By Latrishka Thomas
Minister of Information Melford Nicholas and, by extension, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, yesterday responded to comments made by the political leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), Harold Lovell, and former career banker Everett Christian while they were speaking on OBSERVER Radio about the recent Scotiabank negotiations.
Nicholas, in his remarks at the post-Cabinet press briefing, said: “There has been mention in the press of the issues involving Scotiabank and the position the government has taken and I just wanted to say to the public two things: Many persons have become uncomfortable or bit faint-hearted about the very strong approach that the Prime Minister has taken in these matters without reference to the fact that these discussions have become public as a result of the primary actions or the prior actions of Scotiabank.”
He added that the government has conducted many negotiations with many private institutions towards resolution without having to get into a public spat.
According to Minister Nicholas, Lovell and Christian have no legitimacy to speak on the negotiations.
“Now I’ll have to and say that the media has a style, and of course it’s your own determination, but to go to persons with no credibility in the market…what the government is attempting here to do is to prevent bad outcomes, and so, to turn to two persons in particular – and I would like to name Everett Christian and Harold Lovell – as a matter of reference to try and bring rectitude to the government’s actions is unfortunate because I would have to say to you that neither of them has any credibility in this matter….so here we are again at another point of prevention.
“How does Harold Lovell have any credibility in this matter? How does Everett Christian have any credibility in this matter when the last time they had to do some prevention they sat on their bums and did nothing?”
Nicholas added that both Lovell and Christian failed considerably in their respective roles as finance minister and country manager of the Antigua and Barbuda Investment (ABI) Bank.
“They were two members in government and in commerce at that time. Mr. Christian was at the time the General Manager of the Antigua and Barbuda Investment (ABI) Bank and Mr. Lovell was Minister of Finance, and it’s a matter of record that the Central Bank, the ECCB, had raised certain red flags with respect to the position that ABI was in and the position the government of Antigua was in and had asked the minister to do something about it, and they had not done anything. In consequence of the inaction, it was left up to this administration to correct the problem and it has so far cost this administration $300 million,” he added.
Over the past few weeks, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has been in negotiations with Republic Financial Holdings (RFH) over the sale of Scotiabank’s shares of which Everett and Lovell have made their stance on the issue clear to the public.
Lovell in particular, made it clear that he does not agree with the stance taken by the government to gain ownership of Scotiabank at any cost.
Lovell said that Prime Minister Gaston Browne had backed himself into a corner with regard to the sale of Scotiabank Antigua and has been unnecessarily aggressive in his approach such that it prevented meaningful dialogue from being held and which could have redounded to Antigua and Barbuda’s benefit.
Meanwhile, in the briefing, Nicholas sought to clarify comments made by Browne on his radio programme last weekend where he said “if Scotiabank closes their branch here, they have to pay back all the depositors US $500 million, then about US $300 million that they have in loans. It may take them 20 years to collect those loans and I can tell you if they make that kind of decision, I will tell all Antiguans and Barbudans who have mortgages and car loans not to pay them.”
Nicholas said that what the Finance Minister meant is that “when they [Scotiabank] do decide to fold, the matter of what is going to happen with the loans and mortgages that they have outstanding in the market, they are going to be forced to make demands on consumers.
“And all the Prime Minister’s advice was to the public is that in certain circumstances you are also in a position to negotiate not to pay those demands in full, but to get into a negotiation where you can impair those loans and those mortgages to your benefit because those are the consequences of the decision that Scotiabank has taken,” he added.