Fact-check on President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s Special Address to the Nation on June 26, 2024

President Ranil Wickremesinghe made a television address to the nation on June 26 after signing bilateral debt restructuring agreements. The team fact-checked a total of four statements from President Wickremesinghe’s speech. Of these, two statements were graded as True and two of them as False. See below for statements fact-checked along with their narrative, verdicts, and relevant sources.

Number 1

Fact-check: CBSL data reveals that the current account balance for the year 2023 has a positive balance of USD 1,559 Mn. This is the first time it has been positive since the year 1977, at which time the balance was USD 144 Mn

Number 2

Fact-check: In the first quarter of 2022 economic growth was a negative 0.6%. In the next five quarters it was a negative 5.3%, 11.2%, 12.4%, 10.7% and 3% respectively. In third quarter of 2023 it grew by 1.6%, and in subsequent quarters by 4.5% and 5.3%%.

Number 3

Fact-check: The statement implies that the reserves increased by USD 5.5 billion since April 2022. The reserve figure of USD 5.5 billion mentioned is approximately correct.  But this figure also includes a USD 1.3 billion swap arrangement from the People’s Bank of China (PBOC).

When reserves were at their lower point in April 2022 (‘dried up’), the PBOC swap (which was not expendable) was reported as USD. 1.5 billion. Thus, the increase in reserves cannot be more than USD 4 billion (5.5 – 1.5), which makes the claim of increasing by  USD 5.5 billion incorrect.

Number 4

Fact-check: Since 2014 countries such as Belize, Mongolia, Argentina, and Ecuador have completed their debt restructuring in under one year since the date of default, while Chad and Barbados have taken less than two years. Only Suriname and Zambia (both over two years) have taken longer than Sri Lanka.

Thus, the president is wrong in claiming that no country in the world has achieved the ‘victory’ of restructuring within a ‘short time’ frame of ‘2 years’.

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