Posts Tagged patrick manning
This is the Order by Justice Boodoosingh to grant me the right to have the Judicial Review heard in Court…our first hearing is set for 1 May 2013
The case is a critical challenge to the detrimental notion that $24Bn of Public Money can be spent without Accountability or Transparency. That notion does violence to any healthy conception of the Public Interest, so I expect this contest to be a sharp one.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand…”
Frederick Douglass…Freedom Fighter and esteemed ancestor…
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant!”
Former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis…
We are entering the endgame of the Colman Commission, so we need to maintain full vigilance. We must bear witness in a sober manner.
The PNM element
Former PNM Ministers Danny Montano, Conrad Enill and Mariano Browne were recently named by Commission Chairman Sir Anthony Colman as having declined to testify.
“It is noticeable that there has been a remarkable lack of cooperation from others, who were responsible for political decision-taking — to mention a few names: Mr. Enill, Mr. Browne and Mr. Montano in particular — have not offered to come and give evidence,” Sir Anthony said at Winsure Building, Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain.
“It is surprising perhaps that those who were the political representatives of the people of Trinidad and Tobago have not been able to provide assistance to the Commission in circumstances where it might have been expected of them,” he added.
“Colman chides 3 ex-ministers.” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. October 23 2012.
Colman then named three former Cabinet ministers who had been previously named in testimony at the enquiry in relation to the HCU.
“To mention but a few names Mr (Conrad) Enill, Mr (Mariano) Browne and Mr (Danny) Montano in particular have not co-operated to come and give evidence,” Colman said.
“Colman praises Nunez-Tesheira for co-operating.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. October 22, 2012
That refusal to appear before a Commission of Enquiry amounts to a kind of contempt of court, since it is wilful disrespect for a lawful enquiry. These are PNM Seniors, whose testimonies would have been invaluable in unraveling this series of financial collapses.
Here is why those missing testimonies are so important –
- Mariano Browne is a Chartered Accountant who left a successful career as a Banker – including a significant part of that career spent at CLF, Browne was the first head of Clico Investment Bank and CLF’s Barbados Banking arm – to become Minister of Trade and Minister in the Ministry of Finance after the 2007 general elections. In addition, he is PNM Treasurer, so he could have given a rare insight into the linkages between these collapses and the large-scale donations made by both the CL Financial Group and the Hindu Credit Union (HCU).
- Conrad Enill comes from a Credit Union background, was also Minister in the Ministry of Finance up to the 2007 general elections and served as PNM Chairman up to their 2010 election loss. Enill called for an investigation into the finances of HCU as far back as mid-2002, but swiftly withdrew from that course of action after reportedly being pressured by then PM Manning.
- Danny Montano is also a Chartered Accountant, who was Minister of Labour at the time of the HCU collapse (that Ministry has supervisory responsibility for Credit Unions).
“…THE Hindu Credit Union (HCU) financed Karen Nunez-Tesheira’s successful campaign to become the Member of Parliament for D’Abadie/O’Meara in the 2007 general election.
However, Nunez-Tesheira was not the only People’s National Movement (PNM) candidate who secured campaign financing from the HCU during that election.
This was revealed yesterday as the commission of enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial and the HCU resumed at the Winsure Building on Richmond Street in Port of Spain.…”
“Karen: HCU financed my election campaign.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. October 22, 2012
“….THE Hindu Credit Union (HCU) financed the campaigns of the country’s two major political parties—the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC)—in the 2007 general election, former HCU president Harry Harnarine said yesterday….”
“Harnarine: HCU financed UNC and PNM.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. October 23, 2012.
It is clear that the testimony of these three former PNM Cabinet Ministers would have been crucial to the Colman Commission unravelling this financial fiasco. I am convinced that the matter of what Cabinet knew at the time it took the bailout decision is crucial. For one thing, was Cabinet told that the beleaguered CL Financial group had paid a dividend on 16 January 2009, three days after they had written to the Central Bank for the bailout? If the Cabinet knew of the illegal dividend payout, why were no provisions made in the MoU of 30 January 2009 for the recovery of those monies? If the Cabinet were not told, then we are contemplating what might be a prior case of a senior Minister misleading colleagues to get the required result. A kind of pre-S.34 situation.
