Telling Truths

“…The first responsibility that devolves upon you is the protection and promotion of your democracy. Democracy means more, much more, than the right to vote and one vote for every man and every woman of the prescribed age…”
Dr Eric Williams, in his first Independence address, on 31st August 1962.

We are now at a place in which our political parties routinely subject us to misleading promises to win elections, followed by a sharp dose of reality as we realise which financiers are actually in charge of important public policy. This has been happening for a while now, but while we can criticise the various political parties, our gullibility is at the root of the problem. Many of us still believe in ‘Father Christmas’, so we remain stuck in a loop of high expectations leading to deep disappointment. Frustration and outrage appear to be key features of the ‘new normal’ we are all now living.

Obviously, we need a big shift in how the membership of the political parties hold their leaders accountable once office is attained, but there are other aspects of public affairs which need to change. Some say that once we choose not to vote, we have lost the right to criticise the actions of public officials, since we are effectively opting-out of the system. I believe it is important to remember that politics is not a single choice made by the voter at elections: politics is how we live our lives together and choose everyday.
Continue reading “Telling Truths”

VIDEO: Update on CL Financial bailout and court matter on 107.7 FM

1077fm-logoAfra Raymond is interviewed on Sunday 14th February 2016 by Rennie B on the issues relating to the CL Financial bailout and his ongoing litigation with the Minister of Finance & the Economy to ensure publication of the details of that massive payout of $25Bn + in Public Money.

The Whistleblower Proposals

The Whistleblower Protection Bill 2015 was submitted to Parliament on Friday 13th November 2015. Those proposals will create legal protections for persons making reports of wrongdoing in both public and private bodies. A Joint Select Committee has been established to examine these proposals and report back to the Parliament no later than 22nd January 2016, so this is the time to consider these and make formal comments.

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners 2014 Global Fraud Study, whistleblowing is the best method of detecting fraud –

“…Tips are consistently and by far the most common detection method. Over 40% of all cases were detected by a tip — more than twice the rate of any other detection method. Employees accounted for nearly half of all tips that led to the discovery of fraud…” (pg 4)

Given the levels of improper and illegal conduct with which our society is beset, these proposals are long overdue and I welcome them. That said, it is important to examine the detailed provisions and exemptions, together with the introductory statement made by Attorney General, Faris Al Rawi. Continue reading “The Whistleblower Proposals”

CL Financial bailout – Finding the Facts

Min of FInance, Colm Imbert, MP
Min of FInance, Colm Imbert, MP

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,
8th Floor,
Eric Williams Financial Complex,
Brian Lara Promenade,
Port-of-Spain
Honourable Minister,
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 –

  1. Formal withdrawal of the State’s appeal in this matter;
  2. 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;
  3. 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
Minus    Transparency
Minus    Accountability
Equals   CORRUPTION    

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.

Yours sincerely,
……………………………………………….
Afra Raymond

c.c. – Dr. Keith Rowley MP, Prime Minister,
Mr. Faris Al Rawi MP, Attorney General

http://www.afraraymond.wordpress.com

How much has the CL Financial bailout cost?’
TIMELINE

DATE

EVENT

SOURCE

with live hyperlinks

30th January 2009

Bailout announced at an estimated cost of $5.0 Billion

CBTT Statement of 13th February 2009

12th June 2009

CL Financial Shareholders’ Agreement signed, which for the first time made it a priority to protect shareholders’ rights.

https://afraraymond.files.

– see Para ‘A’ of the Preamble at page two.

8th September 2010

Winston Dookeran’s first Budget Statement, in which he formally proposes to drastically reduce the rate of payout of Public Money in the bailout.

2011 Budget Statement 

pages eight through ten.

1st October 2010

Then PM confirms that $7.3 Bn had been spent and that a further $7.0 Bn needed to be spent (pg 31). The burning need for an explanation of where the $7.3 Bn went…(pgs 25-26)

Hansard for 1st October 2010 

pages 19 through 34.

3rd April 2012

Then Finance Minister Winston Dookeran confirms that $12 Bn had been spent.

Affidavit to High Court in Percy Farrell & Ors vs AG 

para 21.

1st October 2012

New Finance Minister Larry Howai confirms that $19.7 Bn had been spent, which is an additional $7.7 Bn in six months.

2013 Budget Statement 

page six.

17th May 2013

Formal confirmation of bailout cost “over $25 Bn

Formal Press Release from Office of the AG 

para eight.

