“…Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories…”
—Amilcar Cabral, 1924-1973
counterfactual (plural counterfactuals)
This is the start of my Season of Reflection, my two-month period of deeper and hopefully more fruitful work. This article will appear on Wednesday, 31 July, the next day being Emancipation Day (1 August 1834), the real start of the Season, the next point being Independence Day on 31 August (1962) and the third is Republic Day on 24 September (1976). The meaning of those events is deep, as they denote the outlawing of slavery of African people to the end of British colonial rule and then the birth of our Republic, crystallizing real equality amongst humans, at an aspirational level at least. The special sequence of those holidays adds to the Season as part of our efforts to build a civilisation.
This special Season of Reflection, I am going to be taking a fresh look at the CL Financial collapse and bailout to see how those can cast a certain light.
In the era of Donald Trump, Brexit, Boris Johnson, Cambridge Analytica and all of those current events, we are in a virtual hurricane of media chatter to coax us along particular lines, but I always do wonder – ‘How new is any of this?‘
After all, how can we as educated people in the Global South be discussing any of this as new? When one considers our shared history of cooked-up elections, invasions, assassinations, coups, secessions, economic depressions, media attacks and so on, it is clear that none of this is new. As the late Malcolm X said, when asked for a comment on the assassination of JFK – ‘The chickens have come home to roost.‘ That is all.
Which brings us neatly to the first of two big counterfactuals which the CLF bailout show in refreshing relief, which is the claim or hypothesis that African-descended people never had any big or successful business. To put it another way, the ‘other groups‘ in the society have squeezed-out or dominated the African-descended people. We have all heard those claims, but those cannot survive contact with reality.
The only way such claims can be sustained is if one were to ignore the CL Financial group, which grew out of CLICO, founded in 1936 by two Cyrils. Cyril Duprey (Trinidadian cousin of Lawrence) and Cyril Monsanto, the St Lucian and close friend of Duprey’s.
In the 1930s, the nascent insurance sector was ruled by Canadian companies, Sun Life and Standard Life. It was into that gayelle that Cyril Duprey and his cohort descended, so it is important to reflect on the name chosen for the new insurance company ‘Colonial Life‘. From what I understand, at that time, the word ‘Colonial’ was used to denote African or Indian subjects within the British colonial order. To have chosen that name, to my mind, was tantamount to founding a finance company today with the name ‘Nubian’. Such was the measure of those bravé dangé pioneers, led by the 38-year old Mr Cyril.
Hear one of the early salesmen, George Kangalee:
“…People thought we were joking when we started to sell insurance. They slammed their windows in our faces. A negro man coming to sell insurance! At that time, only the big people and the big companies sold insurance…”
Here are the prescient words of Cyril Duprey:
“…While I agree that the creole people do not like creole business, there is one thing you fail to realize. If you give a man value, if you give a man service, irrespective of his background, he is going to support you. And I intend to give both…”
CLICO grew into the largest insurance company in T&T with strong performance in other parts of the region and expanded via its holding company CL Financial. Those holdings grew to include majority shareholding in the region’s largest bank – Republic Bank Limited – the largest private property owner in T&T – Home Construction Ltd. – the jewels in the crown of Angostura Ltd and Methanol Holdings.
The CLF group was established, managed and owned by an African-descended group, that is undeniable. One can still hear the baseless claims being advanced, for what reason? Ahistorical, to be polite.
I have been and remain a strong critic of how that CLF group was run and worse-yet, how it has been bailed-out. None of those opinions of mine disturb the facts as stated. It is impossible to really discuss the business, finance, insurance, real estate, downstream energy industries or distilling/marketing without mentioning a group as huge as CLF.
Facts are stubborn things, hence my epigraph. Some people committed to silencing the past. In the next article, I will tackle the other toxic counterfactual as illuminated by the CLF bailout. Happy Emancipation holiday!
Addendum: The Disclosure Dance
Several readers told me that the previous article was not clear on an important point on the legal arguments for disclosure of all the details of all the payments, so I am going to try again.
S. 30 (3) of the Freedom of Information Act specifies a procedure requiring a Public Authority which has decided to publish requested details of a personal nature to give notice to those persons so that they can apply to have the court protect their information. That approach allows the Court to balance the public interest in open disclosure against the private interests of persons whose details are held by public authorities.
In my litigation the Finance Ministry used that S.30 (3) procedure for the professional firms, none of which applied to stop publication of the details of the fees earned in the CLF bailout. You see, the Ministry chose not to use that procedure for the other payees, but to go the way of blanket refusals on a fear of crime basis. Of course, the real point is that any payee seeking to have its information protected would have to reveal itself in its Court filings. The Code of Silence is still hard at work, this time to shield the payees of British American Insurance, CMMB, CIB and CL Financial from being named.