Property Matters – Housing Issues – part 2
The previous column outlined the provisions of the current housing policy and some of the implications arising from those. I provided data on housing distribution by tenure and also stated a preliminary view, dismissing the major allegations made against Marlene McDonald – the current Housing & Urban Development Minister.
To understand just how a supposedly-redistributive policy could be used in this fashion, it is necessary to examine how it was changed and how those changes work with the provisions of the Housing Development Corporation Act 2005.
What is the Housing Policy?
‘Showing Trinidad & Tobago a new way home‘ was launched on 18th September 2002 by then Housing minister, Senator Danny Montano. At that stage, the policy for allocation of the new homes produced by HDC were –
…How is housing allocated?
All housing that becomes available is allocated in the following way:
- 75% is reserved for public applicants through a random selection system.
- 10% is reserved for the Joint Protective Services – Police, Army, Prisons and Fire Services.
- 15% is assigned to deal with special emergency cases, senior citizens and physically challenged persons…
The rules to qualify for these homes were –
…Do I qualify?
To qualify for a new home, applicants must be:
- A resident citizen of Trinidad and Tobago.
- Twenty-one years of age or over.
- Neither owner nor part owner of a house or land.
- In possession of a Board of Inland Revenue tax file number…
AUDIO: The Breakfast Roundtable interview on Sky 99.5FM- 28 January 2016
Afra Raymond is interviewed on the ‘The Breakfast Round Table‘ show on Sky 99.5 FM by Eddisson Carr and Jessie May Ventour in light of the fact that he spoke at “Corruption Perceptions Index 2015: Facts and Findings”, the seminar hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute, in collaboration with the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry. He shares highlights of the discussion he led in that seminar. 28 January 2016. Audio courtesy Sky 99.5 FM
- Programme Date: Thursday, 28 January 2016
- Programme Length: 37:49
Property Matters – Housing Issues – part 1
The ongoing and serious allegations against Housing & Urban Development Minister, Marlene McDonald, and UDECOTT Chairman, Noel Garcia, are obvious distractions launched for plainly political reasons. That is not to dismiss the details of those serious allegations, since at this early stage it is impossible to make any real judgment as to guilt or blame. The current furore over these allegations detracts from any serious discussion of real issues about public housing, while at the same time being emblematic as to the depth of the problem.
Subsidised housing is an important part of the ‘welfare state’ provided by our Republic’s wealth and it is therefore necessary to establish the most effective policies and operational arrangements to maximise the benefits to the most needy.
It is now time for us to convene a comprehensive and transparent review of our housing policies and delivery mechanisms.
The current housing policy was published in September 2002, with a headline proposal to build 100,000 new homes in a decade. Since late September 2012, I have been proposing a full policy review to the various responsible officials, but the responses were lukewarm. Once again, I am proposing that we now undertake a full review of national housing policy. I have been in recent preliminary discussions on this review with the principal policy advisers and it seems likely that this will be commenced shortly.
On the operational side, the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) was established on 1st October 2005, so after a decade of operations, it also seems timely to examine HDC’s operations and performance, especially in light of the serious allegations now emerging. The HDC was closely examined in a 174-page Joint Select Committee Report laid in Parliament on 14th May 2014 – that Report contains very interesting material and recommendations which I will delve into later in this series.
Property Matters – State Offices – part 2
On 5 January 2016 the Business page of the Trinidad Express newspaper carried an article titled ‘Millions to be saved from rent‘ in which the UDeCOTT Chairman, Noel Garcia, advised on the progress in completing the State-owned offices in Port of Spain. That was also the topic of last week’s Property Matters column, so this week I will be trying to reconcile the two sets of information and make some further points.
The program for completion of these offices, as announced on 18 July 2014 by then Minister of Housing and Urban Development, Dr Roodal Moonilal, was to have had them all occupied by the end of 2015, with some substantial completions due at a far earlier date. Garcia stated that the last of these buildings would be ready for occupation in June and also that ‘all works with respect to the project were on schedule‘. Obviously there was significant slippage in the projected completion of this huge series of offices, originally described by Moonilal as ‘an unprecedented feat in the Caribbean‘.
NEW STATE OFFICES IN POS
Dr Roodal Moonilal (2014)
Noel Garcia (2016)
|Customs & Excise HQ, Richmond St.||189,000||October 18th 2014||April 2015|
|Board of Inland Revenue, Richmond St.||374,000||August 28th 2015||June 2016|
|Ministry of Legal Affairs, Richmond St.||332,000||August 31st 2015||February 2016|
|Immigration Division, Richmond St (Formerly Ministry of Social Development)||160,000||March 20th 2015||Completed|
|Ministry of Education, St Vincent St.||274,000||No date given||March 2016|
VIDEO: “2015 Year In Review on 107.7 FM”
Brunch at 107.7 with Rennie Bishop on Sunday 27th December 2015 featuring;
- Dr. Winford James, Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Industry Higher Education
- Sunity Maharaj, media consultant and managing director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies.
