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Central Bank implements schemes to assist COVID-hit borrowers

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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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Scotland Police to stop training Lankan cops

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Sujeeva Nivunhella
reporting from London

Concerns over the human rights record in Sri Lanka has led to the halt of the police training contract between the Sri Lanka and Scottish Police, Chief Constable Iain Livingstone of the Scotland Police confirmed.

He said they have written to the British High Commission in Colombo to inform the Sri Lanka government that they are no longer planning to renew the training contract with Sri Lanka’s police force due to end in March next year.

The British Foreign Office reported last week that Sri Lanka’s human rights situation deteriorated during the first half of 2021.

The report said: “Security forces increased their surveillance and intimidation of human rights activists and their use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, with a number of arbitrary arrests.

The government proposed new regulations with powers to arrest and send individuals to rehabilitation centres to be ‘de-radicalised’ with no judicial oversight or requirement for further process.”

News of Scotland’s Police not renewing the contract was welcomed by critics of Sri Lanka including Mercedes Villalba who is a Scottish Labour politician who has been a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for North East Scotland since May 2021.

British MPs and MSPs jointly sent a letter to the Scotland Police and the British High Commission in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago requesting them to stop the training programme.

Villalba was one of the signatories and after this announcement, she said “I have been pleased to support the campaigners and thank them for their tireless efforts in securing the commitment from the chief constable. I also want to thank Police Scotland for being responsive to the real concerns which were expressed about Sri Lanka’s record of human rights violations.”

Talking about the decision to stop training, Chief Constable Livingstone said that a review must be done to accurately reflect the current security and human rights issues in the region, which have changed since the initial deployment after the end of the Civil War in 2010.

“We remain of course committed to supporting the international development of policing services right across the world so that we can enhance and enable human rights and we can underline the values that we hold dear in Police Scotland of integrity, fairness and respect. Those values will always be at the heart of the work we deliver in Scotland and at the heart of everything we do internationally”, he added.

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Interfaith Week celebrated in London

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Sujeeva Nivunhella reporting from London

A Pooja to celebrate Interfaith Week was organized here last week with the advice and guidance of Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala Nayake Thera, head of the London Buddhist Vihara and the Chief Sangha Nayake of Great Britain.

This annual event begins on Remembrance Sunday, a memorial day observed in Commonwealth countries since the end of the World War I to remember armed forces personnel who died in the line of duty. This tradition was inaugurated by King George V in 1919.

Adhering to the country’s Covid guidelines, this year’s celebration was held using Zoom technology on the theme “Altruism in each religion”.

Ven. Seelawimala welcomed everyone who joined the session. Notable participants of the event were Ven. Thawalama Bandula Thera, Ven. Kalugamuwe Kassapa Thera from London Buddhist Vihara, Dr Harriet Crabtree – Director of Interfaith Network, UK, Ranjish Kashyap, General Secretary/Director Hindu Council,UK, Dr. Pujya Samaniji Pratibha Pragya, who is a Jain nun from Harrow, Rev Gyoro Nagase, Japanese monk, London Peace Pagoda, Battersea, Dr Desmond Bidulph – Chairman of Buddhist Society and Charanjith and Ajith Singh MBE, Hounslow Friends of Faith, who represented the Sikhs.

All present chanted prayers according to their own faiths to eradicate human suffering, to have peace and especially to see an end to the pandemic situation in the world.

A pre-recorded video of Devotional Songs by London Buddhist Vihara Dhamma School Children was played at the event.

Interfaith Network – UK was founded in 1987 with representatives from the Buddhist, Bahai, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Islam, Sikh and Zoroastrian communities,

National and local interfaith bodies, academic institutions and educational bodies concerned with inter-religious issues are affiliated to the organization. Then head of the London Buddhist Vihara late, Ven. Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera was actively involved in forming the Network and was a founding member.

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Frankfurt Consulate massive white elephant, alleges Lankan living there

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Foreign office looking at closing some overseas mission due to financial constraints

by Harischandra Gunaratna

Sri Lanka’s Consulate in Frankfurt has turned out to be a white elephant although the Sri Lankan government spends a whopping Rs. 200 million per year for its operations, Azad Shaukatally, a businessman and a Sri Lankan expatriate in Frankfurt told the Sunday Island.

“Over the years, this consulate has not contributed anything tangible to the country. All that has happened is successive governments appointing political loyalists to head the Mission. None of them have done anything concrete to promote business between the two countries,” he said.

According to him, the Mission could have contributed a great deal by promoting Sri Lankan exports and tourism as Frankfurt is the business hub of Germany.

“What actually happens is, the Consulate in Frankfurt simply replicates several tasks performed by the Embassy in Berlin and that’s it. But it cost the country exorbitantly without the knowledge of the authorities. This is sheer waste of national resources and it needs to be brought to an end,” Shaukatally said.

When the Sunday Island contacted the Foreign Ministry on the matter, its Acting Director General Sugeeshwara Gunaratna said: “The Foreign Ministry regularly evaluates individual performance of each Sri Lankan mission abroad, and constructively engages with them from time to time on specific issues or matters which are mutually beneficial in promotion of Sri Lanka’s bilateral and multilateral relations with the host country and various international organizations while ensuring best interests of the people of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan citizens living abroad.”

He said that any decisions related to opening of new missions or closure of particular Missions/Posts abroad including the Consulate General in Frankfurt would be taken after wider consultation with relevant stakeholders based on the relevance of each Mission/Post in promotion of Sri Lanka’s relations abroad.

“Under the current financial constraints, the Foreign Ministry is in the process of closing down some of the Sri Lankan Missions/Posts abroad after obtaining the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers. However, no final decision, has so far, been taken with regard to the Missions/Posts which would be closed down in the near future,” Gunaratna said.

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