Application for judicial review in Afra Raymond vs Ministry of Finance and the Economy

appl-tiltThis is my filing for the Judicial Review of the continuing refusal of the Ministry of Finance to reply to my Freedom of Information request of 11 May 2012 along with my sworn affidavit.

The case is a critical challenge to the detrimental notion that $24Bn of Public Money can be spent without Accountability or Transparency.  That notion does violence to any healthy conception of the Public Interest, so I expect this contest to be a sharp one.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand…”

Frederick Douglass…Freedom Fighter and esteemed ancestor…

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant!”

Former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis…

Pre-Action Protocol letter to Ministry of Finance pursuant to FoI Application of 11 May 2012

preactionWhat is being pursued here is our right as citizens of a modern republic to the details of these huge expenditures of Public Money – the CL Financial bailout is costing some $24Bn, about $3.5Bn USD! – and the background to how critical legislative support is obtained.  It is my view that S.34 was not the first time and that the spectre of ‘regulatory capture’, which underlines much of the discourse around the Great Depression 2, is in fact founded on a sinister degree of ‘legislative capture’.

Having had a series of ‘cat and mouse’ exchanges with the Ministry of Finance since my Freedom of Information Act application made on 11 May 2012, this is my pre-action protocol letter sent to them by my attorney on Thursday 7 March, seeking their proper reply in 7 days…that time expires at midnight today, Wednesday 13 March, so stay tuned, because we are going to the High Court after that…

Calcutta Settlement again

163940In light of the many questions raised by readers after the last article on the HDC’s purchase of land at ‘Eden Gardens‘ in Calcutta Settlement, I am continuing there.

The previous article discussed the Calcutta Settlement scheme and its relation to implementation of national housing policy.  There is little, if any, connection between the provision of affordable housing and the acquisition of those ‘Eden Gardens‘ lands, at what is surely the highest price in Central Trinidad.  How we create and implement a progressive housing policy is a critical part of this discourse, but there is more.

Another important aspect of this episode is the fact that sound land administration policy appears to have been abandoned for expediency.  Expediency should never eclipse proper policy, especially when neither the process nor end-result advance the ultimate objective of serving our citizens.

The sidelining of sound land administration policy was essential in order to get the Calcutta Settlement scheme approved.  National Land Administration policy is important so that we can be strategic in using the country’s property assets for proper national development, as opposed to the enrichment of a select few.

The State is a unique player in our country’s land arena, so we need to place this Calcutta Settlement episode into proper context from a land administration viewpoint.

This is the framework –

  • Size – The State is by far the largest land-owner in the country, which means that there are only limited situations in which it will require private lands;
  • Wealth – The State is the wealthiest entity in the country, which means that it alone can bid at certain levels for the best properties.  Applied to this case, a reasonable question would be ‘Who would have purchased ‘Eden Gardens’ and at what price, if the State had not proceeded?‘;
  • Compulsion – The State is the sole entity in the country able to lawfully acquire land for a public purpose against its owner’s wishes, which means that if an owner of private property takes an unreasonable position during negotiations, the State can compulsorily acquire it;
  • Planning Authority – The State is the national planning authority, which means it has the power to approve its own designs and proposals;
  • Statutory undertaker – The State has ownership and control of the principal utilities, electricity and water/sewerage;

So, if the State intended to construct affordable housing in Central Trinidad, it could have chosen from the abundant State-owned property in the area, granted planning permission for its own proposed development and provided services.  The State could only have bought the ‘Eden Gardens‘ land by ignoring sound land administration principles.  Elementary policy was ignored in favour of sheer expediency, or worse, the enrichment of carpetbaggers at the expense of the Public Interest.

What was the advice of the Commissioner of State Lands on this transaction?  Was his advice sought?  Bizarre and expensive precedents are being set in situations of zero benefit to the Public Good.  This deal is detrimental to the Public Interest.

At a level of State policy, there was a collapse into expedience and a continuing silence as to the role of ‘Eden Gardens’ in the national housing policy.  But when I delved into the documents in my possession, there were even more causes for concern.

