CL Financial bailout – the Information War, part two

‘The Upholder is worse than the Thief’

—from the defunct Trinidad & Tobago value system, decades ago…

The previous article outlined the issue of the form of information and examined the claims by the Ministry of Finance that the CL Financial accounts were somehow misplaced. This article will return to the question of form and then examine the issue of the publication of the names of the persons/entities who benefited from the CLF bailout.

Vishnu Dhanpaul_1_0
Vishnu Dhanpaul, PS of Min of Finanace

The Ministry’s PS is now taking the position that only hard copy correspondence will be recognised and apart from the absurdity of that position, one needs to examine that claim seriously. That PS actually confirmed his email address to me before I started this series of exchanges, yet he is now taking the position that my emails do not exist. As I showed last week, it is clear that my emailed message on the Ministry’s pattern of delivering letters to my office, even when those were addressed to my home, was received and understood. Yet even that letter of 31st July 2018 did not acknowledge the other contents of my emails.

It is simply incredible that the PS at the Ministry of Finance, in 2018, is prepared to persist with this pattern of communications. This, at a point when we are supposedly reaching for ttconnect, e-commerce, a Single Electronic Window and who knows what else. Well I tell you. Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – the Information War, part two”

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Land for Everybody?

My letter to the Editor was published in the Trinidad Express on 3 June  2015 as “Protecting our patrimony.”

The Editor,

The government laid the State Land (Regularisation of Tenure) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, 2015 in Parliament on Friday 29 May and I am reliably informed that it is due to be approved at today’s sitting (Wednesday 3 June 2015).

Given the continuing absence of the Opposition PNM from our Parliament and the sporadic coverage in the media, it is important that the main points of these new proposals be exposed –

  • Application date – formerly, persons who had illegally occupied State Lands up to January 1998 were entitled to be regularised – the new law would move that date to June 2014. That means that more persons will be regularised;
  • The numbers – There are serious questions arising about the numbers to be regularised in this process – the PM said recently that 30,000 were to be given Certificates of Comfort, Minister Seemungal is now saying that it is really 60,000, while the LSA website gives estimates of 250,000 persons. So, just what are we counting? Do these numbers represent inhabitants or is it the number of lots? We have no real clarity on just how much additional land is to to be allocated in this new process.
  • Where is the land? – The Schedule of the new law is an A to Z list of designated areas in every district of our country, so these are really expansive proposals. All areas will be affected.
  • The rationale – Minister Seemungal stated that there are extensive aerial surveys and other information being used to guide this process, but I think significant caution is necessary. The lack of an open process of policy review and formation in this important matter is proving very expensive for our collective interests. Have other State agencies and stakeholders been consulted?
  • Who benefits? – We do not have any open database on the allocation of public housing, state land or even all property. Which means that the real beneficiaries could remain unknown. Of course that is a recipe for the misallocation of State lands on an epic scale, so it is important to establish some transparent mechanism to examine what is happening.

Just remember that Minister Seemungal was the one who refused to provide details on the terms under which SIS occupied certain State lands at Couva, claiming that those details were private. The PM told the Parliament the next day that the Minister had denied making those televised statements. As I wrote recently in the ‘Our Land’ series, the new rules for the ‘Land for the Landless’ program, make it seem that the real name should be ‘Land for Everybody’.

We need to be alert to protect our patrimony, particularly in relation to property.

Afra Raymond
JCC President

Property Tax Facts

Property Tax is back and the controversy has naturally returned since the ‘Axe the Tax‘ movement was a signal moment of unity in the anti-PNM campaigns of 2009/2010.

In my opinion, the anti-Property Tax movement was an important measure of the extent to which our national discourse is now irrational and baseless.  The disenchantment with the Manning administration and the thirst to have them removed seemed to occupy more time than any substantial discussion as to the merits of the proposed Property Tax.

Now, as then, I hold the view that our nation’s Property Tax regime is long-overdue for reform and updating.  I support the proposals to do so and we will have to wait for more detail to analyse these proposals further.

Here are a few of the basic facts on Property Tax.

The size of the Property Tax Take – Proportionally

The Estimates of Revenue disclose that in 1995 property tax was 2% of tax revenue and in 2009 it was expected to be a mere .18%.  Property tax, when last collected, contributed a small fraction of the amount it did 15 years ago.  The official projections for the Property Taxes proposed by the PNM were for that revenue to increase to $325M in 2010 – even at that level, the contribution would have barely exceeded 1% of the national tax revenue.

