8 December, 2023


People’s Bank At Crossroads!

By Rusiripala Tennakoon –

Rusiripala Tennakoon

Recently published Financial Statement of the People’s Bank springs hopefulness with a sigh of relief in those who were concerned about many questionable happenings in that bank over a long span of time. PB has safely sailed away from all the ill effects during a period filled with many unpredictable realities and uncertainties, admirably. We have to appreciate the solid inputs and the professional manipulations that appear to have gone into this success story.

What the bank has achieved is partly due to the fomented State craft formulating policy guidelines that provided the ambience for the operations in this bizarre climate. Banking industry was called upon to play a pivotal role for the sustenance of the economy with guidance and support extended by the Central Bank. A number of measures adopted and implemented during the period introduced by the CBSL have facilitated and reinforced their role-play. The industry displayed strength and commitment to withstand the negativities imposed due to pressure of the pandemic as well as the effects of checks and controls the government was compelled to introduce as imminent and unavoidable steps in the context of the falling economy. It is noted with appreciation that the Industry stood firm in maintaining the standards within the scope of the Regulatory frame work both local and International. State Banks need to be hailed for managing to survive the additional burdens of pressure brought on them on account of desperate relief measures the government was compelled to effect, imposed through them. It is in this context that we considered it appropriate to review the recent performance of the PB as shown in the last published Financial Statements.

We have in these columns many a time pointed out before how the bank resorted to window dressing operations to cover up their continuing poor performance. We observe a marked difference this time. Bank has addressed many controversial areas in a more professional and realistic manner. Provisions for bad debts as given under impairment and NPL ratios could be cited as examples.

There is no doubt that the bank is saddled with a heavy load of non- performing advances granted during the previous era. Although the masterminds and the handpicked recruits for the facilitation of the dubious operations are no more in service due to their subsequent departure, the impact of their highly questionable deals is now beginning to emerge. The present management including the directorate, are left with only the tell-tales and the stone walls left behind by them. It looks like that the increased volumes and numbers now reflected in the NPL category of the advances is the result of correct application of stipulated norms and regulatory requirements by the current administration after the departure of those responsible for the malpractices. They are now shown without any concealment in the current balance sheet. Hence a NPL ratio of 6.2% of the total advances to the private sector, while the overall gross Non-PerformingAdvances ratio given under the Asset Quality remains at 3.25. This figure would in our opinion increase in the near future when the banking operations take a normal course after the ending of moratoriums and other concessions extended under the special Covid-19 relief measures.

Irresponsible lending practices bypassing risk norms  commonly featured during 2015 to 2019 period have contributed in a big way to this position. Bank has been able to occupy a normal positioning in the order of NPL ratios among other banks due to the large portfolio of its lending to the SOEs and the State despite this handicap. However, the bank has provided increased impairment charges compared to previous balance sheets reflecting a rational position despite the fact that the total operating income is adversely affected due to this. The change in the ratio of this negative effect is 36.3% as against the low provisions shown previously. This in effect has accounted for a reduction of approximately 11 billion in the gross operating income.

Nevertheless, Bank has paid 4.6% more as income tax this year.

The provision towards the Employee retirement benefit plan has been a bone of contention throughout for several years. Previous managements have resorted to highly unethical moves not only to keep the provisions lower than the required according to Actuarial assessment, but have resorted to transfers from the Pension fund indicating as reversals of actuarial gains back into the earned profits to show enhanced profit figures. Ironically, this farce became self-evident due to the Bank reversing such amounts in the next balance sheet! This time in contrast the bank has provided a sum of Rs 12 Billion + towards the Pension Fund, 2 Billion more than last year.

Financials show a gain of Rs.6.5+ Billion as revaluation of land and buildings but it is permitted under the regulatory framework both locally as well as under International norms. Periodic revaluation of the fixed assets is an accepted practice.

The deposit base shows a significant positive growth both in the domestic products as well as in the Foreign currency products. This is a creditable achievement, more so, in the context of government restrictions applicable to all SOEs to limit advertising expenses. It is observed that due to the initiative by the new Chairman Sujeewa Rajapakse, for the bank to get involved in the settlement of dues of the depositors of TFC and ETI, bank managed to mobilize a significant deposit growth.

Staff expenditure of the Bank is now considerably lowered due to the discontinuation of heavily paid contract employees. This was a continuing soar with hardly any positive contribution to the performance of the Bank. This expenditure borne by the bank towards the maintenance of the contract employees was alarmingly high as was revealed at the parliament COPE inquiry against the People’s Bank in September 2019.

COPE inter-alia pointed out that a sum of Rs 15,410,000/= has been irregularly paid to the contract employee, serving as the CEO to retain him for a period of 6 months beyond his due retirement, ostensibly to train his successor. Ironically, the successor happened to be a main stream banker serving the bank for 37 long years. It was also pointed out that this contract employee who was recruited to serve in a much lower position for a monthly salary of Approximately 100,000/= was drawing well over Rs 2 million per month at the time of his retirement.

Six contract employees have been paid a sum of Rs. 1.070 billion per year as monthly salary, bonus and performance bonuses in addition to vehicle loans, and many other perks that they were entitled to. It is noted that indeed is a blessing in disguise for the bank to be able to save a massive drain of funds on account of these contract employees running into a long period of nearly two decades. The current CEO who has been instrumental to the positive turn around of the bank is a main streamer and it does not cost the bank the huge chunk that was being paid earlier in respect of this post.

Bank has candidly admitted that two thirds of its lending portfolio is for the State Sector. There is absolutely nothing queer about this because the Government as the golden Share holder depends mostly on the state banks for its borrowings as well as for the implementation of several other development schemes shunned by other players in the industry.

