By Douglas McIntosh
KINGSTON, Jamaica, (JIS) – The government of Jamaica has no intention of socialising the debt of failed financial institutions, says prime minister, Andrew Holness. He made the declaration while delivering the keynote address at the opening of the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) Investment and Capital Markets Conference on Monday, January 24, where he said that the full force of the law must be brought to bear in the case of alleged multibillion-dollar fraud at Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL).
“The government will not …. socialise the failure of our banks to be prudential and to protect their customers,” he stated. “This would send a very bad signal that individuals or entities can be delinquent in their fiduciary obligations and expect [others] to cover their negligence. That will not happen,” the prime minister stressed.
He argued that if the full force of the law is not applied in matters of this nature, then “our free and competitive financial market, which is what distinguishes Jamaica from other financial markets in the region, will not work.”
“It works when the players and actors know that they must operate at the highest standards of integrity and probity; if not, they will face the consequences of the law. The minister of finance has… announced that the penalty regime for various financial and white collar crimes will be reviewed, making it absolutely clear that those kinds of crimes will not be tolerated,” the prime minister added.
The investigations at SSL are being led by the Financial Investigations Division (FID) and the Fraud Squad, and the assistance of the United States (US) Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has been requested.
The prime minister stressed that those who are responsible must be held to account. He said he has instructed government entities, transacting business with SSL to disclose their connections or association with the securities firm, “so that the public can make their own determination.”
“We want to get to the truth of this matter… to uncover it and to expose it and to bring those responsible to account and secure justice for the victims,” Holness said.
Global dimension of alleged fraud at SSL must be carefully managed
Meanwhile, the government is aware that the case of alleged fraud being investigated at Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL) has a global dimension that must be carefully managed, says prime minister, Holness.
“I’m not aware of any systemic issues in the financial system that could cause contagion but, certainly, if actors in the sector or the common person is misinformed and consumes information that is incorrect, information that is false and misleading, it could impact the way in which economic actors make their financial decisions and create a crisis that does not need to exist,” he noted.
He urged Jamaicans to play their part in safeguarding the country’s financial market, by acting responsibly and not engaging in activities that could potentially jeopardise its integrity.
Holness noted that the market is a national asset and a regional leader in the Caribbean, which gives Jamaica a competitive advantage. He maintained, however, that stakeholder engagement in illicit market activities poses a risk to this credibility and, as such, “we must protect it at all costs”.
Holness said among the steps to this end are the need for persons to ensure that information on issues impacting the sector is verified and emanates from trustworthy sources. He noted queries arising “as to why I didn’t jump out with a statement immediately” in relation to the SSL matter.
“It’s simply because I have a duty that when I speak, the information that I provide must be unassailable… and that means you have to take time to verify [it], so that confidence can be restored,” the prime minister emphasised. He cited individuals who “had a field day” with misinformation related to the SSL matter, noting that “it was almost gleeful celebration”.
“I ask all Jamaicans to think very carefully on these things. Let us protect our national asset that we have […]. We must act responsibly with information. We must learn from our past crises and be bold to speak the truth about them. We must not make the same mistakes we made already,” Holness said.