Both Browne & Montano are Chartered Accountants, so this reported refusal to give evidence seems to be a case of ‘conduct unbecoming a professional’.
The PNM is now making serious efforts to market itself as a party which stands for good values in terms of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance. Given the PNM’s track record that is a great challenge. These reported refusals are doing great damage to those efforts.
Ironically enough, at this moment Dr. Bhoe Tewarie and Karen Nunez-Teshiera, are both looking better than these three former Ministers, given that they have appeared before the Commission. Just imagine that.
Sir Anthony Colman was reported to have issued subpoenas for certain missing witnesses in the HCU matter and held them in contempt of court when they failed to appear. I am waiting to hear whether the same treatment will apply to these PNM Seniors.
A commission of enquiry has the same status as that of a High Court.
Those deemed to be in contempt of court yesterday by commissioner Sir Anthony Colman are former chief executive officer of HCU Communications, Gawtam Ramnanan, former HCU financial consultant Jameel Ali and Dave Jagpat…“
“Colman to deal with 3 witnesses in contempt.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. June 15, 2012
It seems like this is yet another episode of inconsistent behaviour which serves to reinforce my belief in this potent ‘Code of Silence’. Let me explain with these facts set out above. One group of witnesses have offered weak excuses of the familiar kind – questionable medical certificates and so on – they were served with orders compelling their attendance (those are called subpoenas) and when they failed to respond, Colman made a ruling that they were in contempt of court. That group was HCU witnesses.
Another group of witnesses took a different approach….they actually have decided not to testify and communicated that to the Colman Commission as described above. Why has Colman not issued subpoenas or made any adverse rulings against these reluctant witnesses?
They are former member of the PNM cabinet, so I have to ask myself if there is a tacit agreement as to areas which will not be ventilated in this Enquiry.
Those areas which are seemingly off-limits now seem to include serious questions as to whether the Cabinet was misled. This is a sobering example of the channels of power. We have to bear witness.
The DPP’s role
“…I am particularly concerned that an otherwise credible prosecution might be stopped by the court on the grounds that a defendant’s right to a fair trial had been fatally compromised by the publicity attendant upon your enquiry. As such, I shall be issuing a press release warning the media against the publication of any material which may jeopardise the police investigation and any potential criminal proceedings…“
We also read that “…Gaspard also issued a stern warning to media houses last night to cease publication of “anything which might jeopardise, hinder or otherwise prejudice the investigation or any possible proceedings which might result from it…“.
The Colman Commission has maintained the modern standard of Public Enquiries in that the public can choose from attendance in person, live TV, streaming webcasts, online transcripts and online witness statements. It seemed to me that the position being taken by the DPP could jeopardise the public interest in having this information broadcast in the widest possible terms.
On 10 November, my mind churned as I read this – “…Meantime, the Commission of Enquiry is set to restart on December 3 with former Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams and Inspector of Financial Institutions Carl Hiralal expected to take the witness stand…”
At this stage we are expecting to hear the testimony of the Chiefs in this series of disasters – Lawrence Duprey, Ewart Williams, Carl Hiralal, Robert Mayers, Ram Ramesh, Faris Al-Rawi, Amjad Ali, Anthony Rahael, Andre Monteil. I am very concerned that we are now seeing what appears to be a detrimental development in terms of complete transparency.
I was encouraged to read the DPP’s statement that
“I remain mindful of competing public interest factors including the fair trial rights of potential defendants, the freedom of the press and the requirement of open justice.”
This is definitely an aspect which needs our most intense scrutiny.
The former CLICO CEO
I have read his material and he takes a completely opposite view to me as to what has happened here.
My own view is that the CL Financial group was able to use its track-record of huge political donations and other links to obtain full State support on favourable turns when the inevitable crisis emerged. The CLF group was able to use its links to take advantage of the State. Dziadyk’s view is that the State used the crisis to take advantage of the CLF group in general and the CLICO policyholders in particular.
I cannot see any way that we could both be right. The critical point is that only the publication of the audited, consolidated accounts and other details I have been pursuing will allow us to see the truth of this matter.
But the fact that Dziadyk is a trained actuary, who was at the centre of the scene for so long, makes his testimony invaluable for the insights it will allow the Colman Commission. I was therefore very surprised to read that he is not going to be called as a witness.
