CL Financial Bailout – Studied Disdain

Sen the Hon. Larry Howai, Minister of Finance and the Economy

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 2012Affidavit 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 after Dookeran’s Affidavit, 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.

The Ministry’s Press Release deserves stern scrutiny, so these are my points.

Why is the State appealing?

According to the third para –

…the primary objective of the appeal is to ensure that as we guard the best interests of the people of Trinidad & Tobago, we also abide by our responsibility to both uphold the law, and protect the privacy and rights to confidentiality of citizens…

Conventional interpretation of that sequence would place the public interest above the other ones listed. No reasonable person could object to that position, but the details are crucial.

What is being appealed?

Despite the lofty opening tones of the Press Release, the Notice of Appeal specifies the real intent.

In relation to the High Court’s order to provide details of creditors and dates of payment –

Para 4 (i) “…The said order constitutes unreasonable disclosure of personal information of third parties without notification to such third parties…

Here we can see that the State is attempting to elevate the rights of ‘third parties’ – i.e. private creditors – above the public interest. The order of the Court is being described as ‘unreasonable’, without even an attempt at reasoning. Deep irony and disrespect, on the record.

The Ministry never followed the S.35 Public Interest Test set out in the Freedom of Information Act, which would have required a balancing of the public and private interests at stake.

The several ‘Policy-holders’ groups repeatedly claim to have ‘a contract with the State‘.

In the case of State contracts, it is possible to obtain details such as copies of the contracts, names of the contractors, amounts paid and on what dates. It is impossible to reconcile that degree of openness on State Contracts with the utter secrecy with which this bailout has been conducted.

The State’s stance in this matter is tantamount to declaring that financial investors have more rights to privacy than anyone else.

If the State prevails in this attempt to elevate investors’ private rights to privacy above the public right to information about how Public Money is spent or Public functions are discharged, our Republic would have suffered a grievious wound. It would then be entirely plausible for public officials in the future to refuse applications for any contract information on the grounds of individuals’ rights to privacy.

But there is more, since the Ministry is also appealing the Court order to provide the details of the September 2011 official briefing of our Independent Senators –

Para 4 (ii) “…The granting of this order is contrary to the doctrine of the separation of powers, impinges on parliamentary privilege and has a chilling effect on the freedom of speech constitutionally enjoyed by Members of Parliament and will be in breach of Section 55 of the Constitution…

The State’s original claim that the release of this briefing could somehow jeopardise private interests was completely rejected by the High Court, so new grounds are now being advanced to hide the details of that crucial briefing.

Finally, of course, the State is now claiming that the High Court Order ‘erred’ in ordering the publication of the accounts upon which then Finance Minister Winston Dookeran was relying when he prepared his affidavit of 3 April 2012. The grounds being cited are ‘Legal Professional Privilege‘, which echoes with the ‘wrongside’ thinking on show during the Invader’s Bay case. The Ministers are Public Servants and it is unlawful for them to continue suppressing this information in this way.

The ‘frankomen‘ refusal of the Minister of Finance to account for these huge sums of Public money is a tragic bell tolling for the threat to our Common-Wealth, sometimes called a Republic.

One of the popular slogans of the Peoples Partnership in this election season is –

Your Government, Working for You!

This sordid situation, I am asking myself –

Our Government, Working for Who?


5 thoughts on “CL Financial Bailout – Studied Disdain

  1. Thank you for keeping this issue “on the front burner”. With all the other news and “election noise” this matter may have been forgotten.

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