Cash-strapped Sri Lanka yesterday appointed nine more ministers to an “all-party government” tasked with trying to steer the country out of its economic crisis, but the crucial finance portfolio remains vacant.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe took over earlier this month after Mahinda Rajapaksa, the president’s elder brother, resigned as escalating protests blamed his administration for leading the economy to the brink of collapse. Wickremesinghe had pledged to put together a cross-party coalition after the previous Cabinet was dissolved.
The new ministers — for health, education and justice, among others — were sworn in before Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa at his tightly-guarded official residence in Colombo, the government said in a brief statement.
Two legislators from the main opposition SJB party broke ranks to join the new government. Another opposition party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, agreed to support President Rajapaksa and was yesterday given one portfolio.
The finance position — which will bring with it responsibility for leading negotiations with the IMF over a bailout — remains vacant. However, the new prime minister’s office said that someone would be appointed next week.
The delay in getting a finance minister could hinder the IMF negotiations, the central bank chief said on Thursday.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst-ever shortage of foreign exchange with the government unable to finance even the most essential imports such as food, fuel and medicines.
The government yesterday shut offices and schools as the fuel shortage crippled transport across the country.
However, officials said the government had managed to raise the US$53 million necessary to pay for a gasoline shipment which arrived at the Colombo port this week.
Retail pumping stations could be supplied over the weekend, officials said.
The central bank on Thursday announced that it would not be able to resume foreign debt repayments for at least another six months until the nation’s external debt of US$51 billion is restructured.
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