Sri Lanka’s unexpected finance minister faces a difficult task.
Ali Sabry, the former justice minister, paid a visit to Sri Lanka’s president on Monday to discuss the country’s economic crisis, which has prompted thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets and left the island nation without fuel, medicine, or power.
Sabry had been appointed finance minister by the time he left the meeting with Gotabaya Rajapaksa, much to his astonishment, and was forced into the midst of a financial storm that will be difficult to calm.
“When I went there, I wasn’t… ready for that,” Sabry said in an interview over the weekend, providing the first intimate account of a tumultuous week of political maneuvering.
“Whenever I attend to a formal gathering, I usually wear my jacket.” I took the oath without my jacket on since I went to a meeting and then had to take the oath.”
The 22-million-strong country has been affected by devastating power outages that can last up to 13 hours, as well as other shortages. Foreign exchange reserves have dropped to $1.93 billion, with debt payments in the billions of dollars looming.
In recent weeks, ordinary citizens have flocked to the streets to demand that Rajapaksa and his family resign. Mahinda, the president’s older brother, is the prime minister.
Sabry, 51, was Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s loyal justice minister when he disbanded his government.
Sabry had reservations about the new job even after accepting it. He said he wrote a resignation letter to the president 24 hours later, amid questions about his eligibility and misgivings among his family about whether it was the correct option.
“I’m a human being as well.” “My family is also important to me,” Sabry said, sitting in front of a wall of books at his law firm in Colombo’s economic hub.
He said no other candidate stepped up for four days after his resignation offer, and on Friday he had decided to go ahead after more discussions with his family, the president, and officials.
He remarked, “My conscience was bothering me.”
When Sabry rose to speak in parliament on Friday, a politician inquired as to what capacity he was speaking in.
Sabry said he was still the finance minister.
“As I told… parliament, you don’t need to be an economist to succeed. If that’s the case, you’ll need to be a mechanic or a driver to run the ministry of transportation,” Sabry added, laughing.
Sabry, a member of Sri Lanka’s minority Muslim population, had a 25-year legal career that had carried him to the top of the judicial system before the recent drama.
He went to Zahira College in Colombo and his hometown of Kalutara. He served as general secretary of the law students’ union at Sri Lanka Law College and then as vice president of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, the country’s largest group of attorneys.
Sabry comes from a political family, and he has a lengthy history with the Rajapaksas, particularly the president, whom he has represented in court.
Faced with the “Herculean” task of finding $3 billion to pay for necessary commodities, Sabry said he has the president’s, prime minister’s, and ruling party leaders’ complete support.
He will also be in charge of what is expected to be difficult negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over a desperately needed credit package.
Sabry expressed trust in a group of senior officials, including a new central bank governor and treasury secretary, as well as an advisory council.
Sabry stated, “I’m willing to do this for as long as it takes.”
Sabry had demonstrated daring in taking on a role that no one else seemed to want, according to Udeeshan Jonas, Chief Strategist of Colombo-based investment bank CAL Group.
“He’ll have to be the one to make difficult and unpopular decisions.” The economic reforms that Sri Lanka needs would not be easy, according to Jonas.
According to some commentators, the finance minister may be hampered by the public’s lack of trust in the Rajapaksa family and what they perceive to be government lethargy.
“On their own, individuals can only do so much. The government must take the appropriate steps, according to Sirimal Abeyratne, an economics professor at the University of Colombo. “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, but that’s about it.”