UPP leader concerned over gov’t efforts to gain more control of ECAB

The content originally appeared on: Antigua News Room

OBSERVER: Leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP) Harold Lovell has given Prime Minister Gaston Browne a failing grade for the “unacceptable” manner he has been dealing with the ECAB shares conversion saga.

Last week, PM Browne blasted the directors at the regional bank, claiming they were dragging their feet on allowing the government to attain ordinary shares in the financial institution.

Government has 25 percent preferential ownership in ECAB and gets the first claim on the distribution of profits, but it is restricted to voting only on resolutions that directly affect its rights.

More than three years ago, the government wrote to ECAB’s board of directors asking to convert its shares to ordinary shares, which would allow the government to claim full voting rights in key decision-making processes.

But that has still not happened, delaying the government’s intentions to sell citizens some of its ownership in the local bank.

Together with ACB, which owns 15 percent of ECAB, local shareholders will account for 40 percent of shares, and voting power in the institution, if the government is successful in acquiring the ordinary shares.

However, Lovell said Browne’s handling of the matter is inappropriate.

“The way in which he has accosted the board is unacceptable. You don’t do that as a prime minister,” the UPP leader said.

He also expressed concern that PM Browne is pushing to gain more control of the bank.

Lovell, a former finance minister, said the banking sector should be protected at all costs so as to prevent any possible corruption or collapse.

“A bank is the only business where the stock does not belong to the owner. It’s somebody else’s stock and you need responsible management of that stock,” he said.

“We have seen banks go down because you have governments which are broke and will be tempted to simply call up and say ‘I need 10 million dollars and you must send it to me’. And that type of pressure that we have seen the prime minister exert now, you can imagine what will happen down the road when the government needs money.

“We have to be very careful because we have to look about the interest of depositors. Your money is in there and you need responsible management of that money and what will eventually happen is that the government, yes, will be in a position of control but can we trust the Gaston Browne government to simply allow the bank to be run in a professional way or will there be the temptation to say ‘we need money, give us money and if you don’t, we will pressure you until you do’?

“That’s a very dangerous situation,” Lovell added.