General — 15 May 2012 — by Adele Ramos

The Belize Bank has a 110-year history, dating back to the founding of the Bank of British Honduras in 1902, and this past weekend, it celebrated its 25th anniversary as The Belize Bank at a gala event held Friday night in Belize City. The main speaker for the event was Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dean Barrow—an interesting development against the backdrop of a string of litigations that had ensued between the bank and the Barrow administration since 2008. Barrow, in his address, called for “a new beginning.”

Since 2008, there have been several rounds of legal skirmishes between the Central Bank and the Belize Bank, over the return of the US$10 million Venezuelan grant funds reclaimed by the Barrow administration during its first term of office, as well as the Central Bank’s directive for the bank to give full account of how another US$10 million, gifted to Government by Taiwan, was distributed.

Most recently, in 2011, the Central Bank and the Belize Bank had differences over the treatment of $7.4 million in its accounts for a prohibited share transaction via the parent company, BCB Holdings Limited.

Also in 2011, there was a dispute between the Central Bank and the Belize Bank over transactions with its Turks and Caicos affiliate, which were classified as parallel banking transactions.

Early in his remarks, Prime Minister Barrow noted the economic importance of the bank, saying “the Belize Bank has been perhaps the major source of financing for the productive sector in this nation, and it currently represents some 40% of the banking system.”

The bank reported a major financial setback in 2011 – a loss of $33 million, the biggest in the bank’s history; however, the bank remained optimistic.

“One year of bad performance is not going to jeopardize the future of a bank; what is important is performance trends over a period of time. The continuation or arrest of a bad performance trend will be determined by how aggressive the bank management is in addressing the situation — what managerial action and administrative corrective measures it takes to address the high levels of non-performing loans,” Deputy Group Chief Financial Officer of the Belize Bank, Michael Coye, told Amandala last June.

Barrow also demonstrated an optimistic spirit at Friday’s event – optimistic not only about a positive future for the bank, but furthermore, for better relations between the bank and the financial regulator, the Central Bank.

“It must be with a sense of great satisfaction, then, that the management, staff and clients of this bank look back at its long past, and look forward to its even longer future,” said Barrow. “But pride of place in the financial system of Belize as the country’s largest and oldest bank, also carries a heavy responsibility.”

He said that the bank should set an example in the best traditions of banking.

The Prime Minister noted the desire of the state “to see an ordered and mutually supportive relationship” between the financial regulator and the banks.

“It is no secret, though, that in this regard confrontation rather than cooperation has been, in at least one case, too much the Belizean norm in recent times,” he commented. “This is discomfiting all around and a large dose of shared goodwill is now required to address the problem.”

“…Now nobody is naive enough to expect that the regulatory relationship will never turn adversarial. But the occasions when this happens must be the exception rather than the rule. And a financial system cannot function properly in a climate of unceasing litigation. A way must, therefore, be found out of this thicket, this briar patch.”

Barrow also asserted: “The fact is that the regulator has a job to do, and is given financial oversight 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 required.”

He appealed: “It must be clear by now that I am asking for some sort of middle ground between commercial banks and the regulator, and striking the right balance is not nearly as Jesuitical an exercise as might first appear. If the ultimate authority of the Central Bank is respected, and the Central Bank in turn is realistic and flexible, a via media [Latin for ‘middle way or course’] can indeed be found. Government, as the ultimate custodian of the public welfare, is—needless to say—ready to help. So I declare tonight to the Belize Bank that we fully expect it to partner with us, to use its leadership role, its ingenuity and its resources, to help find a way out of the impasse.”

Barrow then said that he was looking to “a new beginning.”

On the occasion of its 25th anniversary, the Belize Bank is undertaking a comprehensive rebranding exercise. In a statement to the press, it says, “Beginning today, the Belize Bank Limited introduces a new look, complete with a redesigned logo and tagline: The Belize Bank Limited – Our Country. Your Bank.”

It added that, “In line with the bank’s strategic objectives, the bank’s goal is ‘to be the pre-eminent financial services provider in Central America and the Caribbean’, and in order to achieve this status of preeminence the bank will ‘maximize value for individuals and businesses locally and internationally by providing quality and innovative financial services, nurturing long-lasting relationships and delivering superior customer service’.”

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