You probably haven’t heard much about the Capitalization of the National Bank of Belize. It is one of the motions that was passed in the House of Representatives last week and subsequently passed in the Senate yesterday. The project, says GOB will provide an affordable credit system to public officers, teachers and other needy Belizeans. But how would this happen? The Government with $20 million dollars intends to purchase 200,000 shares in the National Bank of Belize. And although the bill was passed, it wasn’t an undemanding one, as there were some concerns from members of Senate, while others favored it. Following the reading of the bill, member from the Business Community Mark Lizarraga was first to speak on the bill.
Mark Lizarraga – Senator, Private Sector:
Mr President, in principle we totally agree with the affordable financing for housing for public officials and officers. We agree to affordable financing for needy Belizeans. All we ask, Mr President, is that policies for loan disbursements be made very clear and public. We ask that the legal process be followed as well as banking principles. Banking principles of equity participation and collateral are key, we believe. We ask this, Mr President, so that the people’s 20 million dollars in equity in this bank can be protected, as is our obligation, and also so that this program can continue to grow and be around at least for the next hundred years, providing more public service personnel and the needy in our country with low-cost financing, especially for such a basic necessity as affordable housing.
Mr President, there is ample history of failure and clemency in public banking. My plea to the Directors then is please do not let us burden the Belizean people with more write-offs, loan ruthlessness, and political handouts. I remind the Directors of this bank that, until we see differently, we believe this bank is intended to be sustainable.
Senator the Hon. Lisa Shoman then verbalized her uneasiness with the proposed endeavor.
Lisa Shoman – Senator, PUP:
When I look at the acronym of this bank, NBBL, it strikes me that it could be very unfortunate, especially if we start thinking that this is the ‘nibble’ bank of Belize and it’s meant for certain people with privileged political connections to start nibbling away at its assets and benefitting in such a way that instead of NBBL, people might start calling it the piñata bank of Belize. Piñata, Mr President when you lick the piñata and you wait for two or three sweets to drop out. That’s the concern, Mr President, that those who are going to be Directors of this bank need not be reminded, but will be reminded, that they have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure that whatever monies or dispersed loans are made, concessionary credits are provided to public officers, teachers, and other needy Belizeans, it is done in a way that is open, transparent, fair, accountable, and non-partisan, so that it is need and not greed that becomes the governing criteria.
The Hon. Joy Grant and Godwin Hulse subsequently defended the bill.
Joy Grant – Senator:
The people of Belize have been overwhelming in their support for the National Bank of Belize. I’m happy to say that, although this was something that was actively being considered, that the union made this the priority, and hense 50% of the funding will be going to public officers and teachers, and the remaining 50% to other Belizeans who meet the criteria. I want to say in response to the Senator from the Business Community, that as the Honourable Prime Minister said, the Bank will operate using the strictest guidelines that exist today for banking. The Bank will start with Mortgage Financing, but intends very shortly to become a full-service Bank. The funding is from Petrocaribe Funds, and this is the first tranche to the Bank, and we hope that because we do stellar work, that additional funds will become available.
Godwin Hulse – Leader of Government Business:
I’m here to tell you that I have a lot of faith in this going forward, and it’s not going to be a piñata bank, if you mean by that it’s going to be whooped and busted. I hope not, ‘cause that’s not going to happen. In fact representations have been made, in my presence, to the Honourable Prime Minister to ensure perhaps that persons in the Public Service, who are members of the union, that they would be considered in some sort of arrangement to ensure that members in the Public Service who are not members of the union would not have advantages over those who are members of the union, after the unions had fought so hard. And I’m here to say to you that the Prime Minister said that is why we put you on the board, and this Cabinet has absolutely no interference in that. Public officers are public officers. It does not matter who they are, they are public officers. Have I missed anything Honourable Minister? Is that not what he said, in the presence of all the union representatives, from the Teachers’’ Union, the PSU, the NTUCB, etcetera. And I have never been known to misquote. Therefore I had even enhanced confidence that this is a good thing. This is a good thing. What it will do is make affordable credit to the people of Belize. The commercial banks have been cajoled, they have been leaned on, they have been coaxed, they have been enticed, they have been waltzed, they have been samba and salsa…please man bring down your rates. You have liquidity. The banks are giving you point something percent or one point something percent but hammering you with twelve and thirteen and fifteen percent still. The spread is too big. You can’t do business with that. I’m a businessman all my life, and I know the high interest rate lick you up!