Colombo seeks new funding sources in shift away from ally Beijing

Updated 16 July 2015
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Colombo seeks new funding sources in shift away from ally Beijing

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka is seeking cheaper funding sources to replace billions of dollars in debt from Chinese banks, government officials said, as the six-month-old government distances itself from Beijing weeks before a general election.
The government is seeking to consolidate its power in the Aug. 17 vote after reformer Maithripala Sirisena was elected president in January. The pro-China leader he ousted — Mahinda Rajapaksa — is staging a comeback bid.
Sirisena had suspended most Chinese-backed infrastructure projects started under Rajapaksa, who has denied allegations of corruption and overpricing in contract awards.
Sirisena’s reformist coalition is in talks to replace about 70 percent of the more than $5 billion in debt from Chinese lenders with loans at cheaper interest rates and longer durations from other sources, two finance ministry officials involved in the negotiations said. The move follows failed government efforts to negotiate more favorable terms with the Chinese banks, and the finance ministry is looking at options including borrowing from lenders in Japan, the United States or Europe, a top government official said.
“Money is there at a cheaper rate and for a longer tenure,” he said.
Sri Lanka has sought to pursue a more global foreign policy since the new government was formed, breaking with the previous pursuit of close ties with China.
Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake has been exploring ways his nation could borrow at lower rates after concluding from a trip to Japan this month that loans could be obtained for between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent, a senior finance ministry official said.
Sri Lanka’s government has 16 ongoing Chinese-backed infrastructure projects which depend on $4 billion in borrowing from the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank) and the rates of interest are between 2.5 percent and 9 percent, finance ministry data shows.
Chinese officials have said the rates of interest are only 2 percent. But the data shows there are extra fees that add to cost the servicing the loan.


Hungary hits Soros, Juncker in new media campaign

Updated 20 February 2019
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Hungary hits Soros, Juncker in new media campaign

  • The campaign provoked a furious reaction from prominent EU politicians
  • EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas dismissed the campaign as "fake news"

BUDAPEST: Hungary launched a new anti-immigration media campaign on Tuesday in which it accused George Soros and EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker of allegedly supporting illegal migration, but which Brussels immediately dismissed as "fake news".
According to the Hungarian government's Facebook page, the media blitz — funded with taxpayers' money — is expected to include billboard posters featuring images of the liberal US billionaire Soros and a smiling Juncker above the words: "You too have a right to know what Brussels is preparing".
"They want to bring in the mandatory settlement quota; weaken member states' rights to border defence; facilitate immigration with a migrant visa," it continues.
The campaign provoked a furious reaction from prominent EU politicians, including from Joseph Daul, president of the European People's Party grouping which includes both Juncker and right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party.
In a series of tweets, Daul condemned the campaign, calling its claims "deceitful, misleading and... not based on facts".
Daul denounced Hungary's attacks on Juncker and defended him as a "true Christian Democrat and a real European leader".
He went on to remind Hungary that "decisions in Brussels, including on migration, are taken collectively by EU governments" and the European Parliament, both of which include Hungarian representatives.
The presence of Fidesz within the EPP has long been a source of controversy but there have been no official moves by any of the other centre-right parties in the grouping to expel it.
Orban's government, which has frequently clashed with the EU on migration, has regularly undertaken similar campaigns in the past, including "Let's Stop Brussels" and "Don't let Soros have the last laugh."
In recent years, Orban has blasted the Hungarian-born 88-year-old philanthropist and investor as a "public enemy" for allegedly backing uncontrolled mass immigration.
At the same time, Orban's government has frequently been accused of using anti-Semitic tropes and imagery in its campaigns against Soros, claims it denies.
In recent months, pro-Orban media have also attacked Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini — the author of a critical report about Hungary that formed the basis of EU legal action against Budapest -- and Juncker's deputy Frans Timmermans.
"Brussels continues to want to support illegal immigration," Zoltan Kovacs, a government spokesman, told reporters in Budapest on Tuesday.
"Hungarians need to know about this, that's why the latest information campaign has been launched," he said, denying it is part of the upcoming European Parliament election campaign.
Kovacs said plans in "drawers in Brussels" included hikes in financial funding of NGOs and the creation of a special migration fund.
EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas dismissed the campaign as "fake news".
"The Hungary government campaign beggars belief," he told a briefing in Brussels.
"It is shocking that such a ludicrous conspiracy theory has reached the mainstream to the extent it has. There is no conspiracy. Hungarians deserve facts, not fiction," he said.