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Bankrupt Sri Lanka asks citizens abroad to send home cash

COLOMBO (AFP) – Sri Lanka urged its citizens overseas to send home money to help pay for desperately needed food and fuel opponents after announcing a default on its USD51-billion foreign debt.

The island nation is in the grip of its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, with severe shortages of essential goods and regular blackouts causing widespread hardship.

Authorities are weathering intense public anger and spirited protests demanding the government’s resignation ahead of negotiations for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout. Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe said he needed Sri Lankans abroad to “support the country at this crucial juncture by donating much needed foreign exchange”.

His appeal came a day after the government announced it was suspending repayments on all external debt, which will free up money to replenish scant supplies of petrol, pharmaceuticals and other necessities.

Weerasinghe said he had set up bank accounts for donations in the United States, Britain and Germany and promised Sri Lankan expatriates the money would be spent where it was most needed. The bank “assures that such foreign currency transfers will be utilised only for importation of essentials, including food, fuel and medicines”, Weerasinghe said in a statement.

Tuesday’s default announcement will save Sri Lanka about USD200 million in interest payments falling due on Monday, he said, adding that the money would be diverted to pay for essential imports. Weerasinghe’s appeal has so far been greeted with scepticism from Sri Lankans abroad.

“We don’t mind helping, but we can’t trust the government with our cash,” a Sri Lankan doctor in Australia told AFP, asking for anonymity.

Protesters participating in a demonstration against the economic crisis at the entrance of the president’s office in Colombo. PHOTO: AFP
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