The Registrar General’s records show that there were three transactions executed on the same day for this property – It was Wednesday 3 February 2010 –

  1. Deed # DE2010 004276 02D001 rescinded the 2004 Sale Agreement (the one for $17M, registered in 2007), with the deposit returned and no claims made;
  2. Deed # DE2010 007816 95D001, Point Lisas Park Ltd (PLP) purchased the property from the owner, Sookdeo Deousaran, for $5M, paying Stamp Duty of $350,000;
  3. Deed # DE2010 003449 63D001, PLP mortgaged the property to said Sookdeo Deousaran for $18.5M at 8%, to be repaid on the last day of January 2012.

These purchasers were prepared to pay $17M for this undeveloped property in mid-2004, but ended up paying only $5M for it in early 2010.  On the same day, they mortgage it for $18.5M.  By happy coincidence, or otherwise, the property with infrastructure added was offered to the HDC at $200M in late January 2012, two years later.  Literally unbelievable.

What is more, the fact that the second and third of those deeds were executed on the same day is deeply perturbing as to the operation of the Stamp Duty section of the Board of Inland Revenue.  The second deed transfers the property for $5M and Stamp Duty is paid on that, yet the third deed shows a mortgage granted the same day on the same property for $18.5M.  Normal practice in the finance world is for a mortgage to be taken on a property at some fraction of its current market value.  Both those deeds were registered at the San Fernando office of the Registrar General’s Dept.

If there were a reasonable gap between the first sale to PLP and the new owners mortgaging the property, it might be possible to claim some increase in value due to its physical development or obtaining permission to develop.  But since both transactions took place on the same day, there is no way anyone can claim a genuine difference in value.

The 8% interest rate on the two-year mortgage is instructive, in that the actual rate at which finance was offered at that time for similar projects was in the 10.5-12.0% range.  The reasonable conclusion being that both sides had a high degree of comfort with each other, indicative of close collaborators.

S.84 of The Conveyancing and Law of Property Act (1939), states that the penalty for falsely stating the consideration in a deed is a modest fixed fine and a further penalty payment of 5 times the amount of the understatement.  Those penalties apply to both the buyer and seller, perhaps to discourage these dishonest practices.  The Act goes further to offer the penalty payment as a reward to the person making the report of the understatement.

S.86 of that Act also specifies a small fixed penalty for an attorney found guilty of “…knowingly and willfully…” recording a false consideration and mandates that the said attorney “…shall…” be disbarred.  Of course an attorney who had prepared only one of those deeds could reasonably claim to be genuinely unaware of the entire transaction, so we will see.

Sad to say this ‘Eden Gardens’ scheme is reminding me of the CL Financial antics. I am thinking about the the affidavit of the Inspector of Financial Institutions  stating that Clico Investment Bank did not file its Corporate Tax returns for 2007, 2008 and 2009 and the fact that, despite those lapses, they were able to obtain a bailout on ‘sweetheart terms‘.  The Eden Gardens chiefs were able to understate the property value to avoid the true level of Stamp Duty, but were also able to get Cabinet to agree to effectively bail them out, also on ‘sweetheart terms‘.

Always remember that the land at ‘Eden Gardens‘ cost $663,000 per lot as agreed by the Cabinet, seemingly unaware that the developers were offering lots there for sale at $400,000 only months before.

The HDC purchase was completed on 9 November 2012 and recorded in DE 2012 026026 11D001.  The para before the $175M sale price is the one which specifies the 2010 deed for $5M, just so.

I approved of the diligence of our AG in challenging the legality of the THA’s BOLT project.  This ‘Eden Gardens‘ scheme is also in need of urgent investigation, so we will see.

My final point is that all the information cited in this article is available on the internet, so where is the basic due diligence?  These sorts of schemes should not even get past the first gatekeeper, far less into the Cabinet for consideration.

CL Financial bailout – Colman’s endgame

We are entering the endgame of the Colman Commission, so we need to maintain full vigilance.  We must bear witness in a sober manner.

The PNM element

Former PNM Ministers Danny Montano, Conrad Enill and Mariano Browne were recently named by Commission Chairman Sir Anthony Colman as having declined to testify.

“It is noticeable that there has been a remarkable lack of cooperation from others, who were responsible for political decision-taking — to mention a few names: Mr. Enill, Mr. Browne and Mr. Montano in particular — have not offered to come and give evidence,” Sir Anthony said at Winsure Building, Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain.

“It is surprising perhaps that those who were the political representatives of the people of Trinidad and Tobago have not been able to provide assistance to the Commission in circumstances where it might have been expected of them,” he added.

