Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday said 2023 will be a “critical year” for the cash-strapped country, as his regime desperately scrambles to inject much-needed impetus to galvanise the beleaguered economy.
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Sri Lanka was hit by an unprecedented financial crisis in 2022 due to a severe paucity in foreign exchange reserves that also sparked political turmoil in the island nation that led to the ouster of the all-powerful Rajapaksa family.
“We are looking at the New Year 2023 after having undergone the bleakest of times, immense hardships, as well as the uncertainties and hopelessness of the last year,” Wickremesinghe said in his New Year’s message, as Sri Lanka turns 75 as an independent nation later this year.
“I understand the great burdens that are placed on all of us and the setbacks that a majority of us have suffered due to the country’s abject economic collapse,” he said.
From April to July, chaos reigned supreme on Sri Lanka, with miles-long queues forming at fuel stations and irate residents coming out in thousands blocking roads with empty cooking gas cylinders.
The Sri Lankan government in May last year declared a debt default on over USD 51 billion in the foreign loan – a first in the country’s history.
“Indeed, 2023 will be a critical year in which we plan to turn around the economy. 2023 is also the 75th year of independence from the British Empire,” he noted.
National Day, also known as Independence Day is celebrated on February 4 to commemorate the country’s political independence from British rule in 1948.
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, who is now tasked with stabilising the economy and restoring the financial health of the economy, already hit badly by the pandemic.
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“We must boldly implement the proposed social, economic and political reforms to build a prosperous and productive Sri Lanka in the coming decade,” Wickremesinghe explained.
While explaining the roadmap ahead, the President assured that the worst in the country’s financial crisis may be over.
“Yet I believe that we have already gone through the worst of these times,” he noted.
Wickremesinghe,73, thanked the citizens for their patience and courage as the government took the critical steps to stabilise the economy.
In August last year, Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka’s economic woes would last for another year and it will have to think outside the box and look at new sectors such as logistics and nuclear energy to revive the bankrupt economy.
The President also lamented that Sri Lanka was trailing behind some of the other countries that attained independence from Great Britain around the same time.
“Looking back, it is obvious that we have not done as well as other ex-colonies. This is why the youth of our country are calling for a system change – especially at this juncture. This cannot be ignored,” he added.
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.
President 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.