Sri Lanka down to last day of petrol, new prime minister says -BBC

Sri Lanka’s new prime minister says the country is down to its last day of petrol as it faces its worst economic crisis in more than 70 years.

In a televised address, Ranil Wickremesinghe said the nation urgently needs $75m (£60.8m) of foreign currency in the next few days to pay for essential imports.

He said the central bank would have to print money to pay government wages.

Mr Wickremesinghe also said state-owned Sri Lankan Airlines may be privatised.

The island nation’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, rising energy prices, and populist tax cuts. A chronic shortage of foreign currency and soaring inflation had led to a severe shortage of medicines, fuel and other essentials.

Ravindu Perera, who lives in the capital Colombo, said he and his family had begun searching for fuel before daybreak on Monday.

“We went to several fuel stations and most of them were closed. At around 5.30am we took a chance and joined a queue at Townhall which is the station usually providing fuel for government vehicles,” he told the BBC.

“It was less crowded – but the queue gradually grew to about 2km long. We were lucky enough to get fuel around 9.00am once fuel was delivered.”

He said his friends outside the capital were having to wait even longer. “I’m working from home now to try and save fuel because who knows when I’ll get a full tank again.”

Auto rickshaws, the most popular means of transport in Colombo, and other vehicles have been queuing at petrol stations around the capital.

“At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day. The next couple of months will be the most difficult ones of our lives,” said Mr Wickremesinghe in Monday’s address.

However, shipments of petrol and diesel using a credit line with India could provide fuel supplies in the next few days, he added.

Mr Wickremesinghe, who was appointed prime minister last Thursday, said the country’s central bank would have to print money to help meet the government’s wage bill and other commitments.

“Against my own wishes, I am compelled to permit printing money in order to pay state-sector employees and to pay for essential goods and services. However, we must remember that printing money leads to the depreciation of the rupee,” he said.

He also proposed selling off Sri Lankan Airlines as part of efforts to stabilise the nation’s finances. The carrier lost 45 billion Sri Lankan rupees ($129.5m; £105m) in the year ending March 2021.

In recent weeks, there have been large, sometimes violent, protests against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his family.

Last week, the president’s elder brother Mahinda resigned as prime minister after government supporters clashed with protesters. Nine people died and more than 300 were wounded in the violence.

On Friday, Mr Wickremesinghe told the BBC, that the economic crisis is “going to get worse before it gets better”.

In his first interview since taking office, he also pledged to ensure families would get three meals a day.

Appealing to the world for more financial help, he said “there won’t be a hunger crisis, we will find food”.

Sri Lanka’s UNP defends new prime minister’s vote against suspending standing orders

The United National Party (UNP), represented solely in parliament by crisis-riddled Sri Lanka’s new prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, defended his widely criticised vote against an opposition attempt to express parliament’s dissatisfaction with President Gotabaya Rajajapksa on Tuesday (17).

The UNP tweeted Tuesday afternoon that Wickremesinghe had informed the opposition that voting to suspend parliament’s standing orders was a “poor parliamentary strategy”.

Earlier that afternoon, a motion by Sri Lanka opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M A Sumanthiran to suspend parliament’s standing orders in order to debate an expression of displeasure over President Rajapaksa was defeated, with 119 MPs including Wickremesinghe voting against it.

With the motion, the opposition sought to demonstrate how nationwide calls for President Rajapaksa’s resignation is reflected in the country’s legislature.

According to SJB MP Harsha de Silva, among those who voted against the motion was Sri Lanka’s newly elected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

The UNP tweeted: “He informed them that government MPs wanted to first debate the attacks on their houses. Since [the] Motion of Displeasure was on the order book it would be taken up after the adjournment debate.

“The Prime Minister explained that protecting the Motion of Displeasure was more important than suspending Standing Orders. He said government MPs would use the defeat of the vote to suspend Standing Orders as an opportunity to prevent a vote on the Motion

Ruling party MP Ajith Rajapaksa elected Deputy Speaker

Ruling party MP Ajith Rajapaksa has been elected as the Deputy Speaker of Parliament.

