COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – As fuel ran out and struggled to contain a deeper economic crisis, Sri Lanka on Friday ordered government officials to work from home to ease crowds on public transport.
The government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, which has faced months of ongoing protests against mismanagement of the economy, has told state and education sector workers not to show up at the office for two weeks, according to a statement from the Public Prosecution Service. Management. † Workers deemed essential were exempt.
Sri Lanka had already shortened working days by declaring Friday a public holiday and urging government officials “to garden or grow crops for short-term during these days when offices are closed” to help overcome the food shortage.
The home working announcement described the new order as a response to “the situation where it has become difficult to meet transport requirements”.
A shortage of foreign cash reserves for essential imports has exacerbated the crisis in Sri Lanka, which has been blamed on mismanagement by members of the powerful ruling Rajapaksa family. Among their catastrophic policies were tax cuts that shrunk revenues already hit by a decline in tourism revenues caused by the pandemic, and a ban on fertilizers to promote organic farming, which devastated farmers.
Months of protests have forced much of the Rajapaksa family, including prime minister older brother Mahinda, from the government. But Gotabaya Rajapaksa held out as president, introduced a new prime minister and hoped to attract help from friendly countries and negotiate with the International Monetary Fund to restructure the country’s mounting debt.
The new Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, has told Sri Lanka’s parliament that the country will need $5 billion over the next six months to import essential items “to ensure that our daily lives are not disrupted”, much of which goes to fuel purchases.
“The country spends $500 million a month on fuel,” said Mr. Wickremesinghe.
Fuel queues have eased slightly after some shipments arrived from India last month. But as supplies dwindled again, the government has tried to contain demand – by ordering workers to stay at home and introducing new rationing that will only allow a vehicle to get fuel once a week. The cooking gas shortage has become so hopeless that people no longer queue. Instead, in many neighborhoods they have had their gas cylinders lined up and chained together to prevent theft.
According to local news reports, at least 10 people have died queuing for fuel since the start of the crisis.
The United Nations has warned that a quarter of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people are at risk of food shortages due to the economic crisis. As food inflation exceeds 50 percent and hospitals have depleted their supplies of essential medicines, the UN has called on about $50 million to provide four months of “life-saving aid” to nearly two million of those most affected.
“If we don’t act now, many families will not be able to meet their basic food needs,” he said Hana Singer-Hamdy, the UN resident coordinator in Sri Lanka.
Skandha Gunasekara reported from Colombo and Mujib Mashal from New Delhi.