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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
-- 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
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)
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
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
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.