Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Monday admitted he made mistakes over last two years that led to the country's worst financial crisis.
Speaking to his 17 new Cabinet members, Gotabaya pledged to correct those mistakes.
Gotabaya said, "During the last two and a half years, we have had vast challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the debt burden, and some mistakes on our part. They need to be rectified. We have to correct them and move forward. We need to regain the trust of the people."
Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy as it faces an acute shortage of foreign exchange. People are going through extreme hardships as there is severe shortage of vehicular fuel, cooking gas, and even food and medicines. Prices have also sky-rocketed in recent weeks. People have also faced power cuts of up to 13 hours as there is shortage of fuel to produce thermal power.
Gotabaya said the Sri Lankan government should have approached the International Monetary Fund earlier in the crisis for help in facing the impending debt crisis and should not have banned chemical fertiliser in an attempt to make Sri Lankan agriculture fully organic. Critics have said the ban on imported fertilisers badly hurt farmers.
Critics have also blamed the government for taking large loans for infrastructure projects which have not brought in any money.
Gotabaya said, "Today, people are under immense pressure due to this economic crisis. I deeply regret this situation."
He added that the pain, discomfort, and anger displayed by people forced to wait in long lines to get essential items at high prices is justified.
The new Cabinet appointments follow weeks of protests demanding resignations of Gotabaya and his politically powerful family that has held power for most of the past two decades. Much public anger has been directed at Gotabaya and his elder brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Thousands of protesters occupied the entrance to the president's office for the 10th day on Monday. Gotabaya and Mahinda Rajapaksa remain in office, but some other relatives lost their Cabinet seats in what was seen as an attempt to pacify the protesters without giving up the family's hold on power.
Last week, the government said it was suspending repayment of foreign loans pending talks with the International Monetary Fund. Finance Minister Ali Sabry and officials left for talks with the IMF on Sunday. The IMF and World Bank are holding annual meetings in Washington this week.
Sri Lanka has also turned to China and India for emergency loans to buy food and fuel.
The Indian assistance so far has reached around $2.5 billion, which includes $1 billion for essentials such as food and medicines, $500 million for fuel, and a currency swap agreement between the Reserve Bank of India and the Sri Lankan central bank.
India has also delivered 2,70,000 metric ton of fuel to Sri Lanka. More fuel shipments from India are expected to be sent to Sri Lanka by May, according to reports.
With PTI inputs