DR Nigel Clarke on Monday gave notice that the Government has placed white-collar crime in its cross hairs and will therefore move to strengthen legislation with more severe sanctions to punish offenders.
"The discrepancy between the sanctions for white-collar crime and other forms of crime must be erased. If you rob depositors or you defraud investors and you put our financial system and our way of life at risk, the Jamaican society wants you put away for a long time — a long, long time," Dr Clarke, the finance minister, said as he delivered a special policy address on regulation of the financial sector in light of the multi-billion fraud that has engulfed securities dealer Stocks and Securities Ltd.
He said Jamaica operates in a complex, interconnected global financial market, and in order for the country to attain and maintain the position of a trusted counterpart in international business it must strengthen its ability to identify, investigate, and prosecute financial crimes.
"As such, we will be working, not just with the regulator [the Financial Services Commission], but also with the Financial Investigations Division to ensure that the best human and technological resources are in place and persons play their role in protecting not only our investing public, but all Jamaicans," Dr Clarke said.
He said that in order to take the Jamaican financial sector to the next level the Government will review the penalty regimes in the securities, banking, insurance, and pensions Acts.
The Government, he explained, will require securities dealers to publish their financial statements and material events at standards equivalent to public companies on the Jamaica Stock Exchange.
It will also tighten regulations around connected party transactions for securities dealers, introduce a fixed penalty regime under which companies can be fined for anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism and other breaches.
"What we have now is that authorities have to take companies through the court process, and only then can the fine be imposed," he said, adding that the fixed penalty authority will improve the sanctions regime and the speed with which sanctions can be applied.
Additionally, he said the Government will tighten regulations around insider trading against front running of clients in capital markets.
"We will require technical assistance from our international partners in the design of these reforms and in advising us of additional reforms that may be necessary," Dr Clarke said.
"We have an ambition to be a vibrant and prosperous country with a strong financial sector. We have the largest and most dynamic stock market and bond market in the English-speaking Caribbean, and while we don't have an offshore financial sector like some Caribbean countries we certainly have the most developed capital market in Central America and the Caribbean," he said.
"These are achievements that we hope to build on. Strong capital markets can play a pivotal role in development, and for our capital market to achieve its potential, confidence in its safety and soundness is vital," the finance minister said. "Furthermore, for a society to strengthen in peace, unity and cohesion, fairness, equity and justice must be manifestly present everywhere — including in our capital market."