The Draft Estimates of Revenue (2014) published in the recently-approved budget are unclear and I have requested an official clarification before making any detailed comments on those.  As an example the Total Tax Revenue 2014 is estimated (at p. vii) to be $46.8Bn, with ‘Taxes on Property’ comprising $3.914M, which is a tiny proportion of the total, about 100,000th of 1%.  The accompanying chart, on that very page, shows Property Tax at 1% of the total.  There is more to say, but I am awaiting the requested information, hopefully before next week’s deadline.

The key point here is that property is a vibrant engine of wealth in our country and has been so for many decades, every successful person knows that.  Given that fundamental, it is obvious that property has to be properly taxed if any kind of economic justice is to emerge. The historically paltry percentage of revenues raised via Property Taxes is solid justification for a comprehensive mapping of who owns what and the where.  This is a flourishing sector of the economy, so proper taxes are long-overdue.

The size of the Property Tax Take – Absolutely

property-tax_93-09
Total Property Tax 1993-2009. Click image to see expanded version. category_expand

*The PNM’s 2009 proposal was to abolish both the L&B Taxes and the House Rates, with the replacement Property Tax anticipated to earn $325M in the year 2010 – from Ministry of Finance, Estimates of Revenue 2010 (at pg v )

The figures tell a story, since they depict an unexplained decline in Property Tax revenue from $132.16M in 1994 to $83.44M in 1995 and modest increases to $95.08M in 2001, before restoration to $129.65M in 2002.  L&B Taxes were payable outside of Municipalities, while House Rates were payable within the 5 Municipalities – POS, San Fernando, Arima, Point Fortin and Chaguanas.

According to the official records, the real decline in Property Tax income in that period occurred in non-Municipal areas, with L&B Taxes falling from $109.38M in 1994 to $60.38M in 1995, never rising above $64M, before restoration in 2002 to $94.08M.  In clear contrast, House Rates in the corresponding period rose steadily from $22.78M to $35.97M.

I am an outsider examining these aspects of the Property Tax challenge from the published record and one wonders just who is responsible for this level of sheer recklessness.  After all, 45% of the revenue from L&B Taxes vanished in a mere 12 months and in any properly-managed organisation that would send alarm bells ringing.  Over the seven fiscal years 1995-2001, an annual average of $50M in Land & Building Taxes went unpaid – which makes a total of about $350M in missing revenue, at a minimum. What was the reaction within the Board of Inland Revenue?  What steps did they take to identify and eliminate this leakage?  Was there any tax evasion?  Was anyone charged for that criminal offence?

These are essential questions to be resolved if we are to master the challenge of the proposed Property Tax  system.

The Local Government element

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2009 Municipal Corporations funding. Click image to see expanded version. category_expand

Both PNM and Peoples Partnership proposed to send the Property Taxes direct to the Consolidated Fund.  The effect of that would be to reduce Municipalities to having just over 2% of their funding free from Central Government controls.  That critical element must form part of any discussion on Local Government reform.

Next week, I delve into the question of income tax on rental income and the likely levels of tax on your property.

VIDEO: Time to Face the Facts about Caribbean Corruption – 26 May 2013

This is the interview on Caribbean Corruption for ‘Time to Face the Facts‘ which was broadcast out of Barbados-based Caribbean Media Corporation on Sunday 26th May 2013.

The audience was regional via cable and global via their Facebook page. The interviewer is Jerry George and the format was a live call-in. Video courtesy Jerry George

Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

Compliance of CL Financial Directors with the Integrity in Public Life Act

These are my emails to formally raise the issue of the applicability of our Integrity in Public Life Act—which requires Public Officials to file declarations of their interests and assets as an Integrity safeguard—to the Directors of CL Financial.

This is an issue I first wrote on in May 2009 and the questions remained unanswered, so the questions have now been put directly to the relevant officials.

From: Afra Raymond <afraraymond@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Sep 10, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Subject: Compliance of CL Financial Directors with the Integrity in Public Life Act
To: registrar@integritycommission.org.tt

To – Mr. Martin Farrell, Registrar of the Integrity Commission

Dear Sir,

The Integrity in Public Life Act requires that “Members of the Boards of all Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises including those bodies in which the State has a controlling interest” are required to file returns and declare interests with the Integrity Commission.

Clause 3.1. of the CL Financial Shareholders’ Agreement of 12th June 2009 – see https://afraraymond.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/mou21.pdf – specifies that the Board of Directors of CLF shall consist of seven Directors, four of which shall be nominated by the Government.  The GORTT has a controlling interest and it is public knowledge that the GORTT has exercised those rights, amounting to strong influence evidencing control.

It seems clear that the directors of CL Financial Ltd are therefore persons who should file declarations, and therefore also the directors of subsidiaries under their influence and control, but having visited your offices earlier today to examine the Register of Interests it seems that these Directors have not been filing returns with you.

