The World Bank Group has supported Sri Lanka’s development for close to six decades, having accompanied the island as it has grown to join the ranks of higher middle-income countries.
The IDA-IBRD portfolio consists of 15 projects with a total net commitment of nearly USD 1.9 billion. Urban operations account for 21 percent of the overall portfolio, followed by water (16.5 percent) and resilience to climate and disaster risk (13 percent). Education (13 percent) and health (10 percent) continue to be core sectors for Bank support. Throughout this period, the World Bank Group’s program in Sri Lanka has benefitted from close coordination and collaboration with development partners.
Sri Lanka became an IFC member country in 1956. Since then, IFC has invested over $1 billion in the country. In fiscal years 2014-2016, IFC made cumulative long-term finance investment commitments totaling $273 million. As of June 30, 2016, IFC’s committed portfolio stood at over $228 million.
Sri Lanka is expected to graduate from IDA financing at the end of the IDA17 cycle. As part of the IDA18 replenishment discussions, IDA transitional support for transitioning countries like Sri Lanka was agreed.
Growth Performance and Prospects
Sri Lanka’s macroeconomic performance deteriorated in 2015. Net outflows from the government securities market and sluggish FDI inflows presented a challenging external landscape despite low oil prices and increased tourism.
Growth in the last five years is in substantial part due to a “peace dividend” that included significant reconstruction efforts in the aftermath of a 25-year-long civil war. Going forward, growth will likely require continued structural changes, gearing the economy towards greater diversification and productivity increases. A reduction in the role of agricultural employment from its present share of a third of the population is also being considered.
Sri Lanka’s growth held steady at 4.8 percent in 2016, boosted by the construction and services sectors and resumption of the Colombo Port City real estate project. Weak exports, flooding, and a deceleration in private investment weighed on activity.
Poverty and Shared Prosperity
Sri Lanka’s headcount poverty rate has declined dramatically, falling from 23 percent in 2002 to 7 percent in 2012/13. This impressive performance has largely been driven by an increase in labor income, which was supported by four beneficial trends: a gradual structural transformation out of agricultural employment; increased urbanization and agglomeration associated with the growth of key urban centers; a rise in international prices for food and tea; and strong domestic aggregate demand.
Despite the very positive story of poverty reduction and shared prosperity, important development challenges remain in Sri Lanka. Pockets of severe poverty continue to exist, specifically in the districts of Mullaitivu, Mannar (both in the Northern Province), and Moneragala (in the Uva Province), where headcount poverty rates exceed 20%. The World Bank Group is supporting government efforts to improve living standards and increase social inclusion and equitable access to public services in identified areas.
To help the country improve its overall competitiveness, the World Bank is providing development policy financing for Competitiveness, Transparency, and Fiscal Sustainability. In July 2016, the Bank approved financing support to Sri Lanka Country Partnership Framework to help the Government’s reform agenda in providing a more stable macroeconomic and policy environment that is critical to strengthening the country’s competitiveness.
The World Bank has been helping the government assess the composition of its public expenditures as it looks to align its spending with the needs of a middle-income country and improve the efficiency by which it uses public resources for service delivery, particularly in the education and health sectors. A Public Expenditure Review completed in June 2014 provides an analytical basis for the government to use public resources more effectively and in ways that promote economic growth and reduce poverty. World Bank analytic and advisory activities have also outlined alternative financing arrangements for public infrastructure and services (including public-private partnerships) and the pros and cons of the various options. The experiences of other middle-income countries have informed this exercise.
The World Bank has also responded to the government’s request for support to enhance the country’s public financial management systems. Initiatives the World Bank has supported include:
- Strengthening the Auditors General’s Office by introducing modern audit practices in financial, performance and investigative audit as well as institutional changes to sustain these initiatives;
- Introducing public sector accounting standards aligned with international standards to public sector institutions; and
- Preliminary work to professionalize public sector accountants.
Further to this, the World Bank carried out a review of the country’s public financial management systems using the Public Expenditure and Financial Accountability methodology, helping to identify strategic areas for improvement. Among the areas identified for strengthening were: monitoring and reduction of payment arrears; oversight of aggregate fiscal risk; public access to key fiscal information; taxpayer registration and tax collections; internal auditing; procurement procedures and predictability in the availability of funds. An ongoing Institutional Development Fund grant to strengthen the Institute of Chartered Accountants is providing an important opportunity to build capacity in the private sector with a view to improving private sector transparency and accountability.
Additional World Bank assistance, to be provided on a “just-in-time” basis, will support government efforts to further strengthen public financial management and corporate financial reporting.
Limited in both scope and depth, the country’s financial sector is neither a major source of funding nor a significant vehicle for long-term investment and savings. State-Owned Financial Institutions (SOFIs) have a major influence on the financial sector. SOFIs dominate the banking and insurance sectors. However, government ownership has not translated into enhanced financial inclusion, access to finance for SMEs or financial innovation.
Access to finance is a major constraint in both urban and rural areas for corporate as well as small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs in Sri Lanka were severely affected by the credit crunch arising from the global financial crisis and the country’s protracted civil conflict. Despite declining interest rates and improved liquidity in the financial sector since 2010, access to finance for SMEs continues to remain significantly constrained.
Microfinance institutions have played a major role in broadening financial inclusion but the sector has major shortcomings. It is estimated that there are more than one thousand microfinance institutions in the country. Most of them remain unsupervised and thus, while they are deemed to serve an estimated 10 million people, their adequacy and sustainability and the fairness of their practices may not be on par with good international practices.
