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Stanberry in hot seat as Shaw fires questions about PC banks

Published:Thursday | September 17, 2015 | 12:17 AMEdmond Campbell

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Donovan Stanberry was in the hot seat yesterday during a meeting of a parliamentary oversight committee as he sought to field questions from Opposition Spokesman on Finance Audley Shaw about the beleaguered National People's Cooperative Bank (NPCB).

Shaw wanted to know when Stanberry and Agriculture Minister Derrick Kellier first knew about the irregularities at the NPCB.

Stanberry was attending a meeting of Parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee.

Responding, Stanberry said the ministry received a report a few months ago that there were issues there.

He said a decision was then taken to have a proper audit of the PC banks.

Shaw then asked Stanberry if he had received a letter from the Agricultural Credit Board (ACB) on April 23, this year, highlighting the concerns at the PC banks.

Said Stanberry: “I will not stick out my head on any date because I could not recall that date, sir.”

He later agreed with Shaw that the letter could have been sent to the ministry from the ACB in April.

Quoting from the letter, Shaw said the arrears report of the PC banks showed that loans to committee members amounted to $234.9 million as at February 16, 2015 and $88.3 million, or 38 per cent, represents principal and interest in arrears.

Continuing, Shaw read from the letter stating that the “AC Board’s analysis of non-performing loans showed a movement from $189.6 million in 2010 to $779 million in 2013, an increase of approximately 311 per cent. Impaired loans also moved from $8.5 million in 2010 to $29.1 million in 2013, an increase of about 245 per cent”.

The opposition spokesman wanted to know why the agriculture ministry did not move with urgency to address the problem after being furnished with information on the state of the institution in April.

Stanberry said: “I don’t know that the ministry did not act with urgency. We convened a meeting with the PC bank and the regulators for them to answer what is contained in that letter. The management disputed quite a bit of it and the decision that was taken there and then is that the only way to get to the real picture is to do an independent audit.”

Shaw queried when the audit was commissioned, but Stanberry said he could not provide the timeline at this time.

“Mr Chairman, I really don’t have those dates in my head,” he insisted when pressed by Shaw.

The opposition spokesman also asked Stanberry if he knew whether the registrar of the Department of Co-operatives and Friendly Societies had carried out its threat to deregister the PC banks, effective August 5, 2015.

However, the permanent secretary said he does not involve himself in matters to do with regulations.

“We do not interfere in what the regulator does,” he stressed.

He said the regulatory regime for the PC banks lies within the remit of the ACB and the Department of Cooperatives.

“The PC banks is a private organisation, our role is regulation, as PS and the minister we have no business telling regulators what to do,” he added.

On the question of whether the ACB had given the PC banks a new licence since March this year, Stanberry said, “I don’t know”.

Asked if the ACB had taken over the running of the PC banks, Stanberry again declared: “I am not sure to be frank.”