For your information, your staff confirmed to me today that none of these people have filed declarations or been required to file such for 2009, 2010 or 2011 –

Gerald Yet Ming (CLF’s current Chairman)
Hayden Charles (CLICO Director)
Ronald Harford (Republic Bank’s Chairman)
Dr Euric Bobb (former CLF Chairman)
Rampersad Motilal (Managing Director of Methanol Holdings Limited)

I am therefore requesting, in the public interest, your confirmation that Directors of CL Financial and the companies within its control are required to file declarations or your confirmation that those Directors are not required to file or such other informative response that will satisfy this complaint of apparent non-compliance.

I await your early reply.

Yours faithfully,

Afra Raymond
B.Sc. FRICSwww.afraraymond.com

From: Afra Raymond <afraraymond@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Sep 10, 2012 at 10:13 PM
Subject: Compliance of CL Financial Directors with the Integrity in Public Life Act
To: [email hidden by author]
To – Senator Larry Howai, Minister of Finance & the Economy
Honourable Minister,
The Integrity in Public Life Act requires that “Members of the Boards of all Statutory Bodies and State Enterprises including those bodies in which the State has a controlling interest” are required to file returns and declare interests with the Integrity Commission.
Clause 3.1. of the CL Financial Shareholders’ Agreement of 12th June 2009 – see https://afraraymond.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/mou21.pdf – specifies that the Board of Directors of CLF shall consist of seven Directors, four of which shall be nominated by the Government.  The GORTT has a controlling interest and it is public knowledge that the GORTT has exercised those rights, amounting to strong influence evidencing control.

In addition, the CL Financial bailout has consumed large amounts of public money, in which connection I would invite your attention to the 3rd April 2012 affidavit of then Minister of Finance, Winston Dookeran, in which the public money committed to this bailout is detailed 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.

For ease of reference, that affidavit can be viewed here – https://afraraymond.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/2012-04-03-affidavit-of-winston-dookeran.pdf.

That amounts to an estimated $24Bn of public money to be expended in bailout exercise and it is my contention that our country’s Integrity safeguards must be firmly in place to reduce any potential for improper behaviour or the suspicion of such.

It seems clear that the directors of CL Financial Ltd are therefore persons who should file declarations, and therefore also the directors of subsidiaries under their influence and control, but having visited the Integrity Commission offices earlier today to examine the Register of Interests it seems that these Directors have not been filing returns.

For your information, Integrity Commission staff confirmed to me today that none of these people have filed declarations or been required to file such for 2009, 2010 or 2011 –
Gerald Yet Ming (CLF’s current Chairman)
Hayden Charles (CLICO Director)
Ronald Harford (Republic Bank’s Chairman)
Dr Euric Bobb (former CLF Chairman)
Rampersad Motilal (Managing Director of Methanol Holdings Limited)

I am therefore requesting, in the public interest, your confirmation that Directors of CL Financial and the companies within its control are required to file declarations or your confirmation that those Directors are not being required to file or such other informative response that will satisfy this complaint of apparent non-compliance.

I await your early reply.

Yours faithfully,

Afra Raymond
B.Sc. FRICS

www.afraraymond.com

EMANCIPATION Too – a relevant republication for the Republic, yea our Nation….

This is the text of the ‘Emancipation’ column published in the Business Guardian of 30th July 2009 as my attempt to grapple with some of the the unspoken causes and consequences of this huge fiasco.

I am republishing for two reasons…

  1. Firstly, there have been recent attempts by several people to claim that the Hindu Credit Union part of the Colman Commission is not related to ‘race’…that was surprising since some of those were people who ought to know better – Sir Anthony Colman, the Guardian Editorial-writer and of course, Andre Bagoo. In my opinion a significant part of these two interlinked stories – the CL Financial and HCU collapses – is rooted in our own issues with race. It would be a grave error to dismiss race in trying to understand these crises.
  2. Secondly, the original column was published before this blog was launched, so this is a way of putting the point to those who missed it on the first subscribers.

I have not had the time to delve into the role of race in the HCU matter, so this is my offering in relation to CL Financial and our own African Emancipation Day celebrations…maybe readers can share with me if they see the relation between this situation and the HCU one…


Emancipation

This week the meaning of Emancipation is considered alongside the CL Financial fiasco. It is a painful, but necessary, task. Those of us concerned to commemorate the Emancipation of African people from slavery must have the courage and clarity to reflect on our past, both the distant and the recent. In reflection we can find direction and perhaps, the beginning of a solution.

