The Government of Sri Lanka committed to accelerate more and better investments in human capital – health, education, and social protection – becoming the 82nd country to join the World Bank’s Human Capital Project.
At a high-level Human Capital Summit held today, at least 12 Ministers and State Ministers, Secretaries and State Secretaries, and several high-ranking officials including the Director General of the Ministry of Finance came together in person to discuss priorities to accelerate investments in human capital for increased future productivity and economic growth, and enable green, resilient, and inclusive development. The event also attracted around 200 virtual observers connecting from around the world and based in Sri Lanka.
“Investing in people is at the center of our government strategy, and is key to ensure a successful post COVID-19 recovery. We will continue to prioritize investments in human capital, to improve early childhood education, achieve universal primary and secondary education, increase access to and quality of higher education, as well as technical and vocational education, enhance quality of the health care system to face future health care challenges, and support vulnerable individuals and families through Samurdhi and other safety nets and employment programs,” said Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, Minister of Finance.
Sri Lanka’s solid human development outcomes are reflected in the country’s relatively high pre-COVID-19 Human Capital Index score, which is higher than the South Asia region and global averages. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on human capital accumulation in Sri Lanka, including job losses, a devastating learning crisis, and worsening malnutrition. This has led to increased poverty and vulnerability, especially among those groups who lack coping mechanisms and were already disadvantaged.
The World Bank is supporting the Government of Sri Lanka to address its human capital challenges through targeted engagements across health, education, and social protection, aligning with the Government’s National Policy Framework of Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor.
“Protecting and investing in people will be key to Sri Lanka’s recovery from the pandemic and boosting future productivity and economic growth,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank Vice President for South Asia. “Sri Lanka’s membership in the Human Capital Project is timely for the country to protect its hard-won gains. The World Bank stands ready to support Sri Lanka to accelerate human capital development and pave the way for more inclusive, resilient growth.”
The Human Capital Project is a global effort to accelerate investments in people for inclusive economic growth. It makes the case for investment in the human capital of the next generation; provides access toa program of measurement, research, and analysis that helps to invest in and protect human capital; and supports peer-learning for countries as they develop and implement accelerated priorities for human capital development.
Committing to the cause of accelerating investments in people, the Ministers participating at this event made statements as follows:
“Investments in education are central to reach higher levels of human capital outcomes for Sri Lanka. Our Ministry has made every effort to provide inclusive early childhood education and school education to all children. The opportunities to receive quality higher education and vocational training help to increase productivity, resilience, and enhance labour market outcomes. We look forward to working with the World Bank to invest in children and youth to realize their potential to contribute to the economy,” said Hon. Dinesh Gunawardene, Minister of Education.
“A healthy population is the bedrock for the enhancement of a nation’s human capital. Prioritizing investments in nutrition at every stage of a human being’s life and ensuring a responsive, robust healthcare system are paramount. At the same time, leveraging technology will further enhance the efficiency, quality, and governance of healthcare service delivery,” said Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella, Minister of Health.
“Securing and restoring jobs and incomes will be central to Sri Lanka’s recovery from the pandemic. We need more ambitious policies and programs to tackle these challenges, along with effective social protection strategies and social insurance programs. Sri Lanka can benefit fully from investments in human capital by improving labour market programs, especially for migrant workers. We look forward to working with the World Bank to improve Sri Lanka’s labour market programs, social protection and labour policies to realize full potential of all Sri Lankans,” said Hon. Nimal Siripala De Silva, Minister of Labour.
U.S. companies are barreling towards a $1.8 trillion corporate debt
US firms are barreling towards a giant wall of corporate debt that’s about to mature over the next few years, Goldman Sachs strategists said in a note.
There’s $1.8 trillion of corporate debt maturing over the next two years, Goldman Sachs estimated. Firms could be slammed with higher debt servicing costs as interest rates stay elevated. That could eat into corporate revenue and weigh on the US job market.
The investment bank estimated that $790 billion of corporate debt was set to mature in 2024, followed by $1.07 trillion of debt maturing in 2025. That amounts to $1.8 trillion of debt reaching maturity within the next two years, in addition to another $230 billion that will reach maturity by the end of this year, Goldman strategists said.
The wave of debt that will need to be refinanced could spell trouble for companies, as interest rates have been raised aggressively by the Fed over the last year. The Fed funds rate is now targeted between 5.25%-5.5%, the highest range since 2001.
For every extra dollar spent to service their debt, firms will likely pull back on capital expenditures spending by 10 cents and labor spending by 20 cents, the strategists estimated, a reduction that could weigh down the job market by 5,000 payrolls a month in 2024 and 10,000 payrolls a month in 2025.
Experts have warned of trouble for US corporations as credit conditions tighten. Already, the tally of corporate debt defaults in 2023 has surpassed the total number of defaults recorded last year. As much of $1 trillion in corporate debt could be at risk for default if the US faces a full-blown recession, Bank of America warned, though strategists at the bank no longer see a downturn as likely in 2023.
Russian response to sanctions: billions in dollar terms are stuck in Russia
“Tens of billions in dollar terms are stuck in Russia,” the chief executive of one large company domiciled in a country told ‘The Financial Times’. “And there is no way to get them out.”
Western companies that have continued to operate in Russia since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine have generated billions of dollars in profits, but the Kremlin has blocked them from accessing the cash in an effort to turn the screw on “unfriendly” nations.
Groups from such countries accounted for $18 billion (€16.8 billion) of the $20 billion in Russian profits that overseas companies reported for 2022 alone, and $199 billion of their $217 billion in Russian gross revenue.