The World Bank Group is actively supporting efforts to increase access to finance for SMEs and for the poor. The World Bank carried out a development Financial Sector Assessment Program (FSAP) at the request of the government, offering recommendations to address identified constraints. The FSAP provided a number of recommendations to enhance the ability of the financial sector to respond to the needs of enterprises and the population at large. At the request of the Government, the WBG is collaborating with financial authorities on implementing the FSAP’s recommendations through a program designed to enhance financial inclusion and financial sector efficiency.
Sri Lanka’s achievements in education have been impressive, including universal access and participation in primary education, high enrollment in secondary education, and gender parity in general education. The primary education net enrollment rate is 99%, the primary education completion rate is over 95 percent, and gender parity in the education system is high compared with many other South Asian countries with an equal proportion of girls and boys enrolled in primary education and a slightly higher number of girls than boys in secondary education.
The World Bank is helping to identify and address the particular challenges to skills development in Sri Lanka. The work informed a Skills Development Project, approved in May 2014, which aims to expand the supply of skilled and employable workers by increasing access to quality and labor market–relevant training programs. World Bank support for the education sector is also being extended through the Transforming the School Education System project. This project promotes equitable access to secondary education, working to improve the quality of education and strengthen governance and delivery of education services. The Sri Lanka Early Childhood Development Project will increase the ability of disadvantaged children to access learning opportunities. It will also contribute to improve learning outcomes and support Sri Lanka to become more competitive in the global economy in the long run.
The World Bank has been supporting Sri Lanka’s health sector through analytical work and credits from the International Development Association since the late 1980s.
Sri Lanka’s health system has a long track record of strong performance. For at least 50 years it has achieved much better outcomes in maternal and child health and infectious disease control than would have been predicted by its income level. The remarkable success in reducing maternal and infant mortality to very low levels (30 per 100,000 and 8 per 1,000 live births, respectively) in the last half-century is in part due to effective and integrated maternal and child health services.
A national health sector program is currently being supported under a $200-million Second Health Sector Development Project (approved in FY2013), designed to improve the standards of performance of the public health system and enable it to better respond to the challenges of malnutrition and NCDs. The project is also supporting innovation, results monitoring, and capacity building in the health sector.
The project supports the achievement of 20 results (a subset of the National Health Development Plan results). So far, after three years of implementation and results reporting (2015), several third-year targets have been met or surpassed. Of particular note:
- 58% percent of the 3,883 Maternal and Child Health (MCH) clinics across the country supported to reach full capacity to provide MCH services have achieved the target; 260 Medical Officer of Health areas out of 330 have at least three Health and Nutrition Community Support Groups, surpassing the target.
- 55% of the 330 Medical Officer of Health areas report having at least two functioning Healthy Lifestyle Centres, surpassing the target.
- National guidelines for rehabilitation services for disabled persons have been developed.
- 62% of the 855 primary health care facilities have one-month buffer stock of 16 essential NCD drugs, surpassing the target.
- The percentage of hospitals linked to the quality assurance program for laboratory tests conducted by the Medical Research Institute surpassed the target, reaching 94%.
- Guidelines for Quality Management Units were prepared and training for administration of the guidelines was completed, with Quality Management Units functional in more than 95% of secondary care hospitals.
- 55% of centrally managed hospitals are reporting indoor morbidity and mortality data electronically, surpassing the target.
Sri Lanka’s economic growth has been primarily driven by the Colombo Metropolitan Region (CMR), which currently generates 45 percent of the country’s GDP and is home to 28 percent of its population. Sustainable growth and long-term prosperity are expected to result from a more balanced distribution of economic opportunity, which in addition to Colombo also includes other major urban centers such as Kandy, Galle, and Jaffna. The World Bank is supporting Sri Lanka to implement its urbanization and rural-urban integration agenda.
The Metro Colombo Urban Development Project (MCUDP), approved in 2013, is assisting the Colombo Metropolitan Region to upgrade basic urban infrastructure and to implement an innovative integrated urban flood control and urban wetland management approach. Results achieved: 3 km of primary canals have been completed, 2 micro-drainage subprojects have been implemented, and 29 km of roads that have been built or rehabilitated based on prescribed standards. The newly opened Beddegana Wetlands Park aids in flood control and allows the public to experience the city’s unique urban wetlands. In addition, the project rehabilitated the Town Square and Viharamahadevi Parks, which included the creation of playgrounds, bicycle paths and public facilities.
The Strategic Cities Development Project and the Additional Financing to the project (approved in May 2016) are expanding the approach to urban infrastructure upgrading to Kandy, Galle and Jaffna—three strategic city regions in the center, south, and north—and supporting investments in urban water supply, sewage and drainage systems, cultural heritage rehabilitation, urban transport and traffic management, among other areas.
Environment, Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management
In recognition of the social and economic effects of climate-related hazards, the government has made it a priority to strengthen the country’s resilience to natural disasters and climate change. Responding to the government’s expression of interest for assistance in this regard, a comprehensive program of support involving adaptation-enhancing investments and a Catastrophe Deferred Draw-Down Option (CAT-DDO) was prepared and approved in FY14. To increase resilience, physical investments will be financed to address short-term infrastructure weaknesses, coupled with a contingent credit line to safeguard against immediate fiscal impacts of a disaster.
Last Updated: Apr 10, 2017