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March 6, 2009
PM Gonsalves opens new account at Bank of Antigua

by Jamila Soso-Vincent in Antigua 06.MAR.09

Stating that banking is about trust and confidence, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves backed up his words with action and opened an account at the rescued Bank of Antigua (BOA).{{more}}

The account, which is a joint one with his wife Eloise, was opened in Antigua on Tuesday, March 3rd, at the headquarters of the bank which was previously owned by billionaire Sir R. Allen Stanford.

Gonsalves, Chairman of the Regional Taskforce assigned to address the socio-economic fallout in the sub-region in the wake of the U.S financial crisis, proclaimed this gesture “An indicator of our confidence and trust in this institution.”

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer joined Prime Minister Gonsalves by reactivating a dormant account that he has held with the bank for a while. The prime ministers deposited EC$20,000 each of their personal money into the accounts.

Additionally, Prime Minister Gonsalves pointed out that he is not one to be frivolous with his money, so the mere fact that he has invested such a large amount should encourage those who had closed their BOA accounts to re-open them. “I am not irresponsible with my own money. I may be generous, but never irresponsible.”

Thanking PM Spencer for putting forward the idea, Gonsalves also hastened to add that this exercise is not to be viewed as an expression of his allegiance in the Antigua and Barbuda national elections, due to take place on March 12th, 2009. “This exercise in which I’m involved is not a partisan political exercise!” He further beseeched Spencer and Opposition Leader Lester Bird to treat the crisis as a national matter, and not as a tool for “partisan politicking.” Gonsalves highlighted the need to maintain the integrity of the bank and, by extension, the financial system throughout the Eastern Caribbean.

Prime Minister Spencer expressed deep gratitude to Prime Minister Gonsalves for his “proactive and direct” role in resolving the crisis of mass withdrawals from the BOA, stemming from civil fraud charges made against Stanford by U.S federal authorities. Spencer viewed Tuesday’s gesture as: “a further demonstration of our burning desire to make sure that this thing works!” He also added that the move shows Antiguans and those in the sub-region that there is “full and unequivocal confidence in this financial institution.”

Speaking about the Eastern Caribbean Amalgamated Financial Company (ECAFC) takeover of the Bank of Antigua, Spencer once again commended the swift regional response to the “unfortunate situation.” From the onset, Spencer related that he was fully aware that a regional approach was the best course of action. “It was absolutely critical for us to be seen as working together!”

Spencer voiced expectation that the newly formed entity (ECAFC) will become an important one within the sub-region, and that the BOA will continue to grow and develop. He also believes that the takeover will provide an excellent template for further Caribbean integration. “We’re talking about economic union… it fits perfectly.”

Although no estimated date of completion could be provided for the transformation of the Bank of Antigua to the Eastern Caribbean Amalgamated Bank, PM Gonsalves was mindful to emphasise that such an undertaking requires time. “There must be due diligence… A bank is not a mauby shop on the streets of St. John,” he chuckled. “It is a far more complex business than that.”

Referring to the crisis as: “one not of our own making,” Gonsalves pressed upon all involved to see the further benefits branching out of this amalgamation. “The growing concentration of finance and banking capital internationally makes it both necessary and desirable, indeed inevitable, for you to have greater amalgamation.”

He expressed his vision of a merger of the national banks of the various OECS islands into one regional bank. “You can offer larger loans and attract bigger customers. If your deposit base is huge, you will grow geometrically….”

At present, the OECS indigenous banks have a total deposit base of EC$8 billion.