- Afra Raymond Chartered Surveyor, Past President: Joint Consultative Council for the Construction
- Rhoda Bharath Lecturer – University of the West Indies, St Augustine writer and blogger.
Property Matters – State Offices
The PM’s address to the nation on the evening of 29 December 2015 was an official announcement as to the need for shared sacrifice and reduced State expenditure to tackle the decline in our collective fortunes.
I also took particular note of the statement by new Central Bank Governor, Dr Alvin Hillaire, during his first meeting with the media on 31 December 2015 – “…I won’t distance myself from the recession statement. The situation is serious and demands attention…“. Dr Hillaire was of course referring to the 4 December disclosure of a recession by his predecessor, Jwala Rambarran.
The proposals for public housing to be provided by private sector investment were certainly interesting, but this column will be making additional proposals for decisive cost-savings within relatively easy reach. Low-hanging fruit, so to speak.
The State embarked upon a huge program to construct offices in Port of Spain during the pre-2010 term of the then PNM government. A staggering total of 2.3M square feet of offices were constructed by the State via its implementing Agency, UDECOTT, in that surge of construction activity. That total does not include the 1,800-space Queen Street ‘Parkade’ which spans the block between Richmond and Edward Streets (see Sidebar for details).
The Whistleblower Proposals
The Whistleblower Protection Bill 2015 was submitted to Parliament on Friday 13th November 2015. Those proposals will create legal protections for persons making reports of wrongdoing in both public and private bodies. A Joint Select Committee has been established to examine these proposals and report back to the Parliament no later than 22nd January 2016, so this is the time to consider these and make formal comments.
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners 2014 Global Fraud Study, whistleblowing is the best method of detecting fraud –
“…Tips are consistently and by far the most common detection method. Over 40% of all cases were detected by a tip — more than twice the rate of any other detection method. Employees accounted for nearly half of all tips that led to the discovery of fraud…” (pg 4)
Given the levels of improper and illegal conduct with which our society is beset, these proposals are long overdue and I welcome them. That said, it is important to examine the detailed provisions and exemptions, together with the introductory statement made by Attorney General, Faris Al Rawi.
AUDIO: The Showdown Show Interview, i95.5FM – 7 June 2015
Afra Raymond is interviewed on the ‘Showdown‘ show on i95.5FM by Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and Ralph Maraj on the former PP government’s ‘Land for the Landless’ policy and bill. 7 June 2015. Audio courtesy i95.5FM
- Programme Date: Sunday, 7 June 2015
- Programme Length: 1:13:27
TEDx Talks: Is it only White People who can be racist?
In this provocative talk, Afra Raymond takes a deeper look at race and racism. He successfully uses the talk to place a new perspective on how we think about race and its role in corruption. TEDxPortofSpain. 14 October 2015.
CL Financial bailout – Finding the Facts
On 10 August 2015, the then Minister of Finance and the Economy appealed the High Court’s 22 July 2015 judgment which ordered the release of the details on the CL Financial bailout. My protest at this action was published in this space as ‘Studied Disdain‘. Since then, the General Election of 7 September 2015 brought about a change of government – the People’s Partnership is now the official Opposition and the People’s National Movement is once again the government.
It is essential to now determine the areas in which we can expect changes in policy and the areas in which we can expect business as usual. Those perspectives informed my letter of 15 September 2015 to the new Minister of Finance & the Economy, Colm Imbert.
Imbert asked for more time to consider my request, so I consented to his application to the Appeal Court – the next hearing in this matter is therefore set for 25th January 2016.
Setting the Table
The PNM’s successful election campaign placed strong emphasis on the critical need to restore proper standards of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance. That was a commendable and necessary stance in the face of widespread public disgust at the falling standards of morality in public affairs as experienced with successive political administrations.
The new PNM government was installed about a fortnight ago and we expect the 2016 budget to be delivered in about another fortnight, so this is a good time to set out our position. This column will be a simple list, with notes of what are the main priorities to be pursued with the new government in relation to our industry –
Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Property Act 2015
This law was partially-proclaimed, but the government has proposed amendments, so we would be available for discussions if those are needed. The public interest requires that this new law be swiftly implemented so as to properly control transactions in Public Money. We have to bring the era of epic waste and theft of Public Money to a close…..
