CL Financial bailout – Charting the Ruins

…We have to make that honest assessment…Our society has become despondent, a resignation to decadence, where everyone owes everyone else a favour it seems… (1981)
…Who will rechart the ruin?… (1970s)

—Quotes from Leroy Clarke’s MACO interview 20 February 2016


Then they fill yuh head with all kinda story
Until truth becomes a mystery…
Now is time to Boom Up History!

Boom up History (3canal) © 2008 Machette Music

Correction

In my previous article, Camille Robinson-Regis was incorrectly named as a member of Cabinet in January 2009, when she was in fact serving at that time as our High Commissioner to Canada.

The voices of our leading Artists urge us to search for meaning, if we are serious about building a civilisation out of the lies and ruin we inhabit. That kind of serious building requires a solid foundation which must contain sober reflection and acceptance of responsibility by both the people and the leaders. This is the Season of Reflection, so this week I am looking backward to go forward. A Sankofa pause to delve into these sobering CL Financial events to try to derive some meaning. We have now passed Emancipation, so the series is moving onward to Independence.

In this article I will examine the positions taken by various leaders as the CLF crisis gathered force, culminating in the declaration of the bailout on 30 January 2009. There is either a sobering naivete or a lack of rectitude in the highest chambers in our Republic.

4ministers

The main persons dealing with the crisis were the Cabinet, the CLF Chiefs and the Central Bank. The former Cabinet members from whom we need to hear are – Colm Imbert, who is the current Minister of Finance; Mariano Browne, then Minister in the Ministry of Finance; Conrad Enill, former Minister of Finance and Chairman of the PNM; Karen Nunez-Tesheira, then Minister of Finance. Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – Charting the Ruins”

Property Matters – Invaders’ Bay part two

invaders-bay-artist-rendering
UDeCOTT artist’s impression of Invaders’ Bay development

There is a rising tide of confusion at Invaders’ Bay, so it is time to bring some understanding to this situation. The previous column delved into the Appeal Court rulings and the State’s application to appeal to the Privy Council. There is a lot more to be derived from those important rulings, but this week I am restating the case as to why this is a large-scale development of major importance.

Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie
Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie

In March 2012, Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie, the then Minister of Planning & Sustainable Development, confirmed that the 70-acres of undeveloped land at Invaders’ Bay was worth $1.28Bn. This would be the largest single development in our capital city in living memory, the only questions being ‘On whose terms?‘ and ‘For whose benefit?

In 2012, the PP Cabinet decided to lease two parcels of land at Invaders’ Bay –

  1. Dachin: 10.2 acres for a Commercial/Residential complex, a boutique hotel, a cultural focus area and three (3) main event entertainment areas comprising a Museum, Bowling Alley and Movie Theatres. View video presentation here.
  2. Invader’s Bay Marina Group: Commercial Development on 13 acres for Hotel, Commercial Office Complex, Cruise Ship Complex; Gas Station; Residential Development and Light Industrial Development; a Marina.

Continue reading “Property Matters – Invaders’ Bay part two”

Invader’s Bay – Suspicious Motives

invadersbay-bwThe proposed development of Invader’s Bay will be the largest in our Capital City in living memory. The entire process is tainted by fundamental irregularities, any one of which ought to be enough to stop the development.

Some of those irregularities at Invader’s Bay include an improper and voidable tendering process; failure or refusal to hold Public Consultations; breach of the Central Tenders’ Board (CTB) Act and most recently, a wrong-sided policy on legal advice.

The State has appealed the High Court decision of Justice Frank Seepersad on 14 July 2014 to order publication of the legal opinions on which they had been relying thus far.  That hearing is now set for Wednesday 28 January 2015 at the Appeal Court in POS. At the preliminary hearing on Thursday 20 November, the State was represented by a seven-member team of attorneys, led by Russell Martineau SC.

Tender rules

Procurement_NoticMinister Tewarie has repeatedly told the public that the Appraisal rules for the Invader’s Bay development were first announced in his speech to the Annual Dinner of the T&T Contractors’ Association on Saturday 5 November 2011. That is true, I was there and heard the Minister do just as he said.  The issue here is that the closing-date stipulated in the Invader’s Bay Request for Proposals (RFP) was 4 October 2011, which was over one month before the rules were published.  Given that fact, the proposers would not have known the rules of the competition and it is fair to say there was no competition at all.  None.  Just imagine the rules for a Calypso competition being distributed the week after the singers had performed.  The RFP process for Invader’s Bay was therefore improper, voidable and illegal.

The most disturbing aspect of this nonsense, is that it raises disturbing questions as to what is fast becoming a new normal in our society.  To my mind, there are two possibilities.

The first is that the Minister was simply unaware that he was describing improper and unlawful acts.  If that is the case, one has to wonder at the quality of advice available to our Cabinet.  Are we now to accept that this is the proper way to proceed?

