Prepare for 2 months of hardships, Sri Lanka PM tells people in grim speech

NEW DELHI: Sri Lanka’s new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told his people to prepare for at least two more months of hardships in a grim speech that offered candid details about the country’s unprecedented financial crisis.

Wickremesinghe said today “it is a challenge for the treasury to find US$1 million” compared with the country’s foreign exchange reserves of US$7.5 billion in November 2019.

He said the Ministry of Finance is finding it difficult to raise US$5 million required to import gas.

Sri Lankans have been protesting for weeks against the government over its handling of the economic crisis, which has caused a critical shortage of fuel, medicines and other essential goods.

“To ease the queues, we must obtain approximately US$75 million within the next couple of days. At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day,“ Wickremesinghe said.

“There is a severe shortage of a number of medicines including medicine required for heart disease as well as surgical equipment. Payments have not been made for four months to suppliers of medicine, medical equipment, and food for patients. The payment owed to them amounts to SLR 34 billion (about US$94 million at Monday’s exchange rate),“ he said.

Amid mounting public anger and violence, Wickremesinghe’s predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned on May 9.

Wickremesinghe in his speech proposed a number of measures, including printing of money, privatisation of loss-making Sri Lankan Airlines, and a new alternative budget for the year to deal with the crisis.

“The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives. We must prepare ourselves to make some sacrifices and face the challenges of this period,“ he said. — Bernama

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