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Central Bank implements schemes to assist COVID-hit borrowers



The Central Bank has implemented several schemes to assist COVID-19 affected borrowers through Financial Institutions (FIs) supervised by it.

The schemes included extended repayment periods, concessionary rates of interest, working capital loans, debt moratoriums and restructuring/rescheduling of credit facilities for affected borrowers.

These concessions greatly assisted the small and medium enterprises of many affected sectors: tourism, apparel, plantation, information technology, logistic service providers, three-wheeler owners, operators of school vans, lorries, small goods transport vehicles and buses, and private sector employees.

In line with the concessionary schemes implemented by the CB, FIs have approved over 2.9 million requests for concessions amounting to a total of Rs. 4,083.8 billion prioritising the micro, small and medium enterprises (Table1).

These concessions, which were extended until 31 December 2021 by licensed banks and until 31 March 2022 by nonbank financial institutions, have helped to support the above groups who faced financial difficulties due to loss of jobs, reduction of incomes, contraction of business operations, closure of businesses, etc.

Considering that the tourism sector has been affected since 2019, special concessionary schemes for affected borrowers in the tourism sector continued to be granted from time to time and extended until 30.06.2022 by licensed banks and until 31 March 2022 by non-bank financial institutions. Accordingly, FIs have so far approved 24,831 requests for such concessions.

Specific concessions, such as moratoriums for lease facilities, granted to COVID-19 affected businesses and individuals in passenger transportation sector, were initially up to 30 September 2021, and extended further until 31 December 2021 by licensed banks and 31 March 2022 by non-bank financial institutions. FIs have approved 117,085 requests for such concessions.

In addition to debt moratoria, affected borrowers of the NBFI sector have been provided with the option to either restructure existing credit facilities for a longer term (subject to furnishing an agreeable revival plan) or to settle existing credit facilities early, where such requests are to be facilitated by waiving future interest, fees and applicable charges. These options have been made available for borrowers of nonbank FIs up to 31 March 2022.

CBSL has also requested FIs to grant further concessions, including the waiver of accrued penal interest, restructuring of existing credit facilities, provision of interest rebates, waiver of early settlement fees and other charges, suspension of legal action on loan recoveries, extension of the validity period of cheques valued below Rs. 500,000, discontinuation of certain charges usually made by FIs (for cheque returns, stop payment, etc.) and suspension of late payment fees applicable on credit cards during the concessionary period. FIs have also been requested to refrain from declining loan applications from eligible borrowers, solely based on unfavourable Credit Information Bureau (CRIB) records.

CBSL has further facilitated the revival of COVID-19 affected businesses through the introduction of the Saubagya COVID-19 Renaissance Loan Scheme Facility (SCRF) in 3 phases to provide working capital loans at an interest rate of 4% per annum, with a repayment period of 24-months, including a grace period of 6 months. Through this scheme, CBSL processed 62,574 applications leading to the release of Rs. 179,280 million under the SCRF, of which, Licensed Banks have disbursed Rs. 165,513 million among 53,152 affected businesses island-wide. Considering the subsequent waves of COVID-19 pandemic, grace periods and loan repayment periods applicable to SCRF loans have also been extended several times.

Accordingly, a debt moratorium has been granted up to 31 December 2021 while the repayment period has been extended by 12 months to 36 months. In addition, beneficiaries of the other loan schemes implemented by CBSL, such as Saubagya and Swashakthi Loan Schemes, have been provided with further relief at this crucial juncture, by the reduction of the interest rates and the introduction of the debt moratorium.

As announced recently by the CBSL in its six-month Road Map for ensuring macro-economic and financial system stability, a liquidity support grant of Rs. 15 billion is to be provided to FIs supervised by CBSL to compensate a part of the cost of the interest charged by them from affected borrowers during the moratorium, with a view to providing further relief to borrowers.

In the meantime, the CBSL has established the Financial Consumer Relations Department (FCRD) in August 2020 to handle complaints by financial consumers and borrowers who are able to submit complaints to FCRD using the forms available in the CBSL website.

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Keheliya turns down request for abolishing price control on medicine



Industry leader has sought court intervention

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella yesterday (17) said that in spite of difficulties caused by the foreign currency crisis price control on imported medicines couldn’t be done away with.

Abolition of price control on drugs would heap an enormous burden on the vast majority of people, Minister Rambukwella said.