Readers who are interested in having the testimony of Gene Dziadyk form part of the Colman Commission to state their support for that to happen – the Secretary to the Enquiry is Judith Gonzales and her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
These kinds of issues are exactly the ones on which the public input of Seenath Jairam, SC is sorely missed. Having decided to take the Ministry of Finance brief and later deciding to return it, any of Jairam’s subsequent public utterances will be coloured by those decisions.
That is the point I was making in the previous column on the sacrifices which leadership demands.
This is the video of my address to the 4th Biennial Business Banking and Finance Conference (BBF4) held at the Trinidad Hilton from 22 to 24 June, 2011. The session I participated in was devoted to ‘Lessons from the Financial Crisis: The Resolution of Failed Entities.’ [See the acknowledgement letter from the conference convenor here.]Video courtesy UWI
- Programme Air Date: 24 June 2011
- Programme Length: 0:15:21
Continuing from last week’s critique of the revised bailout and its implications, I have further concerns as to the process by which the legislation was passed.
I am aware that the Members of Parliament were given a briefing, so that they would be better informed on this complex matter. That briefing was conducted personally by the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank, together with their advisers and certain CLICO officials.
The briefing provided background information on these areas –
- The status of the various outstanding audited accounts;
- A ‘profile’ of the monies owed in terms of amounts owed to certain classes of policyholders. I am told that quite a small number of these claimants held a large proportion of the monies being claimed;
- The various lawsuits/judgments against the Central Bank;
- The rationale given for extinguishing the right to sue the Central Bank in this matter was that public rights and stability were being given preference over the exercise of private rights.
I am also told that the Members of Parliament were not given copies of the presentations, which seems to have effectively limited them to gaining certain impressions or the limited notes they would have been able to take during the briefing.
That account of events, given to me by more than one Parliamentarian, seems to suggest that the very rationale of the exercise, said to be the elevation of public rights over private ones, could have been subverted.
The reality is that, despite the extensive debate on the matter, this is the position –
- Accounts – There has still been no proper, clear statement on the status of these CL Financial and CLICO accounts, which is unsatisfactory. An emerging view is that this is a calculated silence, since the companies are insolvent, which would make the Directors liable for the criminal offence of ‘trading while insolvent’. That is a considerable issue, which could only be overcome by the State issuing a guarantee to the group’s creditors, which would have exposed the Treasury to the full extent of the huge claims. The silence is a shabby ‘third way’, which gives a further insight into why the bailout remains untenable to so many of us.
- There is no publicly-available profile of the monies owed in terms of amounts owed to certain classes of policyholders. That is a major omission and one can only wonder why the information is being effectively suppressed. In addition, there were statements that the claims of Credit Unions and Trade Unions will be fully-paid, which seems to be a favourable treatment in comparison to the individual claimants.
- In respect of the lawsuits and judgments, I do not see how the block on lawsuits against the Central Bank can stop claims in foreign Courts.
- The rationale of public rights being preferred over private rights is a solid one in a matter of this type, but upon reflection one is left with a different impression. How can public rights be said to prevail in a situation where the public is denied the essential parts of the picture?
The Parliament benefits from briefings on complex and important matters, but it is unacceptable that those briefings should be somehow shrouded in secrecy. The Minister of Finance and Governor of the Central Bank need to publish their full Parliamentary briefing, without delay, to remove any lingering doubts. Good governance, transparency and accountability demand no less.
Another aspect of the emerging situation is the recent reports that the Board of Inland Revenue is investigating the three top CL Financial executives for alleged non-payment of taxes. The report in the Sunday Express of 13 November stated that the tax filings of Lawrence Duprey, Andre Monteil and Gita Sakal were under official scrutiny, incredibly enough, it was also stated that Duprey’s chauffeur was in receipt of up to $3.9M in a particular year.
I had always wondered at whether people who enjoyed favour at the highest level really paid all their taxes. I have pointed out that in the case of Clico Investment Bank (CIB) there are serious and unanswered questions on that point arising from the affidavits of the Inspector of Financial Institutions in the CIB winding-up action. It seems that fresh and serious doubts are now arising on the tax compliance of some of the top CL Financial officials, so we will see. In view of the relaxed stance taken in relation to Anti-Money Laundering and Tax Evasion in the revised bailout process, we should not be surprised if these BIR cases slip into obscurity.
