Sri Lanka business leaders demand an end to political deadlock

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) – Sri Lankan business leaders on Friday called for an end to the country’s political instability amid public demands for the president to step down over alleged economic mismanagement, warning that if he did not do so doing so would lead to an economic catastrophe.

Leaders of 23 business associations representing export, import and logistics companies told reporters in the capital Colombo that they want lawmakers to “act responsibly and decisively to implement corrective solutions to halt and then reverse the rapidly deteriorating situation.” turn.”

The associations warned that their industries, which together earn about $16.7 billion a year from exports of goods and services, would grind to a halt if the current situation continues.

The Indian Ocean island nation is experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades.

For several months now, Sri Lankans have had to endure long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicines, most of which come from abroad and are paid for in hard currency. The fuel shortage has led to power cuts for several hours a day.

The magnitude of the crisis became apparent when Sri Lanka was unable to pay for basic imports due to massive debts and dwindling foreign reserves. The country’s usable foreign reserves are said to be less than $400 million, experts say, and it has nearly $7 billion in foreign debt obligations this year alone.

Rohan Masakorala, director general of the Sri Lanka Association of Manufacturers and Exporters of Rubber, said entrepreneurs were “worried”, adding that “something dangerous is coming our way”.

“We need a stable political system,” he said, pointing out that trust needs to be regained “before we fall completely off the abyss.”

Yohan Lawrence, secretary general of the Joint Apparel Association Forum, which represents the country’s apparel industry, urged stakeholders to come up with a “viable and long-term solution.”

“We are facing total economic collapse if something is not done soon,” he said.

The garment industry is Sri Lanka’s largest foreign exchange earner, generating over $5 billion in annual income.

National protests over the country’s economic problems have expanded with criticism of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his politically powerful family.

Thousands of people from all walks of life demonstrated this week, demanding a solution to the crisis and calling on Rajapaksa to resign over economic mismanagement.

Rajapaksa has resisted demands to step down even after members of his own coalition joined them this week, with ruling party lawmakers calling for the appointment of an interim government to prevent potential violence.

Rajapaksa previously proposed the creation of a unity government, but the main opposition party rejected the idea. His cabinet resigned on Sunday night and on Tuesday nearly 40 governing coalition lawmakers said they would no longer vote according to the coalition’s instructions, significantly weakening the government.

This has turned the economic crisis into a political crisis, without a functioning cabinet with crucial finance and health ministers. In three days of debate, Parliament has failed to reach a consensus on how to deal with the crisis.

The president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, remain in power, even as their family is at the center of public anger. Five other family members are lawmakers, including Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa and a cousin, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.

The government estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic has cost Sri Lanka’s tourism-dependent economy $14 billion in the past two years.

Rajapaksa said last month that his government was in talks with the International Monetary Fund and had turned to China and India for loans, and he was calling on people to limit their use of fuel and electricity.

Russel Juriansz of the Sri Lanka Shippers’ Council urged Rajapaksa to “make the right decisions immediately.”

“Otherwise it will haunt him for the rest of his life,” he said.

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