The second possibility is that the Minister was properly-briefed that the late publication of those rules was improper and that the entire RFP process was therefore voidable, but chose to act as if the whole process was ‘above-board’.  That Minister continues to insist that there is nothing improper taking place at Invader’s Bay and so on.  I tell you. Continue reading “Invader’s Bay – Suspicious Motives”

Reality Check

Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie
Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie

After a flurry of attempted explanations from the Minister of Planning & Sustainable Development, Dr. Bhoe Tewarie, as to the real meaning of the High Court’s 14 July ruling on the Invader’s Bay matter, the State has now appealed that ruling and applied for expedited hearing of the matter while having the judgment stayed.

What that means is that the State is asking the Court to agree an extension of the Stay of Execution until the appeal is decided, so that the requested information could be withheld while the case is being heard.  Presumably, the State has asked for a speedy hearing so as to avoid any impression of them encouraging needless delay in this matter of high public concern.

This article will focus on the three critical findings in the judgment.  I will be examining Dr. Tewarie’s statement to Parliament on Friday 18 July, alongside the facts and the actual High Court ruling.

  1. Legal Professional Privilege

    The very first point to be made in relation to this is that the reason given by the State for refusing the JCC’s request for this information was not originally ‘legal professional privilege’.

    That reason for refusal was only advanced after the litigation started, literally arising out of the very briefcase of the State’s attorney, on his feet before Justice Seepersad on 4 December 2012.

    We contested the State’s late introduction of these new reasons for refusal, but the Court ruled at para 37 –

    1. The Court…is of the view that the Defendant is entitled to rely upon additional reasons with respect to the refusal to disclose the said information…

    The question of whether the legal opinions are privileged was ruled-upon by Justice Seepersad –

    1. It cannot be disputed that the said information requested, is information that would ordinarily attract legal professional privilege…

    So that issue is not in dispute, in the Court’s mind at least.  I continue to hold the view that it is highly-questionable to easily accept this notion of client confidentiality, given that the State ought to be acting on our common behalf.

    In fact, no evidence was tendered nor was any real case made by the State as to the difficulties which would result from publishing the requested information.  None.  It is only now, with a ruling in the JCC’s favour, that we are getting these positions being advanced.

    For the record, the JCC’s original request under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) was for the legal advices and the letters of instruction.

    Consider this, from Dr. Tewarie’s opening statement –

    The very first point that I wish to make with regard to the high court ruling is that there is no issue of disclosure here. There is no issue of failing to disclose or of wanting to withhold disclosures. The Government is not seeking to prevent disclosure of any matter nor is the Government fearful of making any disclosure of fact.

    The only issue we are contesting is whether the advice of an Attorney to his/her client, which is generally regarded as privileged information, is subject to the jurisdiction of the Freedom of Information Act or whether, since it is a privileged exchange of information between Attorney and Client, it is exempt from the Act…”

    If that is truly the case, with the State’s only concern being the possible adverse impact of releasing the legal advices, the question has to be – ‘Why not publish the letters of instruction now?

  2. Waiver of Privilege

    A significant aspect of the case was as to the impact of Dr. Tewarie’s statement to the Senate on 28 February 2012, in reply to a question by then Independent Senator Dr. James Armstrong – see pg 716 of Hansard –

    The answer to (c); the publication of the request for proposals was not the subject of nor required to be in conformity with the Central Tenders Board Act. Advice to this effect was received from the Legal Unit of the Ministry of Planning and the Economy, and subsequently from the Ministry of the Attorney General…

    The point being advanced by the JCC was that a statement like that one, which purports to publicly disclose the very essence of the advice, has the effect of extinguishing the State’s right to suppress the document as being exempted.

    The Court ruled clearly on this –

    1. The gist and nature of the legal advice was in fact revealed when the Minister’s response was made and this amounted to conduct that is inconsistent with the stance that the said legal advice is exempt from being disclosed under the Act by virtue of section 29(1)…

    So, the High Court found that Dr. Tewarie’s statement to the Senate neutralized the State’s ‘legal professional privilege’. That is an important aspect of this ruling, given the frequency with which legal opinions and names are brandished by our leaders, always when convenient, of course.

  3. The Public Interest Test

    This ruling is significant in that Justice Seepersad weighed the existing ‘legal professional privilege’ – making a clear ruling on that at para 41 – against the ‘Public Interest Test’ set out in S.35 of the FoIA.

    At one point it was widely reported that Dr. Tewarie was insisting that the ruling had nothing to do with transparency, but was only on the narrow issue of legal professional privilege.

    The substance of Justice Seepersad’s ruling was at paras 85 & 86 –

    1. The nature of the project in this case and the process adopted by the Defendant to pursue the Request for Proposals process without regard to the provisions of the Central Tenders Board act, requires disclosure of all the relevant information that was considered before the said decision was taken and the refusal to provide the requested information can create a perception that there may have been misfeasance in the process and any such perception can result in the loss of public confidence. Every effort therefore ought to be made to avoid such a circumstance and if there is a valid and legally sound rationale for the adoption of the Request for Proposals process, then it must be in the public interest to disclose it and the rationale behind the process adopted ought not to be cloaked by a veil of secrecy.
    2. The public interest in having access to the requested information therefore is far more substantial than the Defendant’s interest in attempting to maintain any perceived confidentiality in relation to the said information…”

    The real point here is that Justice Seepersad has carried out the Public Interest Test, as mandated at S.35 of the FoIA and ignored by the State in this matter, to find that the ‘legal professional privilege’ is subordinate to the Public Interest in this case, given all the evidence submitted to the Court.

