In his statement, the president claims that the present government is burdened with having to pay various debts taken by previous governments. As an example, he cites that before 2015 Sri Lanka had only borrowed USD 5 billion worth of International Sovereign Bonds (ISBs); and that the 2015-2019 government had increased ISB borrowings to USD 15 billion.
To check this claim, FactCheck.lk compared the foreign and local debt numbers from the Central Bank Annual Report for the period between end 2014 and end 2019.
Exhibit 1 shows the total debt of the country increased by 42.8%. Of which the total foreign debt, including Sovereign guaranteed State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) debt, increased by USD 10 billion or 35% (from around USD 28.5 billion to USD 38.6 billion). Much of that increase was through ISBs, which increased by USD 8.8 billion (from USD 5.3 to USD 14.1 billion – an increase of 167%) in the same period.
The increase indicated by the president was USD 10 billion (from USD 5 to 15 billion – an increase of 200%), which is significantly higher than what is reported in the 2020 Annual report of the CBSL. However, the CBSL also reported a provisional figure of USD 15.2 billion in its 2019 Annual Report for outstanding value of ISBs. Therefore, the president may have obtained his numbers from this past provisional figure.
The president’s citation of ISB debt increase as an example, indicating the increase in foreign debt, is misleading. The total increase in foreign debt was 35% and not 200% as in the example used. The increase cited in the example is also significantly overstated from the reported increase of 167%. Nevertheless, because the figures in his example would be close to correct on an outdated provisional figure reported by the Central Bank, we classify his statement as PARTLY TRUE.
*FactCheck.lk’s verdict is based on the most recent information that is publicly accessible. As with every fact check, if new information becomes available, FactCheck.lk will revisit the assessment.
Exhibit 1: Outstanding debt of the government in 2014 and 2019
Source: Central Bank of Sri Lanka Annual Reports
Central Bank of Sri Lanka, Annual Reports 2014 – 2019, available at https://www.cbsl.gov.lk/en/publications/economic-and-financial-reports/annual-reports.
Verité Research, De-mystifying the increase in Sri Lanka’s Debt, available at https://www.veriteresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/VR_ENG_Insights_Feb2022_Demystifying-the-increase-in-Sri-Lankas-debt.pdf.