UN breather for crisis-hit Lanka

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The Prime Minister further informed that he spoke with officials from the UN, Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Program (FP), UN Development Program and the World Health Organization….writes SUSITHA FERNANDO

Amid the ongoing disastrous financial crisis with severe food, power and fuel shortages in Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament on Tuesday that the UN has planned to provide humanitarian assistance of around $48 million over a four-month period to the island nation’s food, agriculture and health sectors.

In his address, Wickremesinghe informed Parliament that the UN has arranged for a worldwide public appeal on Thursday seeking support to provide humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka.

The Prime Minister further informed that he spoke with officials from the UN, Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Program (FP), UN Development Program and the World Health Organization.

“Many representatives of these international organisations and other contries have agreed to support our country during this difficult time,” he told parliament.

He noted that a WFP study found that 73 per cent families in Sri Lanka have reduced their diet and food intake in the wake of the crisis which is the worst since the country gained independence from the British in 1948.

In his address, Wickremesinghe against thanked India for assisting Sri Lanka and urged the Parliamentary Committee on Public Finance to conduct an inquiry into the suspension of valuable projects granted by New Delhi and Tokyo for unknown reasons.

“Japan and India had agreed to supply us with two LNG power plants. The CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board) stopped those two projects without any justifiable reason. Japan had agreed to provide about $3 billion worth of projects to our country by 2019. All of these projects were put on hold for no reason,” the Prime Minister said.

“Despite this, India offered to help us in the face of the growing crisis. We express our respect and gratitude to them during this difficult time,” he said and highlighted New Delhi’s financial assistance worth over $3 billion since January to provide essential items, including food, fuel, cooking gas and medicines.

Wickremesinghe also stressed the need to rebuild ties with Asia’s three major powers — India, China and Japan — with whom relationships have been strained due to wrong political decision making.

“India, China and Japan are leading the list of countries that provide us with loans and assistance. Relations with these countries, which have always been strong, are now broken. Those relationships need to be rebuilt.”

Wickremesinghe also urged the International Monetary Fund to hold a conference to help unite Sri Lanka’s lending partners.

“We call on holding such a conference under the leadership of India, China and Japan will be a great strength to our country. China and Japan have different credit approaches. It is our hope that some consensus on lending approaches can be reached through such a conference,” he said.

Due to the financial crisis, Sri Lanka’s transportation sector has been badly affected due to the shortage of fuel, leading to weeks-long queues for petrol, diesel and kerosene oil triggering public protests.

Stating that “the next three weeks will be a tough time for fuel and gas supply”, the Prime Minister appealed to the people to limit unessential travel.

Wickremesinghe, who plans to present a revised interim budget, said Sri Lanka needs $6 billion to keep the country afloat for the next six months, adding that $5 billion is required to ensure day-to-day living and another $1 billion to strengthen the Sri Lankan rupee.

Followed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka is facing the toughest financial crisis in the post-independence era mainly due to dollar crunch lead by excessive money printing, ban on chemical fertiliser leading to a food crisis and excessive loans taken for a number of white elephant projects.

Last month, the crisis forced Sri Lanka to default on its debt for the first time in its history.

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