President David Granger: Mr. Wilfred Lee, Honourable Minister of Finance, Mr. Winston Jordan; Honourable Minister of Business, Mr. Dominic Gaskin; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Chairman of Citizens Bank, Mr. Clifford Reis; Managing Director, Mr. Eaton Chester; Director, Mr. Paul Carto; General Manager, Mr. Francis Parris; members of staff; shareholders; members of the Private Sector; invited guests; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen:
I’m not sure which records the Chairman checked but I have my slips and I actually started banking at the Citizens Bank in Maryland in 1995 when I was at the University of Maryland, but I will correct him later. I think he’s trying to get back at me because I saw him in a gown at the Rotary International a few months ago in a choir; well that’s an oxymoron, I mean Gus Lee in choir and I was hoping that he wouldn’t do a solo. [Laughter.]
So when I saw him just now the first thing I asked was, “Are you going to sing?” So some of you might have missed his remarks, but he didn’t sing. Well I think the bank should be happy with the colour because I’m sure every five years there will be a surge in deposits. [Laughter.]
Some friends of mine and of course, the favourite colour of the currency note is green as well.
I was wondering for some time what happened to my source of raisin bread then I discovered that you’ve gone with the lot. Is this where the raisin bread use to be produced? Thirst Park? Okay. I thought I used to buy raisin bread here in the old days, but it used to be good bread then. [Laughter.]
Ladies and gentlemen, we have met this afternoon on a very important matter – that is, the commissioning of Citizens Bank’s new corporate headquarters. It is a happy occasion for me and for the entire country. The bank’s investment is a reaffirmation of its confidence in the country and it is the reassurance of the relevance of the sort of service it can render in the banking sector.
Citizens Bank could correctly as you have heard, be called an indigenous bank by the long lineage of banks initiated by the British Guiana Bank, which was incorporated 180 years ago in November, 1836. That bank as you know, profited from the payment of compensation after the legal abolition of enslavement in 1834 and before the Africans were actually freed in 1838. Of course Africans weren’t compensated, the plantation owners received the compensation so that was the start of our banking system.
As time went by, several foreign multinational banks came into the country during the colonial period and these banks dominated the financial sector up to the time we became a Republic. Those banks served the interests mainly of the mercantile class and the multinational corporations. Those banks served to provide short-term financing for commerce, but showed less interest in long-term financing for agriculture, industry, manufacturing and mortgages.
The new state of Guyana at the time of independence was caught in a dilemma; it was confronted with the challenge of changing the colonial economy by providing the good life for citizens. The government of the day felt that a greater share of the domestic savings could be mobilised not for the benefit of the elite alone but for all classes: for artisans, for workers in factories and offices who needed loans to build their houses, for farmers and fisher folk who needed credit to finance their everyday income generating work, businessmen who needed working capital, for merchants who needed letters of credit and remittance services to pay for their merchandise.
Development financing was required also for large-scale agricultural and industrial purposes. The government of the day, in response to these needs for greater access by a greater number to financial services, launched a number of financial institutions after 1970. These included the Guyana National Cooperative Bank, the Guyana Cooperative Mortgage Finance Bank, the Guyana Agricultural Industrial Co-operative Development Bank and the Guyana Cooperative Insurance Service. During this period we also witnessed the miniaturization, as it was then called, of foreign owned banks, financial inclusion which means of course improving access that individuals and business have to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs was seen as a solution to the challenges facing Guyana’s economic transformation at that time.
Financial inclusion was linked to the ideal of human development; bank financing was critical to the establishment and sustainability of businesses and the improvement of people’s quality of life. Financial services had to be accessible widely across regions and classes and development had to be inclusive.
Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, indigenous banks have a vital role to play in ensuring that financial services become more inclusive. Banks have an obligation to be responsive to the needs of all sectors of society and indigenous banks in particular, have a duty especially to micro and small-scaled enterprises, which traditionally have felt excluded and marginalised from the foreign banking system.
The financial exclusion of large segments of the population from access to banking services creates social exclusion and social exclusion exacerbates poverty and marginalisation. This was the case during the colonial era when banking was perceived to be the preserve of the privileged and the rich.
Citizens Bank was different; Citizens Bank is different. This bank, as you have heard, commenced its operations in 1994 as an arm of Citizens Bank Jamaica and it became fully owned by local companies and shareholders in 1998; it is therefore a member of the third generation of indigenous banks in Guyana. The indigenisation of the commercial banking sector provided greater access to financial services; it promoted the intermediation of funds to the productive sectors; it witnessed the provision of banking services to geographic areas which previously had little or no access to such services; banking services started to become more inclusive.
Today, Guyana’s indigenous banks ought not to try to become clones of foreign commercial banks; they should seek to transform the character of their operations by aligning their services to meet the needs of local businesses, local communities, local entrepreneurs, particularly the micro, small and medium-scale enterprises.
My government supports micro, small and medium-scale enterprises because they provide new employment, they promote innovation and entrepreneurship; they empower marginalised groups; they generate export earnings and they contribute to improved social outcomes such as the reduction of poverty.
Mr. Chairman, Guyana’s indigenous banks are better prepared than others to play a part in the economic transformation of this country. The conduct of Local Government Elections and the establishment of three new capital towns located in the mineral rich hinterland regions last year, created new needs for banking services.
Guyana is fast becoming a ‘green state’ pursuing a low carbon, low emission path to economic development and I congratulate you again on your choice of a colour and your use of energy saving technologies; we will go a stage further next year when I come back.
The ‘green state’ will see the emergence of new economic sectors and the revitalisation of traditional sectors. The ‘green state’ will place greater emphasis on agro-processing, on cottage industries, on eco-educational and eco-tourism services, on energy saving technologies, on information communication technology, on low emission manufacturing, recycling, and solid waste management and sustainable energy development.
Chairman, Guyana’s green agenda provides new opportunities for indigenous banks to diversify their loan portfolios. It will help them to avoid excessive loan concentration in the traditional economic sectors. Guyana’s indigenous banks must lead in financing green projects; projects which are people centered; bottom up process of development.
Guyana’s indigenous banks can make a difference by supporting development particularly of micro, small and medium-scaled enterprises at the community, neighbourhood and household levels.
I am happy to be here this afternoon. I am happy to congratulate Citizens Bank on the commissioning of this impressive edifice, which will house its corporate headquarters. I am happy to be able to continue banking at Citizens Bank.
I look forward to this building becoming a vital nerve centre to bring financial services closer to regions and their residents; particularly those who traditionally have been excluded from the formal banking sector.
Once again Mr. Chairman, congratulations and I thank you very much.