Sri Lankan energy crisis worsens

Sri Lankan energy crisis worsens

Foreign-exchange shortage leaves state petroleum company without dollars to buy oil

A worker fills the tank of an auto rickshaw at a petrol station in Colombo on Friday. (Photo: AFP)
A worker fills the tank of an auto rickshaw at a petrol station in Colombo on Friday. (Photo: AFP)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s state-run petroleum company has run out of cash to buy oil, and fuel shortages across the country could get worse, the energy minister said on Friday.

Udaya Gammanpila said the loss-making Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) continued to haemorrhage cash and could no longer afford to procure supplies from abroad.

“Earlier, we were short of dollars to import oil. Now we don’t have the rupees to buy the dollars,” Gammanpila told reporters in Colombo.

Diesel is the most commonly used fuel for public transport, and motorists outside the capital have reported long queues at understocked pumps.

Several thermal power stations, meanwhile, closed Friday afternoon after running out of fuel, leading the country’s main energy utility to announce the resumption of rotating power cuts across the country.

Gammanpila said that CPC suffered losses of up to 42% on the sale of diesel at government-mandated prices, with losses of 83 billion rupees (US$415 million) last year alone.

“Even if taxes are lifted on oil sales, it is not enough to cover our losses,” he said. “A severe shortage is inevitable unless we increase prices or the treasury offers a bailout.”

There was no immediate comment from the finance ministry.

Sri Lanka’s worsening foreign-exchange shortage has seriously affected the energy sector, which depends entirely on imports for its oil needs.

The shortage of furnace oil has already led to the shutting down of thermal electricity generators, resulting in unannounced power cuts across the Indian Ocean island.

Sri Lanka’s economy is also seeing a scarcity of food, with supermarkets forced to ration staple foods including rice. Automotive parts and cement are also in short supply.

The shortages pushed food inflation to a record 25% last month.

Tourism is a key foreign-exchange earner for Sri Lanka, but the sector has collapsed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The island was handed temporary relief with a $500 million credit line from India last month to finance oil purchases sufficient for about six weeks.

Three international rating agencies have downgraded the island since late last year on fears it may not be able to service its $35 billion sovereign debt.

Sri Lanka has also sought more loans from Beijing to help repay its existing Chinese debt, which accounts for about 10% of the country’s external borrowings.

Authorities have borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects in the past, some of which ended up as costly white elephants.

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