|Thursday, 1 April 2004|
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Crack down on polls violence
The gunning down of yet another TNA candidate, Rajan Sathyamoorthy and his brother-in-law in Batticaloa, Tuesday, highlights the brutal turn electioneering has taken in the run-up to the April 2 poll. This comes close on the heels of the recent bloody attempts on the lives of former Minister V. Maheswaran and the Batticaloa GA, besides intensifying election-related mayhem in some electorates in the South.
An example of the latter is the reportedly runaway violence in Katana, which has prompted former SLFP parliamentarian Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, to appeal to no less a person than President Kumaratunga, for Army security units in his electorate. There is also no let-up in the violence in other areas, with the number of such incidents approaching the 2,000 mark.
We find all this very disturbing and of course worthy of vehement condemnation. It is clear that despite peace taking hold in our midst, anti-democratic forces and the advocates of brutal violence and coercion are very much active. Needless to say, such dark developments could tarnish the democratic purity of the electioneering process and place a question mark on its validity.
In this connection we hope to place on record our disappointment at the seeming inability of some political leaders to rein-in the more violent of their supporters. We are equally disappointed at the non-materialization of a code of conduct for electioneering politicians and their supporters. There is no doubt that such omissions would have contributed considerably to the increasing violence.
The authorities are left with no choice but to crackdown vigorously on polls-related violence. We also urge that wrongdoers be brought to justice speedily. The due process of law would also need to be ensured. All this and more would be possible with Defence coming under the watchful eyes of the President.
Meanwhile, those who are enamoured of the gun culture and those who are steeped in it need to remember that violence brings benefits to none. For one, violence only begets violence and climbs in an unsettling spiral.
Besides, a violence-filled poll only nullifies its validity and makes the public question the legality of the institutions which are founded on the basis of the polls results. Devalued legislatures only add to the legions of the disaffected and disgruntled, which in turn fuel further violence and bloodshed.
We hope, therefore, that wisdom would prevail even at this late hour. It is never too late to turn a new leaf.
Banking on wheels
Most people in Asia's rural areas have never seen a bank. It is not simply profitable for banks to maintain fully-equipped branches in sparsely populated rural areas.
The lack of telecommunications and other infrastructure facilities also hinders the expansion of banks. It is therefore not surprising that most rural dwellers have little or no idea of the benefits of formal banking.
Vietnam has now set an example to the rest of Asia by introducing 240 World Bank-funded 'mobile banking' cars to bring banking services to its rural, remote parts.
In the words of a World Bank official, banking services must reach out to the villages, to farmers and small businesses in remote areas "for a country to function at its peak". More than 80 per cent of Vietnam's 80 million population live in rural areas, which is also the case in other Asian countries.
Banking services are critical for economic growth and poverty alleviation. In Bangladesh, the Grameen Bank is stimulating economic growth in rural areas through micro-financing. The Grameen model has been copied around the world, even by developed countries. Now, both developed and developing countries should closely study the Vietnam example.
There are many advantages of deploying mobile banking units. They can go to several locations in a day - some of Vietnam's 'Banks on Wheels' pass through 60 villages. Banks can reduce overheads as there is no need to maintain plush offices. Since the 'bank' arrives at one's doorstep, villagers do not have to waste hours travelling to the nearest town, which can be several kilometres away.
It is also an ideal way to popularise the savings habit among the rural masses. Many in remote areas have no formal banking experience, preferring to store cash in various nooks and corners instead. Mobile banking officials can interact closely with their clients, identifying their financial needs.
Loans can be more easily arranged and granted. It is also easy to verify how the loans are used as the mobile unit calls frequently at each village on its designated route.
Sri Lanka's banking industry has developed rapidly over the last few decades. Still, a lot must be done to get more customers at the teller counter. Banks must adopt innovative solutions to woo potential customers across the country. Vietnamese banks have shown us that it is not necessary to re-invent the wheel to do so.
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