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‘In 2023 we will build a new Sri Lanka’ — Cardinal Ranjith of Colombo

“Although 75 years have passed since the independence of the country, today the Sri Lankans have become slaves of the world,” said the cardinal

Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the outspoken leader of the Catholic Church in Colombo, urged the people of Sri Lanka to unite and rebuild the country from recent economic disasters.

“This year we should build a new Sri Lanka by uniting with our brothers and sisters,” said the cardinal in a video message addressed to the country’s Christian community.

“Although 75 years have passed since the independence of the country, today the Sri Lankans have become slaves of the world,” said the cardinal.

He said Sri Lanka will risk an economic degradation “if the current situation continues.”

“But I believe that, with an intelligent and just attitude, we should not allow the country to be destroyed,” said Cardinal Ranjith.

“In this new year we decide to work together, with courage and selflessness, to recover from this great destruction,” he added.

The Catholic Church leader said 2023 should be a year to love Sri Lanka even as “in terms of progress it is not where it should be.”

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“Many countries that became independent in the same year are far ahead,” he said.

“Due to reckless choices and intransigent attitudes, today we are seen as one of the poorest countries in the Asian region,” he said, adding a reminder that “poverty is not only external, but also internal.”

New austerity measures launched

Sri Lanka began a fresh austerity drive this week, freezing government recruitment as new taxes and higher electricity prices kicked in with authorities trying to secure an IMF bailout.

The Indian Ocean island nation needs to achieve debt sustainability as a precondition to a US$2.9 billion bailout from the Washington-based lender after it defaulted in April as its economy went into crisis.

The IMF has also asked Colombo to trim its 1.5 million strong public service, sharply raise taxes and sell off loss-making state enterprises.

A record 20,000 civil servants retired at the end of December — eight times as many as usual according to the public administration ministry — after President Ranil Wickremesinghe reduced their retirement age from 65 to 60.

They will not be replaced, the ministry said.

Doubled personal income and corporate taxes kicked in on New Year’s Day to shore up state revenue, while electricity prices went up 65 percent after a 75 percent tariff increase in August.

Wickremesinghe, who came to power after Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country and resigned in July following months of protests, said the crisis was not yet over despite the restoration of fuel, food and fertiliser supplies.

“Our problems have not been resolved yet,” he told his staff on the first working day of the year.

“We need to reduce our debt burden if we are to move forward.”

Key creditors such as China and India are yet to announce agreement to a “haircut” on their loans to the South Asian nation.

As part of the new measures, the finance ministry has also banned non-essential capital expenditure.

Any officials who authorise investments over 500 million rupees (US$1.38 million) without clearing them with the treasury first will be held personally accountable, a ministry official said.

At the height of the economic crisis six months ago, motorists spent days in long queues to top up fuel tanks while the country endured 13-hour electricity blackouts and food inflation hit nearly 100 percent. – with a report from Agence France Presse

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