Inclusion

Debt or Disconnection: Prioritising Energy Justice in Economic Recovery

In Part One of this article, we considered the proposed electricity tariff revision from the perspective of the urban poor in Colombo, arguing that the revisions failed to account for ground realities faced by domestic consumers, both in terms of understanding the financial pressures of the economic crisis as well as how electricity usage has changed in response. In light of the approved tariff increase that averages at 75% in all categories, we take a closer look at low-consumer tariffs, and offer recommendations that uphold principles of energy justice.

Sri Lanka: Anatomy of a Crisis and the Path Ahead

Even though much of the recent foreign media coverage of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis and external commentary or analysis of it has focussed rather narrowly on the policy missteps in the last two years, the country’s economic problems have been at least a decade in the making. The debilitating economic collapse Sri Lanka is experiencing today is in no small part due to the flawed economic model followed in the years after the end of the civil war in 2009. This article serves to provide an international reader with a more useful reference point for the recent origins, evolution, and dimensions of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, and selected perspectives on the policy issues and path ahead. It is written largely from an economics lens, and would need to be read alongside work by others that focuses more closely on human rights, the environment, and social justice issues.

Debt or Disconnection: CEB’s Tariff Hikes and the Urban Poor

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) in July sought an increase in tariffs from the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), proposing a regressive scheme of tariffs that will see the lowest consumers burdened with the highest increases in rates. The rationale for this revision is that the CEB (excluding LECO costs) requires an 82.4% increase in revenue to meet their forecasted costs for 2022. The proposed raise is likely to increase energy poverty among a population that is already burdened by inflation with a Consumer Price Index (CPI) that is nearly at 60%. Domestic consumers who use fewer than 30 units of electricity per month will have their bills increase by 835% to Rs. 507.65 from the current Rs. 54.27. Overall, it has been identified that 50% of domestic electricity consumers in Sri Lanka – 3.14 million households who use fewer than 60 units a month – will face the greatest increase in electricity bills due to the proposed increase in tariffs.  Women who already perform the majority of housework will bear the brunt of the planned price increase. The gendered impacts of energy poverty will constrain a generation of women and girls, stripping them of time and inhibiting their access to education and the workforce. In a deteriorating economy that places a massive and disproportionate burden on the urban poor, these tariff hikes represent an additional cost that will increase energy poverty and even threaten access to the grid. The tariff hikes are insensitive to the changing consumption patterns of electricity among residents in urban areas, as well as to the significant debt that many households have already fallen into. Beyond the tariff hikes, any policy recommendations regarding support to families during this crisis period must be mindful of these diverse consumption patterns.

Austerity and Vulnerability: Better Solutions to Support the Poor During Economic Crises

As Sri Lanka's economic crisis worsens and tax increases, utility price hikes and budget cuts begin, the need for a meaningful social safety net for the poor has become a key public policy focus. Yet, Sri Lanka has a bad track record of properly identifying, and providing support to, vulnerable population groups. Current approaches to welfare design risk replicating existing problems. In this in-depth interview, featuring key data points, Dr. Anila Dias Bandaranaike (a former senior Central Banker, and poverty data expert), speaks about the problems with our current approaches and ideas for better solutions. It is essentially viewing for anyone interested in this topic - whether you are a researcher, public policy professional, or civil society organization leader.

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From Bad to Worse: Understanding and Supporting Colombo’s Urban Poor Families in Crisis

Low-income settlements in Colombo experienced greater food insecurity even before the pandemic, with 72% of households being food insecure. Conditions are going from bad to worse due to the current economic crisis. In this article, researchers from the Colombo Urban Lab detail the food insecurity and precarity of urban poor households through COVID-19 lockdowns and the current economic crisis and presents research driven, evidence based recommendations for immediate term support that the State must provide in order to ensure some relief for households. They argue that the proposed measures should be universal to every household below a particular income or need threshold, and not targeted as that would only exacerbate existing divisions in communities.

Sri Lanka’s Economic Crisis is Hurting Education and Students’ Future Prospects

Sri Lanka is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in post-independence history. While some reform areas have gained more traction than others (for instance, the debt restructuring), the critical state that the education sector is in has received relatively less attention; and this risks Sri Lanka’s future growth prospects. The government must strive to formulate a comprehensive action plan that is student-centric, in order to revive Sri Lanka’s education system and help students and teachers manage the current crisis. If the government does not address the concerns of its students, and provide immediate solutions to their needs, the country will not only see an entire generation of young people affected by lower educational attainment in crucial development years, but also experience a severe brain drain in the years ahead. While the country tackles macroeconomic stabilisation measures, it is vital to tackle the education crisis as well.

Sri Lanka needs a ‘sensible’ fiscal adjustment plan – CSF Co-Founder

CSF Co-Founder Anushka Wijesinha was interviewed by Andrea Sanke of the leading Turkish global news channel TRT World, on their show 'Newsmakers' to talk about the ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka, along with history researcher Shamara Wettimuny, and activist Ruki Fernando. During the panel, he recalled one of the turning points for the economy - the irresponsible tax cuts that led to the ratings downgrades and locking out of international capital markets - and the cascading policy errors and the false bravado that followed. He argued that while the structural problems with the economy will take longer to resolve, the immediate macroeconomic stabilisation needs to take centre stage and the IMF programme will be the first baby steps towards that, and avoid a sovereign debt default.

Sri Lanka’s political turmoil risks derailing the economy further

Sri Lanka is facing unprecedented political turmoil, and with the economy in a tailspin it is in its weakest state in decades. The country is staring down the barrel of a sovereign debt default and is exposed to external shocks. As the country embarks on IMF bailout discussions, the main emerging risk facing Sri Lanka is the fallout of the current political instability on macroeconomic stabilisation efforts. Facing the prospect of a disorderly default, Sri Lankan officials have a decision to make — will they kow-tow to narrow political compulsions, or come together to agree on a common programme that steers the economy out of the current crisis and towards macroeconomic stability? Perhaps the current turmoil in parliament and the public’s growing recognition of the cause of the crisis will be what catalyses a political consensus for reform that has eluded Sri Lanka for so long.

Making Sri Lanka’s Technology Transition More Inclusive

For Sri Lankan youth entering the workforce over the next decade, there lies a critical window of opportunity to get equipped for jobs in the digital economy. Rapidly advancing the technical and soft skills training for the technology sector across the country is vital to avoid reinforcing and reproducing existing regional and gender disparities into the emerging digital economy. Sri Lanka needs to focus on enhancing technology access, usage, and literacy across the board, to help workers be better prepared for jobs in the technology sector.

Budget Makers for the Country Must Listen to the Budget Makers of the Home

Since the first lockdown in March 2020, most conversations we have had with working class poor communities in Colombo have been dominated by one topic – budgets and listening to families talk about how they prioritise their expenditure based on their needs and their income. How do we take the everyday struggles of people to get by or get the job done, only to be faced with a state institution also struggling for resources and turn it into an experience where people’s needs can be met with well-funded and equipped institutions?