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NCB owned by St. Lucians but now the Bank of St.Vincent and the Grenadines!

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The big talking point around the country is about the sale of the National Commercial Bank. There is a lot about the debate that is sickening and almost makes you want to puke. It is clear that some of the commentators have little respect for the intelligence of Vincentians and are not aware of advances in communication technology that bring information to us by different media at any time of the day or night. It is as if they think we are in the dark ages and are illiterate.{{more}} Black becomes white. Lies become the truth and only words that come out of the mouths of a few persons are supposed to make sense and convey the truth. To make matters worse, the lies are becoming even more pronounced. And those who prattle such untruths do so without a concern in the world. I am almost beginning to feel that they believe what they are saying and this is even more astonishing and frightening. Now 51 per cent shares in the National Commercial Bank are sold to the East Caribbean Financial Holding Company Ltd. (ECFH) of St.Lucia. So an entity outside of St.Vincent and the Grenadines has controlling shares in the bank, but the bank is now the Bank of St.Vincent and the Grenadines. What is this supposed to mean? The simple truth is that the decisions will be made by persons who are not Vincentians or who are representing an interest that is not Vincentian. So again I ask, what is the name supposed to signify?

We are told that there will be seven Directors; two from St.Lucia, two from St.Vincent and the Grenadines with three others representing the other shareholders (Government, the National Insurance Services and public shareholders). Now who are the two from St.Vincent representing? Clearly it will be those who hold controlling shares, because the Vincentian shareholders, Government, the NIS and public shareholders have three representatives. The way this is laid out is meant to convey the impression that there are five Directors from SVG, suggesting that SVG has controlling shares. Or is this my warped interpretation?

The other cause for concern, perhaps alarm, is that the 51 percent of shares sold to ECFH were valued at $41 million dollars. We are dealing with a bank with assets of 813 million dollars, we are told! Something is certainly missing in the equation and the mathematics has gone awry. Questions are now being asked about properties that have recently been returned/resold to the Bank. These include the new Reigate Building, lands at Mount Wynne and the buildings that accommodate some of the branches of NCB in areas outside of Kingstown. Granted some of these might have been leased, rather than owned by the Bank. We have, however, so far had no answers to these questions. These answers will of course help us to make more sense of what has happened. The Prime Minister said, according to the mid-week issue of the SEARCHLIGHT, “I had to get a good partner, a good fit; other partners came courting, but like in anything else, when you are desirable… a lot… will come, but you will reject several until you find the right one. I’ve found the right partner.” Surely the right fit does not necessarily mean the one that makes the largest offer, but one can assume that those others who came were offering less than the $41 million dollars. So were they buying the bank or the bank building? If it was the bank, what were they seeing that some of us can’t see?

The explanations we are being given certainly don’t make a lot of sense to me. A Bank strengthened since 2001 with assets of $813 million! Many of us surely don’t comprehend what has gone on. That is not surprising because those who don’t comprehend the genius that has been at work are those who are untutored. This Bank, despite control that lies outside of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, is still the Bank of St.Vincent and the Grenadines, whatever that means. There is, however, more at stake. Vincentians had a sense of pride knowing that the Bank had been under the ownership of Vincentians, albeit the Government. But the Government is the government we put there to act in our interest. This, we realise, is in theory, more than anything else for governments once they are elected, see themselves as our boss and only become our servants in the run up to elections. While one appreciates the need for sensitivity in these matters, it must be pointed out that Vincentians were largely kept in the dark for a long time. Were Vincentian businesses and people informed about the sale before and urged to try to buy the bank and keep it firmly in Vincentian hands? Was it not possible to get Vincentian institutions, businesses and people to come up with $41 million dollars to buy the bank? Did they know about it and failed to respond? Or is there suddenly no confidence in our ability to run such institutions? On what is that lack of confidence based?

I know that many Vincentians feel let down. One commentator said that it was as if the United States of America had sold the Statue of Liberty. That is how the person saw it. The political spin that is being put on this is simply amazing. But this is the political season and there is a lot at stake for everyone including the politicians. What has happened over the past few days is a blow to our national psyche and will remain a major issue for some time. When we look at the package (as is so far revealed to us), we have nothing about which to be proud. Was the $100 million CDB loan to help the bank to divest? If the bank was as strong as we were told, why did it need $100 million to help it to divest? Really, we the untutored will never understand such majestic moves. It probably shouldn’t matter because do we not now have a Bank of St.Vincent and the Grenadines with controlling shares by non-Vincentians?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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