Sri Lanka’s debt-laden economy has “collapsed” after months of shortages of food, fuel and electricity, its prime minister told lawmakers Wednesday, in comments underscoring the country’s dire situation as it seeks help from international lenders.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament the South Asian country is “facing a far more serious situation beyond the mere shortages of fuel, gas, electricity and food. Our economy has completely collapsed.”
While Sri Lanka’s crisis is considered its worst in recent memory, Wickremesinghe’s assertion that the economy has collapsed did not cite any specific new developments. It appeared intended to emphasize to his critics and opposition lawmakers that he has inherited a difficult task that can’t be fixed quickly, as the economy founders under the weight of heavy debts, lost tourism revenue and other impacts from the pandemic, as well as surging costs for commodities.
Lawmakers of the country’s two main opposition parties are boycotting Parliament this week to protest against Wickremesinghe, who became prime minister just over a month ago and is also finance minister, for not having delivered on his pledges to turn the economy around.
Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka is unable to purchase imported fuel, even for cash, due to heavy debts owed by its petroleum corporation.
“Currently, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation is $700 million in debt,” he told lawmakers. “As a result, no country or organization in the world is willing to provide fuel to us. They are even reluctant to provide fuel for cash,” he said.
Wickremesinghe took office in May after days of violent protests over the country’s economic crisis forced his predecessor to step down. In his comments Wednesday, he blamed the previous government for failing to act in time to turn the situation around, as Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves dwindled.