On Friday 30th January 2009, the CL Financial (CLF) bailout started, so today – 30th January 2019 – is the ten-year anniversary of that fateful decision to commit Public Money to bailout the Caribbean’s largest conglomerate. The companies which were to be bailed-out were: CL Financial Ltd (CLF); Colonial Life Insurance Company Ltd (CLICO); Caribbean Money Market Brokers Ltd (CMMB); Clico Investment Bank (CIB) and British American Insurance Company (Trinidad) Ltd (BAICO).
The mismanagement of this bailout has exceeded any mismanagement which led to the collapse of CLF, that is my view.
The bailout proceeded between 30th January 2009 and 12th June 2009, with over $5.0 Billion in Public Money paid to CLF in that period, under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between then Finance Minister, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, and Lawrence Duprey, then CLF’s Executive Chairman. That MoU governed the expenditure of this vast sum of Public Money before the 12th June signing of the CLF Shareholders’ Agreement. All of which calls into question the continued claims, in relation to the Tobago Sandals project, that MoU’s are non-binding. As we say here, is according.
There has been an incredible escalation in the cost of this bailout, from the initial estimate of $5.0 Billion, to the present expenditure exceeding $25.0 Billion. This has been a source of serious concern as priority was given to pay the claims of the CLF creditors over other urgent, public needs.
This first article for 2018 is my summary of the key issues emerging from the ongoing CL Financial bailout. Yes, the bailout started on Friday 30th January 2009 and nine years later we are still at it. We have spent at least five times more than the original estimated cost, yet the situation remains essentially unresolved.
One of the most alarming aspects of this bailout has been the staggering increase in the amount of Public Money spent. The original cost was estimated to be $5.0Bn and we were told by the Minister of Finance in his Mid-Term Budget Review on 10th May 2017 that – “…the Government may be owed up to $27.7 billion by the CLF Group…”.
Despite that huge increase in expense, about 15,000 policyholders are still to be paid, so who got that $27.7 Billion in Public Money? I sued since 2012, under the Freedom of Information Act to get details of those payments and the audited accounts of the CLF group. Despite the change of government in September 2015, after my High Court win in July of that year, the State has continued its appeal against that High Court ruling. The Appeal Court hearing of my case is set for 24th January 2018, so we will be seeing more of this issue of State secrecy in huge expenditure. Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – 2017 summary”→
On Sunday 22nd May 2016, the front-page story in this newspaper was headlined ‘We will pay it back‘. That article featured very interesting quotes from former CL Financial Executive Chairman, Lawrence Duprey as well as the Minister of Finance & the Economy, Colm Imbert, on the prospects for repayment of the huge sums of Public Money spent on this CL Financial bailout.
Duprey claimed to have made a formal proposal to the State to repay taxpayers and all stakeholders who are owed money, while insisting that the amount owed was yet to be determined. The failure or refusal of the State to publish any audited statements in relation to this CL Financial bailout appears to be impeding the discussions as to a settlement of this massive debt. The sidebar contains a summary of how the Public Money spent on this bailout has grown from the initial 2009 estimates of $5 Billion to a 2016 figure now said to exceed $24 Billion. Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – Duprey’s Story: SIFI vs PIFI”→
The recent high-level of public concern over the SSA Amendment Bill was of limited concern to me, until I started listening properly. In the event, the proposed law was passed by the Parliament and there is some threat from the Opposition of a lawsuit to test its constitutionality. We will see.
Two very interesting stances surfaced during the heated debates and it is at these kind of moments that I sometimes think of our so-called political divide. Those were the Right to Privacy stance disclosed by the AG and the private briefing of Parliamentarians as a legislative tool.
Last week we learned that Lawrence Duprey and his fellow CL Financial shareholders are victims of a badly-handled bailout. According to the Duprey version, the State must halt all asset disposals and he must regain control of the CL Financial group of companies. In what seemed to be an immediate response, Minister of Finance & the Economy, Colm Imbert, said he was so alarmed at the gross mismatch in the bailout figures that he decided to order a forensic audit on the entire process. These two contrasting stories are the latest big news on the CL Financial bailout.
I have always objected to the CL Financial bailout and it has become a strong example of how the Public Interest can be perverted under a series of disguises.
The Duprey Gambit is just the latest attack on good values in our country. It is a nasty, shocking outbreak of moral hazard. It needs to be dismantled and discredited, nothing less will do.
The Imbert Initiative looks like a welcome move to examine the details of this scandalous waste of Public Money. The proposed forensic audit seems to signal some official appetite for disclosure. However, if this is to properly protect the Public Interest, there are some ‘litmus tests’ which can show the official commitment to disclosure
Afra Raymond is interviewed on Sunday 14th February 2016 by Rennie B on the issues relating to the CL Financial bailout and his ongoing litigation with the Minister of Finance & the Economy to ensure publication of the details of that massive payout of $25Bn + in Public Money.
