RESPONDING TO THE CRITICS ON THE BANK OF THE BAHAMAS
viagra sales buy cialis times;”>Last week, prostate the Comment of the Week drew a furious response from a number of commentators. The thrust of the response was that the Bank of The Bahamas and its situation could not be compared to Scotiabank and the other Banks owned exclusively by private shareholders as we argued last week. The critics argued that the reason the Bank of The Bahamas was in trouble was because the Bank was politically run and that loans had been given not on their commercial merit and value but on the strength of political connections. The other distinction they argued is that the statutory exercise of the powers of the Central Bank used to save Commonwealth Bank when they ran into liquidity problems in the 1990s cannot be seen in the same light as the recent problems with the Bank of The Bahamas.
One went so far as to say that Fred Mitchell, the Member of Parliament, who has been publicly leading the fight on the issue is embarrassing himself by making those arguments.
We disagree entirely.
Let us start with the argument about the exercise of the powers of the Central Bank to bail Commonwealth Bank out of its problems. The Central Bank Governor at the time James Smith could have said we will not help. You got yourself in the mess, so you get yourself out of it. They could have let the Bank sink. A decision was taken however that because of the problem of contagion in the economy, the knock on effects, the Bank had to be saved. A bank is not a private institution notwithstanding the fact of private shareholders and ownership. The banks are public institutions in the sense that they are at the very centre and nerve of the ability of commerce to continue in our economy. When a bank goes under, there can be serious disruption in the economy, not to mention adverse credit implications overseas for the country itself. It was a mistake to allow Gulf Union Bank to go under.
The decision to save Commonwealth Bank therefore was an economic one but it was also a political one because imagine the disaster for a Government if Commonwealth Bank had gone under during Hubert Ingraham’s term.
Now to the Bank of the Bahamas. The loans granted to the companies were granted on business plans. Those plans looked feasible in economic terms. Plans often do. If you remember the days when Atlantis had just come on-stream, the feeling in this country was that money could never done. Anything people put their hands on was turning to gold. Proposals were analyzed in that light and bankers are just as much victims to the psychology of the market as anyone else. The Canadian Banks like CIBC, Finco, RBC and Scotiabank are all suffering today because they pushed credit through the system
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. It made the numbers look good. They made great profits. What they did not count on or remember is the story of Joseph in the Bible: the seven lean years and the seven years of plenty. Life no matter what we think is cyclical and there will be a down turn, the answer is only when.
That when came about in 2008. The loans went south along with the economy. That did not just affect the Bank of The Bahamas but every Bank in this country with the exception of Commonwealth Bank that specializes in consumer loans to customers at exorbitant rates. Everyone has taken a hit and all are continuing to suffer.
The conventional wisdom was that the Canadian Banks had weathered the worst of it, because they took the provisioning early and they were back on the mend paying dividends. Turns out that is not the case and further provisioning has been announced over the past months and Finco says it will stop paying dividends. The Bank of the Bahamas is in that crowd of other banks, no more no less.
The Board that made the loans complained of, was appointed under the FNM. The Board appointed under the PLP made one mistake only and that is rather than letting go, they decided to try and work without help to keep the borrowers projects alive and also to save the bank. That may have been a misjudgment because on strict banking terms they should have let the projects go earlier. However, management is discretionary and if it had worked they would have been heroes.
People keep saying who should be fired for this. The entire Board under the FNM is now gone. The two persons on the Board appointed by the PLP who tried to save the loans are also now gone. The man responsible for credit decisions is now gone, although none of this was their fault. The Managing Director who people want to go had no role in credit decisions. The moves now announced by the Central Bank and the monies put into the Bank by the government should help to save it.
From a public policy point of view, the issue is again contagion. If this Bank goes under what will be the knock on effects on the bank.
To those critics who have plenty to say, we have a couple of words of advice. Sometimes as smart as you are, it really is better strategically to keep quiet. No one needs to know how smart you are on every subject and particularly when it involves allies of yours. Strategically say nothing. The party line on this one is the bank needs to be saved and we cannot create a psychological climate where people think that the Bank is going to go under. Talking bad about the bank can undermine its reputation and cause a run on the bank which will create worst problems. That is what P J Patterson faced when the housing bubble in Jamaica burst. Mama used to say: you tell some and keep some. The critics can share their concerns but leave those concerns in the private domain. The Bank must be saved.
Secondly, the Bank of the Bahamas must be given credit as the only Bank in the country that tried to help Bahamian entrepreneurs, as close as we have come to a venture capital Bank. Not a good thing in economic terms but sound public policy given the paucity of alternatives available from Canadian capital. Interestingly enough the Canadian Banks are now blaming the Bahamian credit managers for pushing the credit and causing today’s problems when in fact it was the Canadians who pushed the Bahamians to give out loose money.
Bottom line: there is plenty of blame all around on all fronts. The fact is the Bank of the Bahamas is no different from the issues which face the privately owned Banks: it’s the economy stupid. We stand by that and no we are not embarrassed at all to say so.
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