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BOC in the front line of reviving the economy: Chairman



By Sanath Nanayakkare

Bank of Ceylon Chairman Kanchana Ratwatte said in Colombo yesterday(12) that as the global pandemic had caused direct impacts on the national economy, the BoC had felt the need to come forward and help revive the economy without taking the easy option of doing little”.

He said so at a media briefing held to announce the financial results of the Bank for the first half of the year.

“We have a choice of not supporting the economy at this point and let things move on as they are. But we have made the difficult choice. For sure, things are not as they used to be, but I don’t believe that the government of Sri Lanka is going to default on any loans. I also don’t believe that the pandemic is going to stay on forever or tourists are not going to visit this country again. And for a moment I don’t believe that the economy is not going to bounce back. I see all the reasons to be confident about the favourable developments on all these fronts.”

Asked how the BoC could carry out that national responsibility on its own when other banks had pooled their resources to do it, and whether BOC was putting depositors’ funds at risk, he said, “No, not at all. There are certain situations where we go by way of syndicates. There are certain situations where we act as a syndicate and there are situations where we take up the responsibility on our own. If you are looking at the essential services, this is a time we can’t say ‘no’ and we won’t say ‘no’. As far as the BoC is concerned, the resources that we have are distributed in a very safe operation. We are not taking risks beyond our control. It is well within our control and that is why we are extending it. In doing so, we are looking at the short term, maybe two or three months or so. The IMF facility of USD 780 million and so many things are in the pipeline. In addition to that, the Bank is facilitating and empowering more exporters to emerge from the rural areas and we are looking at start-ups, SMEs, larger industries whoever is looking forward to joining with us to transform their businesses to be export-oriented.”

Referring to the Bank’s dollar liquidity levels, Ratwatte said, “The Bank of Ceylon has given first priority to the health sector, petroleum and pharmaceuticals sectors to open all of their letters of credit (LCs) to ensure that the society functioned unhindered at its normal pace. Then we ensured LC opening for importing vaccines, gas and essential food items. Next was our existing customer base whom we serviced without creating any problems for them. Then comes the situation where customers from other banks who come to BOC to open LCs in their time of difficulty that is also handled by the bank appropriately according to the purpose”.

“We don’t have an issue with regard to dollars when it comes to our customers or the priority areas I mentioned. In terms of dollar liquidity, we are okay to look after our customers for LC opening and we help new customers too,” the BoC chief said.

Amidst these unexpected challenges, the Bank’s Profit Before Tax for the six months ended 30th June 2021 stood at LKR 27.1 billion, moving forward with stable performance, while managing headwinds caused by low interest rates, cash-flow deferments and operational restrictions. Profit After Tax (PAT) for the period was LKR 22.1 billion. The Bank’s total assets grew by 11% and reached the LKR 3.3 trillion level reaching another milestone and preserving its industry leadership.

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GL follows up Udaya’s initiative, negotiates concessionary crude oil supplies with UAE



Balance-of-payment crisis continues to stagger govt.

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The United Arab Emirates (UAD) has agreed to discuss a possible arrangement to provide Sri Lanka crude oil on concessionary terms in the face of the country experiencing a severe balance-of-payments crisis, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Foreign Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris took up the matter with UAE Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, on the sidelines of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. Prof. Peiris is on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s delegation to the UNGA.

In late August, Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila sought the intervention of the Acting Head of the UAE Embassy in Sri Lanka, Saif Alanofy. Minister Gammanpila also met the Iranian Ambassador in Colombo in a bid to explore the possibility of obtaining oil from Iran on concessionary arrangements.

The Foreign Ministry statement on Prof. Peiris meeting with the UAE Minister dealt with the financial crisis experienced by the country. “Foreign Minister Peiris explained the challenges Sri Lanka is experiencing in respect of its external budget, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prof. Peiris focused in particular on the country’s requirement for oil and requested concessionary arrangements from the UAE.”

The Foreign Ministry quoted Minister Al Jaber as having said that the UAE would be happy to assist and proposed the establishment of a strategic framework to take the process forward.”

The ministry stressed that both sides agreed to follow-up rapidly.

Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila earlier told The Island that concessionary arrangements were required to procure oil as part of an overall strategy to overcome the developing crisis.

Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) leader and Attorney-at-law Gammanpila said that increase in fuel prices in the second week of June this year was only a part of the government’s response to heavy pressure on foreign reserves. Minister Gammanpila said that the decision was taken close on the heels of dire warning from the Central Bank.

Minister Gammanpila said that in spite of foreign currency crisis, the government ensured an uninterrupted supply of fuel. According to him, Sri Lanka spent as much as USD 3.5 to 5 bn annually on oil imports depending on the world market prices.

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President attends 9/11 commemoration in NY



President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday attended the special commemorative event near the Manhattan Memorial in the United States to mark the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

The terrorist attacks took place on September 11, 2001, targeting the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defence.

Coinciding with the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism and the 9/11 Memorial Museum jointly organised the event. Other Heads of State and government representatives, who were in New York to attend the UN General Assembly, were also present at the event to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in those attacks.

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FSP calls on govt. allies not to pretend to oppose adverse deal with US firm



By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

Due to the secret agreement signed with US firm New Fortress Energy, Sri Lanka would soon face a situation akin to the one already faced by Ukraine, the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) predicted yesterday.

“Sri Lanka is trying to reduce its dependency on coal and switch over to LNG. With this in mind, several coal and diesel power plants are to be converted into LNG in the coming decade. Now, we will entirely depend on the US to provide us with LNG to power these plants. Given that the US intends to control the seas in which Sri Lanka is placed strategically, they will not let us off the hook once they establish their foothold here. We are in deep trouble,” FSP Propaganda Secretary, Duminda Nagamuwa said.

Nagamuwa said that some constituents of the government were pretending that they opposed the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant to New Fortress Energy. “But this is not the time for theatrics but for concrete action”, he said.

Nagamuwa said that the agreement between the government and US Company New Fortress Energy to construct a new offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving, storage and regasification terminal at Kerawalapitiya as well as the transfer of government’s shares in the Yugadanavi Power Plant had to be scrapped.

“Even government ministers agree that the agreement was not discussed with them. Several affiliates of the government are trying to convince the people that they are fighting this decision from inside. However, past experience has shown that when push comes to shove they will stay with the government. They must show the leaders of the government that they are not puppets,” he said.

Nagamuwa said that if those affiliated to the government were serious in their opposition to undermining Sri Lanka’s energy security they should show their commitment by doing something concrete.

The Yugadanavi Power Station at Kerawalapitiya already produced 300 MWs of energy and there was a plan to build another 350 MW plant there. The US Company had now been allowed to build an offshore LNG receiving, storage, and regasification terminal and to provide LNG to the existing Power Station and the new 350 MW power plant to be built, he said.

“Now we are under the power of the US. We will soon be facing the plight of Ukraine,” he said.

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