Sri Lanka’s president has admitted making mistakes that led to the country’s worst economic crisis in decades and vowed to fix them
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Sri Lankan president on Monday admitted making mistakes that led to the country’s worst economic crisis in decades and pledged to correct them.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the admission while addressing the 17 new ministers he appointed on Monday as he and his powerful family seek to resolve a political crisis stemming from the country’s dire economic situation.
Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy, with almost $7 billion of its total external debt of $25 billion due to be repaid this year. A severe shortage of foreign currency means that the country lacks money to purchase imported goods.
“Over the past two and a half years, we have had vast challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the debt burden and some mistakes on our part,” Rajapaksa said.
“They need to be rectified. We need to fix them and move on. We need to regain the trust of the people. »
He said the government should have contacted the International Monetary Fund early on for help with the impending debt crisis and should not have banned chemical fertilizers in a bid to make agriculture sustainable. entirely organic lankan. Critics say the ban on imported fertilizers was aimed at preserving the country’s dwindling currency holdings and has seriously hurt farmers.
The government is also accused of taking out large loans for infrastructure projects that did not bring in any money.
“People today are under immense pressure due to this economic crisis. I deeply regret this situation,” Rajapaksa said, adding that the pain, discomfort and anger shown by people forced to queue for getting essential items at high prices is justified.
The Cabinet appointments follow weeks of protests over fuel and food shortages and demand that Rajapaksa, his politically powerful family and his government resign.
Much of the public anger has been directed at Rajapaksa and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. They lead an influential clan that has held power for most of the past two decades.
Thousands of protesters occupied the entrance to the president’s office for a 10th day on Monday.
The president and prime minister remain in office, but some other relatives have lost their Cabinet seats in what has been seen as an attempt to pacify protesters without giving up the family’s grip on power.
Many high-ranking politicians and those subject to corruption allegations were expelled from the new Cabinet in line with calls for a younger administration, although finance and foreign ministers retained their posts to help economic recovery.
Most cabinet members resigned on April 3 after protests erupted across the country and protesters stormed and vandalized the homes of some cabinet ministers.
Opposition parties rejected an offer by President Rajapaksa to form a unity government with him and his remaining brother in power. Meanwhile, the opposition parties failed to secure a parliamentary majority.
Last week, the government announced it was suspending foreign loan repayments pending talks with the International Monetary Fund. Finance Minister Ali Sabry and officials left on Sunday for talks with the IMF. The IMF and World Bank are holding annual meetings in Washington this week.
Sri Lanka has also turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.