Colman chides 3 ex-ministers.” Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. October 23 2012.


Colman then named three former Cabinet ministers who had been previously named in testimony at the enquiry in relation to the HCU.

“To mention but a few names Mr (Conrad) Enill, Mr (Mariano) Browne and Mr (Danny) Montano in particular have not co-operated to come and give evidence,” Colman said.

Colman praises Nunez-Tesheira for co-operating.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. October 22, 2012

That refusal to appear before a Commission of Enquiry amounts to a kind of contempt of court, since it is wilful disrespect for a lawful enquiry.  These are PNM Seniors, whose testimonies would have been invaluable in unraveling this series of financial collapses.

Here is why those missing testimonies are so important –

  1. Mariano Browne is a Chartered Accountant who left a successful career as a Banker – including a significant part of that career spent at CLF, Browne was the first head of Clico Investment Bank and CLF’s Barbados Banking arm – to become Minister of Trade and Minister in the Ministry of Finance after the 2007 general elections.  In addition, he is PNM Treasurer, so he could have given a rare insight into the linkages between these collapses and the large-scale donations made by both the CL Financial Group and the Hindu Credit Union (HCU).
  2. Conrad Enill comes from a Credit Union background, was also Minister in the Ministry of Finance up to the 2007 general elections and served as PNM Chairman up to their 2010 election loss.  Enill called for an investigation into the finances of HCU as far back as mid-2002, but swiftly withdrew from that course of action after reportedly being pressured by then PM Manning.
  3. Danny Montano is also a Chartered Accountant, who was Minister of Labour at the time of the HCU collapse (that Ministry has supervisory responsibility for Credit Unions).

“…THE Hindu Credit Union (HCU) financed Karen Nunez-Tesheira’s successful campaign to become the Member of Parliament for D’Abadie/O’Meara in the 2007 general election.

However, Nunez-Tesheira was not the only People’s National Movement (PNM) candidate who secured campaign financing from the HCU during that election.

This was revealed yesterday as the commission of enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial and the HCU resumed at the Winsure Building on Richmond Street in Port of Spain.…”

Karen: HCU financed my election campaign.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. October 22, 2012


“….THE Hindu Credit Union (HCU) financed the campaigns of the country’s two major political parties—the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC)—in the 2007 general election, former HCU president Harry Harnarine said yesterday….”

Harnarine: HCU financed UNC and PNM.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. October 23, 2012.

It is clear that the testimony of these three former PNM Cabinet Ministers would have been crucial to the Colman Commission unravelling this financial fiasco.  I am convinced that the matter of what Cabinet knew at the time it took the bailout decision is crucial.  For one thing, was Cabinet told that the beleaguered CL Financial group had paid a dividend on 16 January 2009, three days after they had written to the Central Bank for the bailout?  If the Cabinet knew of the illegal dividend payout, why were no provisions made in the MoU of 30 January 2009 for the recovery of those monies?  If the Cabinet were not told, then we are contemplating what might be a prior case of a senior Minister misleading colleagues to get the required result.  A kind of pre-S.34 situation.

Both Browne & Montano are Chartered Accountants, so this reported refusal to give evidence seems to be a case of ‘conduct unbecoming a professional’.

The PNM is now making serious efforts to market itself as a party which stands for good values in terms of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance.  Given the PNM’s track record that is a great challenge.  These reported refusals are doing great damage to those efforts.

Ironically enough, at this moment Dr. Bhoe Tewarie and Karen Nunez-Teshiera, are both looking better than these three former Ministers, given that they have appeared before the Commission.  Just imagine that.

Sir Anthony Colman was reported to have issued subpoenas for certain missing witnesses in the HCU matter and held them in contempt of court when they failed to appear.  I am waiting to hear whether the same treatment will apply to these PNM Seniors.

“…THREE witnesses have been held in contempt of court for not responding to subpoenas issued by the Commission of Enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial and the Hindu Credit Union.

A commission of enquiry has the same status as that of a High Court.

