Colombo: Sri Lanka’s parliament has canceled its remaining sittings for the week to save fuel, officials said on Thursday, with a devastating economic crisis sharply depleting the island country’s already scarce petrol supplies.
Foreign exchange shortages have halted imports of food, oil and medicines, while runaway inflation and regular blackouts have made life miserable for Sri Lanka’s 22 million population.
Parliamentarians decided to cancel sessions on Thursday and Friday to avoid unnecessary petrol use, days after authorities closed schools and some state offices for the same reason, parliamentary officials said.
Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said a gasoline shipment due for Thursday had been delayed and urged motorists to cut travel.
“Only a limited quantity of petrol will be delivered to pumping stations today and tomorrow,” he told reporters in Colombo, with motorists already waiting in line for days to fill their tanks.
Neighboring India, which has offered several credit lines to Sri Lanka to import essentials, on Thursday sent a team of experts to assess the rapidly deteriorating economic situation of the island.
“The two sides discussed in detail the future course of action of the Indian aid program to stabilize and revive Sri Lanka’s economy,” the office of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said in a statement. The Indian High Commission in Colombo said that New Delhi has already provided $3.5 billion in aid to deal with the currency crisis.
A statement from the High Commission said New Delhi’s help was guided by a “neighbourhood first” policy.
New Delhi is concerned about China’s growing economic and political clout in the South Asian nation, which India has traditionally seen as its sphere of geopolitical influence.
China is one of the top bilateral creditors to Sri Lanka and has several strategically important investments in deep sea ports on the island.
The US and New Delhi have expressed concern over China’s foothold in ports.
Colombo seeks international help, officials said, with a US Treasury delegation expected to visit Sri Lanka next week to assess the economic crisis.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on Wednesday that the country’s economy has reached the point of “complete collapse”.
“We are now facing a much more dire situation than the lack of fuel, gas, electricity and food,” Wickremesinghe told lawmakers.
Sri Lanka defaulted on $51 billion of its foreign debt in April and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout that could take months.