The entire process possesses all the ingredients for corruption, I maintain that view.

Dr. Tewarie has repeatedly claimed that the process was transparent because he disclosed the assessment rules for the Invader’s Bay development at the T&T Contractors’ Association Dinner on Saturday 5 November 2011.  That assertion is perfectly tautological, in that it is entirely true that the rules were revealed for the first time on that occasion, but it does not explain anything of substance.  The decisive fact is that the closing-date for the Invader’s Bay RFP process was 4 October 2011, a full month before the rules were disclosed.  That fact alone renders the entire process voidable and illegal.

What is more, we have to consider the widely-advertised public consultations on the redevelopment of King’s Wharf in San Fernando; the South-Western Peninsula development; the issue of ‘City-status’ for Chaguanas; Constitutional Reform and of course, the latest one, the Civil Society Board.  The glaring question has to be – ‘When is the State hosting the first in its series of Public Consultations on the Invader’s Bay development?

Finally, will this development process continue, while the legal arguments continue?

Invader’s Bay part 3: MORE Invaders Bay Ingredients

Invaders' Bay
Invaders’ Bay

I closed last week’s article by restating my view that all the ingredients for corruption were present at Invader’s Bay.

What are those ingredients?

Here is my list –

  • Extensive public assets coming onto the market, in turbid circumstances. Those assets can include property, concessions, contracts and jobs;
  • Questions of access to the gatekeepers – in these scenarios, some people will have unbelievable access to the decision-makers;
  • Conflicting and confusing versions of the project or proposal. The confusion is as persistent as it is deliberate, a part of the tangled web.
  • Blatant double-standards and lying is the norm in these situations;
  • Apart from ceremonial fluff, such as sod-turnings and ribbon-cuttings, there is no intention whatsoever to give any proper public account or statement of intentions. True transparency is evaded like taxes;
  • Professional Civil Servants who are unable or unwilling to insist on the maintenance of minimum standards;

Extensive Public Assets

These lands are estimated to be worth in excess of $1.2Bn at today’s priced, that means the unimproved value. Although the lands are reclaimed, a significant amount would have to be spent on infrastructure to make the property ‘shovel-ready’ for development.

As I noted in the first in this series, there were conflicting claims on this aspect, with the selected developers claiming extensive infrastructure expenses as a way to reduce what they would pay for the land. There were no estimates given for the developers’ cost of infrastructure, but I noted that the National Budget for 2014 had specified, at pg 89 of the Public Sector Investment Program, that there would be publicly-funded ‘Infrastructure Development’ at Invader’s Bay.

I have been assisted by some of the professionals in the very Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development in identifying that item as being a $50M allocation for 2014. The actual works are unspecified, so it is difficult to be certain what is included. It certainly seems a modest sum given the size and peculiar challenges posed by the Invader’s Bay property.

In addition to the obvious public asset of the actual property, readers should note that assets in this context can include concessions. In this context that can mean maritime & docking concessions as well as tax concessions, so we will have to maintain full vigilance to safeguard the public interest.

As a first position, all the details of the overall agreements must be published for public consideration at the earliest opportunity. This is no minor point, since really huge sums of wealth can be transferred from public hands to private interests if proper transparency is not ensured. Just remember that in June this year while the President of the Peoples Republic of China was here there was the signing of a Government to Government Agreement. The JCC has lodged many strong objections to those agreements. How many readers will remember that there was an important agreement signed with respect to the Pitch Lake at that time?

To cite a press report

…According to a release from Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago (1978) Ltd, the signing ceremony of a Memorandum of Understanding and a Confidentiality Agreement with Beijing Oriental Yuhong Waterproofing Technology Co Ltd of the People’s Republic of China is scheduled to take place at the Hyatt Regency, Port of Spain…

So, faced with a Freedom of Information Act which ensures disclosure, the new trend is to wrap-up the details in yet another layer of secrecy. We need to be alert to that trend. After all, this is the same Ministry which claims to have legal advice confirming that its actions conform to the Central Tenders Board Act, yet steadfastly refuse to publish that advice.

Access to the gatekeepers

One of the two successful proposers has been the MovieTowne principal, Derek Chin, whose confidence has been striking.
According to Mr. Chin, in an extensive interview

…Chin has met with the Prime Minister and many government ministers seeking approval for this project.
Before Christmas 2010, he had a meeting with the Transport Minister Jack Warner, Foreign Affairs Minister Suruj Rambachan, and other ministers, at the Prime Minister’s Office. They all supported his plans. “I have been lobbying the Government for a year now, even before the elections. I sent in the preliminary sketches about the concept; I met 19 Cabinet ministers over the last six months. The next minister I am meeting is Bhoe Tewarie, Minister of Planning. He wants to see me. I also met with Jearlean John, Udecott chairman. She also loves it, but that was three to four months ago…

That interview was given in early July 2011, which is over one month before the Request for Proposals was published by the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development at the end of August. I tell you.

