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By Roshan Peiris
Savitri Jayasinghe, the new General Manager of the Bank of Ceylon says, she wants to steer the Bank smoothly into the 21st century and promote economic advancement to meet the stiff competition the Bank is now facing.
"I have plans for expansion. We are hoping to start joint ventures in Nepal and Moscow soon and we are studying plans for the opening of a Branch in New York, said the soft-spoken Savitri as she took over the prestigious post in Sri Lanka's premier state bank. "I feel we must seek a strong foothold in the South East Asian region, rather than in the West, because SE Asia has the highest growth rate in the world today. Thus we are thinking of a BOC branch in Singapore, Malaysia or Hongkong.
"In the West we have two branches in London. In Paris, Switzerland and Rome we have remittance schemes to help Sri Lankan expatriates. We have strong correspondent banks in these countries sometimes two or three not only to help expatriates from Sri Lanka but also help with trade and investments.
"I also hope to capture the younger generation to bank with us. They feel the quality of service in a state bank is not as good as in private banks. I hope to try and dispel this unfair assessment of us," she said.
"We will also work harder and popularise our facilities. For our customers we lend money at a lower interest rate than most Finance Companies, a fact little known.
"I will keep up the good work done by my predecessor Rohini Nanayakkara and motivate the bank cadres by assessing their work on a quarterly basis and giving them increments and promotions accordingly, Ms. Jayasinghe assured.
"As President of the Association of Business and Professional Women, I am often told that the male domination of the banking sector is still there. Actually in the Bank of Ceylon it is not so. No male domination is seen there. I am the second Woman General Manager of the Bank of Ceylon and in increasing numbers of women bankers are here now," she said.
The elegantly dressed Savitri, wife of top Government official, Edmund Jayasinghe is an unassuming person. She received her early education at Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya and later at Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya. She is an Economics honours graduate of Peradeniya University. She is also an Associate of the Chartered Institute of Banking, London and recently she was made a Fellow of the Institute.
Rohini Nanayakkara, General Manager, Bank of Ceylon, retires from service this month after 37 years of service.
Ms Nanayakkara who joined the Bank in 1959 as a staff assistant rose to be General Manager in 1988. She assumed duties as the General Manager while the country was in political turmoil, but was able to work for the well-being of the Bank.
As General manager, Ms Nanayakkara spearheaded the reorganisation of the Bank; diversification of its business; introduction of new technology; formation of subsidiary companies; increase in productivity through extensive staff training and geared the bank to face stiff competition from 26 banks. She was also responsible for the opening of new branches overseas in Madras and Karachi.
Ms Nanayakkara achieved the highest profit levels during her period in office.
Bank employees welcomed her move to hold regular meetings with the trade unions in the bank in the resolution of grievances.
Today, we lay our Leader to rest. The funeral pyre faces the statue of his illustrious father.
We have lost our Leader, guide and philosopher.
During the long years I served him, I found in him a fully integrated personality. There was no conflict in his spiritual and political values.
Those who knew him well knew him to be a deeply religious man. Certainly, not in a conventional manner. He died without achieving one purpose in his life. His desire was to retire from politics and enter the Sangha.
As a child he had his religious training under the great scholar Palane Sri Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera. In later life he had read widely books on Buddhist philosophy. On one occasion, at least, he had shocked Kalukondayawe Pannasekera Nayaka Thera.
The two of them were returning from a ceremony at a Buddhist temple and on the way they had entered into a discourse on Buddhism. On a later date the Nayaka Thera told me, "If Dudley Hamu goes on like this, we of the Buddhist clergy may have to stop giving sermons. I am amazed at his knowledge of Buddhist philosophy."
He was a reluctant politician; therefore a most forceful one. He did not seek office fame or popularity. These things pursued him.
After the death of his father, at the age of 41, when he became Prime Minister, in fact, it was thrust on him. He named others for the office but it was the Government Parliamentary Group that demanded his choice.
When he retired from politics in 1953 and absorbed himself in the Temperance Movement again it was the Party that sought his leadership.
He had no false airs. There was a simplicity and a modesty which endeared him to us. Late in the evening wearing a sarong and a banian when he lounged in the small office room upstairs at "Woodlands" that was the great moment of his life. Thence he was at ease, whether he was discussing a complex, political problem or just gossiping.
He liked golf, he liked his food, he liked the company of his friends, all these things he enjoyed with zest.
Perhaps the years he enjoyed most were the years out of office. His camera and his car were his fondest worldly goods, but in office this leisure-loving man worked like a precision machine. There was no day he worked less than 12 hours. Often his schedule extended to 16-18 hours.
Whatever he did he was a dedicated man. There was one thing that he would not forgive - not keeping appointments. He timed everything, his day as well as the nation's economic endeavours. That is how within three years he succeeded in raising Ceylon's self-sufficiency in rice from 40 to 75 per cent.
The lasting monument to him would be the Gal Oya Scheme. I have heard from him that when the blue-prints were presented to him the American engineers had told him that there was a thousand to one risk regarding the height of the dam. "Do not take the risk, raise the dam", he had said. It did not take thousand years. But for his foresight, in the unprecedented floods of 1958 the dam would have been washed away bringing disaster to a greater part of the Eastern Province.
If Gal Oya Valley today produces a quarter of Ceylon's rice his dream was to, in the great tradition of Mahasen, Parakramabahu and other great Sinhala kings, to make Sri Lanka self-sufficient in food.
He was denied this opportunity by his defeat in 1970. But he lived to see his policies vindicated. His very opponents were forced to accept his policies. The Mahaveli Project. World Bank aid - these things, decried a few years ago, are acclaimed today.
If I was a devoted follower of his it was not a blind faith that made me tread his trail. In politics he was a pragmatist. While he abhorred the concentration of wealth in a few individuals he equally refused to contribute to theories of regimentation. With us, he discussed matters. He listened to us, he debated with us and therefore at the end the convictions were our own.
There is one piece of advice he gave me that I will never forget: "Gamini, for political expediency and temporary advantage do not ever practice any political stunts." He was a shy, sensitive man, but a proud man. The whole nation knows how he carried himself with dignity and majesty.
Most of us are still benumbed by the shock of his death. We just now have the escape valve of being busy over cremation arrangements. When all this is over only then will we realise the full meaning of his death.
The way he died - the design - was certainly not a human creation. He passed away bothering none. The nation was on holiday. The greater part of the nation had with his free measure of rice, the New Year's first meal. A nation already dressed in white for New Year festivities heard at dawn of the New Year that he had passed away. A nation prepared for New Year festivities merely transformed the occasion to national mourning.
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