2nd April 2014

Then Finance Minister Howai confirms bailout cost as – “… the cost to the country of the CL Financial bailout—the actual cash that has been put out—is approximately$20.8 billion...”

Hansard for Senate sitting of 2ndApril 2014 

page 35.

7th August 2015

Then Finance Minister Howai confirms bailout cost as ‘not quite $20 Bn‘.

CNMG interview

Dismantling the Code of Silence

This letter was published in Sunday Express on 27th September 2015.

From: Afra Raymond <afraraymond@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Sep 24, 2015 at 10:00 AM
Subject: Dismantling the Code of Silence
To:

The Editor,

lasalturas-signNoel Garcia served as General Manager of the Housing Development Corporation during the period in which critical decisions were made on the Las Alturas housing project. That project, in which two apartment buildings failed, is now the subject of a Commission of Enquiry. There have been several reports in the press (see below) that Mr Garcia was unwilling to testify to that Enquiry. We have been unable to locate any published responses from Mr Garcia to those reports.

Noel Garcia has now been appointed as Chairman of the UDECOTT Board. The JCC’s position is that the penalties for the failure or refusal to appear as a witness to a Commission of Enquiry must be increased sharply so as to discourage this deplorable behaviour. The present fine for non-attendance is only $2,000, which is why so many persons can show open disdain for a request to testify at a Commission of Enquiry.

The prospect of the Chairman of a State Enterprise declining to testify at a Commission of Enquiry is unacceptable and of course any continuing ambiguity can only feed suspicion.

The Las Alturas Enquiry resumes its evidence hearings on Monday 28th September 2015 and it would be a refreshing change from the ‘bad old days‘ if Mr Garcia, or his attorneys, were to promptly confirm his willingness to appear as a witness.

Afra Raymond
President
JCC


Noel Garcia responded via a media release, which was copied on social media on Sunday 27 September 2015 as follows:

Getting the Facts Right

I refer to a letter to the editor from Afra Raymond entitled “Dismantling the code of Silence” published in the September 27, 2015 edition of the Express Newspaper.
In his letter, Mr. Raymond, in reference to me and the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project, speaks disparagingly of “the prospect of the Chairman of a State Enterprise declining to testify at a Commission of Enquiry”.

I wish to categorically state that I have never refused to give evidence before the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project. Despite what Mr. Raymond claims to have read (and what he erroneously plainly believes), the Commission has never at any time contacted or subpoenaed me on the matter of the Las Alturas Project. This, although my postal address, email address and telephone number have remained unchanged for years.

For the record, I have never shirked my duty or my responsibility to give evidence before any court or any tribunal with respect to matters within my knowledge as a former employee of the HDC. I have previously given evidence in the High Court on behalf of the HDC and I have only recently filed an affidavit in support of the HDC’s position in another High Court matter. I am no stranger to and have given evidence repeatedly at Commissions of Enquiry including in the Piarco Airport Enquiry, the Landate Enquiry and the UFF Commission.

I wish to make my position abundantly clear that, were I to be subpoenaed or contacted to give evidence at the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Project, I would have absolutely no difficulty in assisting the Commission.

In his self-appointed role as guardian of the public conscience, Mr. Raymond ought to be more careful about permitting his officious zeal to lead him into making what can be considered to be defamatory imputations about others. Mr. Raymond’s self-confessed inability to locate any published responses from me to press reports he has read is no licence for him to do so.

Noel Garcia.


This clarification was all we were seeking, so I responded later that night, on social media, as follows

“…Noel Garcia’s post ‘Getting the Facts Right’ is very helpful, it is the first public response I have seen to the several articles earlier on this issue – I thank him for it…as I said elsewhere on FB yesterday, one of the Officials in the Las Alturas Enquiry told me that they had been ‘unable to locate’ Mr Garcia, to which I responded that as he was the new UDECOTT Chairman, it was now impossible to sustain that claim…”


