Sri Lanka will slash its army by a third to 135,000 personnel by next year and to 100,000 by 2030, the state minister of defence has said, as the country tries to cut costs in the face of its worst economic crisis in more than seven decades.
“Military spending is basically state-borne expenditure which indirectly stimulates and opens avenues for economic growth by way of assuring national and human security,” Premitha Bandara Thennakoon, said in a statement on Friday.
The island nation is still reeling from months of food and fuel shortages that made daily life a misery for its 22 million people last year.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe has hiked taxes and imposed harsh spending cuts to smooth the passage of an expected International Monetary Fund bailout following a government debt default.
Sri Lanka’s armed forces are next on the chopping block, with the defence ministry announcing it would retire 65,000 soldiers from its 200,000-strong army over the year.
The cuts make up the lion’s share of plans to downsize Sri Lanka’s land forces to 100,000 by the end of the decade.
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‘Well-balanced defence force’
“The overall aim of the strategic blueprint is to broach a technically and tactically sound and well-balanced defence force,” the minister said.
Sri Lanka’s armed forces remain bloated more than a decade after the end of the country’s traumatic ethnic civil war.
Nearly 400,000 people served in the military at its peak strength in 2009, the year government forces crushed the Tamil Tigers separatist movement during a no-holds-barred offensive that saw thousands of civilian casualties.
Defence accounted for nearly 10 percent of public spending last year, and according to expert analysts, pay for security force personnel makes up half the government’s salary bill.
Sri Lanka warned this week it had barely enough revenue to pay public employees and pensions despite huge tax hikes at the start of the year.
The economy shrank an estimated 8.7 percent last year as the public endured lengthy blackouts, long queues for petrol, empty supermarket shelves and runaway inflation.
The crisis peaked in July when protesters angered by the crisis stormed the official residence of then-president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who briefly fled the country and tendered his resignation from abroad.