“Our economy is facing total collapse,” Wickremesinghe told the Sri Lankan parliament, adding that the government is seeking help from its global partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to stabilize the economy.
But Wickremesinghe warned that the island nation of 22 million is “facing a much bigger situation” than the deficit.
In several major cities, including the commercial capital of Colombo, hundreds of people continue to queue for hours for fuel, sometimes clashing with police and the military.
Trains have become less frequent, forcing travelers to squeeze into compartments and even sit precariously when they commute to work.
Patients cannot travel to hospitals due to lack of fuel and soaring food prices. Rice, a staple food in this South Asian country, has disappeared from the shelves in many stores and supermarkets.
This week alone, 11 people have died in line for fuel, according to police.
Wickremesinghe, who took office days after violent protests forced his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa to step down, appeared to place the blame for the country’s situation on the previous government in comments on Wednesday.
“It is not an easy task to revive a country with a completely destroyed economy, especially a country with a dangerously low amount of foreign exchange reserves,” he said. “If at the beginning there had been at least steps taken to slow down the collapse of the economy, we would not be facing this difficult situation today.”
“We have requested additional loan assistance from our Indian colleagues. But even India will not be able to constantly support us in this way,” he said.
The next step, he said, was a deal with the IMF.
“This is our only option. We must follow this path. Our goal is to negotiate with the IMF and come to an agreement on obtaining an additional credit line,” Wickremesinghe said.
He added that Sri Lanka is currently negotiating with the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United States to “secure bridge short-term loans” until it receives IMF support.
According to him, a group of representatives of the US Treasury will arrive in Sri Lanka next week.
In addition, Sri Lanka will seek help from China and Japan, two of its “major creditor countries,” Wickremesinghe added.
“If we get IMF approval, the world will trust us again,” he said. “This will help us get loan assistance as well as low-interest loans from other parts of the world.”