The new Sri Lankan prime minister said on Monday that the disaster-stricken country had dropped to its last day of fuel, as energy minister warned residents not to enter long lines of petrol that had fueled anti-government protests for weeks.
Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was elected prime minister on Thursday, said in his state of the nation address that the country urgently needed $ 75 million in foreign exchange to pay for important imports.
“At the moment, we only have one day’s fuel. In the next few months it will be very difficult in our lives,” he said.
“We have to be prepared to make some sacrifices and face the challenges of the moment.”
Two petrol shipments and two diesel shipments using the Indian credit line may provide assistance in the next few days, he added – but the country is facing a shortage of 14 essential medicines.
Sri Lanka is currently facing a budget deficit of $ 6.8 billion (2.4 trillion Sri Lankan rupees), or 13% of their GDP.
The crisis has sparked widespread protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family, which has resulted in his older brother Mahinda resigning as prime minister last week after clashes between government supporters and protesters killed nine people and injured 300.
Responding to the crisis, Wickremesignhe said the country would print more money and propose to keep the Sri Lankan airline secretive in order to keep the economy strong – although he acknowledged that inflation could be exacerbated in the short term.
In a speech on Thursday, he vowed to “build a nation without a line of kerosene, gas, and petrol … a nation with abundant resources.”
Bid on despair
The president fired Mahinda Rajapaksa and replaced him with Wickremesinghe, an opposition member of parliament who had held the post five times before, in a bid to appease protesters.
But protesters said they would continue their campaign as long as Gotabaya Rajapaksa became president. They also called Wickremesinghe a stooge and criticized his appointment of four cabinet ministers, all members of a political party led by the Rajapaksa brothers.
Wickremesinghe said on Monday he had taken on this role for the benefit of the country.
In Colombo, the commercial capital, long lines of car rickshaws, the city’s most popular means of transportation, are lined up at gas stations in a fruitless waiting area.
“I’ve been in line for more than six hours,” said another driver, Mohammad Ali. “We spend about six to seven hours on the line getting gasoline.”
Another driver, Mohammad Naushad, said the gas station he was waiting for had run out of gas.
“We came here from 7am to 8am and it is still unclear whether they will get petrol or not,” he said. “When it will come, no one knows. Is there a place we are waiting for, and we do not know.”
Affected by the Covid-19 epidemic, rising oil prices and mass tax cuts by the Rajapaksas, the largest Indian Ocean island nation is in the midst of an unprecedented catastrophe since independence in 1948.
Persistent foreign exchange shortages have led to inflation and shortages of medicines, fuel, and other basic necessities have caused thousands of people to strike.
Diesel shipments via the Indian credit line arrived in the country on Sunday, but will continue to be distributed throughout the island.
“Ask the public not to line up or fill in the next three days until deliveries are completed at 1 190 petrol stations,” Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said on Monday.
Wickremesinghe is yet to announce key ministers, including a key finance minister, who will negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for much-needed financial assistance in the country.
Former Finance Minister Ali Sabry had held initial talks with the international lender, but stopped with Mahinda Rajapaksa last week.