Take vacation to grow food, Sri Lanka tells officials

COLOMBO: Crisis-stricken Sri Lanka is asking officials to take an extra day off each week to grow crops in their backyards to avoid an impending food shortage.
The island’s unprecedented economic downturn has left several staple foods in short supply, as well as gasoline and medicines, and rampant inflation is destroying family budgets.
“It seems appropriate to give government officials one working day of the week off and provide them with the necessary facilities to carry out agricultural activities in their backyard,” a cabinet statement said on Tuesday.
The extra day off would be a “solution to the food shortage expected to occur in the future,” the statement said, adding that reducing officials’ commute to work would also help reduce fuel consumption.
Last week, the United Nations warned that Sri Lanka was facing a “serious humanitarian crisis”, saying that four out of five people in the country of 22 million were forced to skip meals.
Motorists, meanwhile, have suffered from months of chronic petrol and diesel shortages, and long queues of vehicles at petrol stations are a common occurrence across the country.
Under the cabinet decision, civil servants will have Friday off every Friday for the next three months without a pay cut, but the scheme will not apply to staff in essential services.
The government also said that all members of the 1.5 million-strong public sector who wanted to travel abroad to find work would be given up to five years of unpaid leave with no impact on their seniority or pensions.
The move is intended to encourage more people to get jobs abroad and send money back to the island, which is struggling with a dire shortage of foreign currency to buy imports.
Sri Lanka has defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt and is in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.
Public protests have demanded the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over mismanagement of the country’s economy and the severe hardship facing the population.
Rajapaksa introduced sweeping tax cuts shortly after taking power in November, accused of leaving the island without the funds to pay for essential imports.
The cash shortfall was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which devastated the local tourism industry and reduced remittances sent home by Sri Lankans working abroad.

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