Sri Lanka passes stopgap, plans full budget vote in February

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's finance ministry said Monday that it will present next year's full budget in February after the parliament approved a 1.77-trillion-rupee ($9.39 billion) stopgap measure to cover public expenditures over the first four months of 2019, averting a government shutdown January 1.

Sri Lanka had been engulfed in a political crisis since late October after President Maithripala Sirisena sacked the country's prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and cabinet.

The country had no functioning government for nearly two months, and faced the prospect of being unable to use state funds from Jan. 1 and potentially defaulting on a foreign debt repayment of $1 billion due on Jan. 10.

Sirisena had replaced Wickremesinghe with former strongman President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was forced to resign after Parliament passed two no-confidence votes.

Sirisena last week reinstated Wickremesinghe and appointed a 29-member cabinet.

Parliament approved the vote on account which included a 970.4-million-rupee ($5.35 million) allocation for debt servicing in the first four months of 2019 and also gave permission for the government to take up to 990 billion rupees ($5.45 million) in new loans.

Presenting the measure in Parliament, new Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the vote on account had to be presented because there wasn't enough time to prepare a full budget for 2019.

He said that if the political crisis had continued, "the country would have plunged into a worse situation than Greece."

Finance Ministry spokesman Ali Hassen said Monday that the government will present a full budget for next year in February.

Sri Lanka's political crisis worsened and protracted as both Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa claimed that each of them was the legitimate prime minister.

After reappointing Wickremesinghe, Sirisena made a speech saying he doubted that the new arrangement would last long. Sri Lankans are not due to go to the national polls again until 2020, but if the government doesn't function, Parliament can pass a resolution with a 2/3 vote for snap elections.

Sirisena was health minister in Rajapaksa's cabinet when he defected and joined Wickremesinghe to challenge Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election.

After victory he formed a government with Wickremesinghe as prime minister but the two disagreed on everything from economic reform to investigating alleged government abuses during Sri Lanka's decades-long civil war.

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