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Navigating Sri Lanka’s Demographic Change

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The latest edition of the World Bank’s Sri Lanka Development Update (SLDU) finds the island in a challenging macroeconomic landscape. The post-conflict high growth momentum has decelerated. A volatile global environment and structurally weak competitiveness continue to weaken growth and external sector performance. High interest costs mask limited fiscal improvement.

The report’s special focus examines the challenges associated with a change in demographic composition and suggests that a multi-year program of policy reforms and institutional strengthening could help prepare Sri Lanka for the decades ahead.

The SLDU, which analyses key developments in Sri Lanka’s economy over the past six months, notes that while post-conflict growth has decelerated, the outlook remains stable, conditional on political stability and reform implementation.

Sri Lanka is stepping up to the plate at a time when the global environment remains turbulent. Key reforms, such as the implementation of the Inland Revenue Law, passing of the Active Liability Management Act, are helping to prepare for heightened external debt refinancing risks in 2019 and beyond.

It is important to consolidate on previous reforms to ensure maximum benefits,” says Fernando Im, an author of the SLDU and the senior country economist for Sri Lanka-Maldives. He explains that future reforms could yield high development impacts, such as further strengthening public finance management and supporting the implementation of a social registry to improve coverage and targeting of social safety nets.

Below are some of the recent developments highlighted in the report:

Sri Lanka’s debt portfolio carries significant risks

At an estimated 83 percent of its Gross Domestic Product, Sri Lanka’s central government debt level is high. As the country approached upper middle-income status, it has been borrowing on more commercial terms with increased cost and risk.

The majority of foreign currency denominated debt is now largely made up of market borrowings including International Sovereign Bonds (ISBs) and Sri Lanka Development Bonds (SLDBs), which in 2017 accounted for 53 percent, up from just 3 percent of total foreign currency denominated debt in 2000.

In total, maturities of bullet repayments on Eurobonds from 2019 to 2023 and from 2025 to 2028 alone amount to USD 12.15 billion. The SLDU notes that this is new territory for the country and could expose the island nation to refinancing risks.

In response, the government has adopted policies designed to address these risks, however, the slow progress of key structural reforms remains a cause for concern. It is hoped that improvements in debt management will help manage costs and risks of the portfolio, develop the domestic financial market and improve access to finance.

Despite the fast poverty reduction, there remain areas with significant poverty

Over the past two decades, Sri Lanka’s economy expanded at a rapid pace and the country has done much to address extreme poverty with a decline from 15.4 percent in 2013 to 9.7 percent in 2016, as measured against the World Bank’s international poverty line of $3.20 per day for lower middle-income countries.

Measures, such as the expansion of the Samurdhi programme in 2015, offered dividends although better targeting of social assistance would have resulted in larger gains. However, it is vital to note that a large number of people remain just a small shock away from falling back into poverty, says the report, noting that adverse weather conditions have become increasingly influential in recent years.

Critically, there is a disparity between various districts, with the highest poverty headcount being reported in the Northern and Eastern provinces, where regions like Ratnapura, Kandy and Badulla account for more than a quarter of the poor population combined. It is clear, Sri Lanka must design different strategies to address the varied issues around human capital, basic services, the availability of jobs and access to markets.

Sri Lanka is undergoing profound demographic change – the country needs to do more to prepare

Like many other countries in the world, Sri Lanka is staring down a dramatic demographic shift – Sri Lanka’s share of working-age population peaked in 2005 and it is expected to gradually decline over time. This has implications for labor supply, service delivery in sectors such as health and education, and of course for pensions, employment and public finances overall.

A particular concern are the limited savings and instructional support mechanisms in place to support this rapidly expanding elderly population. Increasing costs mean that programs such as the Public Servants Pension Scheme (PSPS) could struggle to deliver on their benefit promises over the long run, while the EPF – the employer-based defined contribution saving scheme for formal private sector workers – appears inadequate to meet the costs associated with over two decades of retirement.

As can be expected formidable challenges exist, but improving various aspects of delivery systems will prove critical to broadening worker coverage. By prioritising educational attainment, addressing the skills mismatch that hurts new graduates in the market, and nurturing entrepreneurship, younger people could be encouraged to participate in the workforce. Finally, improving female labour force participation could also help buffer the adverse impacts of demographic factors on growth.

World Bank

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India’s Opportunity to Become a Global Manufacturing Hub

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Beyond the unprecedented health impact, the COVID‑19 pandemic has been catastrophic for the global economy and businesses and is disrupting manufacturing and Global Value Chains (GVCs), disturbing different stages of the production in different locations around the world. Furthermore, the pandemic has accelerated the already ongoing fundamental shifts in GVCs, driven by the aggregation of three megatrends: emerging technologies; the environmental sustainability imperative; and the reconfiguration of globalization.

