Letters & Opinion

Banking on Persons of the Year!

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

IT’S always a quite difficult task for anyone to choose a Person of the Year that everyone else will agree is worthy of without doubt. But it’s never stopped anyone from making that annual choice.

TIME Magazine used to be the leading selector for millions worldwide, but its very selective global reach hardly goes beyond North American or European borders, to Africa or India or Asia, scarcely even glancing in the direction of the Caribbean and South America.

Newspapers everywhere have traditionally invited readers to choose between selected candidates, or the publication will simply name its own choice — Man, Woman or Child.

I’ve never really made it a habit of selecting one person for ultimate praise over all others, as I also believe that every contribution is worth its utmost — and with so many unsung heroes, we need to strike a balance between those we sing songs of praise and worship with and those we should be singing for.

Same with the annual media Year in Review selections: I don’t usually go with the usual flow because it’s usually a chronological re-hash of the news items of the year from January to December and not necessarily a selection of items that stood out and made a difference during the year just ended.

I read, listened to and viewed some of the 2019 Reviews and most highlighted items had to do with: Saint Lucia’s 40th Independence Anniversary celebrations, Crime and Violence, the National Health Crisis, Unrest at Schools, IMPACS, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader trading accusations and responses, the SLP taking the UWP to task, City Police, Relocation of Castries Market Vendors, the 2019 CARICOM Summit, the Taiwan leader’s visit, the latest Hewanorra Airport rebuilding project, Saint Jude Hospital, the US Hospital Ship, the European Union’s concerns about the OKEU Hospital, the Botham Jean murder trial, the second Ubaldus Raymond saga, the No Confidence Motion, the Richest Caribbean Horse Race – and a host of other things that happened from week to week as the months flew by.

I didn’t see or hear anything, though, that anyone identified or classified as ‘The One Thing That Changed Saint Lucia in 2019.’

Depending on who’s asking and who’s answering, the response could range from a misunderstanding of the question to statements of absolute absurdity – but nonetheless a position to be respected.

One popular seeker of Street Vibes asked Saint Lucians in the last week of the year which news item they remembered most for 2019 and the responses included ‘The rape of the 105 year-old- lady by a young man’ and ‘Relocation of the Vieux Fort dump from next to the St Jude Hospital’.

Most (and nearly all) of the press reviews, however, reflected a patented geographical bias that concentrated on issues related to or happening in and around Castries and Gros Islet, much to the great expense of attention to what’s happening everywhere else here.

Most reports from areas outside ‘The North’ were either related to politics, crime or carnival, but hardly on developmental issues or social factors affecting people and communities.

This patented refusal to seek, find and report news from outside the traditional concentrated sources revolving around political, economic, commercial, financial, criminal, legal and judicial, health, education, cultural and other national issues is reflected daily — and therefore, in the year-end reflections.

Refusing (yet again) to choose a person for observance of having done something worth remembering during the year just ended, I nonetheless allowed myself to conclude, even before the end of December, that I would somewhat depart from my usual stance.

I decided that (subject to something happening before December 31 to change my mind) there was one entity – an entire body and not just somebody — that I would single out as having done something outstanding during 2019 that could and should make Saint Lucians proud.

Asked by a local TV reporter in mid-December what was my choice of ‘something big’ that happened here in 2019 and I responded: ‘The takeover of a foreign bank by a local bank.’

My answer seeming to have surprised or disappointed the questioner, I proceeded to explain why I felt the takeover of the local assets of The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) by the 1stNational Bank was worth remembering, outlining the briefest history I could of: The St. Lucia Cooperative Bank established in the early 19th Century (1938) as the island’s first locally-owned bank that was also better known as ‘The Penny Bank’, its 21st Century transformation to the 1st National Bank in 2005 and the long list of ‘Firsts’ – from ‘The Co-Op Bank’ that first made it possible for ordinary Saint Lucians to open an account with just ‘a penny’ (two cents today), to 1st National Bank being the first to introduce Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) here, to the successor of the ‘Penny Bank’ now buying-out another bank with a longer history of eternal access to more fluid Canadian capital.

I did spend some time explaining my own experience of having to perform transactions on my father’s ‘Penny Bank’ account in the 1960s and identified a few other achievements of 1st National Bank, including its annual Stanley French lecture series that has brought issues to bankers and those banking on banks here, from The Risks of De-risking to Marijuana Banking to the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) being the first and only Central Bank in the world to penetrate the world of digital currencies by establishing the ‘DXCD Caribe’ system that rivals even Bitcoin on the global digital currency stage.

I must admit that the time I took recalling 1st National’s ‘banking firsts’ went way beyond a mere news item and I ended by telling the reporter that while I will not go as far as another Talk Show host and recommend that the Board of Directors of 1st National Bank should take over the Cabinet of Ministers, I did think the fact that it was the first local bank to buy over another bank was, in itself, something all Saint Lucians should feel proud of — whether or not they are shareholders or have an account with 1st National.’

I ended the interview by saying ‘Therefore, after 81 years of unbroken services to all of Saint Lucia, 1st National Bank is my choice as Saint Lucia’s 2019 Bank of the Year’.

The cameraman quietly asked me after switching his machine off: ‘How many shares you have in 1st National?’

I replied ‘None!’ – (which), I (truly) don’t believe he believed, far less if I told him I don’t have an account there, either…

See what I mean by me not banking on naming a Person of the Year for 2019?

Thing is, though, I’m not the only one who concluded that Saint Lucians can bank on 1st National: the judges at the Saint Lucia Business Awards had also signed-off on the same declaration as I did – and it was no joint account, but two separate yet similar declarations that, when it comes to its reputation for valued service to customers and taking decisions in the interest of shareholders, you could take its token of institutional share capital to any bank, anywhere – and bank on it.

Meanwhile, here’s wishing Best of 20-20 Vision to All Saint Lucians in 2020, at home or abroad, no questions asked!

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