Chief of Staff: Gov’t and Scotia meeting still on

Government’s Chief of Staff, Lionel “Max” Hurst said Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s meeting with Scotiabank Antigua is still on but, there’s no telling whether it’ll take place on January 7 as requested by Browne. Hurst’s statement to OBSERVER media yesterday came less than 24 hours after he suggested on another radio station that Scotiabank Antigua had turned down the PM’s request to meet and discuss the sale of the institution.

On Thursday, a Pointe FM news items quoted Hurst saying, “The general manager of Scotiabank Antigua responded to the prime minister and in essence she said there was hardly any need for Scotiabank to meet with the government of Antigua and Barbuda because they had entered into an agreement with a private enterprise group to purchase the assets and liabilities, as it were Scotiabank Antigua, and as far as they were concerned it was a done deal. So, if the purpose of the meeting was to discuss that deal they didn’t see any purpose to do it.”

But yesterday, Hurst suggested that he was misquoted, and that it wasn’t the first time the entity had done so. While maintaining that Scotiabank said it saw no point in meeting, Hurst added that the bank’s general manager had more to say in the reply to PM Browne’s proposal to meet. He told OBSERVER media, “A week before they quoted me as well saying that the Deluxe Cinema was purchased by the government and I never said any such thing. We said that the government would take occupancy and they misunderstood it and so I can assure you that a meeting is planned between Scotiabank, the Republic National Holding Company and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and we are awaiting confirmation on the date and that’s the only reason I cannot share it with you.”

When reminded that there was audio of him saying that the bank did not want to meet, he explained, “That is a part of what Scotiabank had to say but it is not all that of what Scotiabank had to say. Scotiabank’s response also included a sentence in which the general manager indicated that they would welcome a meeting with the government.” It should be noted that this quote was not part of the recording with Hurst on Pointe FM and the only statement from him was that the bank did not see any reason to have a meeting.

Last month, PM Browne threatened not to issue a vesting order to allow for the finalisation of the sale of Scotiabank’s Antigua branches to the Republic Financial Holdings Limited of Trinidad and Tobago. In a letter dated December 13, to Scotiabank’s General Manager Suzan Snaggs-Wilson, the prime minister called for a meeting to take place on January 7, 2019 between “the competent authorities of the Bank of Nova Scotia” and “representatives of a consortium, comprising the government and local banks and institutions”.

The letter, which was also copied to the chairman of Republic Financial Holdings Limited, stated that Browne’s “primary concern is to build resilience in the local banking sector and reduce its vulnerability to derisking strategies employed by foreign owned entities that weaken our national capacity to participate in the global financial and trading system effectively.” The same day he issued that letter, the government’s Chief of Staff, Hurst, told the media at the post Cabinet press briefing “a consortium of local banks has signaled that they are sufficiently positioned to acquire the assets of the multinational bank, evidently up for sale.” He also said that the Cabinet agreed that these local banks ought to be given a first option to purchase.