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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Lanka rising from debris

Daily News: 18/05/2005"

The Sri Lanka Development Forum began in the historic city of Kandy, at a time when the international community has expressed satisfaction on the manner in which the tsunami aid has been disbursed by the State among the affected people.

During the deliberations of the conference, the donors and the Government were expected to reach agreement to ensure that nearly US$ 2 billion of pledged aid is effectively used to rebuild areas hit by the December catastrophe.

Many political and diplomatic analysts believed that the Kandy conference would bring fruitful results as far as the tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation projects are concerned.

At present donor funds are being distributed very effectively, covering some of the remotest areas. This novel system has eliminated unwanted red tape and won praise worldwide, Dr. Amunugama told a press conference last week.

The strategy was launched under three categories: Rs. 5,000 allowance scheme, Suhasana loans for small and medium sector entrepreneurs and grants scheme for housing.

A major portion of work was done by the two State banks, People's Bank and Bank of Ceylon.

We spoke to the officials of the State banks to find out how they implement this successful disbursement system and the challenges that they faced over the last few months.

People's Bank has released the Rs. 5,000 allowance for 200,000 beneficiaries under the first round. "So far the Bank has released Rs. 2 billion for this purpose. We are in the process of implementing the second round of this program at present and the third round will also be implemented soon," a senior official of the People's Bank said.

Referring to the initial stage of the program he said, it was a slow process. There were various matters to be sorted out. "We were targeting the small and medium entrepreneurs and most of them did not have a place to restart their business - they also had various opinions about the 100-metre buffer zone. Once the initial issues were settled, we could smoothly implement the loan scheme," he said adding that "a good progress was made within a short time."

"We also granted housing loans to 4,000 persons to the amount of Rs. 400 million. These loans were in two categories: Rs. 100,000 for partly damaged houses and Rs. 250,000 for fully damaged houses," he said. Most of these loans were given to the people in the North and East.

In achieving its goals, the People's Bank constantly worked with its islandwide branch network, communities and other organisations.

"It was tough work. We had to work almost everyday - and all 24-hours to make the program effective and efficient," the official said.

The bank has also computerised the whole program and information can be collected within minutes. In certain areas, they had collected information manually and transferred them to the computerised system for easy access. "The technology also supported us a lot to achieve our goals," he added.

Assistant General Manager (Credit Suhasana) of Bank of Ceylon Sarath Wimalaratne said that as a State bank they are dedicated to perform any duty on behalf of the Government and the people of Sri Lanka.

Bank of Ceylon joined the Rs. 5,000 allowance scheme at a latter stage and so far it has distributed Rs. 145 million among 16,300 families.

In the first stage of housing grants scheme, the bank has been able to release Rs. 80 million among 1,525 recipients. Each recipient has got Rs. 50,000 in the first stage and the balance will be given according to the success of the construction project.

Describing the practical issues they had to overcome, Wimalaratne said in certain areas people were not prepared to accept Rs. 250,000 or Rs. 100,000 housing grants saying that 'it was not enough'. In other areas there were issues with regard to the 100-metre buffer zone.

"However, we managed to find solutions to many of these problems," he said. The bankers also said that the Development Forum which begins today will be another boost to continue their rehabilitation and rebuilding work.

"We hope that the people affected by the tsunami will also be encouraged to build their own lives as a result of this conference," they said. In addition to the two State banks, other commercial banks have also participated in the Suhasana loan scheme, which turned out to be quite a success.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka's tourism sector is also expecting 'a good response' from the international donors for post-tsunami recovery in tourism.

Sri Lanka is expected to receive a grant of US$ 132 million from the World Bank for this purpose. The two day conference which will highlight many aspects from a Sri Lankan perspective was to focus on post-tsunami recovery in tourism which will be presided by the Minister of Industries, Investment and Tourism Promotion Anura Bandaranaike.

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