Those deemed to be in contempt of court yesterday by commissioner Sir Anthony Colman are former chief executive officer of HCU Communications, Gawtam Ramnanan, former HCU financial consultant Jameel Ali and Dave Jagpat…“

Colman to deal with 3 witnesses in contempt.” Trinidad Express Newspapers. June 15, 2012

It seems like this is yet another episode of inconsistent behaviour which serves to reinforce my belief in this potent ‘Code of Silence’.  Let me explain with these facts set out above.  One group of witnesses have offered weak excuses of the familiar kind – questionable medical certificates and so on – they were served with orders compelling their attendance (those are called subpoenas) and when they failed to respond, Colman made a ruling that they were in contempt of court.  That group was HCU witnesses.

Another group of witnesses took a different approach….they actually have decided not to testify and communicated that to the Colman Commission as described above.  Why has Colman not issued subpoenas or made any adverse rulings against these reluctant witnesses?

They are former member of the PNM cabinet, so I have to ask myself if there is a tacit agreement as to areas which will not be ventilated in this Enquiry.

Those areas which are seemingly off-limits now seem to include serious questions as to whether the Cabinet was misled.  This is a sobering example of the channels of power.  We have to bear witness.

The DPP’s role

The intervention of the DPP in this situation is now cause for concern since he is reported to have written to the Colman Commissionto say –

Roger Gaspard, SC, DPP
“…I am particularly concerned that an otherwise credible prosecution might be stopped by the court on the grounds that a defendant’s right to a fair trial had been fatally compromised by the publicity attendant upon your enquiry. As such, I shall be issuing a press release warning the media against the publication of any material which may jeopardise the police investigation and any potential criminal proceedings…

We also read that “…Gaspard also issued a stern warning to media houses last night to cease publication of “anything which might jeopardise, hinder or otherwise prejudice the investigation or any possible proceedings which might result from it…“.

The Colman Commission has maintained the modern standard of Public Enquiries in that the public can choose from attendance in person, live TV, streaming webcasts, online transcripts and online witness statements.  It seemed to me that the position being taken by the DPP could jeopardise the public interest in having this information broadcast in the widest possible terms.

On 10 November, my mind churned as I read this – “…Meantime, the Commission of Enquiry is set to restart on December 3 with former Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams and Inspector of Financial Institutions Carl Hiralal expected to take the witness stand…

At this stage we are expecting to hear the testimony of the Chiefs in this series of disasters – Lawrence Duprey, Ewart Williams, Carl Hiralal, Robert Mayers, Ram Ramesh, Faris Al-Rawi, Amjad Ali, Anthony Rahael, Andre Monteil.  I am very concerned that we are now seeing what appears to be a detrimental development in terms of complete transparency.

I was encouraged to read the DPP’s statement that

I remain mindful of competing public interest factors including the fair trial rights of potential defendants, the freedom of the press and the requirement of open justice.

This is definitely an aspect which needs our most intense scrutiny.

The former CLICO CEO

Gene Dziadyk

Finally, we come to the matter of former CLICO CEO, Gene Dziadyk, with whom I have been in correspondence, writing and offering to tell the inside scoopon what went wrong inside CLICO.

I have read his material and he takes a completely opposite view to me as to what has happened here.

My own view is that the CL Financial group was able to use its track-record of huge political donations and other links to obtain full State support on favourable turns when the inevitable crisis emerged.  The CLF group was able to use its links to take advantage of the State.  Dziadyk’s view is that the State used the crisis to take advantage of the CLF group in general and the CLICO policyholders in particular.

I cannot see any way that we could both be right.  The critical point is that only the publication of the audited, consolidated accounts and other details I have been pursuing will allow us to see the truth of this matter.

But the fact that Dziadyk is a trained actuary, who was at the centre of the scene for so long, makes his testimony invaluable for the insights it will allow the Colman Commission.  I was therefore very surprised to read that he is not going to be called as a witness.

Readers who are interested in having the testimony of Gene Dziadyk form part of the Colman Commission to state their support for that to happen – the Secretary to the Enquiry is Judith Gonzales and her email address is comsecclfhcu@gmail.com.

These kinds of issues are exactly the ones on which the public input of Seenath Jairam, SC is sorely missed.  Having decided to take the Ministry of Finance brief and later deciding to return it, any of Jairam’s subsequent public utterances will be coloured by those decisions.

That is the point I was making in the previous column on the sacrifices which leadership demands.

CL Financial bailout – without rhyme or reason

The last month or so has spoilt us for choice when it comes to amazing scenes being witnessed in relation to the CL Financial bailout and the ongoing Colman Commission.

