The Cable

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — Following widespread criticism by legislators in recent weeks on bank fees and other charges, the Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT) said while it welcomes discussions on the issue, they should be done in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

The bankers said that consideration must also be given to the negative perception and damaging effects the remarks can have on an industry which employs over 10,000 Trinidad and Tobago citizens, represents over 15 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and which provides services to close to one million citizens.

“Many of our members have operated in Trinidad and Tobago for decades and have played an important role in the development of our twin island nation since its independence in 1962. The banks have helped millions of citizens save for their retirement, own their first home, open their first small business and generally realise their dreams and aspirations.

“Indeed our members have also supported various government entities and the sovereign itself in raising funds to support the direct development of critical state projects since independence,” BATT said in a statement, adding that a functioning and vibrant financial services industry is critical to the future development and stability of Trinidad and Tobago, especially as the country grapples with the current negative economic environment.

Last week, independent legislator, Ian Roach, called on the Trinidad and Tobago government to deal with high bank changers and interest rates.

Roach, speaking on the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA) Tax Information Exchange Agreements, said he was making particular reference to the charges and interest rates imposed on consumers by the banks, noting that any ordinary citizen would consider the financial institutions in T&T ”to be institutional bandits, financial extortionists and conscienceless, as they unilaterally impose any and all types of bank charges in addition to the already outrageous level of interest rates.”

Roach said the government “can and should once and for all deal with this systemic cancer of interest rates and bank charges by the introducing a bill to either fortify the minister of finance powers under the Central Bank Act, or intervene in such a way to give the minister new powers that can effectively reign in these runaway ravenous horses that are the banks.”

Leader of the Opposition Business in the Senate, Wade Mark accused of BATT of trying to dictate how parliament conducts its business.

“They are totally out of place. Who is the Bankers Association…Amcham (American Chamber of Commerce) and the Chamber of Industry and Commerce to come and tell us that we do not need a Joint Select Committee?

“We could tell them when they want to gouge out of the eyes of people when they increase prices, that they shouldn’t do it?” he asked.

We tell them that but they don’t listen. You think we could go and tell BATT, the crim.., — I go to say criminal but you (the Senate President) might say is a wrong word — the almost unpardonable, indefensible increases in bank charges, we could go and tell the Bankers Association that they could pull back those bank fees and charges?” Mark told legislators.

In the statement, BATT said that it “categorically rejects the suggestion of artificial market control practices over the provision of services in a competitive and open market. This suggestion runs counter to free market principles and the guidelines of business conduct, which all of our members comply with”.

The bankers urged clients who may have questions regarding the services provided to them to meet with their individual bank representatives to review all aspects of these products or services, in order to determine the services that best suit them.

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