Sri Lanka is facing delays in receiving the second tranche of its $2.9 billion IMF bailout package due to unresolved issues with its external debt restructuring. This crisis comes as the nation grapples with its worst economic downturn in history, characterized by dwindling foreign exchange reserves and public protests over shortages of vital commodities.
IMF’s Financial Lifeline
In March of this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) granted Sri Lanka a 48-month extended arrangement worth $2.9 billion under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF). The aim was to bolster Sri Lanka’s economic policies and promote essential reforms.
Challenges on the Road to Recovery
While the IMF acknowledges some signs of stabilization, it cautions that a full economic recovery remains uncertain. Key issues include:
Debt Restructuring: Sri Lanka is in the midst of restructuring its public debt, which is in arrears. The IMF Executive Board demands that financing assurances reviews be completed to ensure that adequate progress is being made in debt restructuring. This is crucial for gaining confidence that debt targets will be met in a timely manner as part of the program.
- Program Review: The release of the second tranche, approximately $330 million, hinged on the completion of the first program review. This review assesses whether set targets, policies, and reforms are in place to achieve the program’s objectives.
Reform Progress: Sri Lanka has made commendable progress in implementing much-needed reforms, resulting in tentative signs of economic stabilization. Key indicators include a decrease in inflation from 70% in September 2022 to under 2% in September 2023, an increase in gross international reserves by $1.5 billion, and alleviation of essential commodity shortages.
Despite these positive developments, the IMF warns of ongoing challenges:
Economic Recovery: The nation’s economic recovery is still fragile, with subdued growth momentum.
Revenue Shortfall: An expected government revenue shortfall by year-end could hamper its ability to provide essential public services.
To address these challenges, the IMF suggests:
Strengthening Tax Administration: Improve tax administration to increase revenues and signal better governance.
- Removing Tax Exemptions: Eliminate tax exemptions to enhance revenue collection.
Combatting Tax Evasion: Actively address tax evasion to boost government finances.
Sri Lanka sought an IMF bailout after declaring its first-ever sovereign debt default in April 2022. This crisis led to a political upheaval, with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigning in July 2022. His successor, Ranil Wickremesinghe, implemented measures to combat inflation. These included tax and utility service reforms, though analysts suggest that the economy has only partially recovered.