CL Financial Bailout – The Hidden Truth

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.

Sen. Larry Howai, Min of Finance
Sen. Larry Howai, Min of Finance

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”

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CL Financial Bailout – The Real Case

Sen. Larry Howai, Min of Finance
Sen. Larry Howai, Min of Finance & the Economy

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”

CL Financial Bailout – Steal of a Deal

The CL Financial bailout was a steal of a deal for the owners of that troubled company. After all, the wealthiest man in the Caribbean was able to obtain an interest-free loan exceeding $25 Billion in Public Money at a time when no one else would lend him. Our Treasury was effectively the ‘lender of last resort’, so those terms were hugely in favour of CL Financial and its controlling shareholder, Lawrence Duprey. What is more, the shareholders kept all their shares.

In the previous column, I stated my view that Mariano Browne had taken what seemed to be a position supportive of Lawrence Duprey’s attempt to regain control of CLICO. I also pointed out that Browne was a member of the Cabinet when that fateful and detrimental deal was made to bail out CL Financial in 2009 and called on the significant members of that Cabinet to explain their rationale. I went further to say that Browne was one of the five significant persons who had been requested to testify and refused to do so.

browne-karen-dupreyI am pleased that Mariano Browne has replied on the record, so this column will deal with those valuable points. For starters, it is even clearer than before that former Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, has serious questions to answer in relation to her central role in this bailout. Given that financial training and experience formed a weak part of her profile, one can only wonder at what prompted Manning to appoint Nunez-Tesheira to that position. We will see. In addition, the terms which were negotiated between the State and CLF are essential to understand today’s dilemma with respect to Duprey’s ambitions. A related issue which needs clarity is the role of the powerful, unelected ‘bigger heads’ who are seemingly in control of our country.

mariano-to-afra1mariano-to-afra2mariano-to-afra3

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Duprey and his cohorts benefitted from an unprecedented degree of access to key decision-makers in the Cabinet and the Central Bank.

One of the enduring paradoxes in how our society is governed is the lopsided distribution of information. There is an abundance of relatively unimportant information, alongside a severe scarcity of critical facts on the big issues of the day. It seems that we are now ‘Amusing ourselves to Death‘, to borrow an insightful phrase from Neil Postman.

There is a world seen and a world unseen. The challenge is to discern the scope and influence of the unseen world. The current lexicon describes the unseen world as the ‘Deep State‘. I have no doubt that such a state of affairs exists in our country. So what do we know about the huge decisions in our society’s governance and how do we come to know those things?

For instance, the most serious decisions are taken by the Cabinet, which consists only of members of Parliament – some directly-elected as MPs and others appointed as Senators. Some of those decisions are announced at the Thursday afternoon post-Cabinet Press Conference. But the coverage is always partial with my suspicion being that stories are often presented so as to conceal their less-favourable aspects.

Cabinet seems to operate according to two conventions – the first being ‘Collective Cabinet Responsibility’ and the second being that the discussions of Cabinet are secret. The Freedom of Information Act gives Cabinet documents a 10-year embargo against publication. So, the first problem is that the highest decision-making Chamber in our Republic is essentially a secret one. I have always felt that the veil of secrecy which covers Cabinet’s deliberations is most times severely detrimental to our collective interests. This sordid CLF bailout fiasco fortifies that view.

Another critical aspect of the current arrangements is the role of the powerful Party Political Financiers, which is rarely revealed, but often suspected. In the case of the CL Financial group, we know that CLICO was a major funder of both major parties, which gives this bailout fiasco its lingering, bitter, flavour. There are few opportunities for us to get a real insight, beyond rumours, as to the true role of the party financier. Apart from the role of CL Financial as financiers, we also learned in the Colman Commission that Nunez-Tesheira’s 2007 campaign benefitted from Hindu Credit Union (HCU) financing.

The 2009 negotiations

One question I always ask is whether Karen Nunez-Tesheira told her colleagues that CLF had paid a dividend three days after it requested a bailout? As a shareholder, she would have been in receipt of dividends. If the Cabinet was told, they should have insisted on immediate repayment of any dividend since an insolvent company cannot pay a dividend. If the Cabinet was not told, we are dealing with a most deceptive course of action. Which was it?

So, what did Browne say about those negotiations?

