ST. VINCENT & THE GRENADINES—Revised legislation designed to strengthen appropriate regulatory oversight of financial cooperatives in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent & the Grenadines has stalled in the country's legislature, in part due to for-profit sector efforts to reclassify cooperatives under bank regulatory oversight. World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) Chairman Melvin Edwards last week joined a contingent of local credit union officials to boost the case for credit union-appropriate regulation.
|WOCCU Chairman Melvin Edwards (second from left) joined a delegation that visited St. Vincent & the Grenadines Governor General Monica Dacon (second from right) to seek support for a cooperatives bill currently languishing in the nation's legislature. Joining Edwards were Julian Jack, president of the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions (far left) and Sylvia Sutherland, president of the St. Vincent Co-operative Credit Union League Ltd. (far right).|
"Passage of the Harmonized Co-operative Societies Bill, first introduced in 1995, will enable credit unions to grow through a more competitive framework based on more clearly defined compliance requirements that preserve credit unions' distinctive cooperative features," said Edwards, a St. Kitts & Nevis, West Indies native who represents the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions (CCCU) on WOCCU's board of directors.
The bill has significantly evolved from earlier versions passed into law across seven Caribbean countries between 1995 and 2001. WOCCU's Model Law for Credit Unions and its PEARLS Monitoring System, a financial and business planning software, largely influenced the version of the bill currently before the St. Vincent government ministries. The new version also represents adjustments in response to a detailed review by the East Caribbean Central Bank and several regulators.
Edwards, who was in the country to participate in the St. Vincent Co-operative Credit Union League Ltd.'s annual general meeting, joined other officials in paying courtesy calls to Governor General Monica Dacon, Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker and the Hon. Michael Browne, the St. Vincent government minister whose oversight responsibilities include cooperatives supervision. Government officials were impressed with the influence of credit unions, which serve 85 percent of the country's workforce, and pledged continued supporting the legislation, according to Edwards.
"Rest assured the government's full cooperation in building the [credit union] movement," Browne said. "We will continue to build and defend the cooperative philosophy."
CCCU President Julian Jack and St. Vincent League President Sylvia Sutherland were among those who joined Edwards in visiting St. Vincent government officials. In keeping with their commitment, the cooperative leaders signed and submitted a petition lobbying the government for swift enactment of the revised Harmonized Co-operatives Societies Bill.
The St. Vincent League, whose nine member credit unions currently serve 47,000 individuals, strongly supports the proposed legislation. The revised law will provide for the Department of Cooperatives' oversight at the national level, possibly within a unified regulatory and supervisory framework for financial institutions, but with responsibility and capacity for enforcement of the entire cooperatives sectors, according to league officials.
Edwards reiterated the importance of the credit union philosophy during his presentation to annual general meeting participants in St. Vincent. The WOCCU chairman challenged those attending to examine and understand what distinguishes credit unions from other financial organizations.
"It is important for credit unions to maintain their distinctiveness," Edwards said. "This is what our founding fathers and mothers have struggled to build."
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 57,000 credit unions in 103 countries serve 208 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.