He was elected following a secret ballot conducted in Parliament.

Ajith Rajapaksa secured 109 votes and opposition nominee MP Rohini Kavirathna 78 votes.

Parliament MPs today failed to reach a consensus on the post of Deputy Speaker after two names were proposed, forcing Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena to call for a vote.

The Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) had proposed MP Rohini Kavirathna for the post while the Government proposed Ajith Rajapaksa.

Some ruling party MPs and the independent group, including the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) urged the SJB and the Government to reach a consensus and propose one name.

However, both sides failed to reach a consensus.

A heated exchange took place between the Opposition, Government and the Speaker.

The Speaker later informed the House that if there is no consensus then he has no choice but to go for a vote.

A vote was later taken to elect a new Deputy Speaker.

Several MPs decided to spoil their vote as a mark of protest over the failure to reach a consensus on the Deputy Speaker.

Gang of Pohottuwa MP’s harass Journalists in P’ment; grab phones

Several MPs from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna have accosted two journalists covering parliamentary proceedings, within the parliament complex on Tuesday (17).

The Chairman of the Sri Lanka Parliament Journalists Association Prageeth Perera and News 1st journalist Kasun Samaraweera were accosted while reporting on parliament affairs by MPs W. D. Weerasinghe and Indika Anuruddha, while MP Channa Jayasumana had aided in the confrontation.

The two journalists filed a complaint with the Welikada Police citing that the MPs accosted them, and also snatched their mobile devices.

The journalists said the Sergeant-at-Arms in Parliament returned the mobile devices to them, after erasing the footage recorded during the day.

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna MPs Professor Channa Jayasumana, and Attorney-at-Law Premanath C. Dolawatte raised their concerns in parliament on Tuesday (17) citing that several people had entered Parliament and were recording their movements/

The two MPs had raised concerns over their security within Parliament.

However, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa stood by the journalists noting that Chairman of the Sri Lanka Parliament Journalists Association Prageeth Perera, and journalist Kasun Samaraweera had not done anything wrong, and were only engaged in their professional duty.

He requested the Speaker to intervene and ensure their mobile devices are returned.

At the same time, Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Manusha Nanayakkara warned the ruling party MPs NOT to behave like gangsters, adding ‘This is NOT a place for gangsters.’

Sri Lanka: Parliament rejects opposition’s no-confidence motion against President

A no-confidence motion against Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was defeated in the parliament on Tuesday after 119 MPs voted against it.

The motion to suspend the Parliament’s standing orders to debate the Motion of Displeasure against the President was moved by the opposition party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP MA Sumanthiran. Out of the total MPs, only 68 MPs voted in favour of the motion. Thus, it was not taken up for the debate in the parliament.

Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Harsha de Silva said that among the other MPs, the newly elected Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also voted against the motion.

“To debate the censure motion against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by suspending standing orders, Parliament vote was taken. It was defeated from 119 to 68. It is obvious that the #GoHomeGota2022 cry across Sri Lanka is rejected by Podujana Party allies including the new PM. Farce!” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister said that he had informed the opposition MPs that Motion of Displeasure was already on the order books and it would be taken up afterwards. He explained to MP M.A. Sumanthiran that the MPs would defeat a vote to suspend standing Orders as the most pressing issue for them was their house being attacked, an official statement said.

PM said, “The Opposition chose the wrong strategy and proceeded to move a vote to suspend standing orders.”

Following the vote, PM explained to several Opposition MPs that the Government MPs would now use the defeat of the vote to suspend Standing Orders as an opportunity to prevent the Motion of Displeasure against the President from being debated.

He also said that this was a poor Parliamentary strategy and had he been in Opposition, he would still have voted against suspending Standing Orders.

This comes amid the rising demands for the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa soon after former Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa filed his resignation.

As the country is facing its worst economic crisis since independence with food and fuel shortages, soaring prices, and power cuts affecting a large number of the citizens, resulting in massive protests over the government’s handling of the situation.

Due to an acute shortage of foreign exchange, Sri Lanka recently defaulted on the entirety of its foreign debt amounting to about USD 51 billion.

