#Providenciales, June 8, 2018 – Turks and Caicos – It came as a shock to me in the late morning early afternoon of today (Thursday June 7th) when I was contacted by the Premier to participate in a meeting (by telephone) that was in progress with her and members of her team together with a senior management delegation from Scotia Bank’s local office as well as head of compliance for the Northern Caribbean. The purpose of the meeting as communicated by the bank’s representatives was to inform the government of a decision handed down from the bank’s head office as part of a global strategy to consolidate the banks operation. – the process we were told had already taken place in the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas and is ongoing in the BVI and other regional jurisdictions.
While it had been rumoured for several years that the bank was retrenching, during my term as Minister of Finance when the bank’s representatives were confronted with the issue they always denied it to be the case. I have in the past also personally made representation to the bank (not in writing) about the issue of de-risking certain categories of business to no avail – These global institutions operate on a one size fits all platform with the major emphasis on risk aversion and shareholder value, where despite the fact that a jurisdiction might be profitable if any business unit is not, it is regularly eliminated.
I empathize with the anxiety of the Bank of Nova Scotia Customers in our nation’s capital, and categorically deny any knowledge of the bank’s decision until today; out of respect for the banks staff, it was the proper thing to wait until the bank management met with staff before issuing a statement. Nevertheless, our people in the nation’s capital is faced with a problem not of their making and it behoves us as leaders to act with alacrity and cool headedness to address their anxiety and the inconvenience this sudden and disruptive decision will have on the public. All indications are that the decision of the bank is a fait accompli. This therefore require us not to waste time on matters outside of our sphere of influence but to act with courage to effectuate a system that addresses the problem – which is simply a risk-reward number for the bank, but disruption and inconvenience to the people of the nation’s capital as it has been for some time for the people of South Caicos, Middle and North Caicos. So, a solution has to be two pronged-intermediate and then long term and must take into consideration the plight of all who have either become unbanked or grossly inconvenienced.
In the first place, there are some low technology actions that should be encouraged and facilitated by the government – the first being cheque cashing business opportunities supported by legislation to regulate service standards and rates for cashing payroll and other cheques for the unbanked; the second is the standing up and operationalization of credit unions, the legislation for which already exist – waiting for the cabinet to introduce regulations before the ordinance could be accented to. The bank representatives have indicated possible favorable consideration for providing banking services for credit unions subject to an agreeable compliance protocol – the benefit of this would be formation of corporate vehicles to begin to build domestic capital and reduce the number of unbanked persons. Both of these could be done within the next 90 days while a longer-term solution is considered.
Ultimately though the world is not waiting for us. We can behave like victims or organize to control our own destiny God willing. In the ongoing innovation revolution, we must build a smart tech savvy country familiar with the power of digital technologies and advanced analytics to improve convenience, simplify everyday life, and help us make better decisions. Today we have one of the most powerful digital devices at our finger tips – the smart phone. We must use it for good and not as a thief of our time or a instrument of ridicule or divisiveness. Many developing countries have leaped frog over old technology in use in developed countries to the advantage of their people and improvement in productivity and competitiveness. I see this temporary setback be a teachable moment – a clarion call first to leadership to create an enabling environment including improvement in ICT that will allow the citizenry to engage in more self-help initiatives, and to the citizenry to combine their collective abilities and resources together so that everybody win.
Contrary to accepted intuition and despite past practices, I see the government as a competitor for the hearts and mind of the people not an adversary and where collaboration with it is in the interest of the people of these islands I have made it clear that I will pursue that path. – for me this is not a sign of weakness but one of self-confidence, courage of conviction, and strength of character. I trust the people of this country to judge the capacity, integrity and commitment of individual politicians and political parties at the polls, and when they get it wrong an opportunity presents itself to correct it every four years. In the meantime, in my capacity as leader of the opposition my vision for the country has never been bounded by election timetable but by my compass of what is right. That will continue long after I would have exited politics.
Release: Leader of The Opposition