Tuesday 23rd May, 2023

Homegrown or autochthonous remedies that the incumbent dispensation desperately adopted, a couple of years ago, to shore up the country’s dwindling foreign reserves and straighten up the ailing economy proved inefficacious, but the modus operandi the Bretton Woods docs have employed to bail out this country apparently has something Sri Lankan about it; the act of shoving loads and loads of bitter economic pills down our throats in the name of economic recovery exemplifies a pithy Sri Lankan saying. Exponential tax hikes prescribed by the IMF and readily implemented by the Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe regime have landed many fixed income earners, especially professionals, in the same predicament as the ‘man who was gored by a bull after his fall from a tree’. In fact, the plight of these hapless individuals, who used to enjoy middle-class comforts but are now struggling to keep the wolf from the door, is far worse than the proverbial victim in the aforesaid saying; they are being gored and tossed around endlessly by many ferocious bulls. The latest bull attack has come from the banking sector!

In what could be considered a classic example of a double whammy, some banks have arbitrarily increased the fixed interest rates on loans which professionals and others obtained before the present-day leaders bankrupted the country. These unfortunate borrowers, including many of our readers, are complaining that they have had to cough up more money to pay the banking Shylocks, besides being squeezed dry by the taxman. Draconian measures the government, financial institutions and other businesses have adopted to recover their losses, for which the ordinary people are not responsible in any way, have turned many middle-class people into white-collar beggars, as it were.

The number of executive-grade employees who moonlight as cabbies and street food sellers to augment their income is on the rise. No wonder so many professionals are leaving the country, aggravating the flight of human capital, which is sure to stand in the way of the country’s progress.

What’s the world coming to when banks give themselves carte blanche to make fixed interest rates float, with the stroke of a pen? Some banks sought to increase fixed interest rates on their loans a few moons ago, but had to put the scheme on hold due to protests from borrowers, but they have again asked their customers to stand and deliver. Curiously, trade unions and the Opposition have not taken up this serious issue, which affects a large number of people, who will be reduced to penury at this rate.

There is no gainsaying that the local banking system is under severe stress, and the domestic debt structuring will worsen their woes, but that cannot be used as an excuse to fleece their customers. Some banks have not cared to recoup many bad loans given to crooks with political connections. Among them is a top UNP financier. Never do banks hesitate to initiate parate execution proceedings against ordinary defaulters to foreclose on their properties and recover outstanding debts. But they baulk at doing so when the nonpayers happen to have political connections, and pass their losses on to other customers conveniently by adjusting interest rates. The Opposition has alleged that the government is planning to let some of its cronies responsible for defaults off the hook, on the pretext of restructuring local debt. The government has not responded to this allegation, which has to be probed.

Let the Opposition, trade unions and professional associations be urged to take up the issue of some banks jacking up fixed interest rates on loans arbitrarily, and come forward to protect the interests of the voiceless borrowers. Being burdened with a failed government is not the only problem this country faces; the Opposition, too, has not been able to live up to people’s expectations.

Cantankerous Opposition worthies hardly utilise parliamentary time for any useful purpose; they only bellow rhetoric and hurl abuse; representatives like them could be fashioned out of coconut petioles or polpithi, as a local saying goes. They look on as ‘bull attacks’ on people turn gorier, so to speak. Shame on them!


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