UK’s House of Lords debates on SL crisis

The United Kingdom said on Monday that it is closely monitoring the concerning economic situation in Sri Lanka, including issues of food security and livelihoods.

“We are closely monitoring the concerning economic situation in Sri Lanka, including issues of food security and livelihoods. The International Monetary Fund has assessed Sri Lanka’s debt as unsustainable,” Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon said during a debate in UK’s House of Lords (Parliament) on Sri Lanka.

“We welcome the start of in-depth discussions with the IMF on a financial assistance package and reforms needed to put debt on a sustainable path. The World Bank, to which the United Kingdom is a major donor, is providing support to health services and low-income families,” he said.

He also said that the current crisis that Sri Lanka faces did not happen all of a sudden. “It is important to look at steps such as the IMF’s intervention. With hindsight, I am sure many voices in Sri Lanka are asking whether it should have been sooner or earlier—but we are where we are, and it is important now that, through the IMF and the World Bank, we look at ensuring, first things first, that this debt can be restructured in a way that allows Sri Lanka to move forward.”

“On the wider issue of China’s reach in the Indo-Pacific, we need to work constructively with our key partners. That is why, when it comes to infrastructure development, as I said when I visited Sri Lanka, through our own initiatives with key partners we need to offer an alternative method that allows a country not to be indebted but to service its debt and, at the same time, to move forward constructively,” he also said.

SL among countries least safe for children – UNICEF report

Sri Lanka is recognised as one of the countries that is the least safe for children with regard to violence under the presidency of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Stop Child Cruelty Trust and the Child Protection Alliance claimed, citing a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) global index of 180 countries, published in February 2021, in which Sri Lanka ranks 68.

Speaking to The Morning, Chairperson of the said Trust and Co-Convener of the said Alliance Dr. Tush Wickramanayaka claimed that the Executive President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had releasing a convicted child murderer on death row upon assuming office, crippling the legal system and interfering into the independence of Government authorities.

“The pearl of the Indian Ocean has set a new world record by being recognised as a country considered least safe for children against violence, a paradise that is officially at peace, without famine or natural disaster. The unprecedented level of anarchy and bureaucratic lethargy has reduced a child’s life to an abysmal level. A total of 25% of Sri Lanka’s population are children below the age of 18 years. A total of 12 children were physically and sexually abused and murdered from 2020 to 2022.”

She said: “No country will prosper, nor will change be possible, if the citizens fail to acknowledge, protect, and promote the rights of the true beneficiaries of the future, our children.”

The UNICEF index and report compared the performance on child flourishing, estimated using measures including child survival and well-being, such as health, education, and nutrition, sustainability, using greenhouse gas emissions as a proxy, and equity indicated by country income gaps.

The report titled A Future for the World’s Children?, also highlights the distinct threat posed to children from harmful marketing. In Sri Lanka, of all food and beverage related advertisements, 78% were child focused, and of these, 74% claimed health benefits, many of which were unsupported. Children’s exposure to commercial marketing of junk food and sugary beverages is associated with the purchase of unhealthy foods, and subsequent issues of being overweight and obesity, thus linking predatory marketing to the alarming rise in childhood obesity.

PM Ranil Wickremesinghe’s special address to the nation

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe delivered a special statement to the nation today.

Full statament:

Last Thursday, I accepted office as the Prime Minister. I did not request this position. In face of the challenging situation facing the country, the President invited me to take up this position. I assumed this duty not only as a political leader, but also as national leader who has benefited from free education at the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo.

At present, the Sri Lankan economy is extremely precarious. Although the former government’s budget projected a revenue of SLR 2.3 trillion, SLR 1.6 trillion is the realistic projection of this year’s revenue.

The estimated government expenditure for this year is SLR 3.3 trillion. However, due to the increase in interest rates and additional expenditure of the former government, the total government expenditure is SLR 4 trillion. The budget deficit for the year is SLR 2.4 trillion. This amount equals 13% of the GDP.