Conflicting and confusing versions

So, to return to the legal opinions, we have this swirling set of stories.

To date, Minister Tewarie has insisted that the project has been removed from UDeCoTT’s portfolio and placed within the Ministry of Planning. He claims that Cabinet approved this in 2011 and also insists that there is no tender process at Invader’s Bay. Of course it is impossible for the Ministry to proceed to invite tenders for anything without following the Central Tenders Board Act.

The first legal advice I saw was clear that there is indeed a tender process at work here and that the CTB Act ought to have been followed. Obviously, that conclusion did not ‘fit the script’, so an escape hatch had to be fashioned. Shortly thereafter another opinion was submitted by Sir Fenton Ramsahoye SC, on an entirely different set of assumptions which made UDeCoTT the central enabling agency in the entire scheme.

The approach endorsed by the Ramsahoye opinion flatly contradicts the version being advanced by Minister Tewarie.

That is the deep, intentional confusion being encouraged by public officials in this matter.

Blatant double-standards and lying

So, let us start with the role of the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development on the Invader’s Bay project. How does that Ministry reconcile its active role in seeking public views on the King’s Wharf project in San Fernando with its silence on Invader’s Bay in POS?

These are blatant double-standards of the worst kind. One can scarcely believe that there are professional civil servants who could condone this reckless and underhanded approach to national development. But there we have it.

When is the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development going to host a public consultation on Invader’s Bay? That is now an inescapable requirement. Sooner rather than later.

But that is not all. No, not at all.

This administration campaigned on the findings of the Uff Enquiry and made several public promises to implement the 91 recommendations of the Uff Report. Such was the importance of the matter in the political agenda that it formed the first item of the very first post-Cabinet Press Briefing of the Peoples Partnership administration on 1st July 2010. That is a broken promise, since those Uff recommendations have not been adopted and the JCC’s many attempts to offer our assistance to achieve that have all been rejected.

The 17th recommendation of the Uff Report is –

  1. User groups and other interest groups should be properly consulted on decisions regarding public building projects, to ensure that relevant views can be expressed at the appropriate time and taken into account before decisions are made…

There has been no consultation at all on the Invader’s Bay proposals. Quite frankly, apart from rumours and conflicting press reports, I do not really know exactly what is going to be built or where or even when.

According to the iconic American jurist Louis Brandeis, speaking on eradicating corruption –

‘Sunlight is the best Disinfectant’

Invader’s Bay part 2: All the Ingredients for Bobol…

Since my previous article on this controversial proposal, we have seen that certain legal advice reportedly considered by the government has been featured in another newspaper.  If that is the advice the State is relying upon in advancing their Invader’s Bay proposals, we are seeing a large-scale act of intentional illegality and a worrying return to the ‘bad-old-days.

My main concerns are –

CONSULTATION?

Compare the lack of consultation at Invader’s Bay with what happens elsewhere.  In particular, the large waterfront lands near the city centre of San Fernando at  King’s Wharf, which has been the subject of ongoing public consultations over the years.  The press reports that various design and redevelopment concepts were presented to and discussed with a widely-based audience.

Whatever the criticisms one might make of the King’s Wharf proposals, it is undeniable that views have been sought from the public/stakeholders and various proposals have been made for consideration.

The JCC and its Kindred Associations in Civil Society met with Ministers Tewarie and Cadiz on 26 September 2011 to express our serious concerns.  Yet, when Minister Tewarie was challenged by the JCC and others as to the complete failure to consult with the public, the only example of consultation he could cite was the very meeting we had insisted on, which took place after publication of the Ministry’s Request for Proposals (RFP) and just about one week before the closing-date for proposals.

This Minister obviously does not consider public consultation to be a serious element in real development, notwithstanding the lyrics about innovation, planning and, of course, Sustainability and the Cultural Sector.  Just consider the way in which East Port-of-Spain is being discussed within that same Ministry.  The prospects for sustainable economic development of East POS must be linked with the Invader’s Bay lands, there is no doubt about that.  What is more, to carry-on as though the two parts of the capital can enjoy prosperity in isolation from each other is to trade in dangerous nonsense.  When criticising the large-scale physical development plans of the last administration, ‘dangerous nonsense’ is exactly what I had accused them of dealing in.

Public Administration must be consistent, reasonable and transparent if the public is to be properly-served.  To do otherwise is to encourage disorder and a growing sense that merit is of little value.  The decisive thing has become ‘Who know you’. 

We need to be informed now what planning permissions or environmental approvals have been granted on Invader’s Bay and on what terms.

The Legal advice

I have seen the two legal documents reported on in another newspaper and have to say that those are remarkable documents.

