Ranil Wickremesinghe, appointed prime minister on Thursday, said in a speech to the nation that the country urgently needed $ 75 million in foreign currency to pay for essential imports.
“At the moment, we only have gasoline stocks for one day. The next two months are going to be the hardest of our lives,” he said.
“We have to prepare ourselves to make sacrifices and face the challenges of this period.”
Two shipments of gasoline and two shipments of diesel using an Indian credit line could provide relief in the coming days, he added, but the country is also facing a shortage of 14 essential medicines.
Sri Lanka currently faces a budget deficit of $ 6.8 billion (Sri Lankan rupee 2.4 trillion), or 13% of GDP.
In response to the crisis, Wickremesignhe said the country would print more money and propose to privatize Sri Lanka’s flagship airline to keep the economy afloat, although he admitted inflation could worsen in the short term.
In his speech on Thursday, he promised to “build a nation without queues for kerosene, gas and fuel … a nation with abundant resources.”
The president replaced Mahinda Rajapaksa with Wickremesinghe, an opposition lawmaker who has held office five times previously, in a desperate attempt to place the protesters.
But the protesters said they will continue their campaign as long as Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains president. They also labeled Wickremesinghe a stooge and criticized his appointment of four cabinet ministers, all members of the political party led by the Rajapaksa brothers.
Wickremesinghe said on Monday he had taken on the role for the good of the country.
In Colombo, the commercial capital, long lines of auto rickshaws, the city’s most popular means of transport, have queued up at petrol stations waiting for fuel.
“I’ve been in the queue for over six hours,” said one driver, Mohammad Ali. “We spend six to seven hours online just to get gas.”
Another driver, Mohammad Naushad, said the gas station where he was waiting had run out of fuel.
“We are here from 7 to 8 in the morning and it is not yet clear whether they will have fuel or not,” he said. “When it comes, no one knows. There is a sense in our waiting here, even we don’t know.”
A chronic shortage of foreign exchange has led to rampant inflation and shortages of medicines, fuel and other essential goods, bringing thousands of people to the streets in protest.
A shipment of diesel via an Indian credit line arrived in the country on Sunday, but has yet to be distributed throughout the island.
“Ask the public not to queue or fill up in the next three days until deliveries of 1,190 service stations are complete,” Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said Monday.
Wickremesinghe has yet to announce key ministers, including the crucial role of finance minister, who will negotiate with the International Monetary Fund for the financial aid the country desperately needs.
Former Finance Minister Ali Sabry had held preliminary talks with the multilateral lender, but resigned along with Mahinda Rajapaksa last week.