The previous article set out my criticism of the CLF bailout situation in respect of the CARICOM claims and our nation’s treaty obligation to exercise non-discrimination in its policies. In that light I am sceptical of the position now being advanced by the CLF shareholders to highlight that group as being a black-controlled conglomerate. My scepticism was rooted in the apparent refusal or failure of either the CLF shareholders or the T&T State to accept responsibility to meet CARICOM claims arising from the 2009 collapse of CLF.
Tobago Benchmark hosted a symposium on the “Impact of Sandals Resort on Tobago and No Man’s Land” on Thursday 18th August 2016 at the Buccoo Community Center. Afra Raymond was one of the guest speakers, focusing his talk on the “underlying commercial arrangements” which no one likes to talk about. Examples throughout the Caribbean are seemingly secret, but there are examples from Trinidad and Tobago that can set a context for what is important as opposed to what is merely interesting. Video courtesy Tobago Benchmark.
The recent official statements about a proposal for a Sandals Resort in Tobago are significant, given both the convulsions in the Tourism portfolio and the urgent need to diversify our economy away from its long-term dependence on energy earnings. This is a preliminary view of some of the relevant considerations, since the sparse details now available do not permit a critique.
The various official statements outline that Sandals are in discussions with the State towards a new 750-room resort to be located in Tobago, which would both increase the overall room stock and bring collateral benefits if it proceeds.
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
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.
We are now in what I call the Season of Reflection, which for me covers the period from Emancipation Day on 1 August to Independence Day on 31 August, right up to Republic Day on 24 September. Those celebrations appear in proper historical sequence in our calendar and every year I find this two-month ‘season’ to be a sobering period for deep reflection. This year, with this CL Financial judgment and the impending election seeming to converge, the reflections are piercing ones.
Sad to say, this CL Financial bailout is resembling a situation in which well-connected persons are getting what they can, anyway they can, but making sure not to get caught. Who were the beneficiaries of this lavish payout? What is this reluctance to release details?
That is the Code of Silence in effect.
I was not at all surprised at the reported statements of the Minister of Finance, Larry Howai, on the 22 July 2015 High Court judgment ordering him to provide the detailed information I had requested on the CL Financial bailout. The High Court granted a 28-day stay of execution and the Ministry is reportedly in consultation with its lawyers, claiming that “A decision will be made within the period of time allowed by the court,”. The article closed with this quote –
“…Finance Minister Larry Howai said in the statement it should be noted, none of the requests refer to “how over $25b was spent in the Clico bailout”…”
Given that the very request was for the detailed financial information which has been deliberately suppressed since 2009, it is of course impossible to say with any certainty just how much Public Money was actually spent on this CL Financial bailout. That is the inescapable fact at the centre of this scandal. The Minister’s tautology is really a powerful explanation of this point. Continue reading “CL Financial Bailout – The Hidden Truth”→
In 2013 I sued the Minister of Finance & the Economy for his continuing failure or refusal to provide the details relating to the huge $25 Billion bailout of the failed CL Financial group.
On Wednesday 22 July 2015, the High court ruled in my favour by ordering the release of all the requested information.
The basic principle behind the Freedom of Information Act is that the information held by Public Authorities belongs to the public, unless one of the valid exemptions is applicable.
The Court also granted the State a 28-day stay of execution which seems intended to allow them the time to decide whether to appeal before they have to provide the requested information. Given the ongoing Information War and the high stakes to maintain the ‘Code of Silence’ in relation to this bailout, I would not be at all surprised if the State were to appeal against this ruling.
The unexplained gap
On 1 October 2010, the Prime Minister addressed Parliament to explain that $7.3 Billion had been spent on the bailout and that a further estimated $7.0 Billion was required to settle all debts. That is a 2010 estimate of $14.3 Billion to settle the CL Financial bailout, but the current estimated cost of the bailout is in excess of $25 Billion. That means that over $10.5 Billion more than the 2010 estimate has been spent, so where did all that extra money go? That information and the defined official policy of secrecy are at the heart of this scandal. Continue reading “CL Financial Bailout – The Real Case”→