Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says his government is “entirely opposed” to the shortening of opening hours at the bank.
He outlined his government’s position, on Thursday, at a press conference where he also said he authorised shorter operating hours for the fish market in Kingstown.
Gonsalves said that Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves has explicitly indicated the government’s position to at least one bank.
Officials in the Ministry of Finance have similarly communicated to other banks, the prime minister said.
Some banks have announced shorter opening hours as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The shorter opening hours come amidst the physical distancing protocols that have seen fewer persons being allowed inside banks at a time — with one bank allowing a maximum of five persons.
This has resulted in long queues, and sometimes, crowding outside the bank – contrary to the same physical distancing guidelines in a country that is the most cash-dependent in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
Gonsalves questioned the logic of the shorter opening hours, adding that he would like to see it reconsidered.
“Look, there are two sets of persons here: they are the clients and they’re the workers. And I think that they’re all kind of balancing what they’re trying to do. But you can’t slash the hours too severely,” the prime minister said, adding that he did not know how many banks have reduced their operating hours.
He said that, similarly, one of the things that need attention as a practical matter is the number of persons congregating outside banks while awaiting service.
“… we have to be careful that we don’t transfer the problem from inside the bank to outside the bank,” Gonsalves said, adding, “That’s a practical matter of management.”
He said there are persons advocating a lockdown and allow one day a week or three hours or one day in a week for grocery shopping.
“You’re going to undo everything you are doing in the so called lockdown. As we see people climbing over one another to get into the supermarket. A lot of people forget one simple thing. Human beings are animals.
“We are not stationary plants where we wait pon rain and … they feed though the roots and so on or somebody throw fertilizer there. We have to go looking for food. It has to be brought to us. It’s a trite point but the point of real importance when you’re doing regulation. I don’t have to elaborate that you see the same thing — two miles, people go in for food, a long, long line people doing banking. In communities, we have a small number of people and so on. I don’t see that that benefits anybody,” Gonsalves said.
In relation to the fish market operating for fewer hours than pre-COVID-19, the prime minister said he had given “my blessing for them to close a little early, I think an hour earlier.
“And they were given considerations for workers and other people around. It’s a question of balance, how many more persons are going to come. If it’s going to cause a lot of jamming up in the remaining hours, but I think if you start early in the morning 8 o’clock and you go until three, I think that should be enough time. Except, of course, if the boats were to come in a little later, then you may have a challenge.”
Some vendors at the fish market have complained to iWitness News about the early closing hours, saying it is affecting sale, especially by persons who would otherwise buy fish on their way home from work.