‘…Doublethink is the ability to hold two completely contradictory beliefs at the same time and to believe they are both true…’
—from George Orwell’s ‘1984’
On 25 January 2017 the annual Corruption Perceptions Index report was published by Transparency International, with the results reflecting poorly on our country. T&T’s score fell from 39 in the previous year to 34 in 2016 – this scale measures greater perceptions of public sector corruption as declining scores, with the countries seen as least corrupt having the highest score. As a result of the declining score, our ranking fell from 72nd out of 168 countries to 101st out of 176. That decline in perception was a serious one and really little surprise to the attentive citizen, none whatsoever. Of course perceptions take some time to change, so the question is whether the post-September 2015 regime can improve those poor perceptions.
I believe that there is now an outbreak of tragic ‘doublethink’ within our country’s leadership, in relation to the CL Financial bailout. That must be challenged if we are to ever see any improvement in our nation’s fortunes, not to mention the slide in terms of perception of corruption.
The first chapter is the statement of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to Parliament on 1 July 2016, in relation to the Colman Report into the failure of CL Financial and four of its subsidiaries. The Colman Report was delivered to President Carmona on 22 June 2016 and passed to the PM the same day, after which it was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his advice as to its publication.
The PM made stern remarks on the findings of the Report –
- “…Having perused the report myself…I can advise the population that it contains very serious allegations of criminal misconduct on the part of a handful of privileged individuals who were associated with the Clico/CLF group of companies…”
- “…a number of adverse findings of criminal misconduct of a kleptocratic nature were found...”
The official decision to delay publication of the Report was justified on the grounds that those serious findings needed to be investigated and possible prosecutions made against the responsible parties. It was clear from Dr Rowley’s address that swift justice was on the way for these financial criminals.
Which takes us directly to the second chapter of the issue, the reports of an approach being crafted to close the bailout by returning CLF to its original shareholders. Those reports have not been publicly challenged, to my knowledge. That places before us the clear prospect of CLF’s chiefs regaining control of these companies on unknown terms. That would be a ghastly and unacceptable outcome.
If that is the negotiation which is in fact ongoing, it would do violence to the notion that legal processes should not result in a wrongdoer benefiting from their crimes. Of course there is always the possibility of an official denial or further information which gives the public a better sense of what is happening.
This is the apparent DoubleThink in relation to the CL Financial bailout and its resolution.
In that important statement, Dr Rowley emphasised the government’s commitment to openness –
…Whilst in the last five-year administration, the management of Clico, CLF and the associated companies were shrouded in secrecy by the UNC administration, this PNM Government has no intention of operating in that manner. This Government will operate in an open, transparent and accountable manner as it has been doing…
In light of those assurances, I am now calling for a clarification of this situation: ‘Is the State now engaged in negotiations to return these companies to their original shareholders?‘
On 31 January 2017, I co-signed an open letter to Central Bank Governor, Dr Alvin Hilaire, with colleagues David Walker and Disclosure Today. That letter made three points
- Regulatory Forbearance – The Central Bank has a duty to apply its own ‘fit and proper regulations’ against the CLF chiefs, especially given its 2011 lawsuit and consequent press release.
- Relinquishing of control of CLICO – Our reading of the Central Bank Act is that its control of CLICO ought now to be released.
- Resolving the conflict – The Central Bank, on its own statements, has a duty to find the CLF principals to have failed the ‘fit and proper test’, in which case they cannot regain positions as Directors, Officers or controlling Shareholders. On the other hand, there is also a compelling case that the Central Bank has to relinquish control over CLICO in accordance with its Act. There is therefore an urgent need for this apparent conflict to be resolved. The public needs to be assured that there is no chance of those persons, against whom the Central Bank is litigating, re-entering our country’s financial system in any manner which could again jeopardise our collective security.
I expect Dr Rowley to proceed with fortitude, consistent with his well-known intolerance of corruption. Indeed, our Prime Minister was not a member of the January 2009 Cabinet which made this perilous deal with CL Financial, having been relieved of his portfolio in April 2008 by the late Patrick Manning, the then PM.
We need to dispel the Doublethink.