“The Government remains committed to the deficit reduction path seen in the post conflict period is continued to reach further progress in 2014 and 2015 to bring the deficit to below 5%,” Dr. Jayasundera told a packed Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Economic Summit yesterday.
He said the analytical work undertaken by the Department of Fiscal Policy also indicates that an economic growth in excess of 6% with a fiscal deficit reduction towards 5% from the current level is conducive to bring the debt to GDP level down to 70% by 2015 and to below 60% by 2020.
Despite mixed performance in terms of managing the fiscal deficit in the first half, Dr. Jayasundera said the Finance Ministry was confident that there will be improvements in the second half of this year over the contraction witnessed during the second half of last year.
“This together with continued moderation in recurrent expenditure, the deficit set for this year at 5.8% is realisable,” he said, adding the medium term target was consistent in accommodating available long-term financing at relatively at low rates from foreign development partners and domestic sources while creating an increased space for private borrowing.
“This level of deficits over the 2013-15 medium term fiscal framework within which the Government formulates its fiscal strategy is conducive to provide greater freedom to the Central Bank to conduct its monetary policy towards amid-single digit inflation,” said Finance Secretary who also sits on the Monetary Board.
Noting that Sri Lanka today has the lowest fiscal deficit since 1977, Dr. Jayasundera in his speech titled ‘Managing the fiscal deficit towards securing stability and development’ at the Summit’s first session, also quantified the planned deficit reduction towards 4% by 2015.
“In fact that was the deficit Sri Lanka seemed to have maintained in 1950. Given that the 2013 deficit target of 5.8% remains a firm commitment of the Government to ensure a continuity for the fourth year in such a downward direction is noted, we need a further two percentage points or about a Rs. 250 billion reduction over the next two years in our efforts to raise revenue or allow recurrent expenditure growth to moderate by that amount or a combination of both,” he said.
He said since feasibility improves with a proper distribution between revenue and current expenditure the required adjustments appear manageable due to several reasons.
First, the effects of the moratorium on tax holiday extensions should bring the balance 40% out of total commercially functional BOI enterprises of 1962 at the end of 2012 to the tax system over the next two to three years that is of about 330 commercial operations.
Second, full operations of VAT at retail level commenced this year with a further rationalisation of the exemptions list together with intensified tax audits of large and corporate tax payers including SVAT arrangement now in place to simplify the application of VAT to zero rated category should improve tax elasticity of the VAT system.
Third, the normalisation of imports following the sharp adjustments made to bring imports in line with normal trends should reflect recovery in revenue collected at the point of imports though applicable taxes which have been simplified recently depending on the purpose for such taxes and administrative convenience
Dr. Jayasundera also said the Government has been successful in managing the primary deficit, which has declined from 2% of GDP in 2006 to 1.1% in 2012 underscoring substantial adjustments in non interest expenditure and the reduced debt creation tendency.
However, he said despite all these, fiscal management towards securing stability and development is not free from risks and vulnerabilities.
One such major challenge according to Finance Secretary is the risks of the budget to extreme fluctuations in weather conditions that the country has begun to experience increasingly in recent years. He said this aspect is a subject of interest of the World Bank, which has already deployed a mission to study options to insulate the budget from such pressures.
“I will also not underestimate the resistance for cost reflective price adjustments to be progress as the private sector still lives on subsidies on electricity and fuel. They need to move away, allowing us to target them only to the needy segments of the population and SMEs. Tax dodging through evasion, avoidance and the use of so called tax planning may undermine the envisaged improvements in taxation,” Dr. Jayasundera said.
“Credible and feasible adjustments are sensible than undeliverable ambitions in relation to fiscal management. So let us not be academic and over-dramatise these either. Management of the fiscal deficit is real and we have to do it in a very complex economic environment. The silver lining, however, is the relatively low defence expenditure and the much stronger security that is prevailing in the country which make fiscal policy management much easier than what I have experienced before from the same position that I have the privilege to address this summit today, which has evolved a much more promising outlook for the country to secure stability and development,” the Finance Secretary told the Ceylon Chamber forum.