I smiled at the page three photo in another newspaper 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.
SIDEBAR: The Timeline
- Wednesday 3 June 2015 – CBTT declares ‘no payment’ to CLF chiefs who were subject to Civil litigation. The Central Bank issued a Press Release to declare that, on the basis of professional advice received, no monies would be paid to Lawrence Duprey, Andre Monteil and Gita Sakal. It was also stated that there was no legal basis for withholding payment to the other former Directors or Officers of CLICO.
- Friday 5 June 2015 – $48.5M, including interest, was paid out to four former CLICO Directors – Ian Garcia; Clinton Ramberansingh; Vishnu Ramlogan and Nigel Salina.
- Friday 5 June 2015 – Gerald Yetming, CLICO’s Chairman and Carolyn John, its Managing Director were dismissed by CBTT. The sternly-worded Press Release stated that the two CLICO chiefs had been dismissed for ‘failure to follow direct instructions’ in relation to the controversial payments.
- Saturday 6 June 2015 – Yetming’s angry response to his dismissal was a strong one in which he claimed to have followed procedure every step of the way. The dismissed MD, Carolyn John, was also reported to be considering legal action.
- Tuesday 9 June 2015 – Finance Minister, Larry Howai, was then forced to declare that the entire episode was under review. Even after a heated debate in the Senate on Thursday 11th June, it is astonishing that the public is no wiser as to the fundamental question – ‘Did Minister Howai have prior notice or approve of the CLICO dismissals?‘ Even before the completion of that necessary review, which could take some time, this is an important matter to be clarified.
- Sunday 14 June 2015 – Peter Permell, of the CLICO Policyholders’ Group, set out a ‘Perfect Crime’. That was his scenario in which masked criminals escape detection after a major bank robbery, by the device of having everyone wear the same mask.
- Monday 15 June 2015 – Two other CLICO Directors resign on principle in solidarity with their dismissed colleagues. Jagdeesh Siewrattan and Denyse Mehta both resigned from the CLICO Board in protest at the “unfair, unjust and insensitive” dismissals of the Chairman and the Managing Director.
The fact is that the Central Bank Governor’s dismissal of Yetming was very strong action, indicative of a complete breakdown of trust between professionals. At that level, it is fundamental that strong levels of trust exist if the public interest is to be safeguarded. The Public Officials in charge of these vast sums of Public Money must be people we can trust.
The spending of over $25 Billion in Public Money has been conducted with all the usual safeguards having been methodically dismantled or disregarded. The absence of CL Financial’s audited accounts or any details on just who are the beneficiaries of this huge program are all signs of an epic opportunity for looting of our Treasury. I have no doubt that the financial criminals among us have taken full advantage of this situation. I have litigated under the Freedom of Information Act to get those details from the Minister of Finance and that judgment is carded for 23 July 2015.
The Colman Commission held its last hearing on Friday 3 May 2013 and its Report into the Hindu Credit Union was published on 16 July 2014. That Report was 378 pages long, but the HCU was estimated to be insolvent by some $485M. The point being that CL Financial’s bailout cost the taxpayer over $25 Billion, according to the latest information, so one can only imagine how much longer and more complicated that Report is likely to be.
The lone Commissioner, Sir Anthony Colman, was reported in this newspaper on Friday 26 June to have blamed poor support from the Commission’s lawyers for the delay in issuing letters to the persons who are intended to be criticised in the Report. I knew the matter was complicated, but it was staggering to learn that those letters have not yet been even completed. Over two years since the completion of the Commission’s hearings, we are now learning that the Report will take ‘not less than four months’ to complete.
That is completely unacceptable since it now seems that the production of the Colman Report into the collapse of CL Financial will be postponed by sheer starvation of the necessary resources. There is a substantial network of persons who have benefitted from the continuing ‘Code of Silence’ in this CL Financial fiasco. Those persons are in both parties, at the very top of the social and economic order. That delayed publication is in the interest of those persons. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
The State has to intervene to provide the necessary resources so that the critical work of this Commission of Enquiry is not lost or, even worse, out-dated by the time the Report is completed. Our country has to learn the lessons of this tragic chapter so that it is not repeated. Our Law Association, Bankers and Accountants bodies as well as other concerned citizens must insist that the Enquiry is properly completed.
The apparent conflict between former CLICO Chairman Yetming, Governor Rambaran and Minister Howai seem to me to be a short disagreement between close colleagues who share common objectives. I suppose time would tell and that very chummy photo will just be ‘one for the books‘, yet another sign that we are indeed in the ‘Silly Season’. Yetming was reported to have described his dismissal as CLICO’s Chairman as “something minor that is not something for me to take on seriously.”
The more serious point, from which we cannot escape, is that there does not seem to me to be any priority being given to the issue of proper accountability and transparency in relation to the actual conduct of the bailout. The terms of reference for the Colman Commission excluded the spending of the bailout monies, in conflict with the PM’s address to Parliament on 1 October 2010.
The CLF Directors are not filing declarations with the Integrity Commission, as required by the Integrity in Public Life Act in the case of every other State-controlled company. The Integrity Commission is maintaining resolute silence in the face of my continuing challenges of this ‘wilful blindness’.
I was intrigued to see that the CPG’s Peter Permell was calling loudly for transparency in relation to these payouts –
“…we wish to renew our call for a forensic audit of all payments that may have already been made to this group to date, relative to the Central Bank/CLICO resolution Plan. Since, we are persuaded that this is the only way the public in general and bona fide third-party policyholders in particular will be able to ever find out the truth as to what really transpired in this obscene, immoral, highly questionable and vexatious multi-million dollar payout…”.
That is fine, but it begs the question of why this degree of scrutiny should be reserved for the former Directors and Officers only. All the details of all the payments need to be released, that is the only way the public can find out the truth of what lies beneath this epic financial crime.