By Francis Quamina Farrier
IT was no surprise that the BANKS DIH Annual Shareholders Meetings 2021 were combined and held virtually as one. Observing one of the COVID-19 protocols — social distancing — it was, of course, a wise and responsible decision by Chairman Clifford Barrington Reis, CCH, and the Board of Directors of the company. Traditionally, the meetings are held at Thirst Park in Georgetown on the fourth Saturday of January, followed by the branch meetings at Airy Hall on the Essequibo Coast, Region Two, the next day (Sunday). At Bartica, Region Seven, on the following Wednesday. The Branch Meetings usually continue at Linden, Region 10, on Friday, culminating the following Sunday at New Amsterdam, the capital of Berbice.
That has been the tradition for years until this year, 2021, when the COVID-19 epidemic took control of the way annual events have had to be restructured, and in some cases, rescheduled. The International Summer Olympics is a prime example, since the one which was scheduled for 2020 had to be rescheduled to this year, 2021. This time around, the restructured BANKS DIH Annual Shareholders Meetings had to be held virtually. In fact, they were all combined into one virtual meeting in which all information was presented to shareholders who were able to log in. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the usual gifts presented to shareholders were not available this year; something which shareholders understand.
The ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic is still with us, but there are some countries such as New Zealand, where it has subsided. Deaths through the coronavirus in that twin-island country have remained at 25 since May 2020. Unfortunately, many other countries including Guyana, are still battling to bring the spread of the virus under control. It is a difficult task made even more difficult because many citizens are flouting the COVID-19 protocols. That has affected the normal operations of BANKS DIH and other companies in these abnormal times. At this time, many citizens reflect and reminisce about their lives and environment before COVID-19. Some of the elders who live in the Ruimveldt area can recall the changes at the Thirst Park location.
A large grinding sugar factory occupied the location of Thirst Park, back in colonial British Guiana. The aroma of molasses emanating from that location, mixed at times with the black smoke from the factory chimney, has long been blown away, as it were, since the construction of the ultra-modern bottling plant and bakery by BANKS DIH. On the ground floor of the impressive Rotunda is a mini-museum which is regarded by many visitors as being impressive. Among visitors to Thirst Park, are students who are taken on guided tours. There was the occasion when a group from the Richard Ishmael Secondary School on Woolford Avenue in Georgetown, was on a tour of Thirst Park. Chairman Clifford Reis took time out from his regular duties to give the students a history lesson about Richard Ishmael the Educator, Businessman and Trade Unionist — the person who founded their school. The company places a high premium on education and at the Annual Shareholders Meetings, a number of schools are presented with cheques to finance specific projects to enhance the operation of the school.
Among the many VIPs who have visited Thirst Park over the years was President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana. Since GUINNESS stout is also brewed at the Guinness Ghana Brewery in Kumasi, Ghana’s second city, the Ghanaian president visited Thirst Park and was taken on a tour of the brewery and shown aspects of the brewing of Guinness stout. It is apt that mention is made that BANKS DIH produces not only alcoholic beverages such as Rums, Whisky, Wines and Beers as well as GUINNESS stout, but also soft drinks, Bread, Crackers and a range of other edibles. There is, of course, a range of BANKS DIH Qik Serv restaurants in all of the larger towns around the country. The OMG on Sheriff Street in Georgetown leads them all.
From my archives I have extracted the following two quotes by the chairman to shareholders: “No one says the journey to excellence would be easy, but it can be a rewarding experience.” The other was posed by the chairman as a question; “Is the achievement of excellence a journey or a destination?” It is obvious that the Chairman of BANKS DIH Limited is passionate and focused on excellence as the principal objective of the company, to ensure that customers receive only the very best. BANKS DIH Limited has over the years, been supportive of sporting activities as well, giving sponsorship to players of excellence and games such as cricket and football. The company has also sponsored special students for higher education at the University of Guyana. Another annual humanitarian event is the Senior Citizens Fete where about 100 elders are wined and dined at that special event at Thirst Park, where they are served by senior management officials.
Citizens Bank, which is a subsidiary of BANKS DIH Ltd., also had a good year despite the COVID-19 constraints. There has been a reported increase of $327 million in revenue by the bank for the immediate past financial year. With the main branch located at Camp Street and South Road in Georgetown, there are branches at New Amsterdam, Berbice, Linden, Region 10, Parika in Region Three and Bartica in Region Seven. The theme of the company this year is, “Celebrating our Heritage of Innovation.”