Purchase of Certain Rights and Validation Bill, and Central Bank (Amendment) Bill, 2011

These are the two draft Bills which contain the Government’s proposals to resolve the CL Financial bailout fiasco. The latest article on this blog ‘Balancing the Scale‘ deals with some of the issues arising from these proposals – Purchase of Certain Rights and Validation Bill 2011, and Central Bank (Amendment) Bill 2011.

These Bills are part of the Order Paper (Agenda) for Parliament’s sitting today, Wednesday 14 September 2011.

Sixth submission to the Commission of Enquiry into the failure of CL Financial Limited, et al

13th September 2011

Afra Raymond’s sixth submission to the

Commission of Enquiry into the failure of
CL Financial Limited
Colonial Life Insurance Company (Trinidad) Limited
Clico Investment Bank Limited
Caribbean Money Market Brokers Limited and
The Hindu Credit Union Credit Union Co-operative Society Limited

My name is Afra Martin Raymond and I am a Chartered Surveyor, being a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.  I am Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited – Chartered Valuation Surveyors, Real Estate Agents and Property Consultants.  I am also the President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC), an umbrella organisation which represents the interests of Engineers, Surveyors, Architects, Town Planners and Contractors in this Republic.

This submission is being made in my personal capacity and does not represent the position of either Raymond & Pierre Limited or the JCC.

My work on this vital issue can be seen at www.afraraymond.com.

I am willing to give oral evidence before the Commission.

This submission is supplementary and comprises a single article, published on 15th September 2011, titled ‘The Colman Commission – Balancing the Scale‘.

I do believe all the items in this submission to be true and correct.

……………………………………………..

Afra M. Raymond B.Sc. FRICS
www.afraraymond.com
Apt. #14, Highsquare Condominiums,
1a Dere Street,
Port-of-Spain
625 8168 (h)
678 9802/350 6215 (c)
625 6230 (d)
afraraymond@gmail.com

The Colman Commission – Balancing the Scale

The Colman Commission into the failure of CLF Financial and the Hindu Credit Union is just about to move into its second round of Hearings and the public can expect to have further testimony on the losses suffered by people who deposited monies with CL Financial.

I have made several submissions to the Commission and have been invited to give evidence.  I am reliably informed that there have been strong and unanimous objections to my participation in the Colman Commission.  It would seem that only the Commission itself is interested in having my testimony go onto the record.

It is not surprising to me that objections of that sort would be arising now, but readers need to have a context.

The Colman Commission was established to find out how this fiasco occurred, recommend methods to stop a recurrence and also to identify responsible people who are apt for lawsuits or criminal charges.  The main parties can be expected to give self-serving evidence, designed to exonerate themselves from any blame.  We can also expect to hear more attempts to put the blame onto Wall Street, despite the claims in the CL Financial 2007 Annual Report– this is from the preamble –

…“The Next Wave of Growth” is the theme of this annual report, highlighting, to quote our Chairman, “that out of any crisis opportunities will emerge and our progress during the year under review prepares us to seize those opportunities and unlock value.” We have confidence in our ability to not only navigate this financial storm but to find fresh and profitable opportunities within it…

That Annual Report was published on 23 January 2009 – yes, that is 10 days after Duprey wrote to the Central Bank Governor for urgent financial assistance and one week before the bailout was signed on 30 January.

The Colman Commission is a Public Inquiry into a matter of major importance; it was approved by the Cabinet and installed by the President of the Republic.  A Commission of Enquiry can only make findings on the evidence submitted to it, so it would be very important for some people to have certain evidence omitted.

One of the most outrageous aspects of the entire Uff Enquiry was the use of public money by UDECOTT to attempt to block certain documents coming into evidence.  Those various attempts to limit the scope of the Uff Enquiry were disgusting to all right-thinking people and seemed to be a straight case of the ‘tail wagging the dog‘.

It is unacceptable that the Ministry of Finance could be taking a position which is seeking to exclude my evidence from the Commission.  If that were so, it would mean that Ministry is acting in a manner which effectively dilutes the Commission and what is more, appears to be incompatible with the intention of the Cabinet to have a full public enquiry into this matter of national concern.  In addition, the Central Bank is also reported to have objected.

The Colman Commission needs to be robust in getting at the truth of this financial disaster.

