Prime Minister announces financial safety net for social security

Colombo: Sri Lanka aims to set up a financial safety net of 200 billion rupees to provide social security support to the needy amid the country’s worst economic crisis, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced.

“The government is making maximum efforts to lessen the impact by providing financial and logistical support,” said Wickremesinghe, who also serves as the debt-ridden economy’s finance minister.

“A financial safety net of Rs 200 billion is being raised to support the social sector,” he said on Thursday evening, addressing owners of Sri Lankan media outlets.

He said a team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would visit the country on June 20 and hoped that a services-level agreement with the IMF would be reached by the end of June.

Wickremesinghe also explained that due to the impending food shortage, he was starting the food security program in the country.

He hoped that through the food security program, the government of the crisis-affected country would be able to provide free food to 10% of the population, who could not afford three meals.

He had previously warned of a food crisis on top of the current economic crisis, which has also left the country short of fuel, gas, medicine as well as essential supplies.

Asked about the government’s initiatives to combat the current crisis, the Prime Minister explained that the country would have to suffer the consequences of the damage caused to the economy by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Discussions are underway with Japan to regain their trust and gain their support, the prime minister added.

Wickremesinghe said countries provided aid in the form of food and medical supplies, but no country provided free fuel.

Long queues at petrol stations are commonplace on the island currently despite supplies being made available by India through a line of credit.

Sri Lanka, which has been grappling with unprecedented economic turmoil since its independence from Britain in 1948, is also facing political unrest with protesters demanding the resignation of President Rajapaksa.

The economic crisis has caused severe shortages of essentials like food, medicine, cooking gas and other fuels, toilet paper and even matches, with Sri Lankans forced to queue for months for hours in front of stores to buy fuel and cooking gas.

An IMF bailout package is currently being drafted and should be available in the last quarter of the year.

Wickremesinghe had earlier announced that extended credit lines from India were being sought until the IMF facility becomes available.

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