“The financial services industry in the Caribbean has for some time been under the scrutiny of the developed countries and that scrutiny intensified with the proliferation of illegal drug trafficking through the region. The relevant agencies and officials in the developed countries not only observed but were by no means shy about criticising and accusing.

Criticisms are quite in order but it is distressing when they are generalised, sweeping, and lacking factual foundation. I believe we have all readily acknowledged the legitimate concerns of our friends over drug trafficking and money laundering, but I am not so sure all of them acknowledge our own concerns, which are of equal or greater intensity.

After all, while great damage can and is being done to the societies of the industrialised countries, this nefarious business poses for our small island states the real possibility not only of serious injury but the veritable destruction of our social, political and economic institutions. Let me say in this regard that we Bahamians were quite mystified when our American friends removed the aerostat surveillance balloons which were so effective in tracking and apprehending drug traffickers in our scattered islands.

At one time the criticisms levelled against our financial services sectors had mostly to do with possible money laundering, but there were also quite audible murmurings about “tax havens” as well. Now these whispers have been amplified into loud talk about “harmful tax havens”, an appellation described by our Minister of Finance, Sir William Allen, as being “deeply offensive”.

We have demonstrated that in the financial services market, as in the tourism market, we are able to compete successfully with the rest of the world. We might not be able to stop the pollution and global warming which threatens our tourism industry, and our very survival as island countries. But, certainly, no one should ask us to surrender the historical advantages which, together with our God-given talents and the help of our international friends, enable us to compete in the financial services marketplace.

That we are under attack there can be no doubt. So what is our response to be?

The fact that you are here for this seminar indicates that you have determined the first requirement: Solidarity. The same geography which makes us so attractive as a region has, unfortunately, made us vulnerable to some divisive temptations. The intellectual insularity, jealousies and prejudices which have plagued us in the past must be put aside in favour of regional solidarity and cooperation. Not only must regional cooperation be intensified, but we must identify and work with our natural allies on this contracting globe and with our many good friends in the developing countries as well.

No government, no international agency, no political leader, no technical official who can influence the course of events must be left ignorant of our circumstances, our points of view, and our interests. With the information highway now open to us, this need not be as formidable a task as it might seem at first glance.

Another element of the defence strategy, I would suggest, is the acceptance of valid criticism. We need not deny ourselves a discreet chuckle at the embarrassment of Moscow, London and New York over the laundering of billions of Russian Mafia dollars. But we must be serious about strengthening the integrity of our financial services sectors. We must be ever vigilant against criminal penetration and must be willing to change what reasonably needs to be changed.

We Caribbean people are resourceful, resilient and talented and I have no doubt that if we manage properly our resources and collaborate with our friends from around the world, we will not only survive the twenty-first century, but will prosper in it.”