The new Bailout Plan

At the time of writing I have no details of the new bailout plan, proposed to be laid in Parliament for debate on Wednesday 14 September.  According to a report in the Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, the proposed plan is in two limbs, the first includes the issuance of new bonds to raise monies for the payment of policyholders, while the second is the creation of a prohibition against lawsuits against the Central Bank.

The three concerns I have at this stage are –

  1. Accounts– The last published audited accounts for the CL Financial group were for 2007, but despite the tremendous resources which have been deployed by the State in this matter there is no clue as to when accounts are to be brought up to date.  Given that both the 2009 agreements – the MoU of 30 January 2009 and the CL Financial Shareholders Agreement of 12 June 2009– exist in a framework of State funds being paid to the group’s creditors and recovered by asset sales, this situation is totally unacceptable.  What is more, there has never been any attempt to explain the delay in completing those accounts.

    As a result we have two insurance companies operating in our country without any accounts, which is in breach of the very regulatory framework of the Central Bank.

    The Finance Minister must address these relevant concerns if this proposal is to gain any support.  It brings to mind the recent point made by Independent Senator Subhas Ramkhelewan, in debating the recent proposals to increase the State borrowing limits, that the Parliament needs proper details of the ways in which those monies are proposed to be spent, because no person could borrow money from a diligent lender without giving details.  We need, as a country, to insist on these higher standards.

    We need to move away from the black box and the magician’s hat, towards a more transparent situation in which large-scale public spending decisions are based on a solid series of rationales.

  2. Colman Commission – The concern here is that the second limb of this proposal will prevent lawsuits against the Central Bank; at this point I am not sure if that only applies to CL Financial-related matters.  The Terms of Reference of the Colman Commission state –

    …2. To make such findings, observations ad (sic) recommendations arising out of its deliberations, as may be deemed appropriate, in relation to:

    (i) whether there are any grounds for criminal and civil proceedings against any person or entity; whether criminal proceedings should therefore be recommended to the Director of Public Prosecutions for his consideration; and whether civil proceedings should be recommended to the Attorney General for his consideration;

    It seems to me that the result of these proposals could be to thwart that part of the functions of the Colman Commission as they relate to the Central Bank.

  3. Insurance Act – Finally, I am concerned that as we are on the eve of a possible ‘solution’ to the problems of the policyholders, there may be other fragile insurance companies with solvency issues.  The fact that these matters are now so high on the public agenda means that we should not waste the opportunity to bring forward the new Insurance Bill, which has been drafted for some time, for discussion.

It is at moments like this that a responsible and long-term approach to these huge issues is in the interest of the entire nation.

CORRECTION

In this article, which was published on September 13th 2011, I stated that there were unanimous objections to my appearance as a witness at the Colman Commission. I wrote that on the basis of certain reports given to me by persons who were present at those meetings, but after receiving a challenge from the attorneys for the Trinidad & Tobago Securities & Exchange Commission (TTSEC), it was impossible to corroborate that aspect of the article – i.e. that the TTSEC had objected to my appearance.

This notice is to correct the record in that respect, I do regret any inconvenience or damage caused to the TTSEC by my publication of those allegations. – a Correction with similar effect was published in the Business Guardian of 18th November and I do regret the delay in publishing this one here for blog-readers.

Afra Raymond

Fifth submission to the Commission of Enquiry into the failure of CL Financial Limited, et al

9th September 2011

Afra Raymond’s fifth submission to the

Commission of Enquiry into the failure of
CL Financial Limited
Colonial Life Insurance Company (Trinidad) Limited
Clico Investment Bank Limited
Caribbean Money Market Brokers Limited and
The Hindu Credit Union Credit Union Co-operative Society Limited

My name is Afra Martin Raymond and I am a Chartered Surveyor, being a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.  I am Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited – Chartered Valuation Surveyors, Real Estate Agents and Property Consultants.  I am also the President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC), an umbrella organisation which represents the interests of Engineers, Surveyors, Architects, Town Planners and Contractors in this Republic.

This submission is being made in my personal capacity and does not represent the position of either Raymond & Pierre Limited or the JCC.

My work on this vital issue can be seen at www.afraraymond.com.

I am willing to give oral evidence before the Commission.

This submission is supplementary, providing an update on the work which I have published since the fourth 4th July 2011.