AUDIO: The Power Breakfast interview on 102.1 FM – 14 October 2015
Afra Raymond is interviewed on the ‘The Power Breakfast‘ show along with Peter Permell on Power 102 FM by Richard Ragoobarsingh talking about the ongoing CL Financial bailout saga now that there is a new government. 14 October 2015. Audio courtesy Power 102 FM
- Programme Date: Wednesday, 14 October 2015
- Programme Length: 29:42
2016 Budget Review
The 2016 budget statement was made on Monday 5 October 2015 by newly-appointed Minister of Finance & the Economy, Colm Imbert MP. Imbert is a professional engineer, so the fact that he lacked any formal certification in the financial field sparked much debate. The budget proposals have been made, so we are well past that point now.
These expenditure and revenue figures are from the Budget Statements, so no account has been taken of either actual outcomes or supplemental appropriations – this is the process used by the Government to obtain authorisation from the Parliament to exceed the approved spending limits in the national budget.
VIDEO: “Sangre Grande Plenty Pepper! A Community Event”
T&T Transparency Institute presented “Sangre Grande Plenty Pepper! A Community Event” on Tuesday, September 29, 2015 at which Afra Raymond, in his capacity as president of the JCC, was the feature speaker. His topic was “Facing the Facts!”
AUDIO: The Breakfast Roundtable interview on Sky 99.5FM- 7 October 2015
Afra Raymond, as JCC president, is interviewed on the ‘The Breakfast Round Table‘ show on Sky 99.5 FM by Eddisson Carr and Jessie May Ventour giving a post-budget analysis from his perspective. 7 October 2015. Audio courtesy Sky 99.5 FM
- Programme Date: Wednesday, 7 October 2015
- Programme Length: 17:04 and 22:31
Dismantling the Code of Silence
From: Afra Raymond <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 10:00 AM
Subject: Dismantling the Code of Silence
Noel Garcia served as General Manager of the Housing Development Corporation during the period in which critical decisions were made on the Las Alturas housing project. That project, in which two apartment buildings failed, is now the subject of a Commission of Enquiry. There have been several reports in the press (see below) that Mr Garcia was unwilling to testify to that Enquiry. We have been unable to locate any published responses from Mr Garcia to those reports.
Noel Garcia has now been appointed as Chairman of the UDECOTT Board. The JCC’s position is that the penalties for the failure or refusal to appear as a witness to a Commission of Enquiry must be increased sharply so as to discourage this deplorable behaviour. The present fine for non-attendance is only $2,000, which is why so many persons can show open disdain for a request to testify at a Commission of Enquiry.
The prospect of the Chairman of a State Enterprise declining to testify at a Commission of Enquiry is unacceptable and of course any continuing ambiguity can only feed suspicion.
The Las Alturas Enquiry resumes its evidence hearings on Monday 28th September 2015 and it would be a refreshing change from the ‘bad old days’ if Mr Garcia, or his attorneys, were to promptly confirm his willingness to appear as a witness.
Noel Garcia responded via a media release, which was copied on social media on Sunday 27 September 2015 as follows:
Getting the Facts Right
I refer to a letter to the editor from Afra Raymond entitled “Dismantling the code of Silence” published in the September 27, 2015 edition of the Express Newspaper.
In his letter, Mr. Raymond, in reference to me and the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project, speaks disparagingly of “the prospect of the Chairman of a State Enterprise declining to testify at a Commission of Enquiry”.
I wish to categorically state that I have never refused to give evidence before the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project. Despite what Mr. Raymond claims to have read (and what he erroneously plainly believes), the Commission has never at any time contacted or subpoenaed me on the matter of the Las Alturas Project. This, although my postal address, email address and telephone number have remained unchanged for years.
For the record, I have never shirked my duty or my responsibility to give evidence before any court or any tribunal with respect to matters within my knowledge as a former employee of the HDC. I have previously given evidence in the High Court on behalf of the HDC and I have only recently filed an affidavit in support of the HDC’s position in another High Court matter. I am no stranger to and have given evidence repeatedly at Commissions of Enquiry including in the Piarco Airport Enquiry, the Landate Enquiry and the UFF Commission.
I wish to make my position abundantly clear that, were I to be subpoenaed or contacted to give evidence at the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project, I would have absolutely no difficulty in assisting the Commission.
In his self-appointed role as guardian of the public conscience, Mr. Raymond ought to be more careful about permitting his officious zeal to lead him into making what can be considered to be defamatory imputations about others. Mr. Raymond’s self-confessed inability to locate any published responses from me to press reports he has read is no licence for him to do so.