As I wrote in July 2010, in criticising the appointment of Jack Warner to the Cabinet –

…We need to be mindful of the relationship between morals, ethics, law and of course, that scarce commodity, good sense.  Obviously, law is the paramount authority, because we live in a republic ruled by laws, not men. No one should break the law and there are penalties for doing that.  But we also know that in life we make many important decisions without referring to any laws. Those are sound decisions, which form norms, eventually described as custom-and-practice or culture. There are many acts, which are at one and the same time both deeply offensive to right-thinking people (and I think that most people are right-thinking) and in breach of no particular law.  Many acts, with no need for examples, since this is a newspaper any child could pick up and read…

 

Karl Hudson-Phillips, QC
Seenath Jairam, SC

The main talking point was the decision of the Law Association President, Seenath Jairam SC, to accept the Ministry of Finance brief for the Colman Commission after the dismissal of Michael Quamina and Fyard Hosein SC.   Apart from our friendship, Seenath Jairam is an attorney in whom I have utmost confidence in these areas.  That said, his acceptance of that brief was a serious lapse of judgment, since in my view a leader cannot behave the same as the ordinary members of an association.  A leader who is unable to realize that his role demands unique sacrifices will soon exhaust his supporters’ loyalty.

The public argument between Jairam and Hudson-Phillips was upsetting for some people, but to me it showed undue preoccupation with status and mutual respect at the expense of the client’s interest.   Hudson-Phillips objected to the apparent decision by Jairam to accept that brief without consulting either his clients or the dismissed attorney.  It seemed to me that if all those people had been consulted, Hudson-Phillips would have been just fine.  All of which Jairam proved in his reply.

The entire exchange came across as being very self-interested with scant attention being given to the major interest at stake in this sorry affair.  No surprises there for a lot of us.

Sen. Larry Howai, Minister of Finance

The starting-point is Minister Howai’s decision to change attorneys at this advanced stage of the Colman Commission.  From what I have seen, it seemed that Fyard Hosein was doing a good job in representing the Ministry of Finance, so what was the basis of that decision to change attorneys?

The largest single interest in this entire CL Financial bailout is the taxpayer and I maintain my view that they have been very poorly served in the entire process.  The taxpayer is represented in this matter by the Ministry of Finance, which is in charge of the Treasury.

For one thing, the legal costs to the Ministry for the Colman Commission have increased tremendously as a direct result of that decision.  The new team will have to read and digest vast amounts of complex material; all of that time has to be paid for by us.

It also seems to me that the new team will, as a result of the sheer size and complexity of the matter, be operating at a serious disadvantage.  The quality of our representation is also sure to be diluted, however eminent the various new attorneys.

So, a high public official decides to switch attorneys at a very advanced stage of what is likely one of the most complex, hotly-contested and expensive matters in our country’s history.  That decision immediately inflated the legal costs, with the predictable side-effect of likely diluting the quality of the representations to be made on behalf of us taxpayers.

There are serious concerns that the switching of these lawyers was an act of political revenge.  When this matter came up during a Senate sitting on 16th October, Howai is reported to have said “…We consulted on whom we should choose… no I don’t want to get into detail, everybody will have their own point of view but at the end of the day the client decides…

It seems from that reported statement that the Minister is relying on his undoubted rights to switch teams.  The obvious concerns and the care which that Ministry should exercise as upholders of the public interest appear to be of low priority.

Howai’s refusal to even attempt an explanation of such a major decision in a matter of this size and consequence is deplorable.  The distracting argument between the two leading lights only contributed to the seriousness of our crisis.  I would like to hear from the Law Association, or even some of the leading attorneys on this matter.

That refusal to explain and the distraction of the argument are elements in what I have been calling the ‘Code of Silence’.

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

The Ministry of Finance Story: The Winston Dookeran Affidavit

This downloadable document is the 3rd April 2012 affidavit of then Minister of Finance Winston Dookeran, filed as the key evidence in the government’s case in reply to the High Court challenge mounted by Percy Farrell on behalf of a group of CLICO policyholders.

It is an important document since it is the official attempt to deal comprehensively with the claims that the new laws passed in 2011 to control the bailout were unconstitutional – those laws were the Central Bank (Amendment) Act, 2011 and the Purchase of Certain Rights and Validation Act, 2011. [To read the separate Bills progress in the House of Representatives, you can click here and here respectively.]

