Colombo, May 19 Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has designated Maldivian Parliamentary Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed as the “coordinator” for securing foreign aid to Sri Lanka that is facing an unprecedented economic crisis. 

Wickremesinghe on Thursday held a closed-door meeting with his long-time friend Nasheed who is visiting Colombo, and discussed Sri Lanka’s dire economic situation, while exploring possible sources of relief. “During the discussions the former President of Maldives generously offered to assist Sri Lanka in securing relief for the country from foreign nations. The Prime Minister accepted the former President’s offer and appointed him to coordinate the relief efforts,” . Wickremesinghe’s office said in a statement.   

Nasheed – who has spent many of his years in exile in Sri Lanka - has maintained close links with Sri Lankan leaders across political parties. Observing that the situation in Sri Lanka is “extremely serious”, he told  The Hindu in Colombo: “We must all do whatever we can in times of need for our neighbour and cousin. I will do everything I can to assist the people of Sri Lanka.” 

Nasheed, known for his wide international appeal as an advocate of democracy and human rights, and a climate hero, will reach out to international partners and regional leaders on Sri Lanka’s behalf, to secure immediate assistance. 

Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves have depleted rapidly in the last few months, leaving the government desperate for dollars to import essentials including food, fuel, and medicines. Wickremesinghe has warned that the next few months would be the “most difficult” for Sri Lankans, who are struggling amid acute shortages and record inflation. According to political sources in Colombo, . Wickremesinghe is counting on the QUAD grouping – the US, India, Japan, and Australia – to lead the foreign aid consortium that he mooted soon after his sudden appointment on May 12, amid political tumult in Sri Lanka. 

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government in Male, led by . Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party, follows an “India first” foreign policy, pursuing close defence and economic ties with India and the US in over the last few years.   

Plea to India 

Speaking to  The Hindu, Nasheed made a specific appeal to Indian banks and the Indian business community to “make themselves available” for Sri Lanka at such a time. “My plea to the generous people of India, especially entrepreneurs and business people, is please make yourselves available for financing and debt restructuring to support Sri Lanka.” 

 Financial institutions must “underwrite” Sri Lanka’s future, Nasheed said, adding  Indian entrepreneurs and banks “are very well placed” to do so.    

Further, Nasheed observed that Maldivians “will never forget” the help extended by Sri Lanka and its leaders throughout the years. “If I have a single penny, I will make sure Sri Lankans have it,” he said. 

Nasheed has closely followed and weighed in on developments in Sri Lanka in recent weeks. Following violent attacks that spilled over to the streets of Colombo and elsewhere on May 9, he said in a tweet: “Oh my dearest Lanka, please don’t go there. Please come back.” 

On Wickremesinghe’s appointment last week, after Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped down as Prime Minister, the Maldivian leader tweeted again, saying: “I wish Sri Lanka’s new PM @RW_UNP the very best of luck. Throughout my political life, I’ve always listened to Ranil’s advice & it has never been found wanting. Sri Lanka is in trouble, but I’ve no doubt the PM will do his best to bring back prosperity.” 

(Meera Srinivasa is The Hindu correspondent in Colombo)