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Crawling back to the IMF

The media has revealed that the government has sought a US$ 1.9 billion loan from the IMF. Even though, the conditions set by the IMF for the grant of this loan have so far not been revealed by the Central Bank, I wish to make my personal views on this matter in the interest of the country and its people.

Earlier, the government raised a loan in the open market at a high rate of interest saying that it would not seek loans from the World Bank or other international lending organisations because of the unfavourable conditions set by them would directly affect the sovereignty of the country.

Now it has chosen to obtain this facility from the IMF to be utilised for the ‘development of the north and the east’ and other purposes like resolving the balance of payment issues affecting the country, or so the government says. Financial reports published in the newspapers say that our foreign reserves are enough for not more than five weeks.

Every government that came to power since independence obtained loans from the World Bank and other international financial institutions for the development of the country. But it is a well-known fact that successive governments used these funds for consumption purposes instead of using them to eradicate poverty in the country.

The international lending agencies were able to find out that the country has not reached the required level of development despite their granting subsidised loans for many years because all the funding made available had been used for consumption purposes and not for any development. They also realised that in instances where the funds had been made used of for development, the projects were lopsided and did not benefit all sections of the people.

Having set up various mechanisms to ensure that the funding was made use of for the purpose it was granted, the financial institutions learned to their dismay that the funding was being used for matters other than development and the main cause of this was the politicisation of public institutions. The financial mismanagement in the government also contributed to this evil.

The loans obtained by the governments have to be paid back not only by the present generation but also the generations yet unborn.

Recently, the government passed a new electricity reform bill in parliament, which leaves room for corruption, waste, and abuse of power. Most of the government institutions unlike in the past do not have a consistent policy. Ad hoc policies are drawn up by the ministers in charge of these institutions with an eye on how it could benefit them, instead of the institutions concerned.

Therefore, if ‘unfavourable’ conditions are set up by the lending agencies we cannot blame them, for we as a nation are responsible for this state of affairs. Naturally these lending agencies are concerned about the safety of their funds and hence the unfavourable conditions set by them.

I wish that the IMF grants this loan to Sri Lanka without any unfair conditions being imposed, because if used properly the funds would benefit the people of this country. But the government on its part has to be prudent and more transparent in its policies. The lethargy of the government — and especially the President in delaying the setting up of the Constitutional Council, and the road blocks set up by the constituent parties of the government to derail the Constitutional Council — and consequently the other independent commissions is a serious issue.

W.G. Chandrapala


A reflection on religious conversions

Religious conversion is a controversial issue often debated in Sri Lanka. Apart from inflammatory writing and argument there have been cases of physical assault, maybe with the intention of preventing conversions.

I believe we first need a proper understanding of why anyone should seek to change from one religion to another, if not from a genuine spiritual conviction. A common allegation — if not the only one — is that many have been converted for the sake of money and material wealth. (I have met people who come into this category.) Why would anyone change his or her faith for a material motive?

When people in real material need get support from individuals or groups they may feel it is good to identify themselves with those who are willing to support them. This is a natural human response, and I believe every human being has the right to do this. Yet I also strongly believe it is the responsibility of people who help the needy not to encourage them to change their religion just for money or material things.

Can we really call such a change a ‘religious’ conversion?  I have doubts about this from experience gained living in Sri Lanka. Some who are of this mind and purpose, keep moving from place to place to get support here and there and so overcome their material difficulties. However, as they don’t remain in one place for long there’s hardly anything ‘religious’ in their conversion.

Some others who have been given material support identify themselves with those who helped them — for a time  — but when they realise they can get no more help they gradually dissociate themselves from those who supported them. It’s clear that people who try to change their religious identity for material needs often fail to keep their new faith when they cease to get help.

Does this imply that there are no true religious conversions?  Not at all. But if we want a proper understanding of these conversions, first we should understand the reality of change.  It is a fact that whether we like it or not, we all keep on changing. This is well explained in the Buddhist concepts of Dukkha, Anicca and Anatta. Some people change their identities due to various social reasons within their community.

When people are not accepted and respected in a community they seek to change their identity. They may change religions to gain more acceptance and respect and to feel comfortable within the community. Others who face a crisis such as sickness change their beliefs to get blessings and healing, and overcome the problem they are faced with. Some others aim to change their social class by changing their religion and settling in the new class they have chosen. Many other reasons can also be given for religious conversions within a society.

In Sri Lanka in particular there is a need for a practical solution to overcome the tension between various religions. Here I would like to suggest a method that I adopted in various parts of the country to handle religious conversions in consultation with religious leaders of the community. When someone expresses a wish to change his or her religion he/she could be counselled by a leader of the faith they presently belong to and also a leader of the faith they wish to embrace. This kind of understanding is specially important in areas, which are, in the main, traditionally of one faith. 

I believe that if this strategy could be adopted in Sri Lanka it would help to strengthen understanding between the different religions when faced with the issues of religious conversions.

Keerthisiri Fernando

Acting Principal

Theological College of Lanka


Security lapses in Lahore

Pakistan is indeed regarded as one of Sri Lanka’s best friends, having helped us more than once in the war as well as in cricket. So when Foreign Minister Bogollagama says Pakistan did its best as far as security was concerned, he is essentially being diplomatic.