Lawmaker Rambukwella said so when The Island sought his response to the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry (SLCPI) requesting the government to do away with price control. Claiming that the grouping imported over 80 percent of medicines into the country, the SLCPI recently warned of possible collapse of the industry unless remedial measures were taken swiftly.

Minister Rambukwella said that recently he met an SLCPI delegation at their request to discuss issues at hand. “Of course, I understand the difficulties experienced by all sectors, including the pharmaceutical trade. However, price control as regards medicine cannot be done away with,” Minister Rambukwella said.

The SLCPI has pointed out to the Minister that at the moment medicines were the only commodity under price control in the local market. The Health Minister asserted that it wouldn’t be fair to compare the medicine with other commodities.

Minister Rambukwella said that regardless of constrains, the government was trying to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicine and it wouldn’t be fair to do at this juncture.

In a statement sent to the media SLCPI asserted: “There is no solution to this dilemma than removing the price control of medicines and implement a fair and equitable pricing mechanism which will link the price of medicines to the dollar, inflation and direct costs such as raw material, fuel and freight charges, which will then make importing and marketing of medicines viable. As difficult as it may sound, the authorities will have to choose between having medicines at a cost and not having medicines at all.”

The SLCPI has already sought the intervention of the courts to establish what the grouping called a transparent pricing mechanism outside government price control.

Recently, Minister Rambukwella, at a meeting also attended by State Minister Dr. Channa Jayasumana called for a report on the requirement of medicines over the next six months. The Health Ministry declared that there was no shortage of drugs whereas SLCPI claimed some drugs were in short supply and the situation could get worse.

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Central Expressway: Rs 3 mn raked in within 12 hours



Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando said yesterday that about three million rupees had been earned by way of toll within the first 12 hours of the opening of the second phase of the Central Expressway.

Rs 2,805,100.00 had been paid by the expressway users during the first 12 hours from 12 noon to midnight Sunday (16) after its opening by the President and the Prime Minister on Saturday (15).

The Minister said that during the first 12 hours of the period of toll collection, a total of 13,583 vehicles had traversed the most  scenic road stretch in the country between Mirigama and Kurunegala. No traffic accidents had been reported during the 12 hour period.

Minister Fernando said that the newly opened road had been allowed to be used by the public free of charge for 12 hours from midnight Saturday (15) to Sunday (16) noon.

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President to inaugurate second session of Ninth Parliament today



by Saman Indrajith

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to commence the second session of the Ninth Parliament today at 10 am with his third Presidential policy statement (formerly Throne Speech).

He made his first ‘Throne Speech’ on Jan 3, 2020, opening the Fourth Session of the Eighth Parliament and the second on Aug 20, 2020 to open the First Session of the Ninth Parliament.

Secretary General of Parliament, Dhammika Dasanayake said that MPs have been requested to arrive at the parliamentary complex at 9.25 am the latest.

The MPs, if accompanied by their spouses will alight from their vehicles at the Staff Entrance of the parliamentary building, while all other MPs are requested to drive up to the Members’ Entrance.

To facilitate orderly arrival, the MPs are requested that the Car Label provided them with be pasted on the inside top left-hand corner of the windscreen of their vehicles. On arrival at Parliament, Members’ vehicles would be directed by the Police to the appropriate Car Park.

Thereafter the MPs are requested to enter the lobbies of Parliament and to remain there until the Quorum Bells are rung.

President Rajapaksa is scheduled to arrive at the Main Steps of the Parliament Building at 9.40 a.m. and he would be received by Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

The President will be escorted by them to the Parliament Building. Thereafter, the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament will escort the President to his Chambers.

At 9.55 a.m. the Quorum Bells will be rung for five minutes and all Members will take their seats in the Chamber of Parliament.

The President’s procession will leave for the Chamber of Parliament and will enter the Chamber at 10.00 am. On entering the Chamber the President’s arrival will be announced whereupon all Members will stand in their places until the President reaches the Chair and requests the Members to be seated.

Thereafter, the Proclamation proroguing the Parliament and Summoning the Meeting of Parliament will be read by the Secretary General of Parliament. Then, the President will address Parliament.

After his policy statement the President will adjourn the House until 1.00 p.m. on Wednesday (19).

Thereafter, the President will leave the Chamber escorted by the Speaker and the Secretary-General of Parliament.

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