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May I thank you first of all for your invitation to share this important 72nd Annual Banquet and Awards Dinner with you.  It is indeed a special occasion, not least of all because there are not a large number of organizations; particularly people-based organizations, such as the credit unions are which can boast this longevity.


To be fair one of our major trade unions, the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and one of our major political parties, the People’s National Party is celebrating 75 years this year since their establishment and the Jamaica Labour Party will turn 72 in November of this year.  Of course, the farmers  association_ the JAS, the Jamaica Agriculture Society _is much older, having been founded towards the end of the 19th Century, so you are not alone in terms of age.

Professor Trevor Munroe, Executive Director, NIA and Guest Speaker of the Jamaica Cooperative Credit Union League 72nd annual general meeting presenting the Credit Union of the Year trophy to Joan Garfield, General Manager, NCB Employees Credit Union.

 And each of these organisations in their own distinctive ways have made their contribution to Jamaica’s development over the years. However, as many of us who are getting on in age , and may not yet have even touched 3 score year and 10, will soon discover _quality of life is as, if not more important than longevity.

Here the credit unions and the Credit Union Movement stands absolutely alone and has no match whatsoever in the quality of its achievements and  in outstanding contributions, which remarkably, seem to grow more outstanding with advancing age.  Let us recall, on this celebratory occasion, a few elements of this remarkable life:

  • While others of comparable age, in their fifties, sixties and now seventies have begun to decline, lose confidence of our people and shed membership, the Jamaican Credit Union Movement more than doubled its membership between 1995 and 2010 (while of course, very wisely, there were consolidations and mergers during this period).

  • You should know that in your seventies this membership base puts you in the top ten of 100 countries around the world where credit unions operate, in terms of the percentage of credit union members in the economically active population.

  • Your savings have grown ten-fold reflecting the confidence of our people in your institutions.

  • Your loans to members have grown eight or nine times over, similarly, your assets.

  • Perhaps most important of all, according to the last date I have seen (2004), 80 per cent of your members/savers were in the $20,000 to $40,000 income bracket.

  • While average share of credit unions in the total deposits of financial intermediaries in Jamaica between 1986 to 2002 was four percent, in 2008 December, the loans and advances which you were making amounted to nine percent of all financial intermediaries.

On any assessment this is a truly outstanding record of performance especially considering where you began, your humble and inauspicious birth.  It was on September 12, 1941_without show and fanfare_ that the first credit union was formed in Jamaica, with fourteen members, with shares totaling US Dollars 1.87, but operating under the insightful motto “Not for Charity, Not for Profit, but for Service”.  And what a service you have performed!

Looking back, I know you will join me in giving thanks to the extraordinary vision, the exceptional compassion and the sustained work of literally the founding father, Father John Sullivan, a Boston Jesuit Catholic priest who came to Jamaica in 1939 , was attached for some two decades to my old school, St. George’s College, saw the condition of the poor and decided that their needs could not be met so much by the‘ hand out’ through charity but moreso through the ‘ help up’ of coming together in the credit union, helping the people to help themselves rather than to depend on ‘massa’ or on mama.

You should also pay tribute to Roy Lindo, who as owner of J. Wray and Nephew, where I once had the privilege of representing the workers, he was the first owner of a major business enterprise who consented to Father Sullivan’s request to establish a credit union to serve clerical and ancilliary workers at the company.  So you could well be excused if your theme for this convention, Annual General Meeting and banquet was “Reviewing, Recalling and Celebrating Seventy Years of Achievement”.

But no, you have chosen as your theme “Renewed. Repositioned. Shaping a Movement for the Future”.  By that choice, YOU the leadership of the JCCUL  have shunned complacency and focused on the imperative of ongoing transformation of the Jamaica Cooperative Credit Union League and by extension the Credit Union Movement.  May I warmly congratulate you for this perspective.

I do so because we meet at a time of deep crisis_ globally, in our region and in our beloved Jamaica. This crisis, elsewhere abroad and here at home, now presents an absolute necessity, indeed a golden opportunity, for transformation_ each of us at the personal level, in our respective households, in our communities, in our professions and occupations, in our businesses – micro, small, medium and large, – in our various organizations whether political, civic, or private sector, in our various financial undertakings and institutions to acknowledge that it cannot be business as usual, that we have to transform to fully utilize the God given talents with which Jamaicans are more blessed than perhaps any other people, to achieve the levels of human development of which we are capable.

How can it be that we Jamaicans with our awesome capabilities_ achieving universal adult suffrage twenty years before the US, ahead of mature democracies like Canada and the UK in the freedom of our press, in the top 10% globally in terms of credit union membership as a per cent of the economically active population_ how  can we rank way down the line, at number 85 of 186 countries dropping two places between 2011 and 2012 in terms of human development globally?  And if you don’t think that we are in a deep crises check these facts:

  • For forty years we have grown at less than one percent per annum in per capita GDP;

  • Our per capita GDP now is the same as it was forty years ago, while, as the Minister of Finance reminded us, our debt to GDP has grown seven times, that is 700 percent; it was eighteen percent in 1973, today it is over 130 percent;

And if you still don’t think we are in a crisis check the facts that in just 152 schools covered by the Safe Schools Programme in 2012, 431 knives, 15 machetes, 46 ice picks, 486 pairs of scissors and 208 other weapons were seized.  One Thousand Two Hundred and Eighty Eight incidents were reported, which included three murders, 915 fights, 116 cases of theft, 22 cases of robbery and 52 cases of wounding.

