President cracks the whip on leasing industry, banks | Daily News


 

President cracks the whip on leasing industry, banks

President's meeting with bankers
President's meeting with bankers

The Government since the Coronavirus outbreak in mid-March announced a host of financial concessions to various segments of the society from time to time.

Among the relief measures announced were grace periods for due payments as well as repayments and a stimulus package for those who dealt a severe blow by the pandemic.

However, there were frequent complaints that these relief measures do not trickle down to the target groups and that banks were reluctant to grant them to their customers. It was against this backdrop, the President on Monday asked the top management of the State Banks to pull their socks up.

“I have not asked State Banks to grant loan facilities to any of my supporters, acquaintances or kith and kin. However, State Banks should take the lead role in providing the financial support expected by various segments of the society from the farmers to small and medium scale entrepreneurs and investors,” the President stressed.

“No country has ever experienced a crisis of this extent and nature before. Out of the box solutions are required to face it. Understanding these realities, it is the responsibility of State Banks to support and implement Government policies aimed at economic revival,” the President said firmly.

Protest ended in chaos

In a different turn of events, political circles heated up over a protest near the US Embassy in Kollupitiya and the Lipton roundabout at Town Hall last Thursday as the way Police manhandled the protesters raised a few eyebrows.



SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara

Former Minister Mangala Samaraweera

Fifty three members of the Frontline Sociality Party (FSP) including its Leader Kumar Gunaratnam and Propaganda Secretary Duminda Nagamuwa were arrested for violating quarantine laws and a Court order that was obtained a day before the protest. Later in the day, they were given bail by the Fort Magistrate.

The protesters complained that the Police also broke the quarantine laws when suppressing the protest. Later, the Police sent about 30 police personnel, who were at the scene, to quarantine centres as a precautionary measure against COVID-19.

FSP’s track record

The protest by the FSP was in support of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ worldwide protests sparked by the atrocious killing of George Floyd, a black American, at the hands of US police. However, political analysts observe that the FSP’s own track record shows that it can hardly claim the moral high ground to speak up for human rights of others.

The Frontline Socialist Party, a Far Left political formation led by a dissent group of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), came into existence from 2012 while complaining that the JVP was rapidly deviating from principles of Marxism-Leninism. Following the split, the FSP formed its own student wing “Revolutionary Students’ Union”, and is now said to wield control over the Inter-University Students’ Federation (IUSF) or “Anthare” as it is more familiarly known.

The FSP’s alleged complicity in nefarious activities of university ragging and unruly protests blocking main roads has been public knowledge for some time now. It was not long ago the FSP backed IUSF tried to downplay the tragic incident at Sri Jayewardenepura University where Pasindu Hirushan, a first year student, sustained severe injuries after being hit by a tyre which was allegedly thrown at him by some senior students.

The FSP had been front and centre in many university protests and agitations over the past few years, and provoking police officers to invite more trouble was not a strange tactic to its members to steal media attention.

Right to protest

Be that as it may, the right to peaceful protest is an elementary feature in a democracy. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Government have from the very start made it clear that this right would be protected. It was in this spirit, the Government also reserved an open space near Galle Face Greens for demonstrations.

SLPP frontrunners former MPs Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Namal Rajapaksa were quick to express their displeasure over the conduct of Police at the protest. They pointed out that the police officers’ behaviour did not fall in line with the current ethos of the Government and created unwanted trouble.

Defence Ministry Secretary Major General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne and Police Media Spokesman SP Jaliya Senaratne defended the Police action, pointing out that the first assault came from the protesters’ side. Gunaratne said that in keeping with Government policies, no protest has been suppressed with tear gas, water cannons or baton assaults since it came to power.

Cabinet Spokesman Minister Dr Bandula Gunawardena at last week’s Cabinet press briefing explained that neither the President nor the Cabinet endorses the Police action. “The President stressed that protesters should not be suppressed in that manner in the future and that alternative measures should be taken to control them,” he noted.

Following this incident, the Police did not interfere in any of the peaceful protests conducted in several areas of the country to condemn the cold-blooded murder of National Three-wheeler Association President Sunil Jayawardena and to demand stern action against the “leasing mafia”.

This brutal killing in broad daylight sent shockwaves across the country and turned the spotlight on the unregistered and unauthorised leasing companies which do not comply with Government directives. The three-wheeler community was livid at unscrupulous leasing companies highlighting that Jayewardena was killed because he stood up against them.

In the face of this development, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ordered the Police not to allow vehicles to be seized on the ground of non-payment of instalments. The President reminded that the Government has given clear instructions to suspend the recovery of leasing instalments on three-wheelers for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNP vs. SJB

The internecine power struggle of the fragmented Opposition, the United National Party (UNP) and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), heightened over the week with non-stop clashes and legal battles to scuttle each other, further weakening the electoral prospects of both factions.

In two separate court cases, the UNP and the SJB scored points against each other.

On Monday the Colombo District Court decided to commence the trial of the case filed by SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara seeking to prevent the UNP from suspending the members, who contest the upcoming General Election under the SJB. The Court’s refusal to issue an enjoining order on this matter was a victory for the UNP and a legal blow to the SJB.

At the same time, the Supreme Court last week rejected a petition filed by UNP Candidate Oshala Herath calling for the cancellation of SJB nominations, giving a sigh of relief for those in Sajith’s camp.

In the meantime, trade unions affiliated to the UNP in a defiant show at Sirikotha last week agitated against the Party higher-ups, and a group of them later pledged their support to SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa further strengthening his position against his nemesis Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Mangala opts out

As the tug-of-war between the two camps continues, one-time UNP heavyweight Mangala Samaraweera announced his decision to bid adieu to his Parliamentary career spanning over 30 years. His unexpected announcement came on the same day the Election Commission issued the preferential vote numbers of candidates.

At a meeting at his residence in Matara, he told the voters of his electorate not to vote for him though his name would appear in the SJB list of candidates. It can be deduced that Samaraweera’s sudden decision was driven by the deep split of the party and restrictions on his freedom to speak up.

Samaraweera with his liberal and outspoken views was in the habit of getting into trouble as he minced no words in expressing them. It had been reported that the Sajith’s camp made repeated requests from Samaraweera to refrain from making statements that would detach the Sinhala conservative voters from the SJB. In fact, many in the UNP and other parties had attributed his statements on Buddhism and the Maha Sangha as part of the reasons for Sajith Premadasa’s defeat on November 16 last year.

Samaraweera was critical that the SJB was trying to imitate the SLPP’s nationalistic approach with no real vision of its own. The 64 year-old politician however said that it was not the end of his political career and that he would engineer “a movement towards a progressive political trajectory in Sri Lanka with people who respect democracy, different social identities and cultural traditions”.


The FSP Protest

Most three wheelers are purchased via leasing


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