…I have said that Duprey’s (and other shareholders) legal position is strong as the government depended on a MOA (memorandum of Agreement) the time frame of which has long since passed. On that basis, the shareholders have rights. Even if the state has expended money, the State and or its agents (the Central Bank) must do so in way that protects both the policy holders and the shareholders.

That was my advice in cabinet and at the Finance Policy Committee. The view of the Minister of Finance prevailed. I am of the opinion that Karen Nunez Tesheira was wrong then and is wrong now…

Browne is concurring with my view that the State’s position is weak in this bailout endgame, the key point being “…the shareholders have rights…”. Being bound by the first convention of ‘Collective Cabinet Responsibility’, Browne kept his silence during the raging controversy of the past 6 years, but he has now chosen to break the secrecy convention. I am grateful to him and it is telling that the most expert Cabinet member in that critical arena of finance and economics is now revealing his recollections of these critical events.

karenandlawrenceNunez-Tesheira needs to share the rationale for the bailout formula which let Duprey and the other shareholders keep their shares and loaned those huge sums of Public Money to the wealthiest man in Caribbean on an interest-free basis. What were the public policy considerations which could possibly have supported such a course of action?

Browne goes further to outline a situation in which he seems to have been excluded from the negotiations –

…And for the record I have not been part of any negotiations with Clico or CLF as part of the bailout action. Neither was I a part of the cabinet which took the decision to support the CLF/ CLICO Group. Those decisions were taken at a Cabinet meeting of which I was not a part on 29th January 2009 as I was in Barbados representing the Minister of Finance at a COFAP meeting. This bailout was always the province of the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank and (sic) had no part in those decisions.

Further, Clico/CLF/Duprey made no contributions to the PNM during my tenure as Treasurer…

I can remember Browne telling me before that he had been involved in negotiations related to the CLF Shareholders Agreement of June 2009. That Agreement, at para A of its preamble, undertakes to protect the interest of shareholders. Note – Browne has since denied this claim of mine, so that has to be noted.

Of course, we know that Browne was part of the Cabinet which made those decisions, even if he was not in attendance at those particular meetings (I have no reason to doubt him), it is immaterial. As a member of that Cabinet he bears collective responsibility.

Duprey’s intended re-entry

Browne contested my statement that he seemed to be supporting Duprey’s attempt to regain control of CLICO –

…With regard to your opinion, I am am (sic) supporting nothing…The state only owns 49% of the company. If the shareholders act in concert there is nothing to prevent them from having an extra ordinary shareholders (EGM) Meeting and replacing the state appointed Directors. It is unlikely that Lawrence Duprey can pass the fit and proper rule and therefore cannot be appointed to CLICO’s Board, but he can be appointed to the CLF Board…

Browne listed the reasons which seemed to favour Duprey’s position, which position is fortified by his interpretation of the fit & proper rules. In his view, those rules would have prevented Duprey’s appointment to CLICO’s Board, but he would have still been eligible to sit on CL Financial’s Board. If we are considering a situation in which CLICO would still have CLF as its majority shareholder, that is an entirely misplaced view.

In the Central Bank’s ‘Fit and Proper Guideline‘, the question of ‘Who should be Fit and Proper?’ is addressed at page 2 –

“…4.1 According to governing legislation the following persons referred to in this Guideline as holding “key positions” are required to be fit and proper: -…
…4.1.4 Controlling Shareholder – may be an individual or a corporate entity

  1. Under the IA, any person who is entitled to control at least one-third of the voting power at any general meeting of the company.
  2. Under the FIA, any person who controls twenty five per cent or more of the voting power at any general meeting…

Before the bailout about 89% of CLICO’s shares were owned by CLF, so Duprey cannot regain control of CLICO, either directly or via a holding company, if the fit and proper regulations are enforced. As I said previously, the acid question is whether the Central Bank will summon the will to apply those rules without fear or favour.

This is no academic dispute, since Duprey has made it clear that he is seeking to regain control of CLICO, so that financial company and the rules which govern it, must be central concerns in this matter.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Come clean.

AUDIO: Election Hardtalk interview on Power 102FM – 16 Jul 2015

Power 102 FMAfra Raymond and Peter Permell are interviewed on the ‘Election Hardtalk‘ show on Power 102FMFM by Tony Fraser about the continuing impact of the CL Financial bailout on the economy and the request to get back the company by Lawrence Duprey. 16 July 2015. Audio courtesy Power 102FM

  • Programme Date: Thurday, 16 July 2015
  • Programme Length: 1:19:47

CL Financial Bailout – Impunity Insanity?