This clarification was all we were seeking, so I responded later that night, on social media, as follows –
“…Noel Garcia’s post ‘Getting the Facts Right’ is very helpful, it is the first public response I have seen to the several articles earlier on this issue – I thank him for it…as I said elsewhere on FB yesterday, one of the Officials in the Las Alturas Enquiry told me that they had been ‘unable to locate’ Mr Garcia, to which I responded that as he was the new UDECOTT Chairman, it was now impossible to sustain that claim…”
For ease of reference – these are the previous press reports –
- Trinidad Guardian of 7th April 2015 – ‘Las Alturas Hearing resumes today‘
“…Singh also assured Ibrahim that efforts were being made to locate former executive chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of T&T Calder Hart, and former HDC general manager Noel Garcia, to have them appear before the Commission…” then “…Garcia is said to be living and working in Ghana. HDC’s attorney Vincent Nelson, QC, had previously indicated that Garcia had declined to provide a witness statement when asked, following which they lost contact with him. Seemingly dissatisfied with Mohammed’s answer that every effort was being made to have Hart present himself before the Commission, Ibrahim suggested that there were legal means which could be employed to compel him to appear.”Ibrahim has promised that accommodations would be made not to keep Hart unduly when he does appear, while there was also the recommendation that an offer be made to pay Garcia’s travel expenses back to T&T, in order for him to testify. Both Hart and Garcia have been deemed “important witnesses” in the enquiry. During the 13-day enquiry four witnesses have so far testified before the Commission…“
- Trinidad Express – 20th March 2015 – ‘HDC lawyers ‘lost all contact with Garcia’‘ –
“…Attorneys representing the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) have lost all contact with former HDC managing director Noel Garcia. This was revealed yesterday during the sitting of the commission of enquiry into the Las Alturas housing project at the Caribbean Court of Justice in Port of Spain.“Garcia, who was expected to be called as a witness in the enquiry, is said to be currently residing in Ghana.“Junior counsel for the commission Jagdeo Singh told the commission all attempts by HDC’s legal team to locate Garcia had been unsuccessful. “Every effort has been made thus far to locate Mr Garcia and at some point in time Mr Garcia was in communication with the legal team for the HDC, but he has since ceased all communication with them,” Singh said.“Nelson had said at a previous hearing that Garcia did not appear to be willing to testify in the proceedings.“Chairman of the commission Mustapha Ibrahim noted Garcia’s participation in the enquiry was necessary, as he was a “very important witness”…“
- CTNT News – 5th March 2015 – ‘QC: Garcia’s presence crucial to Las Alturas Enquiry‘ –
“…The absence of former HDC Managing Director Noel Garcia at the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Housing Project was raised by the company’s Attorney on Day Four of the proceedings. Mr. Garcia is one of the key persons who would be best able to add the pieces to the already puzzling situation which led to the partial demolition of two towers at the million dollar housing complex due to shifting soil.”At Thursday’s session, the Attorney representing the Housing Development Corporation, Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson, mentioned that Mr. Garcia currently works and lives outside T&T.”The position there is that Mr. Noel Garcia, who is a pivotal person in the project at the time, is someone who really, although it is difficult because he is outside the jurisdiction for the Commission to summon him, he is an important and pivotal person in terms of what occurred at the time.”Mr. Nelson was then asked by the Commission Chairman Mustapha Ibrahim if any efforts were made to bring him back to T&T for the Enquiry, including offering to pay his airfare.”No. We haven’t done so but obviously that is something that I could take instructions on. I am told we lost communication with him at the moment. So that is the position but we will make further efforts but in the meantime, the position is the Commission may consider whether to call the Board at the time and/or see when Mr. Garcia is available.’…” There is also a TV clip here.
- Newsday of 6th March 2015 – ‘Noel Garcia not willing to testify‘ –
“…NOEL Garcia, former managing director of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), has indicated to lawyers for the HDC, that he is unwilling to testify at the Las Alturas Commission of Inquiry, attorney Vincent Nelson QC said yesterday…“
I have not seen any responses from Noel Garcia before his response on Sunday 27th September 2015.
VIDEO: “IN THE CHAIR” on Synergy TV
Afra Raymond is interviewed by a group of young people on Synergy TV’s pre-election discussion series, “In The Chair”.
The discussions covered the CL Financial bailout, the role of campaign financiers and corruption in our country’s public affairs.
Our Land – The Review
“…A small State such as Trinidad & Tobago must accord a very high priority to the judicious management and utilization of its land resources or perish. All elements of land policy must be designed to ensure that these finite resources are efficiently utilized and husbanded in such a manner as to serve the long term interests of the national community…”
—Conclusion of “A New Administration and Policy for Land” (19 November, 1992)
The PNM won national elections on 7 September 2015 by 23-18. Two key themes emerged during the PNM’s successful campaign –
- Firstly, there was a strong emphasis on the critical need to restore proper standards of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance;
- Secondly, a commitment was given to ‘keep the various promises made by the PP government’.
When one considers the various promises, policy changes and actions of the PP in relation to land and property, it seems clear to me that those two campaign commitments made by the PNM are entirely incompatible.
