By Sanath Nanayakkare
President’s Counsel Ronald C. Perera, who assumed duties as Chairman of Bank of Ceylon for the third time last Friday said that he would be having important yet difficult discussions with the Bank’s GM/CEO, the director board, the institutional management staff and trade union representatives.
He said that based on these discussions, he would see how best the Bank can resolve existing issues and continue to engage in the task of reviving SMEs and providing substantial support to strengthen the country’s economy.
“The biggest asset BOC has is its staff; not its buildings or its cash reserves. I appeal to you to collaborate with me in harnessing your talent and commitment to its fullest potential in order to take our Bank forward and enhance its contribution to the national economy at this crucial time,” he noted.
Further speaking the Chairman said, “In 2020, the whole world changed due to the pandemic and the lockdowns. And our country changed not only because of the consequences of the pandemic but also due to its rash decisions such as on chemical fertilizer. The Galle Face Green and the Presidential Secretariat became the site of a new political movement in April 2022 and the rest is history. President Ranil Wickremesinghe who was elected by parliament in terms of the constitution had to bite the bullet and take very unpopular decisions. If you think back to July 2022, you’ll recall how tough life was due to various scarcities. Today, the lives of the people are back into some semblance of order, but we still have a lot of things to criticize. I can tell you one thing; whoever becomes the President of Sri Lanka, whoever forms a government, there is no alternative route to take other than deal with the issues as they are now being dealt with. There is no other way. We have to get out of our debt crisis. And the government is planning to privatize certain state owned enterprises such as SLT, SLI, Sri Lankan Airlines for one sole reason; that is to sell these assets and get a substantial amount of US dollars to ease the pressure on the Sri Lanka rupee. At the moment, the USD is selling at over Rs. 370. If we get USD 3-4 billion in cash from the sale of such enterprises, it will have an immediate positive impact on the exchange rate of the USD. The USD will drop by at least Rs.100. That will lead to the lowering of the cost of living. The President has emphasized that the government should get out of all commercial sectors except for the financial sector. He has said that the financial sector and the State Banks especially would be strengthened to face the new challenges.”
“Very high interest rates have to be charged when giving out new loans today. For this reason, many people are unwilling to take out loans. Some of our existing borrowers are struggling to repay their loans in the current economic conditions. There is no point in auctioning their properties or instituting legal action. We must try and see how we can revive those enterprises so that we can also join the mainstream of business and carry out expansions in our business, and help the country get out of its financial crisis. Profitability is important to keep the BOC’s banking business thriving but that shouldn’t be our core objective, so there are a lot of things to be done. I am keen to work with the board of directors, the young corporate management , all employees and trade unions to help the country and the Bank of Ceylon prosper, “he said.
Welcoming the new Chairman, Bank’s General Manager/CEO Russel Fonseka said that BOC staff and customers were happy about him being appointed as chairman of BOC.
“Honestly speaking, we know that the Chairman is a stalwart of a certain political party. But he never brought that into the Bank. That is why the staff as a whole is happy about his appointment. During his past tenure, he meted out equal treatment to all staff and employees and looked after their wellbeing without any discrimination.”
He recalled that under Ronald C. Perera’s guidance in the past, the Bank had a lot of international transactions including a successful international bond transaction.
GM/CEO said that in the recent past, a larger share of mature BOC employees in institutional management roles were replaced by talented, customer-driven young officers with about 10-15 years of experience, and the task upon the Chairman and the GM to steer the Bank through these difficult times could be spurred by the efficiency of this young talent pool. Presently, President’s Counsel Ronald C. Perera is serving as Chairman of Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation Limited and as Acting Chairman of National Lotteries Board.