We need to be alert to the costs and other consequences of this crisis. Huge sums of taxpayers’ money are being spent to rescue companies who do not appear to have complied with our tax laws and there are no accounts being discussed.
Last week Wednesday and Thursday I appeared before the Colman Commission to give my testimony in this matter. On Wednesday afternoon there was a very negative reaction to my attempts to introduce a Power-Point presentation as a way to better illustrate some of the points I have been making. It was a frustrating and comical experience for me to hear supposedly learned men asking ‘What is this?’ and one of them even saying that he had no idea what it was…Here, in Port-of-Spain in 2011, we have learned men saying that they don’t know what a Power Point presentation is for. Of course, I am all for transparency, so their patently transparent ‘blocking tactics’ were most welcome, because they showed the viewers on TV just ‘Who is Who and What is What’. Thank you, colleagues, for doing a better job than I ever could have. The public is not stupid and your behaviour has had a clear impact on those who were viewing. That said, the Commissioner ruled that my evidence would be taken the next morning and so it was.
For those who are interested and want to know what all the fuss was about, stay tuned to www.afraraymond.com for a full article on this situation, including the so-called ‘offensive’ slides.
With respect to the method of presenting the evidence in the Colman Commission, I have some serious concerns as to the effect of relying only on written or oral testimony. The volume and complexity of the material and the fact that a wide audience, beyond the attorneys, is watching this Public Enquiry, means that there needs to be an upgrade in the way in which the information is presented. I have written to the Commission on this already and was shocked to learn that a request for further funding for multi-media was apparently rejected at the highest level.
There have been two Power Point presentations to the Colman Commission – my own and Ms. Maria Daniel of Ernst & Young, who was just before me – and in both cases the witnesses had to rent their own equipment.
The purpose of this Public Enquiry is to bring some light and justice to this very shadowy and crooked episode. I am here asking the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and the Attorney General to take proper leadership on this issue. The people need to see the evidence if they are to understand.
I can well remember the Prime Minister’s campaigning words, echoing in my mind “Serve the People! Serve the People! Serve the People!”.
Finally, I am writing to the Integrity Commission this week to request, again, that they obtain declarations from the Directors of CL Financial, as required under the Integrity in Public Life Act.
If you are not outraged, you haven’t been paying attention…
Afra Raymond is interviewed on the “Centre Stage” show on Power 102 FM in Trinidad and Tobago, hosted by Chris Seon, Cliff Learmond and Sherma Wilson, on the Colman Commission and the revelations and possible consequences.
- Programme Date: Thurday, 22 September 2011
- Programme Length: 0:23:21
The Colman Commission into the failure of CLF Financial and the Hindu Credit Union is just about to move into its second round of Hearings and the public can expect to have further testimony on the losses suffered by people who deposited monies with CL Financial.
I have made several submissions to the Commission and have been invited to give evidence. I am reliably informed that there have been strong and unanimous objections to my participation in the Colman Commission. It would seem that only the Commission itself is interested in having my testimony go onto the record.
It is not surprising to me that objections of that sort would be arising now, but readers need to have a context.
The Colman Commission was established to find out how this fiasco occurred, recommend methods to stop a recurrence and also to identify responsible people who are apt for lawsuits or criminal charges. The main parties can be expected to give self-serving evidence, designed to exonerate themselves from any blame. We can also expect to hear more attempts to put the blame onto Wall Street, despite the claims in the CL Financial 2007 Annual Report– this is from the preamble -
…“The Next Wave of Growth” is the theme of this annual report, highlighting, to quote our Chairman, “that out of any crisis opportunities will emerge and our progress during the year under review prepares us to seize those opportunities and unlock value.” We have confidence in our ability to not only navigate this financial storm but to find fresh and profitable opportunities within it…
That Annual Report was published on 23 January 2009 – yes, that is 10 days after Duprey wrote to the Central Bank Governor for urgent financial assistance and one week before the bailout was signed on 30 January.
The Colman Commission is a Public Inquiry into a matter of major importance; it was approved by the Cabinet and installed by the President of the Republic. A Commission of Enquiry can only make findings on the evidence submitted to it, so it would be very important for some people to have certain evidence omitted.