The actions taken by the police include 201 arrests in these 152 schools covered, and please remember that there are over 900 public schools that were not covered.  And we could go on_ and each of you here could as well_  identifying the manifestation of the crises. But that would hardly be helpful nor is my purpose to depress. Rather it is to dramatise, to make absolutely clear that we cannot continue as we are, that we need to transform to get out of the on-going crisis.

You members of the Credit Union Movement, perhaps more than any other movement in Jamaica, should in no way be despondent at the crisis but encouraged and energized by the opportunity it presents for transformation.

Why so? Because your movement was born in the very cradle of crises; your founding fathers grasped the opportunity out of the adversity of the last time Jamaica experienced a crises of a depth similar to the present, that is, the crises of 1938 and 1944.  This was the time when Jamaicans could have lost hope, when your founding fathers and mothers could have thrown their hands up in the air in helplessness; – it is hard to imagine what a man or woman, whose average wage, at the time, was one pound or ten US Dollars a week could do to avoid a sense of hopelessness.

Instead, our people led by the workers and small farmers and unemployed decided to challenge this unacceptable state of affairs and the best of them, those fourteen who formed the Solidarity Credit Union came forward “Not for Charity, Not for Profit, but for Service”.  Seventy Two years later you are challenged to take this motto to heart as you review,  reposition and seek to shape the movement for the future.  In meeting this challenge I suggest that  you can and urgently need to significantly expand your role in four areas:

  • Allowing the poor and rural communities and, indeed , increasingly the middle class, greater access to financial services;

  • Enlargening domestic savings mobilization;

  • Increasing lending to micro, medium and small enterprises;

  • Fostering community development.

Let me say a word about increased domestic savings mobilization and enhancing lending to small and micro enterprises.  The World Development Indicators 2013, published by the World Bank, tell us that Jamaica’s Gross Savings as a percentage of GDP in 2011 was a little over eight percent.  The global average was over nineteen percent and for middle income countries, to which Jamaica belongs, about thirty percent.

There is clearly a huge need to mobilize more savings, to consume less of what we earn, to use what we borrow to grow our house-hold and national economy.  Yet, what do we find in 2012, the commercial banks loaned over 135 Billion dollars for consumption and guess how much for agriculture, one of the foundations to grow ourselves out of this crises, 6.1 Billion Dollars.  And we spent over 225 Million US Dollars on importing passenger motor cars.

In renewing, repositioning and shaping the movement for the future, you cannot be part of a process which encourages ‘ champaigne’ living on ‘ red stripe’ earnings.  Indeed your mobilization and use of savings has been quite different, happily, from that of other financial intermediaries.  Certainly in the study which I have seen you transferred to the real sector over 68 percent of your funds compared to 36 percent in the commercial banks.

I urge you to strengthen this trend of loans for purposes improving the level of education,  training and skill-enhancement of your members. Jamaica must move beyond a situation where only 25 % of our labour force is certified and where productivity has been declining at over 1% per annum for 40 years! In this transformation, your loans can play a critical role. So too in providing, at reasonable rates, support to micro and small enterprises so that they may grow competitively and so that they may better  provide decent work for the record numbers _ particularly of young people_ who urgently need to have hope restored in the present for their future of Jamaica.

In shaping this future you, like each of us, face the test of preserving what is best in our traditions but also to understand that the changing world requires adaptation. One   dimension of this adaptation, as you know, relates to the regulatory framework under which you shall soon have to function in the context of the impending incorporation of credit unions into the supervisory role of the Bank of Jamaica.  This is not the time,  the place nor occasion to explore this issue in any depth.  I would urge that in looking at the five critical matters:

  • Cap on Unsecured Credit;

  • Minimum Capital Requirements for Start-ups;

  • Time to Achieve Minimum Capital Requirements;

  • Unclaimed Savings;

  • Cash Reserve Requirements

That in negotiating these matters, both the Credit Union Movement and the Bank of Jamaica, as well as the authorities more generally, do nothing to undermine the essential character of the credit unions, their uniqueness in facilitating and mobilizing the savings of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, their essential purpose to improve the quality of life of the ordinary man and thereby the standard of living, ultimately the level of human development of the Jamaican people.  To accomplish this outcome shall no doubt require competent lobbying and persuasive advocacy on your part.  Needless to say, you can count on my whole hearted support in this endeavor.

May I conclude by asking you to draw inspiration from the extraordinary achievements of your Movement, not only nationally, but regionally and globally; to draw inspiration from the reality of our history that it is at times of deep crises in the 1830s, in the 1930s, in the 1960s when as Marcus Garvey put it our backs are against the wall that we generate the transformational leadership and followership to build modern institutions, as we did in the 1940s, to strengthen social justice as we did in the 1960s and 70s, and now to grow our households and our nation out of debt and disorder by saving wisely, by investing judiciously and by increasing our competitiveness exponentially.

In this you have a most special role to play and I encourage you take up that responsibility with utmost confidence and justifiable optimism so that Jamaica may truly become the place of choice to live, to work , to raise families and to do business.