COLOMBO: Sri Lankans from all walks of life hailed relief measures introduced by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Tuesday, as the country continues to grapple with economic difficulties caused by the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
Some of the measures include the launch of a “COVID-19 Healthcare and Social Security Fund,” with an initial capital of $525,000, to aid those directly impacted by the crisis.
“The president’s packages embrace people of all sectors … It is a great relief to the distressed ones,” Ali Sabry, a senior lawyer, told Arab News, adding that the president “had set an example for others to follow.”
Rajapaksa has also pledged a donation to the SAARC Coronavirus Fund, which was launched by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week.
“After the president’s move, the management of a leading mosque in Colpetty in elite Colombo has come forward to help the poorest among the poor,” Sabry said.
As part of the relief measures, a six-month debt moratorium will be imposed on tourism and textile industries, with costs to be borne by the central bank.
Additionally, a grace period for the payment of income tax and VAT, monthly credit card bills less than $264 and renewal of driving licenses will be extended until April 30.
The move will also suspend the leasing loan repayment for owners of three-wheeler vehicles for six months. It will also delay the recovery of loans from government and private sector employees until May 30.
Experts, however, expressed some concerns.
Muheed Jeeran, a human rights activist and international lobbyist, told Arab News that the president should “give priority to the health and not the wealth of the people.”
He added: “If the people’s health is in jeopardy, how can we build a healthy nation?”
Jeeran said that the president should impose a lockdown in affected districts and, with the help of the army, ensure that people stay at home until screening procedures are complete.
Sri Lanka’s Muslim Council Chairman N.M. Ameen told Arab News that the president had implemented the measures “realizing full well the plight of the people under the circumstances.”
Mohammed, a leading travel agent in the city, disagreed, reasoning that the relief measures are specifically designed for the middle class, while the upper class — who had incurred considerable losses in the tourism and exports trade sectors — could not benefit from the new proposals.
However, an Asian diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News that the middle class forms the majority of the population and is part of a sector that needs maximum assistance.