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President Gotabaya Rajapaksa introduces emergency ordinances to control the prices of essential foodstuffs as private banks run out of foreign currency to finance imports.
Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency over food shortages as private banks run out of foreign exchange to finance imports.
As the country is going through a severe economic crisis, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Tuesday that he has issued emergency ordinances to curb the hoarding of sugar, rice and other essential foods.
The regulations give officials broad powers to seize food supplies from traders, arrest people who hoard essential food and for the government to set controlled prices.
Rajapaksa has appointed a senior army officer as Commissioner General of Essential Services to coordinate the supply of paddy rice, rice, sugar and other consumer goods.
The move followed sharp price hikes for sugar, rice, onions and potatoes, while long lines lined up outside stores due to shortages of milk powder, kerosene oil and cooking gas, despite the country having a 16-day curfew until next Monday due to the increase. of COVID-19 cases.
Commerce Minister Bandula Gunawardena said some traders were hoarding supplies, resulting in a shortage of food and causing inconvenience to the public.
The government has increased penalties for hoarding food, but the shortfalls come as the country of 21 million people struggles with a severe coronavirus wave that is claiming more than 200 lives a day.
The economy shrank by a record 3.6 percent in 2020 due to the pandemic, and in March last year the government banned imports of vehicles and other items, including edible oils and turmeric, an essential spice in local cuisine, in a attempt to rescue foreign exchange .
Importers still say they haven’t been able to buy dollars to pay for the food and medicine they’re allowed to buy.
Two weeks ago, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka raised interest rates in an effort to strengthen the local currency.
Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves fell to $2.8 billion at the end of July, from $7.5 billion in November 2019 when the government took office and the rupee lost more than 20 percent of its value against the US dollar during that time. according to bank details.
Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila has called on motorists to conserve fuel so that the country can use its foreign exchange to buy essential medicines and vaccines.
A presidential aide has warned that fuel rationing could be introduced by the end of the year unless consumption is reduced.
Meanwhile, there has been a rapid increase in the number of COVID-19 deaths in Sri Lanka in recent weeks, with more than 200 deaths per day and more than 4,500 daily cases reported in the past 10 days.
Sri Lanka has registered 8,991 COVID-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to official figures.
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