Lovell says PM has failed to put the people first in Scotiabank negotiations

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The Political Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) Harold Lovell does not agree with the stance taken by the government to gain ownership of Scotiabank at any cost.

In fact, Lovell said, Prime Minister Gaston Browne has painted himself into a corner with regard to the sale of Scotiabank Antigua and believes that Browne’s approach to the matter was, from the very beginning, misguided and unnecessarily aggressive such that it prevented meaningful dialogue from being held and which could have redounded to Antigua and Barbuda’s benefit.

 “I do not believe that there is any one way to negotiate, there’s no one way to be aggressive and there’s no one way you should be soft. You have to be effective and sometimes they say honey is better than vinegar to achieve what you want to achieve. Sometimes you have to be aggressive, but what the Prime Minister has done … is really for the benefit of his ego and not for the benefit of the people of Antigua and Barbuda,” Lovell said.

“And because of that he has ended up with a lose-lose situation where the Bank of Nova Scotia, they have threatened to close the bank if the government refuses to issue the vesting order. At the same time Republic Financial Holdings do not appear to have any appetite to do business with the Gaston Browne administration,” he added.

Furthermore, Lovell said that the transaction between Scotiabank and Republic Financial Holdings of Trinidad & Tobago was fully legal and in line with what has been agreed within the context of both CARICOM and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

“Republic Financial Holdings is a Trinidad based company; it comes under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy [CSME] and it is covered by the Treaty of Chaguaramas. Because of this, we had an opportunity to negotiate a solid partnership. Antigua and Barbuda is largest market for Scotiabank in the OECS, to the best of my information. It was an opportunity for Antigua and Barbuda to move to the head of the class, for us to position ourselves so that we could provide ancillary services to the head office in Trinidad. We are well placed geographically. We are well placed in terms of the telecommunications set up and we would have been ideal for a proper partnership arrangement,” the former finance minister added.

Lovell was commenting on the Prime Minister Browne’s recent letter to a senior official of Scotiabank in Canada, in which he lamented that Republic Bank had suddenly terminated talks with the government of Antigua and Barbuda about a possible joint purchase of the Scotiabank operations which Browne had previously proposed.

The Prime Minister had previously reported that progress was being made on that front, but his letter last Thursday disclosed that Republic had indicated it intended to go it alone with the purchase.

Lovell continued, saying that even though Browne had succeeded in getting Scotiabank to sell to local interests, there was no guarantee that this would have resulted in better international correspondent banking relationships.

He said this is because Antigua and Barbuda might purchase Scotiabank’s assets and operations, but that did not guarantee access to its connections, and Scotiabank would certainly not be selling its branding.       

“So, all in all, we are now stuck in a situation where he is left with egg on his face if he issues a vesting order, then he would see that he has to climb down which would be a national embarrassment. But if he doesn’t issue the vesting order he is going to be placing hundreds of jobs at risk. And this argument about corresponding banking relations, that if he were to get Scotiabank then automatically, they would then have access to Scotia’s international network of banks and contacts, that is utter foolishness.

“That is something that will have to be negotiated separately with Scotiabank and he has not created the climate for negotiation. What he has done, he has poisoned the well and by poisoning the well you don’t get any results at all,” the UPP leader concluded.

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