One of the most outrageous aspects of the entire Uff Enquiry was the use of public money by UDECOTT to attempt to block certain documents coming into evidence. Those various attempts to limit the scope of the Uff Enquiry were disgusting to all right-thinking people and seemed to be a straight case of the ‘tail wagging the dog‘.
It is unacceptable that the Ministry of Finance could be taking a position which is seeking to exclude my evidence from the Commission. If that were so, it would mean that Ministry is acting in a manner which effectively dilutes the Commission and what is more, appears to be incompatible with the intention of the Cabinet to have a full public enquiry into this matter of national concern. In addition, the Central Bank is also reported to have objected.
The Colman Commission needs to be robust in getting at the truth of this financial disaster.
The new Bailout Plan
At the time of writing I have no details of the new bailout plan, proposed to be laid in Parliament for debate on Wednesday 14 September. According to a report in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, the proposed plan is in two limbs, the first includes the issuance of new bonds to raise monies for the payment of policyholders, while the second is the creation of a prohibition against lawsuits against the Central Bank.
The three concerns I have at this stage are –
- Accounts– The last published audited accounts for the CL Financial group were for 2007, but despite the tremendous resources which have been deployed by the State in this matter there is no clue as to when accounts are to be brought up to date. Given that both the 2009 agreements – the MoU of 30 January 2009 and the CL Financial Shareholders Agreement of 12 June 2009– exist in a framework of State funds being paid to the group’s creditors and recovered by asset sales, this situation is totally unacceptable. What is more, there has never been any attempt to explain the delay in completing those accounts.
As a result we have two insurance companies operating in our country without any accounts, which is in breach of the very regulatory framework of the Central Bank.
The Finance Minister must address these relevant concerns if this proposal is to gain any support. It brings to mind the recent point made by Independent Senator Subhas Ramkhelewan, in debating the recent proposals to increase the State borrowing limits, that the Parliament needs proper details of the ways in which those monies are proposed to be spent, because no person could borrow money from a diligent lender without giving details. We need, as a country, to insist on these higher standards.
We need to move away from the black box and the magician’s hat, towards a more transparent situation in which large-scale public spending decisions are based on a solid series of rationales.
- Colman Commission – The concern here is that the second limb of this proposal will prevent lawsuits against the Central Bank; at this point I am not sure if that only applies to CL Financial-related matters. The Terms of Reference of the Colman Commission state –
…2. To make such findings, observations ad (sic) recommendations arising out of its deliberations, as may be deemed appropriate, in relation to:
It seems to me that the result of these proposals could be to thwart that part of the functions of the Colman Commission as they relate to the Central Bank.
- Insurance Act – Finally, I am concerned that as we are on the eve of a possible ‘solution’ to the problems of the policyholders, there may be other fragile insurance companies with solvency issues. The fact that these matters are now so high on the public agenda means that we should not waste the opportunity to bring forward the new Insurance Bill, which has been drafted for some time, for discussion.
It is at moments like this that a responsible and long-term approach to these huge issues is in the interest of the entire nation.
In this article, which was published on September 13th 2011, I stated that there were unanimous objections to my appearance as a witness at the Colman Commission. I wrote that on the basis of certain reports given to me by persons who were present at those meetings, but after receiving a challenge from the attorneys for the Trinidad & Tobago Securities & Exchange Commission (TTSEC), it was impossible to corroborate that aspect of the article – i.e. that the TTSEC had objected to my appearance.
This notice is to correct the record in that respect, I do regret any inconvenience or damage caused to the TTSEC by my publication of those allegations. – a Correction with similar effect was published in the Business Guardian of 18th November and I do regret the delay in publishing this one here for blog-readers.
9th September 2011
Afra Raymond’s fifth submission to the
Commission of Enquiry into the failure of
CL Financial Limited
Colonial Life Insurance Company (Trinidad) Limited
Clico Investment Bank Limited
Caribbean Money Market Brokers Limited and
The Hindu Credit Union Credit Union Co-operative Society Limited
My name is Afra Martin Raymond and I am a Chartered Surveyor, being a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. I am Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited – Chartered Valuation Surveyors, Real Estate Agents and Property Consultants. I am also the President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC), an umbrella organisation which represents the interests of Engineers, Surveyors, Architects, Town Planners and Contractors in this Republic.
This submission is being made in my personal capacity and does not represent the position of either Raymond & Pierre Limited or the JCC.
