.

If the amount of privatization proceeds to the central government in connection with the sale of central government assets is higher/lower than assumed under the program, the cumulative ceiling on NDF of the central government will be adjusted downward/upward by the cumulative receipt/reimbursement of any privatization proceeds.

If the amount of outstanding claims by the Bank of Ceylon on the central government (item VIII (e, 1) on the balance sheet of the Bank of Ceylon) is lower in rupee terms than assumed under the program, the NDF of the central government will be adjusted upward by the difference on the test date.