After completing six successful years and uplifting more than a
quarter million of Sri Lanka’s poor, the Ceylinco Grameen
Group now wants to tap every single poor household in the country
by 2007 through its credit schemes to develop businesses.
“We want to reach every single poor family in the country
by 2007. There are four million poor people (about 800,000 families)
in Sri Lanka who are earning below Rs.1200, according to the Central
Bank. We have already tapped 276,000 families. So we need to reach
about another 500,000 families,” G. Victor Ratnayake, the
Group’s Deputy Chairman told The Sunday Times FT.
Victor Ratnayake, the Group’s Deputy Chairman.
He said that since the company has to depend on sponsorship from
Ceylinco Group companies which contribute two percent of their profits,
the organization has applied for a license from the Central Bank
to become a finance company. He said if this comes through, they
will be able to tap all poor households in the next two years.
Ceylinco Grameen, a micro credit scheme offering collateral-free
loans to poor women to start or develop their businesses has come
a long way in eradicating poverty in the country, and completes
six years on May 8.
Mr. Ratnayake said over the past six years they have given loans
to people across the country including war affected areas. “We
started with a Rs. 2 million-hat collection from the Ceylinco group
and just one branch. Today we have given loans worth Rs.5 billion
through 78 branches.”
He said this is one bank that goes to the people and caters to their
needs. The company’s 276,000 customers are met personally
every week through 2200 young educated ‘Grameen’ workers
in village centres.
The interaction takes place in community centres where the women’s
problems are examined, solved and progress is monitored.
Mr Ratnayake explained that repayments of the loans are collected
weekly as this poor segment of society has a tendency to finish
what they earn quickly. The loans given without any mortgage, collateral,
signature or guarantees are available from Rs.5000 to Rs.150,000.
“When they need to obtain a loan, for example Rs.5000, potential
recipients would need to make a presentation at the village centre
meeting. If anyone believes that the person is not capable of doing
that business, that person would express it at the centre. The centre
consist of groups of five people with a leader who support one another
in developing the businesses.”
He said if one member of the group is doing poorly and not paying
on time, the other members’ loans are affected as well.
“So there is pressure within the group to succeed and this
enabled us to achieve success through the programme. For the last
six years we have achieved a 100 percent loan recovery rate,”
Mr. Ratnayake said. The Group also provides micro credit schemes
especially targeted to assist farmers and the fisheries community.
“In Sri Lanka many farmers suffer because they are unable
to sell their crops at reasonable prices. Most of them have mortgaged
their lands to money lenders. As a first step we help release their
lands from the lenders through a long term loan payable in 25 years.
On top of that another loan is given to cultivate the lands. The
thought of owning their land again motivates these farmers,”
The loan scheme for the farming community starting with Rs.25, 000
is given for a season (3 months). The farmers pay back the loan
once the crop is sold.
The company also purchases the harvest, including vegetables, at
the right price and sells it to local supermarkets and also exports
Benefactors like Laughfs Super Markets sell Ceylinco Grameen vegetables
in their outlets joining in to support this battle against poverty.
Some 530 Grameen members in the fishing community died in the tsunami
while another 9980 members were affected. Ceylinco Grameen has written
off those loans and has also given these members fresh six percent
annual interest loans to recover. The company realising that special
attention was necessary to the fisheries community, launched the
Grameen Fisheries Programme providing loans starting from Rs.12000.
The Group consisting of 11 companies offers assistance from providing
loans to starting a business and also exporting goods of Grameen
Mr. Ratnayake says Ceylinco Grameen Health Care (Pvt) Ltd provides
basic healthcare facilities in their villages. “We are putting
up small units with a doctor, two nurses and a pharmacist. The members
are able to obtain daily treatment for Rs.30 or Rs.40 per consultation.”