My work on this vital issue can be seen at www.afraraymond.com.
I am willing to give oral evidence before the Commission.
This submission is supplementary, providing an update on the work which I have published since the fourth 4th July 2011.
The three articles in this submission are -
|Date of Publication||Title||Abstract|
|6th July 2011||Colman Commission considerations||Questioning the reluctance of persons who lost monies in the CL Financial fiasco to appear as witnesses.|
|27th July 2011||Lessons from the Financial Crisis||Probing the causes and consequences of the crisis.|
|30th August 2011||The Colman Commission – Cloudy Concessions||The concession to allow witnesses’ statements as to the quantum of their investments to go unpublished is critiqued.|
I do believe all the items in this submission to be true and correct.
Afra M. Raymond B.Sc. FRICS
Apt. #14, Highsquare Condominiums,
1a Dere Street,
625 8168 (h)
678 9802/350 6215 (c)
625 6230 (d)
The Colman Commission held its first session of Hearings in the last week of June, so we were able to have moving reports from witnesses who had lost-out from various investments with the Hindu Credit Union (HCU).
I read those transcripts and it was painful to see the shape of this problem. The most striking aspect for me was that the various attorneys seemed to have struck a compromise as to the parts of that evidence which would form part of the public record.
The main concession was that those witnesses did not have to state the amount of their investments for the record. The reasoning seems to have been a stated fear of crime, but it is my view that this concession will compromise the effectiveness of the Colman Commission. Given that the Commission is scheduled to resume its Hearings on 19 September, it seems timely to put these matters forward now.
To begin with, the two Golden Rules of investment are -
- The Risk and Reward paradigm – Risk and Reward have an inescapable relationship – i.e. the greater the Risk, the greater the Reward and vice versa.
- Investments need to be spread out so as to avoid undue concentration of risk – in colloquial terms, you should not put all your eggs into one basket, or bet all your money on one horse.
From these time-honoured ‘Golden Rules’, we derived the ‘Prudential Criteria’ which guide how financial institutions balance risk and reward.
Yet, despite the ‘Golden Rules’ the CLF and HCU chiefs were able to devise products which tempted tens of thousands of people to abandon those basic safeguards and invest in their products. People who were normally sensible were tempted to abandon good sense and break both ‘Golden Rules’. That is the measure of this tragedy.
Another point is that it was not only individuals who made that type of error, there were other people, with responsibility for managing monies, who also gave into the various temptations. The sidebar has details on that.
Let us be clear that the scope of this fiasco is as broad as it is deep, with boundaries stretching from the delayed and misleading accounts to the mismatched funding/investment practices of the core companies, from the absence of proper corporate governance described by Dr. Euric Bobb to the negative impact of the extensive political donations made by the CLF group. The Executive Flexible Premium Annuity (EFPA) is at the heart of the tragedy – the most successful investment product ever designed and built in the Caribbean, while being, at one and the same time, arguably the most toxic.
The duty of the Colman Commission is to probe how this fiasco occurred, recommend methods to stop a recurrence and also to identify responsible people who are apt for lawsuits or criminal charges.
We are now contemplating an inquiry into a large-scale financial collapse, which appears to have conceded the right of witnesses to withhold details about their investments. We are able to read the name and age of the witness, but effectively barred from information as to the size of their investment or the proportion of their total portfolio that figure represents. A Public Enquiry into a financial failure has conceded the right of the public to the basic financial information. I say basic, because the fact is that without those thousands of EFPA and INC investments, there would not have been the cashflow to allow CL Financial to embark on that fateful journey.
This appears to me to be a cloudy concession, to say the least, since it might represent the thin edge of the wedge in setting a precedent to allow subsequent witnesses to try obscuring or omitting financial details. More importantly, the effect of that kind of concession is that it will almost certainly mask the extent to which the basic financial rules were violated. That is not a philosophical question, because the CLF disaster only attained this scale and consequence as a result of these basic rules being broken. Ergo, it is not at all possible to credibly examine the causes of the crisis, if one has conceded that those are areas which will not be publicly examined.
