Government promises citizen-friendly Budget

Ranil Wickremesinghe - Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

Promising to bring a ‘citizen-friendly Budget’ in March, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday (10), said in Parliament that the priority of the Government is to stabilise the rupee.

The Premier added that the country’s foreign reserves depleted by US$ 1 billion during the recent political crisis, which lasted for 51 days, from 26 October 2018, and the debt management plans of the country have been ruined as a result.

“The rupee had depreciated by 3.8 per cent during that period. Also, US$ 312.9 million in Treasury Guarantees, US$ 29.1 million in Treasury Bills, and US$ 29.8 million in Treasury Bonds flowed out of the country. Prior to that, we had plans to reach US$ 8 B foreign reserves by the end of this year. We had US$ 7,991 million foreign reserves as at 26 October 2018.

But that amount had dropped to US$ 6,985.4 million,” he said.

Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka needs US$ 5,900 billion to service foreign loans and interest this year.  “Sri Lanka’s highest ever loan instalment has to be paid on 14 January. The value of that instalment is US$ 2,600 million. We tried to handle these debts without placing more burdens on citizens. We had made long plans for that. But now, we have to start everything from scratch,” he added.

Following the Premier’s speech, UPFA Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa raised a Point of Order and queried as to whether the Government has promised to lease out the China Bay and Kankesanthurai Ports, the Mattala Airport, and the Colombo Port’s East Terminal to India.

Wickremesinghe refuted Weerawansa’s claim and said the Reserve Bank of India has agreed to provide US$ 400 million under the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) swap facility.

“We have not given any promise like that, only the terms and conditions of the SAARC swap facility would apply to that,” he said.

“Furthermore, another US$ 500 million is expected from Chinese Panda Bonds and Japanese Samurai Bonds.

“We hope to obtain US$ One billion from the International Monetary Market. Finance and Mass Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera will fly to Washington next week to discuss about that. This will help control the depreciation of the rupee,” he said.

(Source: Ceylon Today – By Methmalie Dissanayake / Pix by REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte)