Sri Lanka’s president acknowledged that he made mistakes that led to the country’s worst economic crisis in decades and pledged to correct them. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made the admission while speaking to 17 new Cabinet ministers he appointed Monday as he and his powerful family seek to resolve a political crisis resulting from the country’s dire economic state.
Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy, with nearly $7 billion of its total $25 billion in foreign debt due for repayment this year. A severe shortage of foreign exchange means the country lacks money to buy imported goods.
People have endured months of shortages of essentials like food, cooking gas, fuel and medicine, lining up for hours to buy the very limited stocks available.
“During the last two and a half years we have had vast challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the debt burden, and some mistakes on our part,” Rajapaksa said.
“They need to be rectified. We have to correct them and move forward. We need to regain the trust of the people.”
He said the government should have approached the International Monetary Fund early on for help in facing the impending debt crisis and should not have banned chemical fertilizer in an attempt to make Sri Lankan agriculture fully organic. Critics say the ban on imported fertilizer was aimed at conserving the country’s declining foreign exchange holdings and badly hurt farmers.
The government is also blamed for taking out large loans for infrastructure projects which have not brought in any money.
“Today, people are under immense pressure due to this economic crisis. I deeply regret this situation,” Rajapaksa said, adding that the pain, discomfort and anger displayed by people forced to wait in long lines to get essential items at high prices is justified.