A critical undisputed point, is that the evaluation rules – the “Invader’s Bay Development Matrix and Criteria Description” – were only published after the closing-date.  The JCC made that allegation in its letter of 14 December 2011 and that was confirmed by Minister Tewarie in his Senate contribution on 28 February 2012.  That is a fatal concession which makes the entire process voidable and therefore illegal, since the proposers would have been unfairly treated.

Note carefully that in writing to seek legal advice in response to that challenge of December 2011, the fact that the tender rules were published ex post facto does not seem to have been the subject of a query as to its legal effect.

In one of the legal documents I saw, the penultimate para is chilling in its directness –

…A simple answer to Dr Armstrong’s question on whether the RFP conforms to the (Central) Tenders Board Act is that it does. In reality, the entire tender process was not brought under the CTB Act and the matrix and criteria were forwarded to the tenderers AFTER they submitted their initial proposals to the MoPE…

The ‘simple answer‘, which is what Senator Armstrong got from Minister Tewarie, is that the Central Tenders’ Board Act had been conformed with.  The next sentence is where we enter the other place…let us deconstruct it –

Phrase

Meaning of the phrase

In reality The prior sentence is the official version we are going to tell Senator Armstrong, but here is what really happened.
“…the entire tender process…” Minister Tewarie has consistently held that there was no tender process, this is the State’s senior legal adviser calling that process by its correct title, two weeks before his statement in the Senate.
…“the entire tender process was not brought under the CTB Act…” The tender process was required to be brought under the CTB Act, since it was being done via a Ministry…but that did not happen.
“…the matrix and criteria were forwarded to the tenderers AFTER they submitted their initial proposals to the MoPE…” The State’s senior legal adviser is confirming here that the elementary good practice rules of tendering have been violated, rendering the entire process voidable.

There are two clear findings of illegality in that single paragraph by the State’s senior legal adviser.  Yet a ‘simple answer‘, which was ultimately deceptive, was suggested for Senator Armstrong.

The advice which featured in the press was from Sir Fenton Ramsahoye SC, seemingly obtained after the initial opinion just discussed.

The Ramsahoye opinion was reported to have ‘given Bhoe a green light‘ and so on, but I have serious doubts on that.

  1. Firstly, if there had been clear-cut, solid advice which would have exonerated its actions, the government would have published that so as to silence its critics.
  2. Secondly, having read it myself, their game is a lot clearer.

Ramsahoye’s mind seems to have been directed to the prospect of UDECOTT being granted a head-lease of the entire Invader’s Bay property and then granting sub-leases to the developers selected by the Ministry of Planning.  Those developers would then carry out the proposed development/s.

If that is the way this is proceeding, then there are two serious issues arising on UDeCoTT’s involvement –

  1. The Switch – While it is true that UDeCOTT can lawfully grant the subleases and operate outside the CTB Act, the burning question has to be when was this decision taken to give UDeCoTT that role?  Minister Tewarie has been adamant, since November 2011, that Cabinet took a decision that the Invader’s Bay project be removed from UDeCoTT’s portfolio to be placed within his Ministry.  When did that purported switch back to UDeCoTT take place?  Has Cabinet actually approved such a move?  The first advice looked at the development as it had proceeded and made the conclusions which I criticised above.  The second advice, contemplated a procedure which had been vigorously resisted by the responsible Minister.
  2.  The role of the Board – One of the most vexatious issues to be probed in the Uff Enquiry is the question of to what extent can Cabinet instruct a State Board.  That issue of undue Cabinet influence was also a large contention during the Bernard Enquiry into the Piarco Airport scandal.  Uff concluded, at para 8, that the scope of Ministers’ power to give instructions ought to be clarified.  There are several significant challenges if one accepts the formulation put onto the Invader’s Bay process in Ramsahoye’s opinion. Cabinet would have to instruct that UDeCoTT implement decisions taken by the Ministry of Planning etc.  As we have seen and as the legal advice has clarified, those decisions emerged from unlawful processes.  Is UDeCoTT obliged to follow unlawful instructions?  In the event of litigation, which is increasingly likely, will the members of UDeCoTT’s Board be indemnified by the State for their unlawful acts?   If that were the case, it would be repugnant, with deep echoes of the two earlier large-scale episodes of wrongdoing at Piarco Airport and UDeCoTT projects as cited above.

I stated earlier that this Invader’s Bay matter had all the ingredients for corruption.  I stand by those views.

Get to Hell outta here!

I only starting to talk about it in the last little while, but this season is always one of reflection and re-dedication for me, with the two month transition from Emancipation Day on 1st August to Independence on the 31st August, then onto Republic Day on 24th September…I always spend this spell in some sober reflection, in between the life. It seems to me that the very sequence of events and the consequent holidays in the season imbue it with an inner meaning in terms of a national transition to some kind of depth and purpose…Emancipation to Independence to Republican status…maybe that is just sentimental of me, but let us see…

So there has been a growing campaign to challenge the presence of Jack Warner in our Cabinet – the leading people in that effort have been Lasana Liburd  of Wired868 and Kirk Waithe of Fixin’ T&T – The effort is a necessary one as it raises questions as to the proper role and functioning of the Cabinet in our Republic…I have gone a little further in calling for a higher standard in terms of who is eligible to be admitted to our Parliament…I believe the minimum test should be the ‘Fit & Proper’ rules as established by the Central Bank, in which case Dr Bhoe Tewarie would also be ineligible…Now we have had people being scandalized that Jack Warner was made acting PM after he resigned from FIFA and this morning the place is buzzing with talk about Collin Partap’s dismissal from Cabinet for allegedly refusing to give a specimen of his breath to the police after partying.

