CL Financial Bailout – The Hidden Truth

We are now in what I call the Season of Reflection, which for me covers the period from Emancipation Day on 1 August to Independence Day on 31 August, right up to Republic Day on 24 September. Those celebrations appear in proper historical sequence in our calendar and every year I find this two-month ‘season’ to be a sobering period for deep reflection. This year, with this CL Financial judgment and the impending election seeming to converge, the reflections are piercing ones.

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.

Sen. Larry Howai, Min of Finance
Sen. Larry Howai, Min of Finance

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.

Oath of Office

“…Ministers of government in our country take and subscribe the oath of allegiance and oath for the due execution of his/her office – under Section 84 of the Constitution – upon their appointment.

Section 84.

Form of Oath (affirmation) for
A Minister or Parliamentary Secretary

I, A.B.. do swear by………… (solemnly affirm) that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Trinidad and Tobago and will uphold the Constitution and the law, that I will conscientiously, impartially and to the best of my ability discharge my duties as ………… and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

To my mind, the only reasonable reading of the phrase ‘conscientiously, impartially‘ is that personal, family, friends or other commercial interests must never be present or considered when discharging public duties. The closing phrase specifies without fear or favour, affection or ill will, the plain meaning of which only reinforces the previous point…”

That is an extract from ‘Swearing an Oath‘, my January 2012 article in another publication which was a strong criticism of the conduct of former Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Tesheira in relation to this CL Financial bailout. The same criticism seems applicable here.

What is PNM’s position on this matter?

It is likely that the State will appeal this High Court Decision. The PNM could win the national elections on 7 September, so it seems appropriate to ask just what is their position on this matter. The PNM’s election campaign has made strong appeals on Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance in our Public Affairs. PNM leader, Dr Keith Rowley was removed from Cabinet in April 2008, so he did not participate in those fateful Cabinet decisions in 2009 on this CL Financial bailout.

If the PNM were victorious in the national elections, I would be calling for an immediate withdrawal of any appeal which had been lodged in this matter and the urgent publication of the requested information. I have observed before that the CL Financial scandal has spanned two administrations, so it would be refreshing for a leader who is relatively untouched by that affair to initiate open and accountable conduct of this matter. Only time will tell.

The fundamentals are that Public Money must be managed and accounted for to a higher standard than that which applies to private money. That is the accepted position in terms of good practice in public administration. Larry Howai is a qualified accountant and was a career banker before his appointment as Minister of Finance & the Economy. I do not accept that Howai is unaware of these standards. We are entitled to a full and detailed accounting of how this vast sum of Public Money was spent.

I am not at all meaning to imply that Howai has benefitted from any illegal use of Public Money. I am simply attempting to hold him accountable, as our Minister of Finance, for these vast expenditures of Public Money.

It was clear from the way my requests for information were handled that the Ministry was determined to keep those details secret. The Freedom of Information Act contains ten sections which list the various exemptions which can be claimed to refuse publication. Even if the requested information is determined to be subject to an exemption, S.35 stipulates the test to decide if the release of that information is actually in the public interest. If the requested information appears to be ‘in the balance’ between an applicable exemption and the public interest, the FoIA requires that it be published.

In this case, no logical reason was given at any point for refusing the requested information. What is more, the S.35 test was never even applied. The very handling of my request was itself in breach of the FoIA. The State’s conduct in this case bears a close resemblance to the odious and immoral behaviour from the ‘bad old days’. Yes, we used to call that kind of oppressive behaviour ‘Might is Right’. The State and its agents have an over-riding duty to conform to the law and be exemplary in the conduct of their duties.

Having failed in their attempt to obstruct and delay publication of details of how the State spent these vast sums of Public Money, there is no explanation offered for these misguided and improper actions by public officials. If one is to take the Minister’s statements at face value, it appears that even more official time and Public Money is to be spent to hide just how our money has been distributed.

We have no idea as to the cost of this High Court case or what is the estimated cost of the Appeal. Is that also a closely-guarded secret, which will require another Freedom of Information application and more litigation?

Apart from the higher standard reporting required for Public Money as a starting-point, it is important to remember that on 1 October 2010, the PM estimated the cost of the bailout at $14.3 Billion. At this point, the official statements indicate that over $25 Billion has been spent and that means we are looking a scandal right in the face. Over $10.5 Billion more than the original estimate has been spent, so where did that extra money go? That is the Elephant in the Room.

Most sobering of all, despite the favourable judgment, there is nothing to prevent this happening again. Nothing. We need to change the fundamental understanding on these matters so that we can see that the Public Money and the Information is ours. That would be the beginning of real Republican thinking.

The Minister of Finance has the responsibility to provide a proper and timely account of the vast Public Monies spent in this matter. This issue goes to a level of basic credibility. The Minister accepts and strongly defends an arrangement which sees over $25 Billion in Public Money spent without providing a proper, detailed account. Given that stated position, how then can this Minister, demand accounts and financial details from other Ministries or State Agencies? It seems like a straight case of ‘Nearer to Church, further from God‘, as the older folks used to say. Do as I say, but not as I do. I tell you.

