PHILIPSBURG:---Over 21 per cent of St. Maarten's residents who are presently unable to obtain a basic bank account are likely eager to have the Parliament of St. Maarten pass the draft "Right to a Bank Account" law brought by United People's UP Party leader and Member of Parliament the honourable Rolando Brison.
Brison said Thursday he also looks forward to Parliament handling the "Right to Bank Account" law now that the Council of Ministers of St. Maarten's has approved the draft. Brison explained that the CoM's approval is significant in getting the draft law approved. It will go through one final stop in the legislative process before it returns to Parliament for debate and can then be voted into law.
The law will provide financial inclusion for local businesses and residents of St. Maarten, which, according to MP Brison, the United People's Party has been championing this entire term. "The financial inclusion of our Citizens and their right to access necessities such as a bank account where they can safely keep their hard-earned money is a responsibility of any Government," said MP Brison. He said the Government could not continue to ignore the unchecked and, at times, reckless tactics used by banking institutions when determining who has the right to a bank account or how long it should take for a bank to issue a new bank account. "The draft law is a major step to empowering our citizens to achieve financial security," said MP Brison.
MP Brison has been working on the draft law for almost three years. He finalized the draft on January 24, 2022, then brought a Motion forward during a Public Meeting of Parliament shortly after that to have the law vetted by the Government and the Central Bank of Curacao and St. Maarten (CBCS).
Citing the Supreme Court Verdict (NL-HR: 2021:1652), which confirmed a Court of Appeals position that banks "may also be obliged to offer a payment account for both consumers and legal entities", and the European Directive 1942, the motion called for the Minister of
Finance and CBCS to vet proposed Legislation to enshrine the right to a bank account into law.
The draft law is now in the final stage of the legislative process, giving hope to over 21 per cent of people and legal businesses in St. Maarten who still today do not have access to an account, according to a survey done by the CBCS.
The Council of Ministers approved the draft on May 16 this year and was sent to the Council of Advice.
"We have hard-working legal residents on St. Maarten and owners and operators of businesses who were given a license to do business by the Government but cannot get a bank account. Our people are not allowed the basic right to a bank account to secure their money. They can also not transact properly with vendors and perform other basic services because they cannot access a bank to transact their business. Those granted accounts must go through enormous amounts of undue scrutiny and red tape before they are allowed to store their legally obtained earnings. If we are serious about creating a secure and safe community, our citizens cannot hide their money under mattresses and risk being robbed," said MP Brison.
MP Brison said he championed such Legislation to help those in society who, for whatever reason, do not or have been refused a current account. "Far too often, we hear the horror stories of people not being able to open accounts, waiting months for their bank accounts or having their accounts closed by the bank without any regard for the importance of everyone needing a bank account in this day and age. Finally, all citizens and businesses legally established in St. Maarten will have the right to a bank account."
Once the draft law gets passed in Parliament, Banks will legally be obligated to provide all residents with a bank account. MP Brison also mentioned that the draft Legislation introduces access to a bank account without the heavy-handed requirements banking institutions have made the norm lately.
The Central Bank acknowledged that none of St. Maarten's existing Legislation sufficiently provides the right to a basic bank account opened in a fair amount of time. The Central Bank pointed out in a letter sent to the Parliament of St. Maarten on May 7 that existing Legislation does not provide the rules by which a bank can terminate an account. There is also no provision for publication, transparency, and limitations related to bank charges or for establishing a consumer banking protection bureau. "Once the draft Banking Law is passed in Parliament, these challenges our citizens face will become a thing of the past," said MP Brison. MP Brison has also ensured that the local banks were consulted when drafting the proposed law.