For ease of reference – these are the previous press reports

  1. Trinidad Guardian of 7th April 2015 – ‘Las Alturas Hearing resumes today
    …Singh also assured Ibrahim that efforts were being made to locate former executive chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of T&T Calder Hart, and former HDC general manager Noel Garcia, to have them appear before the Commission…” then “…Garcia is said to be living and working in Ghana. HDC’s attorney Vincent Nelson, QC, had previously indicated that Garcia had declined to provide a witness statement when asked, following which they lost contact with him. Seemingly dissatisfied with Mohammed’s answer that every effort was being made to have Hart present himself before the Commission, Ibrahim suggested that there were legal means which could be employed to compel him to appear.”Ibrahim has promised that accommodations would be made not to keep Hart unduly when he does appear, while there was also the recommendation that an offer be made to pay Garcia’s travel expenses back to T&T, in order for him to testify. Both Hart and Garcia have been deemed “important witnesses” in the enquiry. During the 13-day enquiry four witnesses have so far testified before the Commission…
  2. Trinidad Express – 20th March 2015 – ‘HDC lawyers ‘lost all contact with Garcia’‘ –
    …Attorneys representing the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) have lost all contact with former HDC managing director Noel Garcia. This was revealed yesterday during the sitting of the commission of enquiry into the Las Alturas housing project at the Caribbean Court of Justice in Port of Spain.Garcia, who was expected to be called as a witness in the enquiry, is said to be currently residing in Ghana.Junior counsel for the commission Jagdeo Singh told the commission all attempts by HDC’s legal team to locate Garcia had been unsuccessful. “Every effort has been made thus far to locate Mr Garcia and at some point in time Mr Garcia was in communication with the legal team for the HDC, but he has since ceased all communication with them,” Singh said.Nelson had said at a previous hearing that Garcia did not appear to be willing to testify in the proceedings.

    Chairman of the commission Mustapha Ibrahim noted Garcia’s participation in the enquiry was necessary, as he was a “very important witness”…

  3. CTNT News – 5th March 2015 – ‘QC: Garcia’s presence crucial to Las Alturas Enquiry‘ –
    …The absence of former HDC Managing Director Noel Garcia at the Commission of Enquiry into the Las Alturas Housing Project was raised by the company’s Attorney on Day Four of the proceedings. Mr. Garcia is one of the key persons who would be best able to add the pieces to the already puzzling situation which led to the partial demolition of two towers at the million dollar housing complex due to shifting soil.”At Thursday’s session, the Attorney representing the Housing Development Corporation, Queen’s Counsel Vincent Nelson, mentioned that Mr. Garcia currently works and lives outside T&T.”The position there is that Mr. Noel Garcia, who is a pivotal person in the project at the time, is someone who really, although it is difficult because he is outside the jurisdiction for the Commission to summon him, he is an important and pivotal person in terms of what occurred at the time.”Mr. Nelson was then asked by the Commission Chairman Mustapha Ibrahim if any efforts were made to bring him back to T&T for the Enquiry, including offering to pay his airfare.

    No. We haven’t done so but obviously that is something that I could take instructions on. I am told we lost communication with him at the moment. So that is the position but we will make further efforts but in the meantime, the position is the Commission may consider whether to call the Board at the time and/or see when Mr. Garcia is available.’…” There is also a TV clip here.

  4. Newsday of 6th March 2015 – ‘Noel Garcia not willing to testify‘ –
    …NOEL Garcia, former managing director of the Housing Development Corporation (HDC), has indicated to lawyers for the HDC, that he is unwilling to testify at the Las Alturas Commission of Inquiry, attorney Vincent Nelson QC said yesterday…

I have not seen any responses from Noel Garcia before his response on Sunday 27th September 2015.

Our Land – The Review

“…A small State such as Trinidad & Tobago must accord a very high priority to the judicious management and utilization of its land resources or perish. All elements of land policy must be designed to ensure that these finite resources are efficiently utilized and husbanded in such a manner as to serve the long term interests of the national community…”
—Conclusion of “A New Administration and Policy for Land” (19 November, 1992)

The PNM won national elections on 7 September 2015 by 23-18.

Two key themes emerged during the PNM’s successful campaign –

  1. Firstly, there was a strong emphasis on the critical need to restore proper standards of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance;
  2. Secondly, a commitment was given to ‘keep the various promises made by the PP government’.

When one considers the various promises, policy changes and actions of the PP in relation to land and property, it seems clear to me that those two campaign commitments made by the PNM are entirely incompatible.

Our country has a very high population density and the previous Minister of Land and Marine Resources estimated that some 63% of our country’s land belongs to the State. It is therefore a cardinal State responsibility to properly manage those critical resources so that short and long term interests can be reconciled in a sustainable manner. The present situation is so serious and damaging to our collective interests that I am calling for a halt to any attempt to keep promises with respect to land and property while a fact-finding and policy review is conducted.

landpolicyThe opening quotation is from the National Land Policy 1992, which is now a virtually unknown document since its very existence is denied by all the relevant agencies. This Policy provides critical guidance for how this scarce resource should be best managed in the Public Interest.