Lankan foreign recruitment agencies, tired of being labelled ‘rogues’,
‘corrupt’, ‘unscrupulous’ or ‘uncaring
towards migrant workers after sending them abroad’, have jointly
launched an aggressive, no-holds-barred campaign to clear their
“If it means being critical of the government, then we shall
do it. We are just tired of being blamed for everything and not
being acknowledged for helping to bring in valuable foreign exchange,”
said T.M. Anver Ulumudeen, new President of the Association of Licensed
Foreign Employment Agencies (ALFEA).
The 700-strong ALFEA has declared 2006 as the year of image building
and fighting for ‘our rights’. “We are determined
to clear our name and prove who the real culprits are. Because of
the behaviour of a few unlicensed agencies, we all get tarnished
with the same brush.
The government should take action – not accuse everyone,”
he said in an interview, blaming a few unlicensed agents, the state
apparatus and politicians for the plight of migrant workers.
Under this new campaign, ALFEA has became a member of the Federation
of Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Sri Lanka (FCCISL) and has
established contacts with UNIFEM (UN Development Fund for Women),
ILO and IOM.
“We are also concerned about the safety and sufferings of
the migrant worker. In having links with these respected organizations
(and sharing information) we want to prove to the world that we
have nothing to hide; that we deserve respect and status in a sector
that ensures the country has enough foreign exchange,” Mr
But women’s groups are not buying this new approach and say
there is a long way to go before the agencies get the respect they
want. “Most of these women are in dire circumstances because
of false hopes by these agencies,” said one activist.
Another activist said the links ALFEA has with these international
agencies is just being invited for a workshop in Bangkok where employment
agencies from labour sending countries were present and issues relating
to the plight of women and migrant workers discussed.
Mr Anwer however says that these are the first steps and the “very
reason why we want to progress towards getting respect for what
Anwer and other ALFEA officials present at the interview accused
the government (Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment – SLBFE)
of doing little for a sector that is nearly 30 years old with no
national status given unlike other foreign exchange earnings sectors
like garments or tea.
“We are labelled as unscrupulous and corrupt but what have
governments done in the past? It’s the private sector that
has got these jobs. If a BOI investor brings in a few millions,
he is treated like a king and gets all tax concessions just to provide
“We are providing more than 200,000 new jobs every year but
we get nothing. A BOI investor takes 51 percent of the money out
while we (and migrant workers) bring all the money in,” said
Abdul Cader Ifthie, vice president of the association, who also
agreed however that there are some unlicensed agents who should
be blamed. “But please don’t put everyone in the same
Another development that annoyed the association recently was a
meeting in Dubai of Sri Lankan ambassadors in the Middle East and
some Asian countries organized by the SLBFE to discuss the migration
trail, problems and future prospects.
At the meeting agents came in for severe criticism.
“Who spends on these tamashas? All these activities come from
money that migrant workers and agents have provided to the SLBFE,”
another ALFEA official said, adding ironically: “We pay for
these bashes and then get bashed up!”
Each worker pays about Rs 8,000 to the bureau in the approval process
and at over 200,000 workers leaving per year, the government gets
some Rs 16 million annually from services alone from this sector.
Mr Anwer said that under the 1985 Foreign Employment Act the bureau
has 19 objectives to fulfill from promotion of employment, safeguarding
workers, skills development and investment advice to returnees.
“Of this only five objectives have been met while on the others
there is no action or just little work.”
Asked about the various trips undertaken by ministers and officials
to labour-receiving countries to discuss these issues and sometimes
iron out problems, Mr Anwer said: “These are just cosmetic
safeguards and solutions. They are not long term solutions.”
He said the bureau has set unrealistic minimum wage rates for housemaids
which are not according to market rates in those countries. “When
we try to get these rates in those countries, the agents and employers
threaten to go to other labour-supplying countries,” he said,
adding that ALFEA has repeatedly asked the government to consult
it on wage rates without arbitrary increases. “All we ask
is for a proper consultative process.”
SLBFE officials asked to comment referred the newspaper to the chairman
who was unavailable.
