Monday, June 24, 2019

Govt's new offer to loan defaulters is welcome: List of bank looters needed

Half of the defaulted bank loans amounting to Tk 50,942 crore is with top 300 borrowers, finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal told parliament on Friday, blaming banks for not choosing borrowers wisely. There are 1.7 lakh loan defaulters in the country, with the bad loans standing at Tk 1 lakh crore. This means, less than 1 percent, 0.17 percent to be exact, borrowers hold more than half of all bad loans.

As of April, the total outstanding loan to these 300 borrowers was Tk 70,571 crore. Of this, Tk 50,942 crore have now gone bad. He also placed a list of 14,617 individuals and institutions that have outstanding loans worth over Tk 5 crore each taken since 2009, when the Awami League government took office. They took a total of Tk 1,741,348 crore in loan. Of the sum, Tk 7,84,624 crore is outstanding, Tk 1,10,541 crore classified and Tk 100,183 crore defaulted. Publishing lists is meaningless unless concrete action is taken against the banking system and the government's control over the banking system is relaxed.

It can be said safely that most of the big defaulters are government men. Condemning the loan takers is not even the half truth. The bank officials cannot escape blame for furnishing big loans without true collaterals. The money was plundered from the State Bank also and the governor was greeted as a hero.

It was conspiracy to hide the truth that the genuine businessmen were hurriedly put in jail by filing  cleverly money laundering  criminal cases making any renegotiation with banks for repaying the loans impossible.

The finance minister rightly assessed that some "uncontrolled" domestic and global factors had affected businesses, leading to the rise in bad loans and the number of defaulters. Insufficient collateral against the loan, depositing the same asset to more than one bank and overvaluation of collateral assets increased the risk of loans going bad. But the minister expected the amount of classified loans to come down in coming months as the government offered a special long-term loan rescheduling benefit.

We welcome the new offer to facilitate repayment of defaulting loans. But as there is unhindered corruption in the public banking sector we are not too sure the policy will be enforced honestly with intention of taking realistic approach for the businesses.  We do not mean that there is no corruption in private banks, it is nothing to beat government banks. These government banks have been hollowed out.

To be a loan defaulter is part of normal risks in banking business. There is nothing to justify condemning them all or treating them all as criminals. If the special facility offered by the government is genuinely implemented by the bankers showing reasonable understanding about saving the businesses then the genuine businessmen will come forward to save their businesses and earn the capacity to repay the loans.

In the first place the blunder was made by filing corruption cases to keep them inside jail or forcing some others to leave the country. The loan repayment is a civil liability but the interested quarters cleverly became too eager to bring impulsively money laundering cases making it impossible for the loan defaulters to explain their difficulties or come to a settlement with the bankers.

The criminals are those who secured loans as fraudulent businessmen with clear intention of not paying back the bank's loans in the knowledge that the government banks will not touch them for their special positions.

We want to see the government publish the list of bank looters of fantastic amounts but nobody even mentions their names any more. They are safe with their looted money. The all purpose doctor who was once the prime minister's specialist when out of power has easily made four hundred  crore takas from Sonali Bank and he has nothing to worry. Another loudly call himself a man of character being close to the government pocketed some five hundred crore takas by obtaining permission for a new bank. Some of them have been rewarded to call themselves members of the parliament for enjoying special position of protection.

If the flood of corruption goes on unabated, which shows no such sign, then the finance minister will have a great challenge on his hands to make his new policy work.