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Sri Lanka Church to skip independence extravagance

The Church is against shelling out a huge amount of money on the 75th Independence Day at a time of forex crisis
Sri Lankan dancers perform during the nation's 74th Independence Day celebrations in Colombo on Feb. 4, 2022

Sri Lankan dancers perform during the nation's 74th Independence Day celebrations in Colombo on Feb. 4, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 02, 2023 11:13 AM GMT
Updated: February 03, 2023 03:25 AM GMT

Church leaders in Sri Lanka have decided to shun the Independence Day celebrations of the government, citing economic woes and the breakdown of rule of law in the bankrupt island nation.

An estimated US$552,000 will be spent on celebrating its 75th Independence Day on Feb. 4, when a roadmap for the next 25 years is expected to be released on the occasion.

"It is a great crime and waste to hold an Independence Day ceremony when the country is economically bankrupt," said Father Cyril Gamini, spokesman of Colombo archdiocese.

He said the entire Church in Sri Lanka, including its cardinal, bishops, priests, nuns and the laity, will not participate in the celebrations because it is being “organized by shelling out a huge amount of money at a time of the foreign exchange crisis in the country.”

Sri Lanka, currently headed by a caretaker government, plunged into political unrest following bankruptcy in May last year. Its economic crisis is considered the worst since independence from Britain in 1948 as the island nation is struggling to restructure external debts of some US$50 billion.

Due to the severe economic crisis, nearly 30 percent of its 22 million people are experiencing food insecurity, according to the United Nations.

"What is the freedom to proudly celebrate in a country that is economically bankrupt, and it cannot pay its foreign debt, in a country where more than 30 percent of people are hungry, in a country where children are suffering malnutrition," said Father Gamini.

Independence Day is marked in Sri Lanka by a grand military parade, speeches and ceremonies, and a series of cultural programs such as music and dance.

"On the 75th anniversary of independence, all the political parties that ruled the country for the last 75 years should apologize for their mistakes publicly to the people."

All those who stole the country's resources should be brought before the law and tax should be recovered from corrupt businessmen who have not paid the taxes," said the priest.

Several political parties are disassociating with the Independence Day celebrations in the cash-starved nation.

"It is funny to spend more than 200 million rupees [some US$552,000] on something called the Independence Day festival while pleading with foreign countries to cut off the debt," said rights activist Ravindi Niluka.

Niluka said the amount of credit given by China to Sri Lanka is about $7 billion and India $1 billion.

"How people eat and drink here is going to be decided based on these loan repayments," said Niluka, a university student.

After Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt, it started talks with the IMF to secure a bailout package that could inject $2.9 billion in much-needed cash into its economy.

Acting President Ranil Wickremesinghe has advised officials to celebrate the 75th Independence Day at a low cost but in a proud manner.

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