Investors from India and Malaysia are collaborating in a proposed
feasibility study to implement a Mass Rapid Transit System (MRT)
in Colombo and will sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with
the Board of Investment (BOI) for this purpose on Tuesday.
“We have identified the need for a rail-based urban transport
system and this firm (joint venture) has come forward to do a feasibility
study for an MRT to work out the routes, cost and other details
that are involved in this project,” Lakshman R. Watawala,
Chairman BOI told The Sunday Times FT, adding that the same group
will undertake the construction, once details are finalised.
“There have been others involved before in such studies, but
we have more or less confirmed this company,” he said. He
declined to name the joint venture but other sources said that it
is the NEB Infrastructure in India and Opus International from Malaysia.
The sources said that the MRT is designed to allow passenger travel
within or throughout an urban area, usually employing surface, elevated,
or underground railway systems or some combination of these.
“Rapid transit systems are generally considered to be mass
transit systems, capable of moving large numbers of passengers in
a single train.
The large capacities of such systems make them potentially more
efficient, in terms of cost and environmental effects, than automobile
transportation,” one source said, adding that it will help
relieve congestion in the city. He said that a rapid transit train
is a number of electrically powered, self-propelled cars.
The source said that the MRT systems offer considerable savings
in labour, materials, and energy over private transit systems. Since
far fewer operators are required per passenger transported, they
can be better trained and more strictly licensed and supervised.
“When utilised to their capacity, mass transit vehicles carry
a far higher passenger load per unit of weight and volume than private
vehicles. They also offer fuel savings, not only because of the
relative reduction in weight transported, but also because they
are large enough to carry more efficient engines,” he said.
Ceylon Leather Products Ltd (CLP), marketing the ‘DI’
shoes brand, has made a dramatic turnaround by posting Rs 6 million
profits in the year to March from its previous year’s loss
of Rs 29 million by increasing exports and discontinuing uneconomical
The company is planning to re-enter the Italian market and increase
its exports to 40 percent from a current 32 percent.
“We have not audited the accounts as yet but the un-audited
profit figure for the year ending March 31, 2006, is Rs 6 million,”
Sitendra Senaratne, CEO, CLP said, adding the company plans to increase
its exports to Europe and also add to the domestic market share.
“We had a 20 percent increase in exports last year because
we got new orders to Europe. The profits went up last year mainly
in exports and we want to boost our export base this year in order
to post better profits,” he said, adding that the company
stopped uneconomical lines of shoes and patterns.
“New designs based on Italian and Indian patterns were introduced
to the market last year. We are reducing our debts and hope to increase
the domestic market from the 50 percent market size to 60 percent
this year,” he said.
Keells Holdings, amidst wide speculation in the market that it was
selling off its Hikkaduwa Coral Gardens hotel after a failed attempt
earlier, said the company plans to run the hotel now.
“About two years ago we put the Coral Gardens up for sale,
but did not get any attractive offers and decided to take it off
the market. We have not yet found a buyer and now plan to run the
property as it is,” Ajith Gunewardene, Joint Managing Director
and President Leisure Sector, JKH told The Sunday Times FT.
He said that both JKH’s Coral Gardens and Club Oceanic in
Trincomalee will not be re-branded under the group’s Cinnamon
or Chaaya brands.
Stockbrokers and industry sources said the company was actively
looking at selling Coral Gardens because a lot of investment is
needed in upgrading or re-branding it.
youngsters out of seven people who were arrested promoting the controversial
GoldQuest network marketing scheme in Karandeniya in Galle district
were given bail recently to enable them to sit the Advance Level
examinations, Central Bank authorities said.
“This is the second time we have complained to the police.
Last December we made a complaint to the Anuradhapura police station
regarding a similar incident,” a Central Bank official said.
He said that the regulator has observed a trend of the GoldQuest
scheme being promoted in rural areas.
“Many promoters are very young and the recently arrested promoters
are between the ages of 18 and 21 years,” he added.