After nearly two months of uncertainty and turmoil, Sri Lankan parliamentarians have now reached a consensus on the political management of the country, with Ranil Wickremesinghe taking over as head of government and attempting to form a multi-party government.
On Friday, nine new ministers from different parties were sworn in before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The new ministers are: Nimal Siripala de Silva (Ports, Maritime Transport and Air Services); Dr. Susil Premajayantha (Education); Dr. Keheliya Rambukwella (Health); Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe (Justice, Corrections and Constitutional Reforms); Harin Fernando (Tourism and Lands); Dr. Ramesh Pathirana (f Plantation Industries); Manusha Nanayakkara (Foreign Labor and Employment); Nalin Fernando (Trade, Trade and Food Security); Tiran Alles (Public Security).
But what Sri Lanka’s 21 million people are likely to face in the near future is far more serious – unprecedented food shortages and growing anarchy or anarchy fomented by radical groups exploiting the grievances of the people. in the face of shortages of fuel, food and high prices of basic necessities.
There are reports from various parts of Colombo of gangs, led by local thugs and suspected members of radical groups, stopping buses and preventing people from going to work. With the government still undecided on how to tackle public protests, police stand idly by as unruly elements impose their will on unhappy citizens who want to go to work to earn a living in dire circumstances . Although there is a state of emergency which allows the government to call on the military to assist the civilian power, the issue is considered too sensitive in the current politically charged atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the Government Medical Officers Association has threatened to go on strike if a pay cut is ordered. This will only add to the misery of patients who are already facing a shortage of essential medicines in hospitals and in the market. Government doctors had threatened to strike over pay cuts even as the prime minister told parliament his cabinet would forfeit salaries and other benefits.
The latest one-day strike across the island cost Sri Lanka $22 million in exports and the burning of buses by agitators on May 9 caused a loss of SLR 400 million (1.1 million bucks). Sri Lanka imports buses from India but the foreign currency usable in the country is only US$50 million, according to former finance minister Ali Sabry.
In a speech to Parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe warned people to face food shortages in the coming months and said the Cabinet had discussed a program to start food cultivation to cover all regions of the country. He said the food shortage is already affecting people, especially in Colombo district, and swift action must be taken to bring them relief. All unused state land will be earmarked for this purpose, he added.
The Prime Minister recalled that US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had said Sri Lanka had been identified along with Afghanistan as a country that will need food aid. The “International Food Initiative (IFI) Action Plan to Address Food Insecurity” developed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the World Bank (WB) and several other multilateral and United Nations agencies, plans to spend billions of dollars to support farmers, he said.
However, as Sri Lanka receives international aid, the country will need to prepare to ensure food security for all, Wickremesinghe said and added that steps have been taken to provide adequate fertilizer to farmers for the upcoming harvest season. “Mahah”.
According to the International Trade Administration, the agricultural sector contributes about 7.4% of Sri Lanka’s GDP, of which the fisheries sector contributes about 1.3% and the livestock sector 0.9%. More than 30% of Sri Lankans are employed in the agricultural sector.
“Although Sri Lanka is a fertile tropical land with potential for cultivation and processing of various crops, issues such as productivity and profitability are hampering the growth of the sector. There is a lack of private investment in agriculture due to uncertain policies,” the ITA said.
Sri Lanka is largely dependent on food imports. Import of food and beverages accounted for 9.7% of total imports in 2020, with total agricultural, food and beverage imports reaching $1.6 billion, the ITA added.
The overnight ban on chemical fertilizers in 2021, amid the pandemic, has hit Sri Lankan farmers below the belt. This severely reduced production. According to Nikkei Asia, this year’s Maha season, which ended in March, was expected to see production 30% below the normal yield of 3.2 million tonnes.
“A kilogram of tomatoes that sold for 149 Sri Lankan rupees (80 cents) in December 2020 returned to 463 rupees a year later. Similar spikes are reflected in the prices of green chillies, garlic, onions and coconuts – essentials for the spicy dishes that accompany increasingly expensive Sri Lankan short-grain rice,” said rated Nikkei Asia. Food inflation has reached 21%.
Nikkei Asia quoted the World Bank as saying the poverty line for Sri Lanka was $3.20 a day. By this measure, 500,000 more people had fallen into poverty, the majority in rural areas, where 92% of the poor live. The current estimate of the number of poor people in Sri Lanka is 2.56 million out of 21 million.
New York-based rating agency Fitch downgraded Sri Lanka’s debt-ridden sovereign rating to “limited default” after the country failed to make international sovereign bond payments at the end of the 30 day grace period. The downgrade comes at a time when Central Bank Governor P Nandalal Weerasinghe acknowledged on Thursday that Sri Lanka would not be able to repay its debts until it restructured them.
Meanwhile, the government has told its non-essential staff to stay home due to petrol and diesel shortages. The deputies asked the speaker of the parliament to accommodate them in hotels because they cannot reach the parliament from their homes in the absence of fuel for transport.