The severe crisis now evident in relation to our State Lands resembles a ‘Tragedy of the Commons‘ in which this crucial resource which should offer long-term collective benefits is effectively abused by self-seeking individuals. The pattern of abuse is facilitated by gross mismanagement, in profitable partnership with deliberate obscurity in how the State Land system actually operates.

Food Security

foodplan-2012-15This remains elusive since in March 2012 the Ministry of Agriculture, Land & Marine Resources published its Food Production Action Plan 2012-2015. The major goal of that Action Plan was to halve the country’s annual $4.0 Billion food import bill. Yet in March 2014, the Food Production Minister, Senator Devant Maharaj, stated that the food import bill had been reduced by only 2% since 2010.

The significant reduction of our food import bill will require a flexible plan, with dedicated implementation and continuous monitoring. The one inescapable requirement is for farmers to have access to land of suitable quantity, quality and location. Without a good supply of land, no food security plan can succeed.

Land for the Landless

The proposed revisions to the State Lands Act 1998 were approved by the Lower House of Parliament on 3 June 2015 and withdrawn after the JCC raised certain objections. The proposed change in the ‘Land for the Landless’ policy were approved by Cabinet on 19 March 2015 with these main elements –

  • Occupation Date – Was moved from January 1998 to June 2014, which means many more persons would qualify.
  • Income Limits – Previously the maximum monthly family income was $8,000, this was now revised to $30,000.
  • Definition – the 1998 Act defined a landless person as one who was ‘disadvantaged’ according to the Ministry of Social Development, that word was deleted from the revised proposals.
  • Designated Areas – these were specified in an extensive list of over 400 areas covering the entire country.
  • The Numbers – The total number of persons identified was 250,000 and a commitment was given to regularise some 60,000 of those.

A policy which was originally intended to alleviate the plight of our poorest citizens has now effectively been extended to offer ‘Land for Everybody’. The existing commitment in respect of 60,000 lots will consume about 8,000 acres of land.

EMBD

https://vimeo.com/7987617
embd logoThe EMBD website states that it is responsible for the development of the former Caroni lands – some 7,500 residential lots are being prepared for ex-Caroni workers as part of their retrenchment package, with a further 8,400 agricultural leases of 2-acre parcels reportedly being processed. That means about 940 acres are to be used for the residential lots, with at further 18,500 additional acres for the agricultural plots. The total land area to be used would be about 19,420 acres, which is about a quarter (26%) of the estimated area of the Caroni lands.

Caroni Lands

caroni1975_logo_smallCaroni Lands were leased to ex–Caroni workers as part of their retrenchment compensation – they were entitled to one residential lot and a two-acre parcel for food-crop farming. The use of those lands for those purposes was intended to be controlled by the restrictive covenants in those leases. For instance, the residential lots were to be developed by a residential building within three years and the agricultural lots were to be held by the ex-workers for food-crop farming. In the 2015 budget, the restriction on sale of those agricultural lands was removed (pg 14). In addition, Cabinet Minute 3093 of 6 November 2014 approved the removal of the restrictive covenants in the leases to ex-Caroni workers – both agricultural and residential. No restriction on sale and no requirement to build on the lots.

This is tantamount to the State entirely gifting the development and transactional rights to these lessees, with no effective means of ensuring the originally desired results.

Housing Development Corporation (HDC)

hdc-logoThe HDC sells new homes at heavily-subsided rates to middle-income families, subject to restrictive covenants which prohibit open-market sale within the first ten years. Under the terms of that clause, the owner of one of these homes is required to offer the property to the HDC at the original price. It now seems that the HDC has relinquished those restrictive covenants. I have seen several letters signed by the HDC which authorise the open-market sale of those homes within the ten-year embargo period. I am not aware of any policy decision which supports that pattern of approvals and none of the vendors I have spoken with have paid any penalties of profit-share to the HDC.

This is yet another example of the State or its agents abandoning its fundamental duty to properly manage the public property rights within its remit.

Property Tax

The proposed Property Tax would require a live, open-access database which would allow anyone to examine the details of any property in the country. Those details would include land area, building area, number of bedrooms/bathrooms and other facilities, transaction history, ownership and assessed taxes. One of the strongest sources of opposition to the Property Tax is persons who would wish to keep the details of their property holdings and dealings as secret as possible.

The new Property Tax system and the modern database is in fact a key element in unearthing the facts of our country’s property ownership and occupation.

Property Tax must therefore be a priority in this arena.

The unrealistic policy of homes with gardens consumes too much land and will jeopardise our country’s sustainable future.