By Santana Salmon, Caribbean National Weekly
The Antigua and Barbuda government has accused the Eastern Caribbean Amalgamated Bank (ECAB) of engaging in a pattern of frustration to prevent the administration from retaining ordinary shares in the bank.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne, speaking on a radio program, said the ECAB board of directors had given a commitment to allow the government to increase its shares even while negotiations were taking place to acquire Scotiabank Antigua operations.
He told radio listeners if the commitment had not been given, the government would have encouraged the Antigua Commercial Bank (ACB) to buy out the Canadian bank instead.
The government already controls 25 percent of the ECAB, and Browne said “they continue to frustrate the government for years now.
“You would have heard me speak about this issue publicly and they are behaving like they are authorities unto themselves.”
“We were the ones who gave the bank the opportunity to get scaled up, to get Scotiabank branch, to making ECAB the largest bank on the island and between the management and the directorship they continue to treat the government with contempt even though we have made it abundantly clear, and I have spoken to a few of my colleague heads in the region about doing the conversion into ordinary shares and up to this day we cannot get the cooperation (of the bank),” Browne said.
“If we continue to write them and not getting any positive response and when we do get all kinds of isms-and-schisms then we have an obligation to keep the people informed as to what is going on,” Browne said.
ECAB is currently one of the largest indigenous banks in Antigua and Barbuda, and the government with its 25 percent preferential ownership gets the first claim on the distribution of profits but restricts it to voting only on resolutions that directly affect its rights.
Together with ACB which owns 15 percent of ECAB, local shareholders will account for 40 percent of shares and voting power in the institution if the government is successful in acquiring the ordinary shares.
“This is an issue of increasing the Antigua and Barbuda share in the bank and if we felt that there was not the opportunity to increase the Antiguan share then we would have placed those assets into ACB because ACB is owned practically 100 percent by Antiguans and Barbudans,” Browne said.
He said he was again calling on the ECAB chairman, Craig Walter, to stop frustrating “the whole process of the government to increase the shares…and to facilitate the divestment.
“You’ve been given sufficient time and I believe that your actions are deliberate. “I think what they’re trying to do is to increase the retained earnings of the bank so that they can whittle down the shares of the Antigua and Barbuda government,” Browne told radio listeners.
The ECAB has not yet responded to Browne’s statement.