The most interesting ones are the paragraphs in which Dookeran states –

  • Para 16 at which CLICO is identified as holding 53.6% of the insurance industry’s total liabilities in T&T.  That is a clear statement as to the extent to which this company was allowed to become literally ‘too big to fail’ and it also seems to me to comprise grounds for preventing this kind of over-concentration of risk to ever emerge again.
  • Para 21 which details some $12Bn of public money already spent on this massive bailout.
  • Para 22 which estimates that a further $12Bn of public money is needed to meet the creditors’ claims.
  • Para 76 which confirms that the quarterly reports on the restructuring of CLICO for December 2011 and March 2012 have been filed in the High Court as required by the new laws cited above. 

I used this last paragraph to obtain those quarterly reports from the High Court – this is the FoI application dated 2012-05-08 and Quarterly Reports for March 2012 and December 2011 cited.

There will be more to say on this, as we need to delve into the accountability framework in relation to this exercise.

Expenditure of Public Money
 Minus         Transparency
 Minus       Accountability
 Equals          CORRUPTION

CL Financial bailout – Swearing an Oath

Former Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Tesheira being sworn-in by President Prof. George Maxwell Richards on November 2007. Photo © TriniView.com

The former Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, is once again in the news, due to her dispute with the Integrity Commission as well as her expected testimony at the next session of the Colman Commission.

The former Minister has had to defend against allegations of insider information1 related to her early withdrawals from CLICO Investment Bank (CIB). [Hansard report of February 4, 2009 calls it “PERSONAL EXPLANATION Allegations of Insider Trading.”] There was a lengthy address to the Parliament on Wednesday 4 February 2009. The 7 March 2009 revelation in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Newspaper, that Nunez-Tesheira was a CL Financial shareholder was also the cause of further defensive statements to Parliament on 27 March 2009.  In the first wave of defence, there was silence as to the fact of Nunez-Tesheira’s shareholdings in CLF.  In November 2011, her attorney attempted to challenge my position on this at the Colman Commission, but I maintained that ‘If the genuine attempt was to address the perception of corruption in a forthright fashion, all the information should have been given’.  In the second wave of defence, there was no mention of the fact that the insolvent CL Financial group paid a dividend to its shareholders after writing that fateful letter to the Central Bank for financial assistance.  Again, through the unfolding scandal we are witness to responsible officials who chose to be selective in making the required full and frank disclosure. All to the detriment of the tax payer.

Those attempts to defend against the allegations were only partially successful, since there is little doubt that Nunez-Tesheira’s reputation has been damaged by the entire episode.

Nunez-Tesheira is now alleging that the Integrity Commission failed to properly notify her of exactly what possible charges have been notified to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I understand that the charges relate to an allegation that the CLF shareholding held by Nunez-Tesheira amounts to a conflict of interest in relation to the discharge of her duties as Minister of Finance at the time of the bailout.

If the former Minister’s concerns are true, that may negate the fundamental investigation, which would be a real pity in terms of settling the elementary accounts of that turbid period.

I have my own serious concerns, derived from the same set of facts, about the lessons to be learned from the decisions of that individual, Karen Nunez-Tesheira.

Ministers of government in our country take and subscribe the oath of allegiance and oath for the due execution of his/her office – under Section 84 of the Constitution – upon their appointment.

Section 84.

Form of Oath (affirmation) for
A Minister or Parliamentary Secretary

I, A.B.. do swear by………… (solemnly affirm) that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Trinidad and Tobago and will uphold the Constitution and the law, that I will conscientiously, impartially and to the best of my ability discharge my duties as ………… and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will.

To my mind, the only reasonable reading of the phrase ‘conscientiously, impartially‘ is that personal, family, friends or other commercial interests must never be present or considered when discharging public duties. The closing phrase specifies without fear or favour, affection or ill will, the plain meaning of which only reinforces the previous point.

