Premier and Minister for Finance, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith is downplaying the fact that Scotiabank informed him early of their plans to close their Virgin Gorda branch. In response, Hon. Smith explained that he was assured that the bank was going to provide lingering services.
The impending closure of Scotiabank was described as disastrous for Virgin Gorda, and the mention that Premier Smith was told in advance about the bank’s decision was made by Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Andrew Fahie, during the Private Members’ business segment of the House of Assembly on July 10.
Hon. Fahie in response to Ninth District Representative, Dr. the Hon. Hubert O’Neal’s comments about the bank situation, disclosed that he also had a conversation with management of Scotiabank, who informed him that their decision was not sudden.
The Leader of the Opposition announced, “For the record, I too met with the officials of Scotiabank and I was told by the officials that the Premier knew about the bank pulling out of there for quite a while. He would have to tell us that he didn’t know, but that’s what I was told.”
“We are now in a reactive rather than a proactive mode; again, who’s going to pay for this – the people. We have to be proactive when these kinds of things come to our attention,” Hon. Fahie added.
Premier Smith on the other hand did not deny that he was told about the bank’s plans to close, but explained that certain contingencies were mentioned.
“We are aware of the banking situation, we did have discussions -- myself in my office and also the Financial Services Commission members held discussions with the banks after we were informed that they were intending to close.”
Hon. Smith said that several discussions were had with the bank, which resulted in mentions that things would be left to ensure that the community was not totally without services.
“We understood that the bank would be leaving ATM machine in position…We have also had discussions with other banks about the possibility of providing the service of banking service,” the Premier noted.
The decision by Scotiabank to close its Virgin Gorda branch was described by Hon. O’Neal as a crisis. He said that Scotia was one of two banks that offered services to the Virgin Gorda community. Hon. O’Neal noted that the other bank previously closed its doors and now Scotia’s closure means no banks will be left on the island.
Hon. O’Neal said that he was told by Scotiabank officials that operating on Virgin Gorda was not profitable, since major companies on the island either utilize the services of the Road Town Scotiabank or international services.
The Ninth District Representative said that he has reached out to the National Bank of the Virgin Islands (NBVI), which responded favorably to the call to open a Virgin Gorda branch. However, the District Representative admitted the NBVI will not be able to just open tomorrow and that the bank will have to follow a process before its services can be offered on the island.
Hon. O’Neal also criticized comments he said were made by “an opponent” of his, claiming that NBVI was not an effective choice, since the bank does not offer services such as wire transfers and ATMs.
In response, Hon. O’Neal stated that something was better than nothing. He also said that he had a discussion with Banco Popular on opening a branch in Virgin Gorda, but explained “banks talk to each other.”
In noting the issues the closure of Scotia pose, the District Representative said that now residents will need to absorb travel costs to do their banking, and that businesses that usually secure their money at the bank have security concerns now that criminals are aware there is no bank on the island.
Nonetheless, the District Representative said that he is hoping to have a town hall meeting on the banking situation by early next week, and is hoping Premier Smith would accompany him to address the concerns his constituency has on the matter.
Hon. O’Neal said that he made two previous attempts to have the meeting, but factors beyond his control prevented the event from taking place.