The approved debt ceiling is SLR 3200 billion. By the second week of May, we had spent 1950 billion. Therefore, the remainder is SLR 1250 billion. Yesterday, a cabinet decision was made to present a proposal to parliament to increase the approved limit for issuing treasury bills from 3000 billion to 4000 billion.

In November 2019, our foreign exchange reserves were at USD 7.5 billion. However, today, it is a challenge for the treasury to find USD 1 million. The Ministry of finance is finding it difficult to raise USD 5 million required to import gas.

Amidst all these issues we are faced with several grave concerns. To ease the queues, we must obtain approximately USD 75 million within the next couple of days. At the moment, we only have petrol stocks for a single day. Due to the diesel shipment that arrived yesterday, the diesel lack of diesel will be resolved to some extent. Under the Indian credit line, two more diesel shipments are due to arrive on the 18th May and 1st June. In addition, two petrol shipments are expected on 18th and 29th May. For over 40 days 3 ships with crude oil and furnace oil have been anchored within the maritime zone of Sri Lanka. We are working to obtain dollars in the open market to pay for these shipments.

A quarter of electricity is generated through oil. Therefore, there is a possibility that the daily power outages will increase to 15 hours a day. However, we have already obtained money to avert this crisis. We must also immediately obtain USD 20 million to provide gas to consumers. The situation of kerosene and furnace oil is even more urgent. At present, the Central Bank, local state and private banks, and foreign banks functioning in Sri Lanka are all facing a dollar shortage. As you are already aware, we possess a very low amount of US dollars. Nevertheless, we succeeded in bringing in a diesel shipment yesterday despite these adverse circumstances with Indian assistance. Therefore, you can obtain that diesel from today onwards. We will also work towards making a payment for the gas shipment that arrived on Tuesday. Therefore, you will have some respite from the gas shortage.

Another grave concern is the lack of medicine. 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. In addition, payments have not been made for four months for medicine imported by the State Pharmaceuticals Corporation. As a result, pharmaceutical companies are taking steps to blacklist the SPC. Unfortunately, our Medical Supplies Division is unable to provide even two critical items of the 14 essential medicines that we currently need. These two are a medicine used in treating heart disease and the anti-rabies vaccine. The latter has no alternative treatment.

We have planned to present a new alternative budget to the development budget proposed for 2022. Intend to present it as a concessionary budget.

I further propose to privatise Sri Lankan Airlines which is incurring extensive losses. The loss for the year 2020-2021 alone amounts to SLR 45 billion. By 31st March 2021, the total loss was at 372 billion. Even if we privatise Sri Lankan Airlines, this is a loss that we must bear. You must be aware that this is a loss that must be borne even by the poor people of this country who have never stepped on an airplane.

In the short term we will have to face an even more difficult time period. There is a possibility that inflation will increase further.

At present, the government incurs a loss of SLR 84.38 per liter of 92 octane petrol, 71.19 per liter of 95 octane petrol, 131.55 per liter of diesel, 136.31 per liter of super diesel, and 294.50 per liter of kerosene oil. The Petroleum Corporation can no longer bear this loss. Similarly, although the Electricity Board charges SLR 17 per unit of electricity the cost of production is at around SLR 48 amounting to a loss of about SLR 30 per unit. This is also a serious problem.

Against my own wishes, I am compelled to permit printing money in order to pay state-sector employees and to pay for essential goods and services. However, we must remember that printing money leads to the depreciation of the rupee. Under the current circumstances, even the Petroleum Corporation and the Electricity Board are unable to obtain rupees.

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.

I have no desire to hide the truth and to lie to the public. Although these facts are unpleasant and terrifying, this is the true situation. For a short period, our future will be even more difficult than the tough times that we have passed. We will face considerable challenges and adversity. However, this period will not be long. In the coming months, our foreign allies will assist us. They have already pledged their support. Therefore, we will have to patiently bear the next couple of months. However, we can overcome this situation. Doing so will require taking a new path.

I thank the opposition leader and the leaders of the political parties who replied to the letters that I sent them informing them of the current situation.