At this 50th year or Jubilee Juncture, the burning question in this arena is how are we doing? Have things improved on that governance aspect?

Eric Williams
Patrick Solomon

What is interesting is that amidst all the sound and fury, we can sometimes miss the lessons history can offer us as to the roots of some of these issues…I am saying thank you here to Judy Raymond – yes, she is my cousin – who has started a series of fascinating articles which are using the Guardian’s extensive archives to show some situations from earlier days…I did resign from the Guardian, but the edition of Sunday 26th August had a real classic, “PM: Who don’t like it…Could Go!” which recalled the infamous 1964 episode in which the ‘Father of the Nation’ defied his critics by re-appointing and promoting Dr. Patrick Solomon…also see “Solomon Acts as PM,” and “Minister Took Stepson From Cops.”

Of course, every right-thinking person knows that ‘Two wrongs do not make a right‘ – so that is not what I am saying.

I think that our ongoing concern over arrogant and irresponsible behaviour in high office has serious roots, so we need to dig deep to end this nonsense.

‘King’ David Rudder, used the opening stanza of his 1996 classic “The Strange Tale of Madame Occohantas and the Westminster Dreadlocks” on the virtual silencing of our Parliament by the growing rift between the then PM, Patrick Manning, and the Speaker of the Parliament…all of which lead to a messy climax with a bizarre State of Emergency being imposed so as to virtually imprison the Speaker of the House.  I tell you…Rudder’s first verse is something our children should learn in school…

Big Big war in the House of the Balisier!
One ah de Warriors break-away!
Because Bad-John ting is part ah dey Tribal lore.
From de days of rough-neck O’Halloran,
Right down to ‘slapperman’ Solomon! 1
So in de tradition, Occahontas declare a war!

© 1996 Lypsoland Music. Lyrics Used by Permission.

Listen to it here

Rudder was telling us about all then and now…in fact is Sparrow who gave Rudder the 1986 acclamation of dubbing him ‘King David’…which leads right back to the start…

Yes, the title of this post is from the Mighty Sparrow’s biting classic on that scandal – you can hear it here. The fight for betterment is a part of our lives now and we must keep it up! Listen to Sparrow…yuh think it sorf?

  1. The ‘ole-talk’ at the time was that Solomon slapped a policeman when he went to have his stepson ‘released’ – he was the then Minister of Home Affairs, with responsibility for the Police Force.

Property Matters – Only a matter of time

whooshThe way the Ministry of Planning & the Economy (MPE) is persisting in their course of action on the Invader’s Bay development is perturbing in terms of the long term consequences of short-term decision-making.

At Section 2.0 of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for Invader’s Bay we read

…For Trinidad and Tobago this is a “major waterfront transformation” along the line of other signature waterfront developments such as Darling Habour (sic) in Sydney, Baltimore Inner Habour (sic), the Habour-front (sic) in Toronto, London Docklands and Teleport City in Tokyo. Although the genesis of the projects may vary, the result has generally been bold and dramatic. With the change in the manner in which ports operate and cargo is transported, waterfront property is now more valuable for its residential, retail and recreational function than simply for port activity with heavy industry, docks and fenced off warehouses, as is the case currently in Port of Spain…

We are being asked to consider the Invader’s Bay initiative ‘along the line’ of other leading international examples, which in itself is a good place to proceed from.  The reality is that those developments cited by the MPE all took decades to conceive and what is more, the authors of the RFP know that.  Yet we are also being asked to believe that a workable concept/s could be devised for Invader’s Bay in an RFP which is silent on the current strategic plans for the capital and only gives proposers 6 weeks to prepare.

Of course the lack of consultation will severely limit the participation of many important developers, not to mention the public.

The point is that in all those cities cited by the RFP, there is a serious commitment to consultation, which means that those large-scale transformations took considerable time to conceptualise.

In the city of New York, for example, there has been a long-standing commitment to community-based development.  Check this 6 October webcast from The New School – the introduction is instructive –

For decades, deliberations over land use in New York City have included developers, community boards, elected officials, the Department of City Planning and other city agencies. Do the people who live and work in city neighborhoods have a sufficient voice? Do residents improve the process, or impede progress? Who is best positioned to determine a neighborhood’s needs, and what are the best structures for public participation? New York has long been a leader in community-based development but as the city recovers from the Great Recession, what does the future hold?

And that is just one reference, readers can ‘Google’ to find the many other supportive examples.  In the very RFP, as well as in the recent budget, there is a clear commitment to consultation in national development.  Except in this case.