© 2015 Dion Jennings
© 2015 Dion Jennings. Used with permission.

The headline ‘Duprey wants back CLICO‘ in the Sunday Express of June 28th 2015, did not surprise me at all. That is exactly the threat against which I have been warning throughout my campaign against this appalling and unprecedented bailout.

To allow Lawrence Duprey to regain control of CLICO would do serious violence to the fundamental notions of the law not allowing persons to benefit from their wrongdoing.

Already, we can see various positions being taken – the Movement for Social Justice and Peter Permell of the CLICO Policyholders’ Group stating their objections, while Mariano Browne (former PNM Treasurer and Minister in the Ministry of Finance) and Mary King (economist and former Minister of Planning) setting out what seem to be supportive positions.

Continue reading “CL Financial Bailout – Impunity Insanity?”

AUDIO: 95 Mandate interview on i95.5FM – 6 Feb 2015

Afra Raymond is interviewed on the ‘95 Mandate‘ show on i95.5FM with Ardene Sirjoo and Mariano Browne about the continuing impact of the CL Financial bailout on the economy and the pending Colman Commission report. 6 February 2015. Audio courtesy i95.5FM

  • Programme Date: Friday, 6 February 2015
  • Programme Length: 1:06:41

CL Financial – Bait & Switch

“They’ve got twelve Aces up their sleeve!
So who the Hell can we believe?”
—Rudder, David Michael. “Back to the Same Ole Same.” The Autobiography of The Now. Lypsoland, 2001. Used with permission

The CL Financial bailout seems to be entering its end-game, with repeated claims from the Minister of Finance that the recovery of the $25 Billion of Public Money spent is now on the cards. The consistent failure or refusal to publish any audited accounts and my ongoing research are telling. We are witness to yet another ‘Plot to Pervert Parliament’, this time it is the biggest project to ever hit this country. The CL Financial bailout.

Plots to Pervert Parliament

In January 2013, I identified the first of these, otherwise known as the ‘S.34 Fiasco’, which of course led me to the CLF Bailout Perversion, committed in January 2009 when our country was presented with its largest-ever public expenditure. The original bailout, presented to our Parliament, as a fait accompli, was the original Plot to Pervert Parliament.

I have come to the sobering conclusion, after much research and consideration, that the Colman Commission is not ever going to provide the details we were led to believe it would. I am now of the view that once again we have been misled and bamboozled by our Parliament. Yet another sick trick, a third ‘Plot to Pervert Parliament’.

The rationale stated for the Colman Commission of Enquiry is in serious conflict with the terms of reference for and consequently, the conduct of that Commission. This article will detail those assertions and show how the public interest is once again being subordinated to powerful private interests.

To understand this crime, one must take a stern view of dates and time.

  • 30 January 2009 – The bailout is announced at a Press Conference on Friday 30 January 2009 at the Central Bank. At that time, we were told that the estimated cost was about TT$5 Billion.
  • 12 June 2009 – Ministry of Finance signs the ‘CL Financial Shareholders’ Agreement’ which, for the first time, discloses that shareholders’ interests were to be specifically protected.
  • 8 September 2010Winston Dookeran’s first budget statement as Minister of Finance, following the Peoples Partnership electoral victory in May 2010, was notable since Dookeran announced a dramatic policy shift. The entire CL Financial bailout was declared to be the first of the ‘great uncertainties’ to be resolved. Dookeran outlined the problem before reducing the rate at which Public Money would be paid for this bailout. A huge storm of protest erupted, with several ‘Depositors and Shareholders groups’ emerging to represent those interests. With Dookeran isolated and the government under mounting pressure from these new protest groups, laws were swiftly drafted to stifle the protestors’ legal options.
  • 1st October 2010The PM’s historic address to Parliament on 1 October 2010  at which the Commission of Enquiry was announced. Most notable was the PM’s outrage at the mystery of the bailout – at pgs 25-26 –