Our country has a very high population density and the previous Minister of Land and Marine Resources estimated that some 63% of our country’s land belongs to the State. It is therefore a cardinal State responsibility to properly manage those critical resources so that short and long term interests can be reconciled in a sustainable manner. The present situation is so serious and damaging to our collective interests that I am calling for a halt to any attempt to keep promises with respect to land and property while a fact-finding and policy review is conducted.
The opening quotation is from the National Land Policy 1992, which is now a virtually unknown document since its very existence is denied by all the relevant agencies. This Policy provides critical guidance for how this scarce resource should be best managed in the Public Interest.
The severe crisis now evident in relation to our State Lands resembles a ‘Tragedy of the Commons‘ in which this crucial resource which should offer long-term collective benefits is effectively abused by self-seeking individuals. The pattern of abuse is facilitated by gross mismanagement, in profitable partnership with deliberate obscurity in how the State Land system actually operates.
VIDEO: TOO BIG TO HIDE?
A five-minute clip on the CL Financial bailout, the State and the ‘Code of Silence’ around how $25 Billion of your taxpayers’ Dollars were spent.
At a time when we hear of falling State revenues and we know there is no soap or toilet paper in our public hospitals, this is the story of how $25 Billion of our money was used to bailout the wealthiest man in the Caribbean.
This is the story of the fight by the Ministry of Finance to conceal the details of that massive payout.
CL Financial Bailout – Studied Disdain
SIDEBAR: How much Public Money has been spent on this CL Financial bailout?
These are the official statements as to the actual cost of the bailout since 2012. It really resembles the ‘carefully cultivated confusion‘ which I deplored recently in relation to the Invader’s Bay fiasco.
- 3 April 2012 – Affidavit of then Finance Minister, Winston Dookeran, which specifies the Public Money committed to this colossal bailout as –
Para 21 (a) $5.0Bn already provided to CLICO; (b) $7.0Bn paid to holders of the EFPA and Para 22 $12.0Bn estimated as further funding to be advanced.
Dookeran is saying in April 2012 that $12 Billion had been paid and an estimated $12 Billion remained to be paid, which is a total of $24Bn in public money to be spent to satisfy the creditors of the CLF group.
- 1 October 2012 – Senator Larry Howai, delivering his first Budget Statement, stated the cost of the CL Financial bailout at page six –
“…The cost to the national community has been substantial—an amount of $19.7 billion or 13.0 per cent of our current GDP; yet this expenditure was necessary and decisive for containing an economic and financial crisis…”
Howai is telling the Senate in October 2012, a mere six months later, that $19.7 Billion has been spent. If we follow this official account, which fixed the total spent in April 2012 at $12 Billion, an additional $7.7 Billion of Public Money was spent in six months. I continue to contest whether this bailout was at all necessary, but it was certainly an incredible rate of expenditure, that cannot be contested.
- 4 May 2013 – In this newspaper, under the headline ‘$25b and counting – Cost to taxpayers of CLICO bailout and enquiry‘ –
“…However, Government’s intervention into the CLICO fiasco has cost taxpayers more than $25 billion…”
- 17 May 2013 – UNCTT’s website contains a formal Press Release from the office of the then Attorney General, Anand Ramlogan SC –
“…It should be noted that efforts to stabilize and resuscitate CLICO have thus far cost taxpayers over $25 billion dollars…”
- 2 April 2014 – At the Senate sitting , Minister Howai stated at page 35 of Hansard –
“…Mr. President, as you would perhaps be aware, the cost to the country of the CL Financial bailout—the actual cash that has been put out—is approximately $20.8 billion. This was done in an effort to preserve the stability of the economy of Trinidad and Tobago…”
- 7 August 2015 – I was therefore astonished to hear the Minister of Finance, Larry Howai, stating on CNMG TV, that the cost of this bailout is ‘not quite $20 Billion‘.
The first item, Dookeran’s April 2012 affidavit, is the one for which Howai is now being required by the Court to produce the details.
Some of my views on this, from last week –
“…Well, this is the usual practice, in which the public right to know is subordinated to private, undisclosed interests…it seems to me at these moments that the job of the State’s attorneys is to shroud the entire indecent affair in ‘something resembling an important principle’, but ultimately the effort is intended to wear me down and let the issue fade from collective memory…I am continuing to fight this very hard…what we have here is the ultimate collapse of our Republic by Public Officials who are sworn to uphold the Public Interest without fear or favour, but end up exposed as serving the toxic interests of the financial robber barons…I am reminded of Simon Johnson’s ‘The Quiet Coup‘ published in The Atlantic of May 2009…in T&T, we too, had a quiet coup…”
As the Season of Reflection and the impending election flow together, there is a bitter brew now being offered in relation to the CL Financial bailout.