But there is more.

As I wrote in the opening of ‘Reflections on Republic Day’, on the Raymond & Pierre website on 27 September 2007 –

The best example I can think of for the kind of broad commitment to consultation is, of course, the site of the World Trade Centre in Lower Manhattan: Ground Zero. This is a very interesting example since the site is privately owned and the City of New York is controlled by the Democrats while the Republicans control the national government of the USA. Against this background of different players we have the fact that the destruction of the WTC was a most severe blow to US prestige and power. The entire defense apparatus was rendered useless by that attack. Arguably, there could be no site in the world with a more urgent claim to large-scale redevelopment.

Yet, the fact is that a sort of compact has been arrived at between the parties to the effect that no redevelopment will take place unless and until everyone has had their say. For example, there was a recently concluded international competition for the design of the 911 Memorial. There were over 5,000 entries from more than 60 countries and a winner was just selected.

As expected, the consultations have been controversial and emotional but the fact is that an environment existed in which such an understanding could work. Whatever one’s view of the American imperium, there is a potency to the existence of that huge crater at the heart of their main city while the necessary conversations go on. Time for us to think again.

At that time I was protesting the haste and waste of the then PNM regime, a consequence of their pattern of proceeding with huge developments without any consultation.

At Section 3.1 of the RFP –

TENURE ARRANGEMENT

The proposed Developer will be chosen via this RFP process and shall then enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government of Trinidad and Tobago (Ministry of Planning and the Economy) for an agreed lease rate. It is expected that this activity would be finalized within one (1) month of the submission of the said RFP.

Which means that we can expect the choice of the proposed Developer will be made and the lease agreements completed in one month from the closing date. Yes, Friday 4 November.

Sad to say, there is even more.  The RFP also specifies –

“…If financing has to be sourced from an external source, the Developer MUST submit a letter of guarantee from the financier as well as a profile of the financier. Failure to comply with this requirement will result in disqualification…”

When we raised the point that this is an impossible condition for new bidders to satisfy, given the sheer scale of the proposed development, both Ministers – Tewarie and Cadiz – attempted to indicate that this mandatory condition was flexible. Unbelievable, but true.

As leaders, whether in government or non-governmental organisations, we have an obligation to learn from the past. This is an effort to document the events in this episode, so that there will be a record, when the Invader’s Bay matter comes to be critically examined in the future.

The clear inconsistency of the position taken in the budget on urban planning was highlighted in last week’s column. With respect to this project, we noted the attempt to cast this development in the same light as other examples which all involved long-term consultation, the silence on the existing plans, the impossibly-short timetable to elicit fresh proposals, the even-shorter timetable for selection and agreement of lease terms, the wobbling on the financial requirements and incredibly, that the scoring criteria were to be finalized after the proposals were submitted.

It is literally impossible to determine which of these is worse than the others and it is beyond the imagination of any fiction writer I know to take a plot this far. But this is what is happening in our country today.

In my mind, all of these, taken together, show that the publication of the RFP is a form of sham dialogue and openness. If this is the genuine attempt by the MPE, to properly seek the public interest, then I am giving them an ‘F’ for effort.

What we are seeing here is a recipe for disaster, we already have all the ingredients of corruption, so what is next?

It really does make me wonder who runs this country and when, if ever, can we achieve consistent and equitable government. Who is the real power?

CL Financial Bailout – The final AGM

bhoe-knows* In response to a question whether he took part in the reported decision to pay CLF dividends even after the approach to the State in 2009.

CL Financial’s final Annual General Meeting was the most interesting meeting in the saga of its collapse.

That meeting took place at the Trinidad Hilton on Friday 23 January 2009, so consider the timeline –

  • 18 November 2008 – CLF publishes its 2007 Annual Report, including its audited accounts, which showed assets of $100.666Bn and after-tax profits of $1.74Bn.
  • 13 January 2009 – CLF writes, under Lawrence Duprey’s signature, to the Governor of the Central Bank to request urgent financial assistance.  See pg 628 of Hansard of 4 February 2009 for the text of that letter, which specified that CLF’s asset value was $23.9Bn.
  • 16 January 2009 – CLF pays a dividend of $3.00 per share.
  • 23 January 2009 – CLF convenes its final AGM before the ‘official’ collapse.
  • 30 January 2009 – The bailout of CLF is announced at a Press Conference at the Central Bank.  All the speakers at that event stated the CLF asset value at $100Bn.

Given that the normal function of an AGM is to inform a company’s shareholders and stakeholders of its performance and prospects, that timeline raises some intriguing questions.