    “…The $5 Billion has been spent—we are advised—to repay matured  EFPA policies in an ad hoc and unstructured manner where payment arrangements were entered into based on levels of funds invested. What criteria did you use to repay investors? Whom did you choose to pay? How were they chosen? These questions need to be answered. Because if it is today after the $7.3 Billion, all these EFPA people, the policy group and so on, they are out there, where is their money? Where is their money? Did you have a priority listing of who should be paid? Why did you go—and you are now crying crocodile tears about trade unions, credit unions, the poor man and the small man—why did you not pay them first? Why did you not pay them first? Where did that $7 Billion go? We need those answers, Mr. Speaker. We deserve those answers. The taxpayers need to know. Because when a parent  has to buy school books and bags to send his/her children to school but they have to pay tax out of the little money, they need to know where that money has gone…Where, how and why; we need to know…”

    The main argument made by the PM was that this was a case which needed serious investigation to establish what had caused this huge collapse and where had over TT$7 Billion of Public Money gone. I could not agree more.

  • 17 November 2010 – The Colman Commission with its Terms of Reference published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette. Those were divided into two limbs, causes and consequences. The first to examine the causes of the crisis and the second to make recommendations for prosecutions or other policy changes to prevent a repetition of the crisis.
  • In September 2011, the Parliament voted unanimously to pass two laws related to the CL Financial bailout. The first was to permit the Minister of Finance to borrow a further TT$10.7 Billion to fund the bailout and the second was to grant the Central Bank, which was administering the bailout on government’s behalf, immunity from any legal challenge. For those who consider these assertions of mine to be harsh, just look at Winston Dookeran’s closing words to the Senate on 16 September 2011 –

    “…I just want to give you the assurance which I gave to the Lower House when we debated this, that already the Ministry, along with the Central Bank and Clico, have begun the preparation of a public document—many questions that are still to be answered—to provide the necessary information. In addition to that, we did present to the hon. Senators, for those who afforded us the opportunity to accept our invitation, a document that is in the vicinity of 57 pages as of now, outlining all the necessary information that led to the story that assess what is the current challenges and why the proposals to go forward have been put forward. This document, I assure you, along with the questions and answers, will be converted into a simple, easy to read, hopefully, document for the sake of establishing that this Parliament has mandated us to put this as an anchor document for the purposes of evaluating our performance in the future…”.

    I requested that document via the Freedom of Information Act but it was not provided, which is why my litigation started.

In the course of recent research it became clear to me that the PM’s outraged demands for detailed information as to how the huge sums of Public Money spent in the bailout had been discarded, just like a flimsy Carnival Costume. At no point in its Terms of Reference was the Colman Commission required to examine the details of the actual Public Money spent on the bailout. A new species of lie is born here in T&T, once again…we used to have one called the ‘White Lie’ in those bad-old-days, now we have the ‘Bright Lie’. Right up in our face, as the Parliament is told one thing, with an entirely different thing being done. The Carnival was over, but the Ole Mas was now starting.

One can imagine the ebb and flow as these public promises were neutered in private discussions. Reasons are never given. I suspect that the influence of party financiers and voting blocks was a great element in this travesty. The public right to know how and why these vast sums of Public Money were spent is obviously of low priority for the highest public officials in this Republic.

Truth has a Power all of its own. At this point, in litigation against the Ministry of Finance for that information – the Ministry is represented by a five-member team headed by former AG, Russell Martineau SC and CL Financial is represented by three attorneys. Something resembling legal overkill to prevent publication of information which the PM told the Parliament it was her intention to unearth. Information which then Finance Minister Dookeran assured the Parliament he was compiling into a public document. Another writer has labelled the situation – ‘Afra, the Deviant‘. I tell you.

At every turn, the public interest has been subordinated to secretive private interests. The Courts are literally the last refuge to uphold the lawful rights of the public to obtain detailed information on these matters of the highest importance.

Accountability Calamity

Safeguard Status of query
Audited accounts for CL Financial? NONE
Details of Management accounts, Estimates, Drafts or any figures used by Ministry of Finance? NONE
Details of official briefing to Independent Senators in September 2011? CLAIMED TO BE EXEMPT
Details of Public Money paid out to people and institutions owed money by CL Financial? NONE
CL Financial is now under State control, so do its Directors comply with the Integrity in Public Life Act? NOT ACCORDING TO MY EXAMINATION OF INTEGRITY COMMISSION RECORDS.
Do we understand why the CL Financial group is enjoying this beneficial exemption from the lawful obligation to file declarations? NO WORD YET FROM THE INTEGRITY COMMISSION.

All of the usual integrity, accountability and transparency safeguards have been disconnected. All.

The Code of Silence rules.