© 2015, Copyright by Afra Raymond. All Rights Reserved. May not be reprinted without permission.


8 thoughts on “CL Financial Bailout – The Hidden Truth

  1. Fiscal maladministration and the shameless abuse of power seem innate to man because they irreverently frame and defame opposition using half truths and blatant lies. The unsuspecting masses are guided by tainted data and are usually unable to sift the fabrications from the concocted facts. Like Mildred in Maugham’s Of Human Bondage the masses honour yet they destroy the generous opportunities sponsored by the Philip Careys of life.

    David Rudder’s 1996 “Madman Rant” does justice to this recurring socio-political ill. Socrates died for it, Christ died for it and both Gandhi and Mandela died from it. Orwell’s classic, 1984, illustrated its potential and we live inside the Ministry of Truth.

    Afra, you are founding a brave new world with solid imperturbable fortitude and I urge you to fight to the end if your health allows. You are doing at great personal expense what they are being paid public funds to do and their brazen resistance demonstrates our collective unwillingness to face our civic duties even as we proclaim our shame on their known misdeeds. Utopia may as well be Nirvana but within the masses are the stalwarts who will continue perpetually to denounce the traitors of truth regardless of their strength. This is perhaps the bliss we disguise with luxurious excess, losing as we advance upwards in the Babylonic towers, the soul-satisfying ether of honesty.

  2. Dear Afra, What you wrote in a side-bar to the article makes a difference to the actual focus of the article i.e. had it been in the article then the article would read differently. What you wrote in the side-bar is not accurate because the relevant point is that the action had its genesis in one administration whose decisions led to financial committments they did not quantify at that time. The next administration carried on seamlessly from there. At what point did the CL Financial matter become a “scandal” ? Was it in 2009 or after the elections in 2010? Yes, both administrations clouded the entire matter in secrecy. What were the reasons for this? Did they both have the same reasons? If so, as refreshing as it may be why do you expect a change in administration (de facto not a new one) “to initiate open and accountable conduct of this matter” ? Perhaps you should be addressing the issue to both political parties on a political front to get some forward-looking commitment from one or the other or both? As it stands a new “un-touched” leader would simply have to blame all predecessors (just as the current administration did) but would be bound by what has already transpired (just as the current administration) unless he had made a political pre-election commitment. The Code of Silence has transcended political divides and clearly, has observed its own protocol. If so, the Court matter may extend beyond September 7th so regardless of that outcome, sadly, we may get no where with this.

    1. Hi Gerry,

      I am assuming that you are referring to the sidebar querying the PNM’s position on this matter…if that is so, I am really not following your point as to the inaccuracy of my statements.

      The instant we committed Public Money to bailout CLF and all the chiefs kept their shares and their freedom, we were on the way to full-blooded scandal. I firmly place responsibility for this scandal in the 2009 negotiations…in any case, I also believe that the crisis was known well before the end of 2008…30th January 2009 was just agreed to feed people who want a date.

      In relation to the PP administration, I do not agree that they merely ‘carried on seamlessly’…in my view there was a brief and tortured moment of clarity…think of the intent of Winston Dookeran’s intended slowdown of the payouts (announced on 8th September 2010) and the eruption of all those Policyholders’ and Depositors’ groups, which precipitated the PM’s towering speech on 1st October 2010 which showed a complete grasp of the crisis with which they were trying to grapple…the moment of clarity was brief and in my view ended when the terms of Reference for the Colman Commission were announced 17th November 2010…

      I am addressing this challenge to both political parties and that is the change in attitude for which I am campaigning.

      Thanks for joining-in.


  3. The idea that society build up these walls or rules or laws to maintain our reality, and when they fall away, you’re left with a whole bunch of illusions. Smoke and mirrors. This sounds like filmmaking in it’s purest form titled ‘Unabashed men judged by what’s in their heads, not in their beds of affliction’
    I love your tenacity and that you are indeed a war horse, a brazen hero of our times; a modern day David versus Goliath, it’s too bad more stones may be needed to slay these giants! Hab 1:10 “They mock at kings And rulers are a laughing matter to them. They laugh at every fortress…..The walls of Babylon came down but history will repeat this moment in these times we live in. Stay strong and be forever encouraged Afra. The Truth is a sword that cuts both ways~

  4. It is extremely sad for those of us who have dreamed of investing in Barbados to read about the multiple acts of duplicity that borderline on accusations of government corruption. Foreign investors shy away from environments in which corruption, accusations of corrupt practices are rampant. Whether true or not, investors take the attitude…no can do! Better safe than never! And…foreign investments do not come. What is disheartening is that on a small island everyone should know that if you cough to loud at South Point….by noon everybody at North point knows about it…..even though North Point is telling a different story.

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