Gov’t goes after dormant accounts

The
Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly approved a law Monday that would allow it
to take money from unclaimed, or dormant, private bank accounts or other cash
assets held within the country.

Under
the Dormant Accounts Bill, 2010, a dormant account is defined as an account “in
relation to which no activity has taken place within the past six years”.

Premier
McKeeva Bush said he hoped passage of the bill would give clear direction to
local financial institutions, which have long been said to hold multiple
millions of dollars in accounts that are no longer in use and whose ownership
is unknown.

“No
longer will financial institutions be uncertain about what to do in cases where
they have been out of contact with asset-holders for a certain period of time,”
Mr. Bush told members of the Legislative Assembly last week.

The
dormant accounts measure passed a third and final procedural vote in the House
on Monday and now awaits Governor Duncan Taylor’s signature.

The
law applies not only to standard checking and savings accounts, but also to a
range of other financial assets, such as CDs, fixed deposit accounts, trusts
and even safe deposit boxes.

Under
the law, the financial institution would have to attempt to notify the account
holder on or before 31 July during the year the account reaches the six-year
threshold.

Those
institutions must take all “reasonable steps” to find the account-holder, including
the publication of the accounts in the Cayman Islands gazette.

If
there were no response by 31 March of the following year after the notification
on 31 July, the funds from the dormant account would transfer to the general
fund of the government.

Reports
would have to be submitted by the financial institution to the Ministry of
Finance and the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority. The company would also have
to maintain a register of dormant accounts.

If
a mistake is made, there is a process under the law for former account-holders
to reclaim their funds. However, that would have to be done through government;
in other words, banks would not be liable in the recovery process.

Those
claimants who do not agree with the government’s decision regarding their
accounts – if the money is not paid back – can appeal to the Grand Court.

Opposition
Leader Kurt Tibbetts said he supported the principle behind the proposal but
disliked the fact that it was brought to the Legislative Assembly just a day
before the debate.

“Really,
that is not sufficient time,” Mr. Tibbetts said.

The
George Town MLA said it would also be difficult for government to estimate how
much money, if any, it could take in each year from the measure.

“I
wonder whether there should not be some type of segregated account for these
funds?” he asked.

George
Town MLA Alden McLaughlin said he did not know how the measure for recovering
money from dormant accounts would work in practice.

“I
know how nervous a lot of people with money are about these things,” Mr.
McLaughlin said.

Mr.
Bush said he thought the opposition was simply trying to stall the proposal and
that the issue “should not have been anything contentious”.

“All
they are doing is that word – opposition.”

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