I keep returning to the National Gas Corporation (NGC) Press Release of 4 February 2009 in response to widespread rumours that its heavy withdrawals had prompted the collapse of the CL Financial group. That Press Release rebutted those allegations, but was interesting in that it also spoke of CIB’s failure to return significant deposits in November and December 2008. This citation from the Press Release –

That official NGC statement establishes that the CL Financial group was known to have been in very serious financial difficulties as far back as November 2008 – after all, over a three-month period CIB was unable to repay in excess of $250M in matured deposits. Given the high degree of trust between the CL Financial group and the government of the day, that breach must have been known at the very highest level.

Then I move to consider the extensive interview Nunez-Tesheira gave on 4 February 2009 to the Trinidad Express on the broken deposits, the headline being truly priceless ‘Everybody knew CIB was in trouble’. That interview formed part of my submission at the Colman Commission, with neither its inclusion, nor my inferences from it, being challenged by Nunez-Tesheira’s attorney during his cross-examination on 10 November.

She then said: “On December 31, 2008, I withdrew an account which had matured on December 31, 2008”. Since then, Express investigations have discovered that Nunez-Tesheira had (not one) but two accounts with CIB, which matured (not on December 31) but was due to mature in April and August 2009 respectively. And she applied on December 30 to break these two deposits.

In an interview with the Express on February 4, Nunez-Tesheira also confirmed that her sister made an application on December 30 to break the $2.1 million deposit held in her late mother’s name, Una Nunez.
In that interview Nunez-Tesheira said: “Everybody knew CIB was in trouble.” But she stressed that she only received the formal brief on the issue of CL Financial troubles on January 14.

In an interview on the same day with this newspaper, she stated: “The information about CIB and the concerns about CIB, were out there in the public domain for a long time, and my sister being a banker, would have been one of the persons who would have heard the concerns about CIB.”

Asked if in hindsight she should have declared her investments in CIB and CMMB before making any statements in the Parliament on the issue, Nunez-Tesheira said she had no need to do so. “In answering that question, it would imply that there was something that somehow was untoward,” she said, adding that there was not(hing untoward)…

In her statements to the Parliament Nunez-Tesheira was emphatic on these important points – from page 629 of Hansard of 4 February 2009 –

...Prior to January 14 of this year, I can truthfully state that I had no personal, formal or informal information about the extent of the liquidity difficulties the Clico Investment Bank has found itself in, other than the information known and available to any other citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and those on the other side, for that matter. Like any other citizen of this country, I also have to attend to my personal affairs and I did so until December 30, 2008 with respect to my personal transactions with Clico Investment Bank…

The emphasis is mine.

The emphasis on extent, as distinct from the existence of the liquidity difficulties, is crucial. The way that statement to Parliament is crafted, it is possible to have been aware of the existence of the liquidity problems and still claim to have been ignorant of the extent of those problems. In my view, Nunez-Tesheira’s choice of words is artful, since she is already on the record as to her motivations in ensuring that her family monies were withdrawn from CIB when she learned of the financial problems there.

The then Minister of Finance was also clear that she took official action only at the point when she was officially informed.

In my view, this sequence of facts represents a real, clear example of breach of public duty and breach of the ministerial oath of office. By her very own words Nunez-Tesheira was informed and believed that the group had problems, as a result of which, she took the necessary steps to protect her own family’s financial position. Following that, the then Minister was officially advised that the CL Financial difficulties were now going to be requiring a State bailout at which stage she took official steps to deal with the crisis.

In my opinion, the Oath of Office does not permit that course of action. Under the terms of that Oath, officeholders are required to properly discharge their duties at all times. A holder of ministerial office ought not to allow family interests to come into conflict with his/her duty to protect national/public interests. It seems clear to me that the actual course of decisions by Nunez-Tesheira in this episode is contrary to both the spirit and intent of the Oath of Office.

So, firstly, we have Nunez-Tesheira’s apparent decision that the information as to CIB’s financial crisis – wherever it came from – was solid enough to take immediate steps to protect personal interests. Apparently, the public, proper duties of that office awaited an official letter. I tell you.

Next, we have the payment of the final dividend by CLF and the burning question of whether her Cabinet colleagues were informed by Nunez-Tesheira that she was not only a shareholder, but also in receipt of dividends from the very group that was seeking a State bailout. Those are the questions which can only be answered by lifting the conventional veil of Cabinet secrecy.

If you are not outraged, you haven’t been paying attention…


Footnote

  1. Hansard report: p.497 <http://www.ttparliament.org/hansards/hh20090202.pdf>.