We must immediately establish a national assembly or political body with the participation of all political parties to find solutions for the present crisis. This will enable us to discuss with all parties and to arrive at decisions for short-, medium-, and long-term action plans that will enable us to rebuild our nation within a specified time frame.

We will build a nation without queues for kerosene, gas, and fuel; a nation free of power outages, a nation with plentiful resources where agriculture can freely flourish; a nation where the future of the youth is secure; a nation where people’s labour need not be wasted in queues and in struggles; a nation where everyone can lead their lives freely with three square meals a day.

I am undertaking a dangerous challenge. In the Caucasian Chalk Circle, Grusha crossed the broken rope bridge carrying a child that was not her own. This is an even more difficult undertaking. The precipice is deep and its bottom cannot be seen. The bridge is made of thin glass and there is no handrail. I am wearing shoes with sharp nails that cannot be removed. My task is to safely take the child to the other side. I am accepting this challenge for our nation. My goal and dedication is not to save an individual, a family, or a party. My objective is to save all the people of this country and the future of our younger generation. I will undertake this task willingly risking my life if needed and will overcome the challenges facing us. I ask you to extend your support to me in this endeavour.

I will fulfill my duty towards our nation.

That is my promise to you.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

NPP will NOT support Ranil’s Govt

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has stated that it will NOT join any Government under Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister.

“The National People’s Power will not involve itself with a puppet government that recruited those involved in the Sugar Scam, and the Bond Scam,’ JVP MP told reporters on Monday (16).

Vijitha Herath said though a government was formed, the ruling faction is still searching for Cabinet Ministers.

“Some SLFP members have said they will accept ministries. They are shifting their stance. As a political party, we need to make this clear. This puppet Government does not have the people’s mandate. We won’t be a part of it,” he added.

Sri Lanka sliding into default as grace period for 2 bonds nears end

Sri Lanka is sliding into a default as the grace period on two unpaid foreign bonds ends on Wednesday, the latest blow to a country rattled by economic pain and social unrest.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was appointed last week following violent unrest, will provide a “full explanation” of Sri Lanka’s financial crisis on Monday.

He is expected to hold discussions with the attorney general’s department on curbing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s sweeping executive powers and the proposals will be presented to cabinet for approval.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party, once allied with President Rajapaksa’s government but now independent, has now decided to join the new administration by putting forward lawmakers for cabinet positions. The main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya party said it won’t join government.

The island nation could be formally declared in default if it fails to make an interest payment to bondholders before Wednesday, when the 30-day grace period for missed coupons on dollar bonds ends. That would mark its first default.

Sri Lanka’s government announced in mid-April it would stop paying back its foreign debt to preserve cash for food and fuel imports as it struggled with a dollar crunch that’s led officials to implement capital controls and import curbs. A few days later, it failed to service a $78 million coupon on its dollar bonds due in 2023 and 2028, leading S&P Global Ratings to declare a selective default.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will discuss constitutional amendments to curb the powers of the executive presidency in a meeting with the attorney general’s department. Any suggestions and proposals will be presented to the cabinet for approval, he said in a series of tweets.

Wickremesinghe will also give a full explanation of the financial crisis. He also said Sri Lanka is in the process of exploring other options of securing funds to pay for the coming week’s fuel requirements given the dollar scarcity in banks.

The Sri Lankan Freedom Party has changed its position and will now back the formation of the unity government, local media reported, citing a letter from the party chairman to Wickremesinghe.

A meeting between the party lawmakers and the prime minister will be held on Monday.

India’s diplomatic mission in Sri Lanka said that 12 shipments of diesel, or more than 400,000 metric tonnes, were delivered to Colombo on Sunday under a credit line between the two nations.

For weeks Sri Lanka has been grappling with major fuel shortages that have seen drivers queue for hours outside gasoline pumps and businesses struggle to secure diesel for power generators amid hours-long power cuts.

Wickremesinghe said he held discussions with officials from the ADB and World Bank in an attempt to mobilize desperately needed funding and stocks of food, fertilizer and medicines — all of which have been rapidly depleted in recent weeks. (Courtesy Bloomberg)