By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
DEPUTY Prime Minister Peter Turnquest is disappointed by Scotiabank’s decision to close branches at several islands and says the move would bring “hardship” for residents.
While the decision would most likely affect vulnerable communities from a financial inclusion standpoint, the Finance Minister said the government could not force any bank to remain in The Bahamas.
Scotiabank has said the decision came as 90 percent of its transactions were now done digitally.
However, Mr Turnquest said while this may be true in New Providence and Grand Bahama, it was likely “less true” for the Family Islands.
“We take note of the hardship that this lack of a banking presence has on these now vulnerable communities from a financial inclusion point of view,” the East Grand Bahama MP told Parliament yesterday.
He was leading debate on the Financial and Corporate Service Providers Bill 2020 along with the Digital Assets and Registered Exchange Bill 2020, which are being debated as a compendium. Both bills passed in the House of Assembly yesterday.
“First, let me say that the government of the Bahamas nor the Central Bank of the Bahamas can force any financial institution - international or domestic - to maintain a physical branch presence in any location.
“That is a business decision that is made by the banks and in respect to the international banks oftentimes it’s not even a local management decision, but a head office decision made somewhere else based upon an objective review of its business performance.
“We are not as a country of the practice of dictating to any financial institution how or where they should be conducting their business. Our obligation is to make sure the financial system of this country is sound and secure, well regulated. That the norms and best practices are being observed and that our people as a whole can count on safety and confidence that the financial services system is well regulated.
“That said we are obviously disappointed that that action has been taken and you would recall a few years ago a similar action had been taken by another financial institution, which left Bimini and South Andros without banking services. Again, we regret these things, but we also understand from a business perspective what’s driving them.”
He continued: “In the case of the current closures, the institution has indicated that 90 percent of their business is being transacted digitally. That is either online or using an ATM. Now, some of us may or may not believe that, I don’t know.
“I am confident from where I stand that that is true in New Providence. It may even be true in Grand Bahama. It may be less true in the Family Islands.”
When he spoke on the matter, Exuma and Ragged Island MP Chester Cooper urged the government to do more, noting some of his constituents had been with the bank since 1968.
Mr Cooper told Parliament he understood the bank’s profit imperative, but the government should have done more on behalf of Bahamians.
He said: “I want to reiterate my disappointment in the recent announcement by Scotiabank that they will close their branch in Exuma and other Family Islands. As a businessman, I understand their profit imperative. However, I have told the bank that as an MP, I am not a happy man today.
“The constituents of Exuma have been members and clients of this institution, loyally so since 1968, for more than five decades.
“For the record we believe that it’s the government’s job to negotiate on behalf of the people and we have no way at this stage of being satisfied that adequate efforts were made on behalf of these islands.”
Mr Turnquest took issue with this, telling the House the government had attempted to intervene through the Ministry of Finance and Department of Labour.
He said Scotiabank’s decision had not only led to closures in the Bahamas, but in other parts of the region, adding that it was unfair to say the government had not taken its responsibility seriously.
In late October, Scotiabank (Bahamas) said it had decided to consolidate its operations on four Family Islands — Abaco, Andros, Long Island, Exuma — as well as Paradise Island, into branches on New Providence.