Let us hope he told the Pakistani president in private at least, that the security provided was grossly insufficient for our cricket team. At least this may be why our President sent him there. Imran Khan also strongly condemned the security provided to the SL team, saying it was 10 times less than what was provided to the interior minister!

From the TV footage we saw how poor the security arrangements were. It is useless sending a few motorcycle riders in front. They are good only for show. As we saw they were sitting ducks to the terrorists.

Several important questions need answers.

(1) Imran Khan said that on January 22 there had been some information that there is bound to be a terrorist attack on the SL cricketers and the Governor of Punjab was aware of it. Why didn’t the authorities do anything about it?

(2) On receipt of an anonymous call, the bus taking our cricketers was diverted on to another route. Why didn’t they take precautions?

(3) Why did the bus carrying the Pakistan team, which usually goes together with the bus carrying the SL team, start late and travel separately on this day?

When the tour was arranged, the ICC requested SL Cricket to reconsider the tour, as their security advisors were skeptical about sending officials to Pakistan. Also the security advisor of the Australian team had cautioned us. But Sports Minister Lokuge, whose knowledge of cricket can be written on the reverse of a postage stamp, did not pay any attention.

Lokuge’s knowledge of cricket was displayed in parliament when he said the Pakistan team came to Sri Lanka for the 1996 World Cup when Australia and West Indies refused to come. In actual fact Pakistan did not play any World Cup matches here; a combined Indian and Pakistan Wills XI played one friendly match to express solidarity with us.

Providing security for one match is one thing, providing security for a series of three ODIs and two test matches, is a completely different story.

S. Jayawardena

Appreciation         --  K. Sivagananathan

An immortal banker with a mission

Late Kurunathapillai Sivagananathan is undoubtedly an employee who has contributed immensely to uplift, upgrade and elevate to unprecedented heights Sri Lanka’s foremost state bank, the Bank of Ceylon which has been in existence for over six decades.

Having joined the bank in the year 1953 at the age of 18, he completed the Diploma in Banking in 1961 and became an Associate Member of the Institute of Bankers London, and later a Fellow of the Institute. In the same year he pioneered to change the colonial system of banking at Bank of Ceylon.

He was instrumental in simplifying procedures, which became very useful when the open economy was introduced in 1977.

March 8 marked the seventh death anniversary of this banking genius. His demise was a rude shock to all bankers as he had made an invaluable contribution to help our expanding banking industry, particularly as he was a consultant to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, having closely associated with the then Governor A.S. Jayawardena when he was chairman of Bank of Ceylon.

Sivagananathan’s father died young and from his meagre earnings he not only educated all his brothers and sisters, but also sent one of his sisters to India, helping her to earn a BSc degree. He also found partners and gave them in marriage, at the same time closely looking after his own family.

Sivagananathan was first appointed manager of the Matale Branch of the Bank of Ceylon. Later he served as the regional manager, North Western Province. In the early ’80s he was selected to work at the bank’s first overseas branch in London as the chief manager, during which period he was instrumental in obtaining ‘Recognised Bank’ status for the BoC’s London office from the Bank of England.

He also established cordial links with the top banks and bankers in the city and developed a close rapport to enhance easy banking transactions.

Towards the end of his tenure of service he was promoted to higher grades and held the positions of deputy general manager, senior deputy general manager and on several occasions acted for the general manager as well. His vast knowledge of banking combined with hard work, commitment and dedication to duty helped him take rapid strides towards the top.

The late Sivagananathan was a practical banker in the true sense of the word. Whatever assignment he undertook was accomplished with great success. The contribution he made towards the development of the Colombo Centre of the Chartered Institute of Bankers - UK is well known to all bankers. He was instrumental in the Colombo Centre being selected as one of the best centres by the Institute of Bankers - UK, on a number of occasions.

In recognition of the services rendered by him to the banking industry in general and to the Association of Professional Bankers and the Chartered Institute of Bankers - UK, the Colombo Centre in particular, he was conferred an honorary life membership by the APB and the life time award by CIB London-Colombo Centre.

The prestigious banking journal published by the CIB London, The Banking World is circulated around the world among the banking and the financial community. In the issue of June 1988 late Sivagananathan was featured as the ‘Personality of the Month’ in recognition of the services rendered.

He was a doyen of the banking industry. He held in addition a number of positions in the financial sector — some of them being Director, Merchant Bank of Sri Lanka Ltd., Chairman, MB Financial Service Ltd., Director, Lanka Securities (Pvt) Ltd., Founder Director and Adviser, Unit Trust, Managing Director and CEO, Janashakthi General Insurance Company Ltd., Chairman Steering Committee on Sri Lanka Inter-Bank Payment System, Chairman Steering Committee-SWIFT, Chairman, Promoter, Founder Member, Council Member and President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers - London (CIB) Colombo Centre.

He did not confine his contributions to the banking and financial sector alone. He was actively involved in social and humanitarian services including sports activities. In 1989 during the bank’s golden jubilee celebrations he headed a steering committee to construct a ward at the Cancer Hospital. He was actively associated with the Rotary Movement for over 25 years. At the time of his demise he held the office of the Assistant Governor, Western Zone 1 of Rotary District 3220.

He also held the office of Charter President, Colombo Central Club. He was instrumental in the formation of many Rotary Clubs and developed many Tamil schools which lacked facilities.

The memories of Sivagananathan and the services rendered by him to the banking industry will not be forgotten for decades to come.

May he attain Moksha.

Sunil Thenabadu









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