There was public campaign to persuade people to make these risky investments. That campaign was calculated to have them set aside the norms of good sense – the ‘Golden Rules’ were abandoned. The Agents, many of whom masqueraded as ‘Investment Advisors’, appealed to people to close-off their other accounts and sell other investments so as to put as many eggs into that one basket as possible. After all, the more money you put with them, is the more interest CL Financial was offering. We all know that is how the thing went.
At the same time, these agents were busy telling people that their product offered these tremendous rates of return and complete security of funds, etc. etc. I bet everyone reading this heard those lyrics, at least once.
This concession is short-sighted and I am urging the Colman Commission to reconsider its position urgently. There must be no easy concession to allow less light.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
The depth of this tragedy can only be plumbed if we are able to see the true extent to which the ‘Golden Rules’ were broken.
The Colman Commission has to keep its focus. That concession needs to be renegotiated, if it is not already too late.
SIDEBAR: The levels of responsible investors
Apart from the individual investors who suffered from their misplaced faith in the CL Financial and HCU Products, there are others who also need to be examined by the Colman Commission if we are to have a proper picture of those events.
Firstly, there are the Credit Unions, who were acting for many small and relatively unsophisticated investors. Several Credit Unions placed heavy investments into these EFPA products, which of course was a product approved for individual investors. The nature and extent of those Credit Union investments need to be a living part of this enquiry.
Secondly, there were yet another species of large-scale investors who were the chiefs of the State-owned National Gas Company (NGC) and the nation’s largest pension plan, the National Insurance Board. Those two companies were reported to have invested the sums of $1.1Bn and $700M, respectively, in a Clico Investment Bank (CIB) product called the Investment Note Certificate (INC). This was another ‘gravity-defying’ product which offered attractive rates of interest along with the guarantee of being backed by good-quality investments. Like a close relative of the EFPA. In ‘Taking in Front’ published here on 25th April 2010, I examined the NGC’s involvement in those CIB products. At one point, up to 40% of NGC’s money was with the CL Financial group, so it is clear that its own Board policy on the placement of large-scale, short-term deposits did not insulate that State Enterprise from the temptations which afflicted others.
Given that the highest levels of commission were paid to the agents for these products which yielded so much cash for the CL Financial group, Colman has to ask whether inducements were ever offered to these people in positions of trust. Apart from the question of possible inducements, the real question is whether the kind of over-concentration of deposits which exists is at all compatible with the proper execution of one’s fiduciary duty. Colman will never know unless he withdraws that fatal concession.
As part of this pre-budget series, I am going to ‘take stock’ of some recent, significant happenings in relevant areas.
Given the unstable situation in relation to the State and its operations, many examples of which have been set out in previous ‘Property Matters’ columns, it is very important that a critical stance be maintained. That said, it is also important that any progress be properly recorded and acknowledged.
The notable items were –
Housing Development Corporation (HDC)
I was very pleased to read of the success HDC was having in collecting the serious rent arrears owed by its tenants, reportedly in excess of $240M. Of course this is not the first time there has been an effort to rectify this situation, so hopefully this will be a sustained program as it is vital that housing be treated with proper responsibility. That responsibility would extend from the quality of the designs and construction, the treatment of contractors and suppliers all the way to housing policies which respond to the needs of the needy.
Last week, there was a report in this newspaper that the Housing and Environment Minister, Dr. Roodal Moonilal, disclosed a new housing policy. According to that report, the new policy will favour distribution of serviced lots, with foundation slabs, over the provision of new homes. I have been calling for a review of our housing policy for some time now, so it was very disappointing to read that Cabinet had recently approved this important new policy without some formal process of dialogue or seeking wider views, much less a thorough examination of the shortcomings of the 2002 policy. Yes, a new housing policy was sorely needed, but there are solid benefits to wider dialogue.
Housing is too important an element of our Welfare State to ever become solely a creature of Cabinet, whatever the credentials of the current crop of Ministers.
This leads directly into my point about the poor flow of basic information, which can be detrimental to the best intentions. The 2002 housing policy disappeared from the internet about 6 months ago, but despite several written requests I have had no success in having those links restored, for whatever reason. The new housing policy is also not available online. In contrast, last month the Ministry of Finance issued a revised State Enterprises Performance Monitoring Manual and that is available online, together with the 2008 Manual it replaced.
The impending new Building Code is to be welcomed, having been developed in collaboration with key stakeholders. There needs to be a solid commitment by all parties to establishing proper enforcement of those critical standards. The Building Code will cover important areas such as earthquake and fire hazards as well as other quality issues.
