Sri Lanka on Thursday appointed 37 State ministers, including one from the Rajapaksa family, as President Ranil Wickremesinghe expanded his government amid efforts to set the country’s battered economy on a recovery path.
Barring a few, all newly appointed ministers, including some tainted by allegations of corruption and violence, are from the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front) or its long-time allies. They held similar, or in some instances, same positions, in the former Rajapaksa administration that was booted out by a historic people’s uprising. Shasheendra Rajapaksa, a nephew of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, is the first member of the family to return to a ministerial post after waves of street protests demanded that the “Rajapaksas go home” taking responsibility for the crippling economic crisis.
Taking to Twitter, Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa slammed the move. “When our nation faces its worst economic crisis, the appointment of so many State ministers is nothing short of a crime. The government has a social contract with the people, not with themselves,” he said.
Sri Lanka's grave economic downturn has endured since the beginning of the year, as citizens struggle to cope with the soaring inflation. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) has noted that hunger “is rising sharply in Sri Lanka”. “Millions of the poorest Sri Lankans can no longer afford an adequate diet and we fear the situation may get worse in the weeks to come,” said John Aylieff, WFP’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, while concluding a recent visit.
On September 1, Sri Lanka and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) signed a staff-level agreement for a $2.9 billion package, which the international lending agency has made conditional on Sri Lanka successfully restructuring its foreign debt. President Wickremesinghe’s uphill task includes negotiating with Sri Lanka’s diverse group of creditors, and implementing likely unpopular policies, while keeping the SLPP’s support for him intact in Parliament.
With President Wickremesinghe’s efforts to form an all-party government proving unsuccessful so far, his reliance on the Rajapaksas’ party, still the largest in Parliament, continues. Opposition parties have refused to join the administration, contending that the government lacks a people’s mandate and is “cracking down” on peaceful protesters.