How, if at all, is the CL Financial fiasco connected with the story of Emancipation? I deliberately use the word ‘story’ since it is clear that there are many versions of this period in our history. I say ‘our history’ because, whatever the race of today’s readers, the Emancipation journey is of vital concern to the progress of humanity.

There were notable and honourable African leaders who put up strong resistance to the efforts by Europeans to enslave their people. But the sad and inescapable fact is that there were others who thought of the process differently. It is a painful matter to discuss, but the fact is that some African rulers collaborated with the European slave-traders to capture and sell their people. Not all, but enough to make the difference. Without getting into the entire history, which is way beyond the scope of this column, the actions of that group of rulers were enough to ensure the success of the entire monstrous project. The Atlantic slave-trade shaped large elements of today’s world and we have been trying to build a new one ever since. Yes, an immoral and greedy group of rulers put a greater value on their personal enrichment than the well-being of those they were entrusted to lead.

The entire society paid the price for the selfish ambitions of these rulers.

One of the most striking things about the CL Financial fiasco is that Lawrence Duprey is one of us, an indigenous Caribbean man. Yes, a black man, with African blood flowing through his veins and that is something that has not formed part of our public discussion so far. One of the strangest features of these times is how, despite the over-supply of media, critical issues are not discussed. When one considers that the vast majority of the population of the region comes from an African background, it is striking that Lawrence Duprey is the only such tycoon in the region with his level of profile. But wait, I almost forgot that there is another one. Yes, I am speaking about Michael Lee Chin.

Whichever way you slice it, this is extremely telling and as a result Duprey carried a peculiar set of expectations. Because of his unique profile as a black man, the fact is that Lawrence Duprey was the recipient of widespread admiration, envy and wonder. That is our society and that is one of the ways we deal with its ugly realities.

To go further, the leading people in the CL Financial team were also black. Yes, most of the CL Financial team have African blood flowing in their veins. Yes, by now I can hear some readers saying things like – ‘But X or Y doesn’t think that they are Black’ or ‘So what?’ or ‘Exactly what is your point?’. That kind of skepticism is expected when one discusses this kind of issue. In fact it is my view that the underlying attitude is the very problem.

At the same time, let us note that the regulators are themselves black people. Yes, the picture I am painting is that the main players are virtually all black people – the Cabinet, the Central Bank and the CL Financial/CLICO chiefs.

We African people have come from far, both metaphorically and physically. We now find ourselves in a sorry place with this CL Financial fiasco. We have a particular responsibility to do better this time around. There is no escaping that fact.

CLICO was built around the ideal, by its founder Cyril Duprey (Lawrence’s cousin) that ‘Give a man service, give a man value and he will give you more business’. Simple, but strong, those were the foundation stones of CLICO. Truth prevailed and with hard work the company prospered. CLICO developed unprecedented levels of investor confidence, as a black company (indigenous) in which one could have faith. Given our history as African people, that level of investor confidence is no small or incidental thing. It could only have been the result of solid vision and diligent long-term application, to name just two of the qualities of the founder.

CL Financial was established as a holding company and rapid diversification followed, with investments in a number of areas unrelated to conventional insurance business. As a result of its success, CLICO was able to provide most of the cash to pay for the group’s unorthodox expansion.

At that stage, the activities of the group shifted to reflect the new ambitions of its new chiefs, most notably its Executive Chairman, Lawrence Duprey. Those activities ultimately undermined the stability and health of the whole.

The Emancipation story has many lessons, but the central one, from my point of view, is that many of our rulers lost sight of the balance between private wealth/privilege and the public good. Are we doing better now? For us, in this Emancipation week, it is useful to consider the extent to which we have learnt from our past.

The actual behaviour of the CL Financial chiefs and the group’s shareholders in this moment is instructive. At every turn, the public good has been shafted in favour of private wealth. From the payment of dividends while CLICO’s Statutory Fund was in deficit to the payment of dividends to CL Financial shareholders after they wrote for urgent financial assistance from the State. The pledging of assets which had already been pledged and the attempted sale of assets contrary to the original MoU. The shocking statement of CLICO’s new boss that $5.0Bn was missing from its Statutory Fund and the utter silence subsequently as to its whereabouts.

All this shocking behaviour and no sign of any reprimand, charge or censure from our rulers. Instead, we are told that our entire Treasury has been pledged to assist savers and restore shareholder value. Trinidad & Tobago is a land of many firsts, but this is a tragic one.

How did we get to the point of pledging our common wealth to restoring value to a few privileged people who are showing no proper regard for the public good?

Do we have the moral fibre to recognize what has gone wrong in our past and behave differently?