Colombo, February 4 (AP/newsin.asia): Sri Lanka celebrated its Independence Day on Friday with an appeal by the president to the country’s expatriates to send money home as it struggles with the worst economic crisis in decades mainly due to depleted foreign reserves.Sri Lankans are facing shortages of milk powder, cooking gas, kerosene and other essentials. Cash shortages have hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which surged to 12.1% in December.
The pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to an economy that depends heavily on tourism and trade, with the government estimating a loss of $14 billion over the last two years. The economy is estimated to have contracted by 1.5% in July-September 2021, according to the central bank.
President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said Sri Lankans abroad who sent foreign currency back home are a major resource.
“I invite all expatriate Sri Lankans to invest in their homeland,“ he said in an address during a ceremony marking Independence Day in the capital, Colombo. A colorful military parade followed his speech.
Data shows that overseas remittances — the nation’s main foreign exchange earner— have fallen by nearly 60% to $812 million in December from a year earlier. For the whole year, remittances declined 22% to $5.4 billion. The drop came after the government ordered the mandatory conversion of foreign currency and exchange rate controls.
Because of the currency shortage, importers are unable to clear their cargo and manufactures are unable to buy raw materials from overseas.
Sri Lanka has borrowed heavily and faces repayments on $15 billion in international sovereign bonds.
President Gotabaya said: “ If we are to win over the challenges before us and accomplish our future goals successfully, then all of us have to make a change. We all have to make some sacrifices towards it. Difficult times do not last forever. People of great resolve are needed to face difficult times. None of the crises we experience today are long-term problems and the President said we can find solutions to them with an optimistic approach.
“Rather than go back many years into the past searching for reasons for the economic problems that the country faces today, what is more relevant is to find both short and long-term solutions for such. This is what we as a government is focused on”, the President said.
Stressing the need for investments to lift the economy, the President appealed to the people not to criticize every investment deal, thereby discouraging investors.
“I ask all Ministers, Parliamentarians and other politicians to act in an exemplary manner for the country at all times. If you set this example to the people, then the majority of the people will follow you,” the President further said.
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“I have pledged as the Head of State to always protect the freedom won for the future generations, and to safeguard the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of this country. We will always abide by that pledge,” President Rajapaksa said.
The President invited all patriotic Sri Lankans to unite to build a proud nation that has achieved the true meaning of freedom.
The 74th National Independence Day celebrations were organized to show pride while adhering to health recommendations.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, Police, Civil Defense and National Cadet Corps joined the parade and the Independence Day celebrations were colorful with a spectacular cultural display representing all communities of Sri Lanka.