Our Bank, Our Money by G.A. Dwyer Astaphan
This history of the St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank is an interesting one. And there are persons in and of this country who’re quite capable of writing that history, a history which I believe needs to be taught to our children at an early age. I believe that knowledge of the history and workings of the Bank, as is the case with the Social Security Board and other institutions, our various historic sites, our economy (in all of its historic, social, economic and political aspects),our architecture, our politics and culture, is at least as important for our children, and, as they grow up, for our nation’s adults, as is knowledge of English, Mathematics, Biology, Information Technology, and so on, because knowledge of our institutions and our history provides us with a better understanding of who we are. It provides us with our best chance of getting the big picture in life, both as individuals and as citizens. Once I’m on the subject of education, let me go off on a bit of a tangent and express the opinion that our education system is not being as productive and successful as it can be. And, as I’ve been advocating for many years, there needs to be a change in approach from the bottom up. Our pre-school and primary school programs ought to focus essentially on the development of elegant, cultured, rounded and balanced individuals. Yes, let’s have basic training in the sciences, mathematics, and the arts, and taught in a way to interest and excite the children; but equally important, we need basic training in character and confidence building, spirituality, culture, social and communication skills, frustration tolerance, conflict resolution, role playing as spouses, parents, etc., survival skills, the right attitude to physical health and fitness and healthy lifestyles, the ability to play chess and other games that encourage thinking and strategy, and a good grounding in civics, entrepreneurship, debating and music ( I believe that every primary and secondary school should have a music laboratory and a band), and in languages ( every one of our children should be fluent in at least three languages by the age of 10, namely, English, Spanish and French, and, as a bonus, maybe Mandarin. So by the time our children reach the age of 11-12, they’re well prepared for what’s to come, both inside and outside the classroom, in the community, in the workplace, in the boardrooms of this country, etc. Imagine what our social, life, our politics, our economic activities, our institutions would be like in and because of an educational environment like that. Imagine how much more dynamic, proactive, creative, productive and professional our Government Boards would be. But we aren’t there, or let me say that we aren’t there yet, and this is why, over the years, we’ve seen inefficient, rubber-stamp, square-pegs-in-round-holes boards and ineffective stakeholders. A case on point, the Bank’s Board of Directors. And coupled with that weak Board, we note that the vast majority of shareholders who attend National Bank general meetings never ask a question. Many never even have a question to ask, far less summoning up the courage to ask one, in a room filled with 200 or more people. Over the years, the majority shareholder, which is the Government of our Federation, has pretty much handpicked all of the persons to serve on the Bank’s Board of Directors. When the Government owned 60% of the Bank’s shares, that was the way it worked, and since the Government’s shareholding was reduced to 51%, that’s the way it still works. In any company, or other organization or group, it’s expected that the majority would have the sway. And that’s okay. But having the sway is not the same as, and should not be equated with, having all of the say. The former is okay, but the latter is not. Those who have the sway must always be respectful of, and sensitive to, the interests and the needs of the minority, whether in life or in companies. The minority must always have a voice. Yet when the Bank holds meetings at which directors are elected, it’s pretty much a formality and a farce because all of the Government’s nominees end up getting appointed. That’s wrong, and for two reasons: (i) it excludes minority shareholder representation; and (ii) it allows the Government to plant its supporters, whether or not such supporters possess the skills required to serve as directors of such an institution. So equity and efficiency suffer. With better constituted Boards comprising both Government nominated directors and minority shareholder-nominated directors, do you think the $3 billion national debt, the $1 billion Government debt to the Bank, the mortgaging of 4,700 acres of the people’s land to collateralize the $1 billion debt, etc., etc., would’ve taken place? I doubt it. And while the Bank’s critical importance to the operations of the Government, and certain sensitivities, are well appreciated, it should never be used to prop up an incompetent, reckless and even corrupt Government. Because that compromises, not only the Bank’s viability, but also its shareholders’ interests, and indeed the interests of the entire citizenry. And the risk of that happening increases with a weak, politically patronized Board of Directors, So now an opportunity has arisen to set things right. On Tuesday, April 21 st , 2015, there’ll be an Extraordinary Meeting of the Bank to elect new directors. Can the Government live with six of the nine spots going to its nominees and the other three held by the minority shareholders? Can it live even with a 7:2 split? Will we see that, or will the Government use its power on the floor and take up all of the nine spots? And will the Government’s nominees be capable and skilled persons, or will we see a continuation of past? God spare my life and health, I hope to be present, just in case good history is about to be made.