In this fast-evolving context, as global companies adapt their manufacturing and supply chain strategies to build resilience, India has a unique opportunity to become a global manufacturing hub. It has three primary assets to capitalize on this unique opportunity: the potential for significant domestic demand, the Indian Government’s drive to encourage manufacturing, and with a distinct demographic edge, including considerable proportion of young workforce.

These factors will position India well for a larger role in GVCs. A thriving manufacturing sector will also generate additional benefits and help India deliver on the imperatives to create economic opportunities for nearly 100 million people likely to enter its workforce in the coming decade, to distribute wealth more equitably and to contain its burgeoning trade deficit.

The World Economic Forum’s new White Paper entitled Shifting Global Value Chains: The India Opportunity, produced in collaboration with Kearney, found India’s role in reshaping GVCs and its potential to contribute more than $500 billion in annual economic impact to the global economy by 2030. The White Paper presents five possible paths forward for India to realize its manufacturing potential.

The insights presented in the White Paper reflect the perspectives of leaders from multiple industries in the region. The five possible solutions include:

· Coordinated action between the government and the private sector to help create globally competitive manufacturing companies

· Shifting focus from cost advantage to building capabilities through workforce skilling, innovation, quality, and sustainability

· Accelerating integration in global value chains by reducing trade barriers and enabling competitive global market access for Indian manufacturers

· Focusing on reducing the cost of compliance and establishing manufacturing capacities faster

· Focusing infrastructure development on cost savings, speed, and flexibility

“For India to become a global manufacturing hub, business and government leaders need to work together to understand ongoing disruptions and opportunities, and develop new strategies and approaches aimed at generating greater economic and social value”, said Francisco Betti, Head of Shaping the Future of Advanced Manufacturing and Production, World Economic Forum.

“A thriving manufacturing sector could potentially be the most critical building block for India’s economic growth and prosperity in the coming decade. The ongoing post-COVID rebalancing of Global Value Chains offers India’s government and business leaders a unique opportunity to transform and accelerate the trajectory of manufacturing sector”, said Viswanathan Rajendran, Partner, Kearney.

This White Paper aims to serve as an initial framework for deliberation and action in the manufacturing ecosystem. The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with Kearney, will continue to develop this agenda by working closely with the manufacturing community in India to generate new insights, help inform discussions and strategy decisions, facilitate new partnerships, and provide a platform for exchanges with the global community.

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New Skills Development Key to Further Improving Students’ Learning Outcomes

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Learning outcomes in Russia would benefit significantly from a focus on teaching new skills that are tailored to the modern labor market, says a new World Bank report, New Skills for a New Century: Informing Regional Policy.

Russia’s education system has traditionally been well-performing and efficient, with Russian students appearing among the top performers globally. However, today’s labor market requires “21st century skills” – a combination of skills, knowledge, and expertise that students need to succeed in the modern world.

“Russia’s education system could achieve better teaching and learning outcomes if it focused more on developing 21st-century skills,” says Tigran Shmis, World Bank Senior Education Specialist. “There is a strong relationship between the quality of the school environment, innovative teaching practices, students’ perception of school, and students’ learning outcomes.”

According to the report, 38 percent of Russian schools today are not equipped with workshops and 46 percent do not have scientific laboratories. And, 77 percent of educational institutions do not have dedicated places for integrated lessons that stimulate the development of new skills and team interaction.

The way teaching is delivered, the physical characteristics of the learning environment, and the school’s psychological climate all affect students’ learning results. The study provides an insight into how these factors impact the development of students’ skills, including 21st century and digital skills. Along with data analytics, the study includes a qualitative perspective of modern teaching and learning in Russia, as well as the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching and learning.

“Developing the ability of students to master 21st century skills is critical to ensuring their future employment and career success,” says Renaud Seligmann, World Bank Country Director for Russia. “Studies in Russia have shown that businesses having access to workers with these skills will also be critical for growth and productivity. In turn, high-quality human capital is a cornerstone of the resilience and sustainability of the national economy.”

The report provides recommendations for how schools in Russia can better help students excel. For example, teachers who practice innovative teaching are more likely to drive higher achievement. Modern teaching practices can be supported by expanding the use of technology and enhancing the learning environment in classrooms. Technology should be made available in schools on an equitable basis to improve student learning and enhance teachers’ professional development. Education policymakers should prioritize the prevention of bullying and the development of supporting measures to ensure a positive school climate.

Despite the physical return of students to schools, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing continued learning losses. Therefore, new equipment, ICT, and innovative teaching methods are needed to enable teachers to improve their practices and compensate such learning losses.

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Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments

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The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.

Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”

 Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.

 Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:

 Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.

 It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.

 Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.

 Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.

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