Disdain is an attitude which denotes someone or something as being unworthy of proper consideration. I think that in relation to our collective interests in the CL Financial matter, we are now being subjected to Larry Howai’s ‘studied disdain’ in relation to our collective interests in the CL Financial matter.
On Tuesday 10 August 2015, the State announced its decision to appeal the recent High Court ruling that the details of the CL Financial bailout must be published. That appeal was also filed that day and the State applied to have the stay of execution extended to the end of the appeal process – the latter issue will be heard on 19 October 2015.
The Minister of Finance & the Economy is the main public official with responsibility to account for how Public Money is spent. The Public Money being used to bailout the CL Financial creditors is our money. The Minister of Finance therefore has a fundamental duty to publicly account for how our money has been spent.
Our collective interests in this matter, of exactly how $25 Billion of our dollars were spent, far outweigh the undisclosed interests on whose behalf the Minister is now appealing.
This appeal is against every one of the orders made in the High Court judgment of 22 July 2015 and therefore represents an utter abdication of the fundamental duties of the Minister of Finance and the Economy.
Our collective interests could benefit from the unintended juxtaposition of national elections, the apparent halt of USD sales by the country’s leading bank and the hostility of the Minister of Finance to the truth. These are rare moments in which we might gain insight and regain fundamental rights, but we have to be aware of what is at stake.
VIDEO: Good Morning T&T – 7 August 2015
Afra Raymond sits with host, Larry Lumsden on the Good Morning T&T television show to discuss his recent High Court victory over the Minister of Finance to get accounting details on the CL Financial bailout. Video courtesy CNMG
- Programme Air Date: Friday 7 August 2015
- Programme Length: 0:17:13
Facing the Facts
Two important laws were partially-proclaimed by the President at the end of July –
- The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act, which is intended to control transactions in Public Money, and the
- Planning & Facilitation of Development Act, which is intended to provide for effective control of physical development.
Both those laws would be critical in controlling the worst excesses in terms of waste and theft of Public Money as well as the scourge of unplanned development. There is still substantial work to be done to properly implement those new laws, neither of which will actually come into effect before elections on 7 September, so our stern attention will therefore be essential.
The campaigning and committee-work to achieve those new laws has been demanding, so it Is important to re-state our fundamental concern as to the sheer hostility of high-level public officials to the truth. This is a fundamental point since the new laws create modern, transparent and participative processes. If the key public officials maintain their hostility to the truth, we would be entering a period of serious struggles to implement these new laws.
Facing the Facts on Invader’s Bay: INVADER’s BAY Corrective
JCC President Afra Raymond issues a corrective to the lead story in the Sunday Guardian of 9th August 2015. This ‘Letter to the Editor‘ was published in the T&T Guardian on Tuesday 11th August 2015.
The cover story in Sunday’s Guardian on the Invader’s Bay development requires a response to dispel some of the carefully cultivated confusion around this important set of proposals.
The Public Property known as ‘Invader’s Bay’ comprises 70 acres of reclaimed land at the waterfront in west POS and it is proposed to be the largest development in our capital city in living memory. It is unacceptable that this large-scale development could be proceeding without any public consultation and in the seriously improper manner against which the JCC has protested. It is sobering that the very Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development (MPSD) has been leading this process for the last four years without seeking to engage in public consultation.
The Request for Proposals (RFP) process used in August 2011 by MPSD was improper and voidable, since, according to Minister Tewarie himself, the Assessment rules were published one month after the closing date. Any reputable organisation running a competition or tender would accept that the rules must be given to all the competitors at the same time and well in advance of the competition itself. That basic and inescapable breach has been pointed-out to MPSD several times by the JCC, but we are yet to see any response on that point.
After JCC specified its concerns that the RFP was in breach of the Central Tenders Board Act, the Minister repeatedly stated that the legal advice was that MPSD was in conformity with the law. Despite our several requests, that advice was never published, so the JCC sued under the Freedom of Information Act. The High Court ruled that the requested information be published and MPSD appealed. One can only wonder at this reluctance by politicians to publish legal advice which supposedly supports their actions. This type of official reticence is a first, so on this count at least, the Invader’s Bay project has a significant element of innovation.
The JCC has enquired as to the cost of the High Court case and the subsequent appeal, but that too has remained undisclosed, for whatever reason.
According to Ms Jearlean John of UDECOTT, a tender has been awarded for design of infrastructure on this 70-acre site, but we also know from MPSD that no planning applications have been made for these developments. That raises the serious question as to how an infrastructure layout can be designed in the absence of either public consultation or relevant approvals.
