* Sri Lanka facing repayments on infrastructure debts
* Government began search for hotel buyers in January
* Bidding for Sri Lankan Airlines likely to reopen soon
By Tom Wilson
LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Sri Lanka plans to put two state-owned hotel companies up for sale within the next six months in a sale that could raise $500 million for the island nation as it seeks to bolster its finances, the finance minister said on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka faces repayments on expensive infrastructure foreign loans starting this year and already has a hefty debt burden, while its rupee currency has plumbed record lows.
“We’re going through the legal hoops of preparing (the sales),” State Minister of Finance Eran Wickramaratne said in an interview. “It will maybe take six months to get over that.”
The government began a search for investors in January for the Grand Hyatt Colombo and for a 51 percent stake in a five-star hotel in the capital Colombo that Hilton International runs under a management contract.
Sri Lanka would also reopen bidding for national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines, probably in a few months, Wickramatne said.
Talks with private equity firm TPG Capital, the sole bidder in a previous push to sell the carrier, collapsed last year during due diligence.
“We are going through an internal restructuring again, and we may have to make a different offering in a different structure,” Wickramatne said. “I’m expecting in the next few months that it will be open for people to express interest”.
Since 2015, the government of the $87 billion economy has introduced fiscal and monetary policy measures including tax reforms and a flexible currency exchange rate.
But Sri Lanka has struggled to overhaul major state-owned enterprises including its airline due to a lack of funds and protests by trade unions.
The International Monetary Fund urged the country in June to strengthen governance and transparency at state firms. (Reporting by Tom Wilson Editing by Edmund Blair)