It is indeed a gigantic task to reverse the state of affairs that has been prevailing in the bank associated with its’ operations and administration over a period of time with vested interests tainted with corrupt deals, wastage and extravagant spending. But the positive changes in direction and approach of the bank’s activities witnessed recently under the new directorate and the administration create a hopefulness of a possible turn-around for the better. Following are presumably the contributory factors to this:

* A more professional approach to the underlying policy planning

* Replacement of contractors with main stream(career) bankers at high levels

* Closer liaison with the SOEs and lending activities of the State Sector

* Adhering to the policy frame work of the Govt.to eliminate wasteful expenditure

* Strict observance of regulatory requirements

* Venturing into development- oriented fields covering mass needs in place of quick profit generating manoeuvres

* Government policy directives including the relaxation of liquidity requirements

It has to be emphasized that what is expected from the bank under its performance criteria is its commitment and involvement in the state policy frame work for the revival of country’s economy.

It also remains as a responsibility of the Bank to rectify the past wrongs and take measures to recover the losses and damages caused due to unscrupulous operations and corrupt deals.

Some of the high lights in this regard are as follows;

* Corrupt deals and operations executed through subsidiary companies of the bank, eg.PLC (these were high lighted in the COPE report)

* Irregular application of accounting procedures and misappropriations associated with special funds maintained at the bank, Eg. Widows and Orphans fund

* Huge losses caused to the bank on account of Oil Hedging deals

* Misuse and abuse of bank properties Eg Vehicles (COPE directed the bank to recall some vehicles released to officials in an irregular manner)

* The disparities in the remunerations and perks between the two State Banks

* Irregular recruitments to high positions violating set procedures Eg Head of IT and appointment of a Senior Deputy General Manager (posted as the Head of CDB) with a monthly salary of 1.5 Million { left the bank in 2019} responsible for approving several large advances which have been transferred to NPL within a short time.

* Irregular Procurements, Purchasing Digital equipment violating tender procedures and exceeding the estimated costs causing a huge loss to the bank;

Former Chairman, Hemasiri Fernando stated at the COPE inquiry admitting their fault that they had to incur an expenditure of more than Rs 2 billion for the digitalization project which was originally estimated for Rs 45 million. He admitted that the bank has spent over 200% more for this project.

COPE specifically identified some irregular payments. A sum of Rs 84 Million and a sum of Rs.180 Million which the Bank agreed to examine and report back. The COPE was of the opinion that these sums should be recovered from the responsible officials.

Bank has so far not taken any action on these matters. As they are large sums of Public money misused, the responsibility of recovering those sums cannot be sheltered.

Findings and recommendations of the COPE were based on the Auditor Generals report. Bank has a binding responsibility to pursue these to an end.

A review of the wasteful expenditures incurred during the period of the Chairman Hemasiri Fernando now accused under the Easter Sunday bomb blast is a must.

Several court actions instituted by the bank against critics, media stations and trade union officials during his tenure at a huge cost to the bank have to be examined and reviewed to ascertain their objectivity and justifiability as a public institution in the context of the bank subsequently withdrawing those actions.

The legal costs incurred by the bank have to be examined and reviewed due to the reported questionable issues in certain instances.

The Peoples Bank has survived many turbulent periods during its 60- years old history. There have been times when chairmen have resigned, on principled grounds. There have been instances where officials were accused of ethical issues. But the period between 2015 and 2019 goes into history as an era with a series of unprecedented public scandals and allegations levelled against the bank. Country awaited painfully enduring the deaf and blind response of those responsible for taking necessary corrective actions, in vain.

Bank badly needed a professional direction and welcome this breath of fresh air wishing its safe continuation.

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Hi story teller. the country it self is at cross roads where were you??? Your counter part Laksiri already has come out swinging his mighty pen. You missed your opportunity to satisfy your pay master. No dole for this month.

    • 1

      “What the bank has achieved is partly due to the fomented State craft formulating policy guidelines that provided the ambience for the operations in this bizarre climate”
      Yeah, that figures. How was the state-craft fomented? By wrapping it in a warm towel?

  • 4

    OK, so the bank has turned around but will those corrupt & incompetent officers responsible for the disastrous management will ever be held accountable? As for professionalism, how many state sectors have professionals at the top? When the PM appoints a soothsayer as a director of the bank & the rest of the ignorant Ministers believe in divine intervention for the country’s ills, will there be a need for professionals?

    • 0

      Rusiri will 22+ 11 = 44 math will make up for the loss of PB. In that case foreign minister and Cabraaal should be appointed to fix those banks/ books. I was told many such banks as BOC, PB ( too big to fail )have massive losses as in write off, non payment , bad loans , political favors and
      Government sponsored schemes / assistance. State Bank of India had hundreds of small banks under it, branched out all over the country.. Few of them were bankrupt due to massive loans provided to businesses on face value without proper screening and security .Now the government is weeding out realizing the actual losses.

    • 0

      The soothsayer at least has a system. Incompetents don’t.

  • 3

    The article says
    “Irresponsible lending practices bypassing risk norms commonly featured during 2015 to 2019 period have contributed in a big way to this position.”
    I searched rather haphazardly and found a few things:
    The People’s Bank had written off Rs.788 million in 2011; Rs.316 million in 2010; Rs.157 million in 2009 and Rs.787 million in 2008. (Daily Mirror, On-line edition, 11 May 2012)
    Rs. 4,705 m bad debt written off by People’s Bank from 2005-2013 (Daily FT 4 November 2014)
    Do the above point to responsible lending practices before 2015?

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