• Thursday, December 08, 2022

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Sri Lanka sacks energy minister as economic crisis deepens

Udaya Gammanpila (Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Sarwar Alam

Sri Lanka’s president sacked his energy minister on Thursday as fuel shortages left the near-bankrupt island facing its worst blackouts in 26 years and the nation’s buses largely sidelined.

Udaya Gammanpila was booted from the cabinet a day after publicly criticising the government’s monetary policy, saying it had worsened the dollar shortage that has slammed oil imports.

Another cabinet member who had accused Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, a younger brother of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, of mismanagement was also sacked.

“The president used his executive powers to remove Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila with effect from today,” presidential spokesman Kingsly Rathnayaka said.

No reason was given for the summary dismissals, but official sources said the president was livid over their scathing attacks on the government’s handling of the worsening economic crisis.

Earlier in the day, the International Monetary Fund had warned the country’s foreign debt was “unsustainable”, and called for devaluation and higher taxes to revive the economy.

Since Wednesday, Sri Lankans have been subject to nationwide power cuts of seven-and-a-half hours a day, the worst since 1996, after thermal power stations ran out of fuel.

Public transport has also been crippled, with many fuel retailers out of diesel and some bus drivers reporting queueing for up to seven hours to top up.

Sri Lanka is in the grip of a severe foreign exchange shortage, with the country’s external reserves falling to $2.3 billion in January, down 25 percent from the previous month.

A wide-ranging import ban imposed in March 2020 to save foreign exchange has led to shortages of essentials, including food, medicines and industrial raw materials.

International rating agencies have downgraded Sri Lanka, saying there were doubts if the South Asian nation can service its $51 billion foreign debt. Colombo has insisted it will honour its obligations.

Eastern Eye

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