By Chester Cooper MP
PLP Deputy Leader, Shadow Minister of Finance
The closure of Scotiabank branches on the Family Islands will deal a serious blow to the economies of Abaco, Andros, Exuma and Long Island, which are already struggling greatly from the effects of the pandemic and the harsh economic recession.
This move is most disappointing to the loyal customers and residents of these islands that have used the services of this institution for decades.
The people of Exuma have consistently complained of the dwindling level of services of banks there, particularly after Bank of The Bahamas closed its branch in 2017. On Exuma, the move will impact many businesses, tourists, workers at Sandals, government employees, pensioners, churches and others. It will be near to impossible to keep the ATMs properly stocked with cash. It will also hamper attempts to deposit cash, posing a safety risk to business owners.
The vast majority of Family Islanders cannot afford or risk travelling to Nassau for their banking needs.
It is even more of a logistical nightmare considering the reduced operating hours of banks on New Providence and the ever-shifting travel protocols for inter-island travel under the state of emergency that apparently has no foreseeable end.
The idea that their new model can replace traditional banks on islands is unrealistic.This is not a serious alternative to meet the needs of the people in these communities.
In summary, adequate banking is essential to commerce, orderly family island growth and development and our way of life.
I implore the government to immediately engage the bank in discussions to delay or cancel this move.
Comments in the press by the minister of finance today indicate that the current administration has already thrown in the towel in this regard.
They must not give up so easily.
The Sand Dollar is not yet ready to replace traditional cash transactions.
The government must also move to reopen the Bank of the Bahamas branch on Exuma and expand the bank’s satellite network throughout our Family Islands.
By doing nothing, we are leaving thousands of Bahamians essentially unbanked and at an extreme disadvantage in terms of economic viability and growth.
These developments cannot be left as is as we witness the further erosion of the financial capacity of our Family Islands.
The laissez faire, hands-off attitude of this administration with regard to the stripping away of banking services on our Family Islands, and, in fact, all our islands, is intolerable.
The government should stand in the gap for its people.
To continue to do nothing is not acceptable.