If you felt the ground shake on Friday night, that is because there is a major shift in relations between the government and Lord Michael Ashcroft. Ashcroft, the man who has been at the epicenter of an open war by the government in the past three years and in endless litigation in local and overseas courts, was in Belize last week. The occasion was a celebration to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Belize Bank. The guests assembled at the Radisson Hotel and the Prime Minister delivered the keynote address and unveiled the new logo and tagline for the Bank. There, came the first public statement by Prime Minister Dean Barrow in respect of the Ashcroft’s group of companies. In a well crafted address on the ongoing Central Bank dispute with the Belize Bank, the PM signaled that cooperation not confrontation was the way forward. Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow states that “Of course the one and only Michael Ashcroft. I am happy to have been asked to make some brief marks on this occasion celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Belize Bank. That first step of course ramified and led later to the establishment of Belize Bank Group of Companies. But one must also add to this the fact that the Belize Bank has been perhaps the major source of financing for the productive sector in this nation. And, of course, it currently represents some forty percent of the banking system. In 1912, it became part of the Royal Bank of Canada operating as the local branch of this multinational until 1987 when it was bought by the current owners and rebadged as they Belize Bank. I could tell a story about the way the acquisition transpired, but Lord Ashcroft I shall hold my tongue. I shall keep that particular secret. Not that it’s anything that you don’t have every reason to be proud of, still. The state would want to see an ordered and mutually supportive relationship between the financial system players and the financial system regulators. It is no secret though that in this regard, confrontation rather than cooperation has been too much the norm in recent times. This is discomforting all ‘round and a large dose of shared goodwill is now required to address the public. The fact is that the regulator has a job to do and is given financial oversight and authority by the laws of the land. On the other hand; that authority should never be exercised in a bull in a china shop fashion. Sensitivity as well as firmness is what is required. Now nobody is naive enough to expect that the regulatory relationship will never turn adversarial, but the occasions when this happen must be exception rather than rule. And a financial system cannot function properly in a climate of unceasing litigation.” To end that climate of unceasing litigation, the PM offered an olive branch to work with the Belize Bank, and by extension Lord Ashcroft. PM Dean Barrow further stated that “I declare to the Belize Bank tonight that we fully expect it to partner with us to use its leadership role, its ingenuity and its resources to help find the way out of the impasse. And that is the note on which I close—congratulating the bank once again as we look to a new beginning that will signal its continuing success and the expansion of its large and we hope always positive footprint.” Lyndon Guiseppi, Executive Chairman, Belize Bank addressed PM. “Honorable Prime Minister, I thought I heard the extension of an olive branch and I am one of those who believe that people should never stop speaking. I think a lot of problems in the world occur when people stop talking. And what I heard this evening is extremely encouraging to me because as a banker, as someone who has worked in the Caribbean for the past twenty years, I see tremendous opportunities in Belize, but some of these opportunities go abated because of the distraction of having to deal with what I consider important, but non-banking issues. And if perhaps we can really agree to some truce, I certainly express my commitment this evening to you, to the Government of Belize and to the Central Bank that I am prepared to work night and day to do whatever it takes to put not only Belize Bank, but financial services sector on a firm financial footing so that this economy, Belize, can in fact materialize the potential that I see. I tell a story that I’ve worked in Belize for the past twelve years. A lot of people don’t know that, but I’ve worked in Belize twelve years. And during the formative years of working in Belize—from 1998 to 2003, 2004—along with my other colleagues: Felipo and other colleagues in the banking sector in Trinidad and the wider Caribbean; we were able to raise in excess of three hundred and fifty million U.S. dollars for various projects in Belize. Now we can debate whether or not the resources were applied in a judicious manner and what they were applied to do. The simple point I am making is that with the right commitment, with collaboration, we can replicate what was done between 1998 and 2003. And I think what I heard this evening certainly encourages me and I just simply would like to reiterate my commitment to do whatever is necessary to kick-start that process Mister PM.” The Prime Minister and the Executive Chairman of the Belize Bank unveiled the new Belize Bank logo on what should also be a new day of partnership with the PM and Lord Ashcroft. for full details on the story click here.
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