In this provocative talk, Afra Raymond takes a deeper look at race and racism. He successfully uses the talk to place a new perspective on how we think about race and its role in corruption. TEDxPortofSpain. 14 October 2015.
On 10 August 2015, the then Minister of Finance and the Economy appealed the High Court’s 22 July 2015 judgment which ordered the release of the details on the CL Financial bailout. My protest at this action was published in this space as ‘Studied Disdain‘. Since then, the General Election of 7 September 2015 brought about a change of government – the People’s Partnership is now the official Opposition and the People’s National Movement is once again the government.
It is essential to now determine the areas in which we can expect changes in policy and the areas in which we can expect business as usual. Those perspectives informed my letter of 15 September 2015 to the new Minister of Finance & the Economy, Colm Imbert.
Imbert asked for more time to consider my request, so I consented to his application to the Appeal Court – the next hearing in this matter is therefore set for 25th January 2016.
My exchanges thus far with Imbert have been straightforward ones, but it is always important for us to be vigilant and aware.
15th September 2015 By email & hand
Mr Colm Imbert MP,
Minister of Finance & the Economy,
Ministry of Finance & the Economy,
Eric Williams Financial Complex,
Brian Lara Promenade,
Request for Official Publication of Suppressed Details relevant to CL Financial bailout
The controversial CLF bailout is the largest payout of Public Money on a single project/issue in the history of our Republic. The entire operation has been conducted in conditions of complete secrecy with all the usual standards on transparency and accountability being ignored by the responsible public officials – a timeline showing the various official versions of the cost of this bailout is attached for ease of reference.
The PNM conducted its successful campaign for the recently-concluded 2015 General Elections on the commendable principles of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance. I have been campaigning for the restoration of those standards to this CL Financial bailout and have gone so far as to sue the Ministry of Finance (CV 2013-00162) for the details of the bailout, at my own expense and in the Public Interest.
The High Court ruled in my favour on 22 July 2015 and ordered the publication of the requested details, but on 10th August 2015 the Ministry of Finance appealed that ruling (P201 – 2015). Our next hearing is set for Monday 19th October 2015, to argue the State’s application for extension of the stay of execution. It is my intention to strongly oppose that application for any extension of the stay of execution.I am formally requesting that you take the necessary actions to restore the Public Interest in the Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance in relation to this vast, opaque expenditure of Public Money.In specific terms, I am requesting three actions from you –
Formal withdrawal of the State’s appeal in this matter;
Urgent publication of the details of the CL Financial bailout to include the audited accounts for CL Financial 2008-2014 or any interim, preliminary, draft or unaudited statements of CL Financial Limited; the full details of the official briefing to Independent Senators in September 2011 preparatory to the debate on The Central Bank (Amendment) Bill and The Purchase of Rights and Validation Bill 2011 (to include copies of all slides. Power-Point slides, tables, charts, schedules, text or other information which comprised that presentation) and details of the funds paid in the bailout to include – a full list of creditors as at the commencement date of the bailout and at the date of my FoIA request (8th May 2012); the names of the EFPA holders; the dates of the repayments of the EFPA holders, together with details of the amounts received; the identities of all those who have received public money in the conduct of this exercise, together with details of the amounts received. These details are no doubt electronically stored, so I would request that the answers be provided in a searchable database;
Refund of my reasonable legal fees in this matter – The High Court awarded 70% of my costs.
In anticipation of objections to disclosing these details on the grounds of the right of private investors to confidentiality, my response would be to point out that all other recipients of Public Funds are liable to having detailed information disclosed, upon request and without notice. A request for information on the details of a Public contract would include the identities of the parties; the contract itself; the dates and amounts of payments. Such requests are routinely handled without resort to attorneys or even the Courts, even if administrative delay is also a reality. That is the common and accepted practice in relation to all Public contracts and payments, which is fortified by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, under which my litigation was successful. There is no case made for any special status of financial investors to enjoy rights of confidentiality which are not available to other recipients of Public Funds.
The only way for the required level of transparency and accountability to be achieved is by the responsible officials publishing all the details of all the payments of Public Money.
The equation for the reality check is –
Expenditure of Public Money
I can appreciate that the impending 2016 budget would likely demand your attention for the next three weeks. I would like to know the State’s position in this matter before the next Appeal Court hearing on Monday 19th October 2015, so I would appreciate your reply by Friday 9th October 2015.
This request was made in the Public Interest, so I trust that it will receive your positive attention.
c.c. – Dr. Keith Rowley MP, Prime Minister,
Mr. Faris Al Rawi MP, Attorney General
Afra Raymond is interviewed on the ‘The Power Breakfast‘ show along with Peter Permell on Power 102 FM by Richard Ragoobarsingh talking about the ongoing CL Financial bailout saga now that there is a new government. 14 October 2015. Audio courtesy Power 102 FM
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
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.
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.
“…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.