Broke Sri Lanka out of paper, exams cancelled

Broke Sri Lanka out of paper, exams cancelled

Country seeks IMF bailout to deal with worst debt crisis in decades

Police officers try to stop demonstrators during a protest against rising living costs, outside the offices of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo on Friday. (AFP Photo)
Police officers try to stop demonstrators during a protest against rising living costs, outside the offices of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Colombo on Friday. (AFP Photo)

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has cancelled exams for millions of students as the country has run out of printing paper and is short on dollars to finance imports, officials said on Saturday.

Education authorities said the tests, scheduled for March 28, would be postponed indefinitely due to an acute paper shortage as the country contends with its worst financial crisis since independence in 1948.

“School principals cannot hold the tests as printers are unable to secure foreign exchange to import necessary paper and ink,” the Department of Education of the Western Province said.

Official sources said the move could effectively hold up tests for around two thirds of the country’s 4.5 million students.

Term tests are part of a continuous assessment process to decide if students are promoted to the next grade at the end of the year.

A debilitating economic crisis brought on by a shortage of foreign-exchange reserves to finance essential imports, has resulted in the country running low on food, fuel and pharmaceuticals.

The cash-strapped nation of 22 million announced this week that it will seek an IMF bailout to resolve its worsening foreign debt crisis and shore up external reserves.

The International Monetary Fund on Friday confirmed it was considering President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s surprise request to discuss a bailout.

Around $6.9 billion of Colombo’s debt needs to be serviced this year but its foreign currency reserves stood at about $2.3 billion at the end of February.

Long queues have formed across the country for groceries and oil with the government instituting rolling electricity blackouts and rationing of milk powder, sugar, lentils and rice.

Sri Lanka earlier this year asked China, one of its main creditors, to help put off debt payments but there has been no official response yet from Beijing.

The China-backed Hambantota International Port was promoted by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of the incumbent, to spur economic development in his home district, and against the advice of critics who warned against heavy borrowing to build it. The site had few users in its first few years of operation.

Struggling to pay back over $8 billion in Chinese loans and investments, the government in 2017 handed over an 85% stake in the port complex to a Chinese state-owned company on a 99-year lease to raise $1.2 billion.

Work is now nearly complete on expanded facilities that are expected to start attracting more business later this year.


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