Sri Lankan business leaders demand an end to political deadlock

Colombo, Sri Lanka (AP) – Sri Lanka’s business leaders on Friday called for an end to the country’s political instability amid public demands for the president to resign over alleged economic mismanagement, warning that failure to do so would spell economic devastation. .

Leaders of 23 trade unions representing export, import and logistics firms told reporters in the capital Colombo that they want parliamentarians to “act responsibly and resolutely so that they can prevent remedial solutions and then rapidly worsen the situation.” to reverse.”

The unions warned that their industries, which collectively earn about $16.7 billion annually through goods and services exports, will stall if the current situation continues.

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

For several months, Sri Lankans have faced long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad and are paid for in hard currency. Lack of fuel leads to power cuts lasting several hours a day.

The extent of the crisis became clear when Sri Lanka could not pay for imports of basic supplies due to its heavy debt and dwindling foreign reserves. According to experts, the country’s usable foreign reserves are less than $400 million, and about $7 billion in foreign debt obligations for this year alone.

Rohan Masakorla, director general of the Sri Lanka Association of Manufacturers and Exporters of Rubber, said business owners were “worried,” adding that “something dangerous is heading towards us.”

“We need a stable political system,” he said, noting that trust must be regained “before we collapse completely.”

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

“We are facing a complete economic collapse if nothing is done quickly,” he said.

The apparel industry is Sri Lanka’s highest foreign exchange earner, with an annual income of over $5 billion.

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

Thousands of people from all walks of life are protesting this week, demanding a solution to the crisis and Rajapaksa’s resignation over economic mismanagement.

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

Rajapaksa had previously proposed a unity government, but the main opposition party rejected the idea. His cabinet resigned Sunday night, and on Tuesday nearly 40 coalition lawmakers said they would no longer vote according to the Coalition’s directives, leaving the government significantly weakened.

It has turned the economic crisis into a political one, with no functioning cabinet including key finance and health ministers. Parliament has failed to reach a consensus in three days of debate on how to deal with the crisis.

The president and his older brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, hold on to power, despite his family being the center of public anger. Five other members of the family are MLAs, including Finance Minister Tulsi Rajapaksa, Irrigation Minister Chamal Rajapakse and a nephew, Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa.

The government estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused $14 billion in damage to Sri Lanka’s tourism-dependent economy over 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 urged people to limit their use of fuel and electricity.

Russell Juriansz of the Sri Lanka Shippers Council urged Rajapaksa to “make the right decision immediately”.

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

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