Hole In The Coffers

The Central Bank estimates state revenue at Rs. 275 bn, while total debt servicing stands at Rs. 300 bn, the bank
quote s Superintendent Public Debt, Dharma Dheerasinghe told Lanka Business Online.

rnrnHe said the bank is looking at introducing interest rate swaps, inflation linked bonds and short-term borrowings to tide through the crisis.

rnrnPresently, interest payments alone account for 50 percent of the government
quote s total revenue.

rnrnldblquote It
quote s a dicey situation, because the market is not in a position to absorb an extra Rs. 1 bn,
dblquote Dheerasinghe said.

rnrnThe topsy turvy situation came about when the LTTE resumed its warfare two years ago, which stretched the treasury
quote s parched coffers.

rnrnThe government borrowed two-year bonds at rates as high as 22 percent at that time, to fund additional military expenditure.

rnrnldblquote We were hoping to covert the short-term bills into longer term bonds, but the current rates are not quite conducive,
dblquote Dheerasinghe said.

rnrnTreasury rates have been progressively falling over the past months, with three-year bonds down to13.75 percent and one-year treasuries hovering around 12.50 percent.

rnrnSince the military setback two years ago, the bank stopped issuing longer-term bonds, as it felt the market were too high. The bank is now looking at issuing longer maturities next month.

rnrnBOI Chairman Arjuna Mahendra suggests the current short maturity period of gilt-edge securities, which range from 3-months to 2-years should be swapped into longer term bonds with maturity of 5-10 years in order to clear the public debt overhang.

rnrnIf implemented, Mahendran says, the government will analyse which sectors of the economy will bear the deadweight of the debt swap and will provide concessions for them.

rnrnBut critics point out that a unilateral swap by the government could be regarded as a debt default, which could result in a black mark on Sri Lanka
quote s untarnished debt repayment history.

rnrnIt could also weaken the prospects for placing local bonds in foreign capital markets.

rnrnldblquote The government must disclose its borrowing programme for the year and stick to it. They should also be willing to borrow at market rates, which in the longer run, is a better method,
dblquote says Ajith Fernando, CEO Capital Asia Markets.

rnrnManinda Wickremasinghe of First Capital Ltd says the government should identify what areas are draining its scarce reserves.

rnrnldblquote Borrowings are mostly done to fund bloated loss making state corporations. State institutions like CPC, CWE, CEB should be told to borrow from the market on the strength of their balance sheet,
dblquote he said adding that government funds could be put to better use to fund capital expenditure.rn