For whatever reason, there have been no published reports of that final CLF AGM, so I posed these questions to a CLF shareholder in an email exchange –

Q       Did you attend that AGM?
A        Yes
Q       Was it at the Ballroom of the Trinidad Hilton on Friday 23rd January 2009?
A        It was at the Hilton but not in their ballroom. It was in one of the restaurants/meeting rooms that overlooks the Savannah. Can’t remember the name.
Q       About how many shareholders were there in attendance?
A        I would guess about 30-40
Q       Which Directors were present?
A        Clinton Ramberansingh, Rampersad Motilal, Bhoe Tewarie, Gita Sakal and Michael Carballo.
Q       Which Executive Directors were present?
A        Roger Duprey (I think)
Q       What was the ‘tone’ of the meeting?  Was there any clue as to the grave difficulties facing the CLF group?  Was the ‘bailout letter’ mentioned at all?
A        The tone of the meeting was “normal”. There certainly was no indication that CLF  (or the CLF group) was in any imminent danger. The effects of the global downturn was mentioned in light of the reduced dividend (from $5 to $3) and we were told by Carballo that although the group, like everyone else, was feeling the effects of the global recession, it was still performing well and that he expected the performance to improve over the course of the coming year. One interesting “fact” that did emerge (I say “fact” because I have no idea as to the veracity of the claim) had to do with the value of CLF shares. One shareholder had complained about not really being able to derive any value from his CLF shares apart from receiving a dividend. No bank would accept it as security. Carballo advised that CIB would accept the shares as security for a loan………….had I known I’d have taken a big loan and never paid it back!! Certainly the bailout letter was never disclosed to the shareholders.

If true, this account of the events is deeply disturbing.

The question is whether CLF’s Independent Directors were aware of its true position.  Could it be that the Board was unaware of Duprey’s letter and that they were surprised when the bailout was announced?  If that were the case, it would mean that Board of Directors was kept in the dark over this bailout.

If the Board was informed as to the bailout letter, we would be contemplating an even more unacceptable case.  If that is what happened, it would have been fraudulent for the CLF Directors to have carried out that AGM without informing the shareholders of the company’s true position.

Michael Carballo was the CLF Group Financial Director since Andre Monteil’s retirement in early 2008. Given Carballo’s position in the group and the high quality of his professional skills, it is very difficult to accept that he did not himself know CLF’s true position.

Dr Bhoe Tewarie swearing-in
Dr Bhoe Tewarie swearing-in

According to this email exchange, neither Lawrence Duprey nor Andre Monteil attended CLF’s final AGM. With only one week to go, they would likely have been attaching more priority to the negotiations for the bailout.

So, Dr. Tewarie – a shareholder and former Director of CLF – is now appointed to Cabinet at the very moment that it is reviewing the bailout of the same CL Financial group.  That man, noted in the field of business education – his last post, before this appointment, being Director of UWI’s Institute of Critical Thinking – when asked about his attendance and participation in the Board meeting which approved those CLF dividends is reported to have said – “I cannot remember, I may have, I cannot remember the exact timing, I may have—I don’t know…The records would indicate whether I did or not...”.

We are being asked to believe that Dr. Tewarie cannot really remember this meeting, probably the final one before CL Financial folded and likely the most eventful in even a high-profile career such as his.  The old people have a saying that you start as you mean to go on.  Dr. Tewarie’s reply can hardly inspire confidence.  It verges on being dismissive and  disrespectful of the public.  We are paying for all the mess created by CL Financial and yes, that is the same public Dr. Tewarie just swore to serve.  It does not augur well.

The essential questions for Dr. Tewarie include his attendance and participation in this final AGM and what he knew about the state of the group at the time.

It seems unacceptable to me for holders of high office in our country to be persons who would be disqualified under the ‘fit and proper’ criteria.  That practice must be revised as part of the New Politics we are being promised.

Given the tremendous stakes and the complete silence by all the responsible people, we need to ensure that this affair does not carry our country any further into peril.

These responsible and silent people must be banished into obscurity, at the very least.

SIDEBAR

PricewaterhouseCoopers
It is a well-established custom that AGMs of large organisations are attended by the responsible partner of the auditor’s firm, who reads the auditor’s letter to the audience.  Did a partner of PriceWaterhouseCoopers attend this meeting?  Which one?  Did a PwC partner read aloud that auditor’s letter?

Real Responsibility
On the one hand, a Cabinet Minister is dismissed over a $100,000 contract and I consider that to be good progress in the correct direction.  The fact that a reasonable suspicion had arisen cost that Minister her job, which is good.  In keeping with the State’s exemplary behaviour, our leaders should not behave in a fashion which causes suspicion or derision.

On the other hand, we are seeing a replacement Cabinet Minister, who at last record was known to be a shareholder of the huge, failed CL Financial group and one of its Board Directors at the time of the colossal crash.  The official version is that CL Financial is a $100Bn group.  There have been recent reports that the Cabinet is about to consider a new approach to the bailout and the public is bound to wonder at the timing of this appointment.

Fit and Proper
The Central Bank’s ‘Fit and Proper’ Guideline (sic) sets out the official position as to the type of person held to be ‘fit and proper’ to be a Director or Officer of a Financial Institution.

It states –

3.1 In accordance with governing legislation a person is considered to be fit and proper if the person essentially is of good character, competent, honest, financially sound, reputable, reliable and discharges and is likely to discharge his/her responsibilities fairly.