COLOMBO: Newly appointed Sri Lanka’s Minister of Finance Basil Rajapaksa (center) receives blessing from a Buddhist monk after signing documents during his swearing-in ceremony at the Ministry of Finance office in Colombo yesterday. – AFP

COLOMBO: A brother of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday became finance minister, tightening the family’s grip on power in the South Asian nation as it confronts growing economic troubles. Basil Rajapaksa, 70, took over the finance portfolio from another brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The 72-year-old president has put Mahinda in charge of a newly created but lower level economic policies and planning ministry. Mahinda Rajapaksa, 75, was the country’s president for a decade up to 2015, and Basil, who is known as the family’s political strategist, managed the economy then.

Basil takes charge now after the economy recorded a coronavirus-inflicted 3.6 percent contraction for 2020, the worst since independence from Britain in 1948. With his entry, the cabinet headed by Gotabaya now has five members of the Rajapaksa family. Eldest brother Chamal, 78, is minister of irrigation while the prime minister’s eldest son Namal, 35, is the youth and sports minister. Several Rajapaksa family members hold junior minister positions and other key positions in the administration.

Basil Rajapaksa was described as “Mr Ten Percent” in a 2007 US embassy cable published by the WikiLeaks organisation because of commissions he allegedly took from government contracts. He has denied any wrongdoing and inquiries failed to find any evidence to back charges he syphoned off millions of dollars from state coffers. As a dual US-Sri Lankan citizen, Basil was prohibited from standing in the 2020 election, but Gotabaya removed constitutional provisions which prevented his entry to the legislature. – AFP