Many foreign businesses have been trying to sell their Russian subsidiaries but any deal requires Moscow’s approval and is subject to steep price discounts. In recent days British American Tobacco and Swedish truck maker Volvo have announced agreements to transfer their assets in the country to local owners.
Local earnings of companies from BP to Citigroup have been locked in Russia since the imposition last year of a dividend payout ban on businesses from “unfriendly” countries including the US, UK and all EU members. While such transactions can be approved under exceptional circumstances, few withdrawal permits have been issued.
US groups Philip Morris and PepsiCo earned $775 million and $718 million, respectively. Swedish truck maker Scania’s $621 million Russian profit in 2022 made it the top earner among companies that have since withdrawn from the country. Philip Morris declined to comment. PepsiCo and Scania did not respond to requests for comment.
Among companies of “unfriendly” origin that remain active in Russia, Austrian bank Raiffeisen reported the biggest 2022 earnings in the country at $2 billion, according to the KSE data.
US-based businesses generated the largest total profit of $4.9 billion, the KSE numbers show, followed by German, Austrian and Swiss companies with $2.4 billion, $1.9 billion and $1 billion, respectively.
‘The Financial Times’ reported last month that European companies had reported writedowns and losses worth at least €100 billion from their operations in Russia since last year’s full-scale invasion.
German energy group Wintershall, which this year recorded a €7 billion non-cash impairment after the Kremlin expropriated its Russian business, has “about €2 billion in working interest cash… locked in due to dividend restrictions”, investors were told on a conference.
“The vast majority of the cash that was generated within our Russian joint ventures since 2022 has dissipated,” Wintershall said last month, adding that no dividends had been paid from Russia for 2022.
Russian officials are yet to outline “a clear strategy for dealing with frozen assets”, said Aleksandra Prokopenko, a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Centre. “However, considering the strong desire of foreign entities to regain their dividends, they are likely to explore using them as leverage – for example to urge western authorities to unfreeze Russian assets.”
Transforming Africa’s Transport and Energy Sectors in landmark Zanzibar Declaration
A special meeting of African ministers in charge of transport and energy held from 12-15 September on the theme, “Accelerating Infrastructure to Deliver on the AU Agenda 2063 Aspirations” has concluded with an action-oriented Zanzibar Declaration aimed at spurring the Continent’s transport and energy sectors.
Convened under the auspices of the African Union’s Fourth Ordinary Specialized Technical Committee on Transport, Transcontinental and Interregional Infrastructure and Energy, the meeting was organized by the African Union Commission (AUC) in collaboration with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
Speaking at the Ministerial segment of the meeting, Robert Lisinge, Acting Director of the Private Sector Development and Finance Division at the ECA called on member states to address the barriers limiting private sector investments in infrastructure and energy, urging them to facilitate investments by creating conducive policy and regulatory environments. “The requirements of continental infrastructure development and the aspirations of Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030 far exceed current levels of public sector investment,” he said.
He stressed that over the next ten years, there is a need for concerted action to address energy transition and security issues, in order to open up opportunities for the transformation of the continent. He cited ECA’s analytical work on the AfCFTA, which demonstrates there are investment opportunities for infrastructure development in the area of transport and energy and added that digitization and artificial intelligence offer great opportunities for the efficient operation of infrastructure.
According to the Zanzibar Declaration, the Ministers adopted the AUC and ECA continental regulatory framework for crowding-in private sector investment in Africa’s electricity markets. This framework will be used as an instrument for fast-tracking private sector investment participation in Africa’s electricity markets. The Declaration also called on ECA and partners to develop a continental energy security policy framework as called for by the 41st Ordinary Session of the Executive Council and an Energy Security Index and Dashboard to track advancements in achieving Africa’s energy security.
The meeting acknowledged the efforts by ECA to support Member States in coordinating Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) with development partners and the establishment of the African School of Regulation (ASR) as a pan-African centre of excellence to enhance the capacity of Member States on energy regulation.
The Declaration requested the ECA and partner institutions to further act in the following areas:
The AUC, in collaboration with AUDA-NEPAD, ECA, AfDB, RECs, Africa Transport Policy Programme (SSATP), and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat to implement the roadmap on the comprehensive and integrated regulatory framework on road transport in Africa.
ECA, in collaboration with AUC, to identify innovative practices and initiatives that emerged in the aviation industry in Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic and propose ways of sustaining such practices, including the development of smart airports with digital solutions for improved aviation security facilitation and environmental protection.
ECA, in collaboration with AUC, to establish mechanisms for systematic implementation, monitoring and evaluation of continental strategies for a sustainable recovery of the aviation industry.
The AUC, AUDA-NEPAD, AfDB and UNECA to engage with development partners and Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) to mobilize resources for projects preparation and implementation of PIDA-PAP 2 projects.
ECA and AUC, in collaboration with partners, to coordinate PPP initiatives to avoid duplication of efforts and strengthen complementarity.
The AUC and ECA to work with continental, regional and specialized institutions to support the design and implementation of programmes, courses, and capacity development initiatives of the African School of Regulation (ASR) to support the implementation of the African Single Electricity Market and Continental Power System Master Plan.
The AUC to work with AUDA-NEPAD, AfDB, ECA and RECs, respective power pools, regional regulatory bodies, and relevant stakeholders to design continental mechanisms for regulating and coordinating electricity trade across power pools.
AUDA-NEPAD, AUC, AFREC, ECA, AfDB, Power pools and development partners to comprehensively assess local manufacturing of renewable energy technologies and beneficiation of critical minerals for battery manufacturing.
ECA and AFREC to accelerate the implementation of the Energy4Sahel Project to improve the deployment of off-grid technologies and clean cooking in the affected Member States.
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