By: Mohnish Singh
Public service in Sri Lanka is not an eight-hour job, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Monday, as he urged public servants to work overtime to make the cash-strapped island a prosperous nation this year.
Sri Lanka was hit by an unprecedented financial crisis last year due to a severe paucity of foreign exchange reserves that also sparked political turmoil in the island nation which led to the ouster of the all-powerful Rajapaksa family.
“Each person’s duties (public servants) cannot be limited to 8 hours a day and 5 days a week. Let’s all work with commitment. By the end of 2023, I hope to take this country forward with the support of all of you and restore normalcy,” news portal newsfirst.lk reported, quoting Wickremesinghe as saying during an event held at the President’s Office here on Monday.
The President said no public servant can shirk responsibility as 2023 was a crucial year for the country’s economy.
Incidentally, Sri Lanka turns 75 as an independent nation later this year.
National Day, also known as Independence Day, is celebrated on February 4 to commemorate the country’s political independence from British rule in 1948.
From April to July, chaos reigned supreme in Sri Lanka, with miles-long queues forming at fuel stations and irate residents coming out in thousands blocking roads.
In May last year, the Sri Lankan government declared a debt default on over USD 51 billion in foreign loans – a first in the country’s history.
The resignations by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July and his elder brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in May 2022 amid massive anti-government protests subsided with the formation of a government led by their ally Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe, 73, is now tasked with stabilising the economy and restoring the financial health of the economy, already hit badly by the pandemic.
“Five and a half months ago, we took over a historic task at this office. During those five and a half months, we took steps to establish normalcy in the country at a time when the government had collapsed and the economy had also collapsed. However, not all our economic problems are over yet. Nevertheless, today we have the ability to provide fuel, gas, foodstuff and fertilisers as required,” Wickremesinghe said.
Last year, Sri Lanka and the IMF agreed on a staff-level agreement to release USD 2.9 billion over 4 years.
But the much-anticipated IMF bailout will have to wait as the country pursues talks with creditors to meet the global lender’s condition for the facility.
Wickremesinghe recently said that India and Sri Lanka held “successful” talks on debt restructuring and the country will also begin discussions with China, as it tries to get assurances from major bilateral creditors to close the crucial deal with the IMF.
“We have to move forward by implementing the debt-restructuring programme. Moreover, we have to build an economy that can compete with the new world. The opinion of the majority is that there is a need for a change in the political system of this country,” he added.