The initiative is being piloted by Dr. Roodal Moonilal, Minister of Housing and the Environment. UDECOTT and the HDC both form part of his responsibilities, so that is a good fit. We will have to be vigilant to ensure that all State construction conforms to the new standards.
I can scarcely believe that the very Minister who understands the importance of collaborating with stakeholders on the new National Building Code, would state a week earlier that the new Housing Policy had been agreed by Cabinet, with no visible attempt at consultation. Incredible, but true.
A Culture of Consequence
I have consistently stated that the absence of consequence is inimical to any development and that consequence has to be restored to a proper place if we are to progress. Up to last Thursday, 11 August, I stated at a public meeting that I was unaware of any government in this country taking decisive action against its own appointees in the State Enterprises. The pattern has been one of charging people from the last political administration in what almost always looks like revenge.
The Sunday Guardian headline of 14 August ‘Cabinet fires Chairman of School-feeding Programme’ was as welcome as it was surprising. It was reported that the Cabinet had taken decisive action to fire a Chairman who had been appointed about 6 months before and that is a positive step, the first time any government in this country has done that, as far as I am aware.
According to that exclusive story, the fired Chairwoman of the National Schools Dietary Services Ltd (NSDSL)—Dawn Annamunthodo – had obtained extensive and expensive security guards for herself, due to some alleged death threats. There were also details of what seemed to be deceptive attempts by that individual to become a signatory to the bank accounts of that State-owned company. If those reports are true, there are two serious implications –
Firstly, it is extremely unlikely that this is the first time that this individual was involved in acts of that kind. Grown people do not just change their behaviour in a few months’ time, we all know that. My point being that this episode calls into question the screening which is carried out in relation to these appointments. Whatever screening processes now exist, will definitely have to be made stronger, together with ongoing reviews of Board performance.
Given that the Prime Minister is widely reported to have approved the Chairpersons of State Boards, that screening process needs to be reviewed urgently so as to preserve the integrity of that office.
Secondly, this individual is reported to have attempted to convince Republic Bank’s Ellerslie Plaza branch to make her a signatory and that matter must be promptly investigated by the Fraud Squad, with charges to follow if those allegations are true. It is an echo of the point I made here last week about a dutiful police officer allowing a motorist with a defective vehicle to just drive-off after a ticket is issued. Not good enough, if we are serious about road-safety. We have to restore a Culture of Consequence if White-Collar Crime is to be challenged.
But, even though no money appears to have been stolen in that School-Feeding episode, the saddest part was the bold-faced question that individual asked the Guardian reporter, when invited to give a comment
How did you get hold of those documents? Those are state documents. These questions are state business.
It reminded me very much of the response of Jewan Ramcharitar, former PriceWaterhouseCoopers partner, who suddenly resigned as eTeck Chairman almost a month ago. That entire affair remains mysterious, with Stephen Cadiz, the line Minister, stating that it was due to a ‘difference of opinion’ and the departed Chairman reportedly stating –
I am actually working on a project in the public service arena on a full-time basis and my time at eTeck is eroding the time and attention I pay to that.
“Just what that project is, he won’t say.”
I wonder if Ramcharitar would have found that dismissive answer to be acceptable when he was a partner at PWC? Probably not, yet we are continually beset by these evasive attitudes in public affairs. We need to hold our leaders to a high standard.
The latest twist is the sudden resignation of George Nicholas as Chairman of Caribbean Airlines and the opaque statement by the Minister of Transport, Devant Maharaj – “…Yes. I can confirm this. I am in receipt of his letter but I cannot say anything more…”
In the three cases, bare-faced conflation of State Business with Business which is private, personal or confidential.
Good steps are to be recognized and applauded, but we must always strive for better. We need to continue onward and upward. It would be good to have a statement from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Communications as to the governments’ commitment to a progressive policy in these important matters. The Housing policy needs to be published for comment and we also need to have a clear statement as to whether there can be any such thing as a confidential state policy.
Confidential State Policy may seem like an oxymoron, but readers will be aware of the reluctance of the Education Facilities Company Limited to publish its new Confidentiality Policy. I don’t want to say refusal, but when this budget season is over we will be continuing to examine those EFCL operations.