Senior US officials arrived in Sri Lanka on Sunday to find ways to help the island nation amid an unprecedented economic crisis and severe shortages of essential supplies, as the energy minister warned new fuel shipments would be delayed. .
Over the past two weeks, the US has announced millions of dollars in assistance to Sri Lanka, which has been surviving on $4 billion in lines of credit from neighboring India. It has also received pledges of $300 million to $600 million from the World Bank to buy drugs and other items.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe announced last week that the economy had “collapsed” due to declining foreign exchange reserves and mounting debt, made worse by the pandemic and other longer-term problems.
The US delegation was led by Robert Kaproth, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Asia, and Kelly Keiderling, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia.
During their four-day stay, they will meet with a wide range of political representatives, economists and international organizations to “explore the most effective ways in which the US and Sri Lankans plan a sustainable and inclusive economy for the future”, said the Embassy of the United States in a statement.
“This visit underscores our continued commitment to the security and prosperity of the Sri Lankan people,” said Julie Chung, US Ambassador to Sri Lanka.
He said that while Sri Lankans are enduring some of the “greatest economic challenges in their history, our efforts to support economic growth and strengthen democratic institutions have never been more critical.”
The United States has announced $120 million in new financing for small and medium-sized businesses, a $27 million contribution to Sri Lanka’s dairy industry, and $5.75 million in humanitarian assistance to help those most affected by the economic crisis. An additional $6 million was committed in new livelihoods grants and technical assistance on financial reform.
Sri Lanka says it cannot pay $7 billion in foreign debt due this year, pending the outcome of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a rescue package. It must pay $5 billion on average annually until 2026. The authorities have asked the IMF to hold a conference to unite Sri Lankan lenders.
Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera, in a tweet on Saturday night, urged people not to queue to buy fuel, saying new shipments would be delayed due to “banking and logistical reasons.”
He said limited supplies of fuel will be distributed to limited stations over the next week. He said that until the next shipments arrive, “priority will be given to public transportation, power generation and industries.”
Wickremesinghe said last week that the state-owned Ceylon Petroleum Corporation was $700 million in debt and as a result no country or organization was willing to provide fuel.
Protesters have occupied the entrance to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s office for more than two months demanding his resignation, saying the main responsibility for the crisis rests with him and his family, whom they accuse of corruption and mismanagement.