IMF funding to restore Sri Lanka’s int’l recognition: President

Colombo: Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament on Wednesday that the IMF Extended Fund Facility (EFF) will restore the island nation’s international recognition amid the worst-ever economic crisis, ensure the country is not bankrupt and help banks regain international trust.

The credit facility amounts to approximately $2.9 billion over four years, with the first tranche of $333 million to be received, reports Xinhua news agency.

He said that the receipt of the IMF Facility is a step towards building a better future for the youth and uplifting the country.

Additionally, the country is expecting about $7 billion more in rapid credit support from other parties, Wickremesinghe told the lawmakers.

The IMF EFF will create opportunities for low-interest credit, restore foreign investors’ confidence and lay the foundation for a strong new economy, he said.

“We are now starting a new journey. We must introduce many economic reforms throughout the process,” the President noted.

Some of these reforms have already been proposed and implemented through the interim budget of 2022 and the budget for 2023, Wickremesinghe said.

He added that the government aims to reduce the primary deficit to 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025 and increase revenue to 14 per cent of the GDP by 2026.

Wickremesinghe noted the standard corporate income tax rate has been raised to 30 per cent, and sectoral tax holidays have been eliminated.

The pay-as-you-earn tax rate has been raised from 12 per cent to 15 per cent, and the tax exemption limit has been reduced from 300 million LKR to 80 million LKR, he said.

The President told Parliament that the government also aims to reduce the inflation rate to 4 per cent to 6 per cent and bring it to a single digit by mid-2023.

The government further plans to reduce the budget deficit and refrain from printing money.

“The forex market thresholds and guidelines will be relaxed while allowing market criteria to determine its activities. The Central Bank plans to purchase foreign currency to build up foreign reserves,” he said.

The President said that with regard to good governance, the IMF is preparing a report to assess the governance framework and corruption in Sri Lanka.

The government is drafting laws against corruption in line with UN conventions and will present a new Public Finance Management bill to introduce strong fiscal policies and laws regarding foreign loans.

The crisis-hit island nation had initially hoped to agree a new payment plan with China and India by the end of 2022.

Presently, Beijing’s lending to Sri Lanka stands at around $7 billion, while India is owed around $1 billion.

The Covid-19 pandemic, rising energy prices, populist tax cuts and inflation of more than 50 per cent has battered Sri Lanka.

A shortage of medicines, fuel and other essentials also pushed the cost of living to record highs, triggering violent nationwide protests which overthrew the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government in 2022.

As a result the country defaulted on its debts with international lenders last May for the first time in its history.

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