Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced Monday that his nation had “run out” of petroleum-based fuel during a national address in which he predicted that the next two months will be “the most difficult of our lifetimes.” Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
“We have run out of gas. … At the moment, we only have a single day’s supply of gasoline,” Wickremesinghe said on May 16.
The prime minister revealed that his government had also run out of the foreign exchange reserves needed to pay for three shipments of oil on ships docked outside the port of Colombo on Monday and “14 essential medicines”, as paraphrased by Reuters.
“The next few months will be the most difficult of our lives,” Wickremesinghe told his compatriots. “I have no desire to hide the truth and lie to the public.”
The leader further acknowledged during his May 16 speech that the Sri Lankan federal government had run out of cash to pay its 1.4 million civil servants their salaries for the month of May and beyond.
“Against my own wishes, I am forced to allow the printing of money to pay state sector employees and pay for essential goods and services,” the prime minister declared.
Wickremesinghe announced on Monday a series of economic reforms aimed at reducing the country’s financial losses, including plans to sell the national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines, and significantly increase fuel and electricity tariffs.
Sri Lanka’s Finance Ministry said on April 12 that it had approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout from the worst financial crisis in its history, which began causing fuel, medicine and food shortages earlier in the year. March.
“[O]One of the key demands of the international lender [IMF] is for Colombo to divest itself of loss-making state-owned companies, including Sri Lankan Airlines, whose cumulative losses exceed $1 billion,” AFP noted on May 16.
Some observers have pointed out that the Chinese coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating debt problems, leading to Sri Lanka’s current foreign exchange deficit. The island nation’s economy traditionally relied heavily on income generated from tourism and remittances from citizens abroad. The pandemic cut off Sri Lanka from these two major sources of foreign exchange for more than two years and precipitated Sri Lanka’s current financial crisis, according to some analysts.
People living in Sri Lanka felt the sting of the island’s economic woes starting in early March, when they began to translate into shortages of vital goods. Island residents who were increasingly frustrated by the shortages began expressing their anger at the Sri Lankan government in mid-March. Some factions of the island’s population called for the resignation of almost the entire Sri Lankan government. The demonstrations gave way to riots on the night of March 31 when a violent mob of hundreds of people attempted to storm the personal residence of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo. Three days later, on April 3, almost the entire Sri Lankan cabinet resigned, except for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya’s brother.
Incessant anti-government protests continued, both peacefully and violently, in Colombo until May 9, when the movement erupted in unprecedented acts of arson. Anti-government rioters torched more than 50 houses owned by current and former Sri Lankan government ministers, including several members of the Rajapaksa family. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s house was burned to the ground on the night of May 9 despite his resignation as prime minister hours earlier.