The carefully cultivated confusion can be seen in three glaring examples – firstly, the question of official responsibility – with Minister Tewarie referring detailed queries to UDECOTT, whose chairman refers those queries back to that Minister. Secondly, according to MPSD, the 10.2 acre parcel allocated to Derek Chin was valued at $204.5M, yet Chin is reported as saying that “…the price is $130M…”. Finally, the entire property is 70 acres and 23.2 acres have been allocated, so it seems that 46.8 acres are to be left undeveloped at this stage. So, how can UDECOTT be responsible for only 51 acres, with Minister Tewarie saying that “…there are about 40 acres of land at Invader’s Bay still open for development…”?
These are a few of the real concerns with this proposed Invaders’ Bay development.
AUDIO: The Breakfast Round Table interview on Sky 99.5FM – 10 Aug 2015
Afra Raymond is interviewed on the ‘The Breakfast Round Table‘ show on Sky 99.5 FM by Eddisson Carr, Jessie May Ventour, Dr Wayne Haywood about the current flare-up by developer Derek Chin regarding his continuation in the controversial and contested Invaders’ Bay project. 10 August 2015. Audio courtesy Sky 99.5 FM
- Programme Date: Monday, 10 August 2015
- Programme Length: 32:42
AUDIO: Cruise Control interview on Isaac 98.1 FM – 30 Jul 2015
Afra Raymond is interviewed on the ‘Cruise Control‘ show on Isaac 98.1 FM by Tessa Sampson about the recent judgement in favour of Mr Raymond ordering the publication of the accounts and other material in the CL Financial bailout. 10 August 2015. Audio courtesy Isaac 98.1 FM
- Programme Date: Thursday, 30 July 2015
- Programme Length: 31:13
CL Financial Bailout – The Hidden Truth
Sad to say, this CL Financial bailout is resembling a situation in which well-connected persons are getting what they can, anyway they can, but making sure not to get caught. Who were the beneficiaries of this lavish payout? What is this reluctance to release details?
That is the Code of Silence in effect.
I was not at all surprised at the reported statements of the Minister of Finance, Larry Howai, on the 22 July 2015 High Court judgment ordering him to provide the detailed information I had requested on the CL Financial bailout. The High Court granted a 28-day stay of execution and the Ministry is reportedly in consultation with its lawyers, claiming that “A decision will be made within the period of time allowed by the court,”. The article closed with this quote –
“…Finance Minister Larry Howai said in the statement it should be noted, none of the requests refer to “how over $25b was spent in the Clico bailout”…”
Given that the very request was for the detailed financial information which has been deliberately suppressed since 2009, it is of course impossible to say with any certainty just how much Public Money was actually spent on this CL Financial bailout. That is the inescapable fact at the centre of this scandal. The Minister’s tautology is really a powerful explanation of this point.
CL Financial Bailout – The Real Case
In 2013 I sued the Minister of Finance & the Economy for his continuing failure or refusal to provide the details relating to the huge $25 Billion bailout of the failed CL Financial group.
On Wednesday 22 July 2015, the High court ruled in my favour by ordering the release of all the requested information.
The basic principle behind the Freedom of Information Act is that the information held by Public Authorities belongs to the public, unless one of the valid exemptions is applicable.
The Court also granted the State a 28-day stay of execution which seems intended to allow them the time to decide whether to appeal before they have to provide the requested information. Given the ongoing Information War and the high stakes to maintain the ‘Code of Silence’ in relation to this bailout, I would not be at all surprised if the State were to appeal against this ruling.
The unexplained gap
On 1 October 2010, the Prime Minister addressed Parliament to explain that $7.3 Billion had been spent on the bailout and that a further estimated $7.0 Billion was required to settle all debts. That is a 2010 estimate of $14.3 Billion to settle the CL Financial bailout, but the current estimated cost of the bailout is in excess of $25 Billion. That means that over $10.5 Billion more than the 2010 estimate has been spent, so where did all that extra money go? That information and the defined official policy of secrecy are at the heart of this scandal.
CL Financial Bailout – Steal of a Deal
The CL Financial bailout was a steal of a deal for the owners of that troubled company. After all, the wealthiest man in the Caribbean was able to obtain an interest-free loan exceeding $25 Billion in Public Money at a time when no one else would lend him. Our Treasury was effectively the ‘lender of last resort’, so those terms were hugely in favour of CL Financial and its controlling shareholder, Lawrence Duprey. What is more, the shareholders kept all their shares.
In the previous column, I stated my view that Mariano Browne had taken what seemed to be a position supportive of Lawrence Duprey’s attempt to regain control of CLICO. I also pointed out that Browne was a member of the Cabinet when that fateful and detrimental deal was made to bail out CL Financial in 2009 and called on the significant members of that Cabinet to explain their rationale. I went further to say that Browne was one of the five significant persons who had been requested to testify and refused to do so.
