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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — The Bankers Association of Trinidad and Tobago (BATT) has blanked a call for meeting by Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar to discuss high fees and charges, saying that it is concerned “the misinformation and the hype being generated, unsupported by facts, can have a far reaching and indeed damaging effect on the stability of the financial sector”.

“The fact is bank fees as a percentage of total operating income for all banks ranges from 16 to 17 per cent, not 70 per cent as stated in your letter. In addition, interest spreads in banks are at their lowest levels in over a decade, with mortgage rates at their lowest level in three decades,” BATT said in a letter to the Opposition leader.

Persad Bissessar in a letter to the BATT last week noted the public outcry over the “ever-increasing bank charges and service fees charged throughout Trinidad and Tobago”.

She said the Central Bank governor and the finance minister seemed to have failed in their attempt to use moral suasion to “address the pain citizens are currently experiencing” noting that the banks continue to report high levels of profit despite Central Bank indications that the economy is contracting.

“The bulletin indicates that 2016 was the year of the sharpest contraction of the economy since 1983. Analyses indicate that upwards of seventy per cent of the banks’ income is derived from charges and fees.

“It may appear that in recessionary conditions banks are escalating their charges in order to remain profitable, but one might also conclude that the burden of adjustment for our contracting economy is not being shared in an equitable manner which reflects good corporate responsibility.”

But in its response, the BATT said the information about the financial operations of the banks was available in the very Central Bank publication the Opposition leader referenced, and from the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange where many of its members are listed.

“We are concerned that the misinformation and the hype being generated, unsupported by facts, can have a far reaching and indeed damaging effect on the stability of the financial sector.

“At the end of the day, our banks exist to serve the public’s interest and the confidence our customers have in our individual institutions is a critical component of our continued ability to provide these services.”

BATT said that it was not now able to meet with the Opposition leader and suggested that she revisit the request after the association has met with the Joint Select Committee of Parliament.

“You would be aware that Parliament has appointed a Joint Select Committee (JSC) to enquire into this topic and we have accepted the committee’s invitation to meet to discuss the objectives of the enquiry. A date is still to be confirmed for this meeting. We welcome the opportunity to participate in a process that will result in greater awareness and education on this topic,” BATT added.

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