Finance and Public Service Minister, Dr Nigel Clarke, was on Tuesday accused of being a misogynist by the Member of Parliament for St Ann South East, Lisa Hanna, and a spokesperson for banks by the MP for St Catherine South, Fitz Jackson, during a contentious sitting of the House of Representatives.
The labels were ascribed to Clarke during a heated question and answer session over the divisive issue of high bank fees.
Of note is that a misogynist is a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.
Clarke was responding to questions from Jackson who had pointed out that banks were earning up to $50 billion in banking fees each year. He asked Clarke whether the banks would collapse if they stopped charging fees against depositors’ accounts.
In his initial response, Clarke insisted that: “The amount of fees that arise from charging individuals, or charging the fees on retail individual bank accounts, represent a minority of the total fees of financial institutions, of the banking conglomerates”.
The minister said the retail fees “represent the smaller part; the larger part has to do with the other products and services that are offered”.
“A healthy financial sector that generates healthy returns for its investors is a very important part of the social stability of our country,” Clarke added.
When Jackson repeated the question about whether the banks would collapse, Clarke said it would compromise their ability to invest in the technological platform and the type of future “we want to see happen”.
He then went on to give what the Opposition deemed to be a rambling answer, and, in their view, one that was in defence of the banks.
At this point Hanna said she had a problem with some of the minister’s statements. She then pointed out that banks earn money in two ways – from fees and “foreign exchange etc”.
“But when you have a bank making in excess of $78 billion in net income and 52 per cent of that is in interest rate spread and the minister is saying that this is going to be used to help technological things,” Hanna said without naming the bank.
She insisted that customers are not being treated fairly, adding that “capitalism without competition leads to exploitation”.
Hanna argued that: “If we’re really in the business of trying to protect the best interest of our people then we have to agree somewhere in here that there needs to be some degree of regulations because there are oligopolistic, operating in the country and many of them are getting away with earning massive amounts of income and the people are not benefitting from it”.
In responding, Clarke went on to point out that financial institutions were again locating their headquarters in Jamaica. He said the financial statements of such companies will show consolidated figures across many markets.
“And so when we bring figures in this House…we must bring figures that represent to the Jamaican operations, not their global operations,” he said.
Hanna would have none of it, rising on a point of order and declaring that the bank she referred to is a wholly-owned Jamaican institution.
She noted that the 2019 earnings for this bank “represented an average of $26,686 for every Jamaican living in this country; that’s just from fees”.
“Madame Speaker, the member is confused,” Clarke shot back, again repeating that companies headquartered in Jamaica would consolidate their income across their different locations.
He then suggested to Hanna that the figures she presented were sent via WhatsApp to her.
Rising on a point of order, Hanna said: “I’m standing on my feet because the minister tends to be misogynistic sometimes in his utterances”.
Some members on the government side accused Hanna of being out of order following her comment.
Jackson later accused Clarke of being evasive and again pressed him on whether the banks would collapse if the fees were removed.
“I’ve asked him a very clear question. Against the background of all he has said, about the expenses involved with banks to run their operations; all of that. Is it the case that Jamaica’s banking operations will collapse without the fees being charged against depositors’ accounts?”
Jackson insisted that his question was both clear and direct but said “up until now” he was yet to get an answer.
“It is regrettable and it’s unfortunate because I would have hoped that as the minister for this country his interest would be first and foremost protecting the depositors rather than becoming in my view, a spokesperson for the banks,” Jackson remarked.
Stung by the statement, Clarke shot back with: “I utterly and completely reject the member’s assertions”.
Describing the question as frivolous, Clarke argued that the stability of the financial services sector was an integral part of macroeconomic stability.
“Without financial system stability the economy cannot function, people cannot go about their business, businesses cannot flourish and jobs cannot be maintained,” he stated.
Jackson has brought a private members motion to regulate excessive banking fees but saw it shot down in 2018 by the government side. While he has re-tabled the motion, it is yet to be debated in the current Parliament.