I am pleased that Mariano Browne has replied on the record, so this column will deal with those valuable points. For starters, it is even clearer than before that former Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, has serious questions to answer in relation to her central role in this bailout. Given that financial training and experience formed a weak part of her profile, one can only wonder at what prompted Manning to appoint Nunez-Tesheira to that position. We will see. In addition, the terms which were negotiated between the State and CLF are essential to understand today’s dilemma with respect to Duprey’s ambitions. A related issue which needs clarity is the role of the powerful, unelected ‘bigger heads’ who are seemingly in control of our country.
AUDIO: Election Hardtalk interview on Power 102FM – 16 Jul 2015
Afra Raymond and Peter Permell are interviewed on the ‘Election Hardtalk‘ show on Power 102FMFM by Tony Fraser about the continuing impact of the CL Financial bailout on the economy and the request to get back the company by Lawrence Duprey. 16 July 2015. Audio courtesy Power 102FM
- Programme Date: Thurday, 16 July 2015
- Programme Length: 1:19:47
CL Financial Bailout – Impunity Insanity?
The headline ‘Duprey wants back CLICO‘ in the Sunday Express of June 28th 2015, did not surprise me at all. That is exactly the threat against which I have been warning throughout my campaign against this appalling and unprecedented bailout.
To allow Lawrence Duprey to regain control of CLICO would do serious violence to the fundamental notions of the law not allowing persons to benefit from their wrongdoing.
Already, we can see various positions being taken – the Movement for Social Justice and Peter Permell of the CLICO Policyholders’ Group stating their objections, while Mariano Browne (former PNM Treasurer and Minister in the Ministry of Finance) and Mary King (economist and former Minister of Planning) setting out what seem to be supportive positions.
CL Financial Bailout – False Firing?
I smiled at the page three photo of the Prime Minister holding hands with recently-dismissed CLICO Chairman, Gerald Yetming, at a UNC meeting in Debe on Tuesday 23 June 2015. As serious as the situation is, I just couldn’t help myself.
Yetming was a UNC Minister of Finance during the Panday administration and had been appointed on 28 September 2010 as Chairman of CL Financial Ltd, the parent company of the ‘CLICO group’ being bailed-out by the State.
I declined many requests for comment on this controversial episode, since something about it did not seem quite right. The actual CLICO dismissals were incredible to my mind, not only because there did not seem to be any conflict between the stipulations in the CBTT’s 3 June Press Release and the reported beneficiaries – that is explained in the sidebar. It is even more bizarre when one considers that Yetming, in whom all confidence was apparently lost after allegedly-unauthorised payments to former CLICO Directors, still serves as Chairman of the parent company, CL Financial Ltd.
There is a widely-held view that the CL Financial chiefs should not be recovering any of their money from this huge collapse before the completion of the Colman Commission and the publication of its Report. I share the public concern that no money should be paid to the persons who were in charge of that sinking ship. Not one cent. Nothing should be paid to the CLF chiefs until we have had the proper opportunity to consider the findings of the Colman Commission. Even with its severe limitations, that Colman Report would be our closest opportunity to understand this epic financial crime. To pay out money to those Directors and Officers who were responsible before the Report is published would be reckless in the extreme and jeopardises the public interest.
Our Land – Land for Everybody? Part 2
SIDEBAR: The Minister responds
This is a short video (courtesy of TV6) in which the Minister of Land & Marine Resources, Jairam Seemungal, responds to questions on the occupation of State lands in Couva by SIS Ltd, one of the main financiers of the Peoples Partnership.
The ‘Land for the Landless’ program, which is being implemented by the Land Settlement Agency (LSA), has now been redefined in such stark terms that I have decided to call it by a more appropriate title ‘Land for Everybody’.
The previous article set out the main points of the revised program. That detrimental law was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday 3rd June. Although we have now heard that the new law to amend the State Lands 1998 Act was withdrawn just before the close of our Parliament on Friday 12th June 2015, we are also being told that it will be approved if the Peoples Partnership is returned to office after the national elections in September.
This change to our country squatter regularisation law is therefore now being held out as an expansive election promise to regularise the status of some 60,000 landless people. That proposed program is a severely detrimental one which will likely lead to greater problems in the important question of our country’s human settlement policy. It is therefore necessary to highlight the dangers this new ‘Land for Everybody’ program poses to our collective interests.
The Minister of Land and Marine Resources, Jairam Seemungal, gave several interviews which attempted to rebut my criticisms, so it is important that that these fundamental issues be properly understood. The public interest demands nothing less.
“Couch Discussion” on Making Legislation Work at Trinidad & Tobago Transparency Institute’s Anti-Corruption Conference Friday 20th March 2015 – Ian Chinapoo, Catherine Kumar, Afra Raymond – moderated by Winston Rudder
Afra Raymond’s main remarks are between 19:26 and 32:15
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