Barbados has come a long way since the days of friendly societies and saving cents, but the role of credit unions and co-operatives remain relevant.

This view was expressed by Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry, Senator Haynesley Benn, during a tour of the Department of Co-operatives, Hincks Street, Bridgetown, yesterday.

Senator Benn said cooperatives were crucial for learning healthy, fiscal practices and can also lead to benefits for consumers, when costs are reduced through cooperative efforts.??

"When I joined the Barbados Agricultural Society in 1975, even though the Association was not a registered co-op, we did things to encourage that spirit of togetherness and cooperation among farmers…I’ve always suggested to the farmers that one good way of moving forward is to work together," he commented.

The Commerce Minister added: "Barbadians have caught on very strongly to the very spirit of cooperation and have been able to demonstrate to themselves that working together is key to their own development…they now are able to pool their resources through savings.?? The credit unions … able to borrow from themselves at softer interest rates than they would normally get in the other lending institutions."

Registrar of the Department, Sharon Drayton, emphasised that her agency will continue to ensure that credit unions’ and co-operatives’ members – and their savings – are protected.

"Big companies want big returns, and therefore, [there’s] big risk.?? The Co-operatives Department …by and large, says go for the safe investments, so that in the end, members’ money is safe," she said.??

Five farming co-operatives are supervised by the Department, and there are transport, fishing, consumer and junior co-operatives.?? In addition, the section oversees 35 credit unions, which represent 13 per cent of Barbados’ Gross Development Product, assets of more than $1 billion and a membership that is nearly 134,000 strong.

The Cooperatives Division regulates credit unions, cooperatives, friendly societies and other societies, including building, industrial and provident.??

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