The three articles in this submission are –

Date of Publication Title Abstract
6th July 2011 Colman Commission considerations Questioning the reluctance of persons who lost monies in the CL Financial fiasco to appear as witnesses.
27th July 2011 Lessons from the Financial Crisis Probing the causes and consequences of the crisis.
30th August 2011 The Colman Commission – Cloudy Concessions The concession to allow witnesses’ statements as to the quantum of their investments to go unpublished is critiqued.

I do believe all the items in this submission to be true and correct.

……………………………………………..
Afra M. Raymond B.Sc. FRICS
http://www.afraraymond.com

Apt. #14, Highsquare Condominiums,
1a Dere Street,
Port-of-Spain
625 8168 (h)
678 9802/350 6215 (c)
625 6230 (d)
afraraymond@gmail.com

The Colman Commission – Cloudy Concessions

The Colman Commission held its first session of Hearings in the last week of June, so we were able to have moving reports from witnesses who had lost-out from various investments with the Hindu Credit Union (HCU).

I read those transcripts and it was painful to see the shape of this problem.  The most striking aspect for me was that the various attorneys seemed to have struck a compromise as to the parts of that evidence which would form part of the public record.

HCU Investors were allowed by the Colman Commission not to state investment amounts. They seemed to set the agenda.

The main concession was that those witnesses did not have to state the amount of their investments for the record.  The reasoning seems to have been a stated fear of crime, but it is my view that this concession will compromise the effectiveness of the Colman Commission.  Given that the Commission is scheduled to resume its Hearings on 19 September, it seems timely to put these matters forward now.

To begin with, the two Golden Rules of investment are –

  1. The Risk and Reward paradigm – Risk and Reward have an inescapable relationship – i.e. the greater the Risk, the greater the Reward and vice versa.
  2. Investments need to be spread out so as to avoid undue concentration of risk – in colloquial terms, you should not put all your eggs into one basket, or bet all your money on one horse.

From these time-honoured ‘Golden Rules’, we derived the ‘Prudential Criteria’ which guide how financial institutions balance risk and reward.

Yet, despite the ‘Golden Rules’ the CLF and HCU chiefs were able to devise products which tempted tens of thousands of people to abandon those basic safeguards and invest in their products.  People who were normally sensible were tempted to abandon good sense and break both ‘Golden Rules’.  That is the measure of this tragedy.

Another point is that it was not only individuals who made that type of error, there were other people, with responsibility for managing monies, who also gave into the various temptations.  The sidebar has details on that.

Let us be clear that the scope of this fiasco is as broad as it is deep, with boundaries stretching from the delayed and misleading accounts to the mismatched funding/investment practices of the core companies, from the absence of proper corporate governance described by Dr. Euric Bobb to the negative impact of the extensive political donations made by the CLF group.  The Executive Flexible Premium Annuity (EFPA) is at the heart of the tragedy – the most successful investment product ever designed and built in the Caribbean, while being, at one and the same time, arguably the most toxic.

The duty of the Colman Commission is to probe how this fiasco occurred, recommend methods to stop a recurrence and also to identify responsible people who are apt for lawsuits or criminal charges.

We are now contemplating an inquiry into a large-scale financial collapse, which appears to have conceded the right of witnesses to withhold details about their investments.  We are able to read the name and age of the witness, but effectively barred from information as to the size of their investment or the proportion of their total portfolio that figure represents.  A Public Enquiry into a financial failure has conceded the right of the public to the basic financial information.  I say basic, because the fact is that without those thousands of EFPA and INC investments, there would not have been the cashflow to allow CL Financial to embark on that fateful journey.

This appears to me to be a cloudy concession, to say the least, since it might represent the thin edge of the wedge in setting a precedent to allow subsequent witnesses to try obscuring or omitting financial details.  More importantly, the effect of that kind of concession is that it will almost certainly mask the extent to which the basic financial rules were violated.  That is not a philosophical question, because the CLF disaster only attained this scale and consequence as a result of these basic rules being broken.  Ergo, it is not at all possible to credibly examine the causes of the crisis, if one has conceded that those are areas which will not be publicly examined.

There was public campaign to persuade people to make these risky investments.  That campaign was calculated to have them set aside the norms of good sense – the ‘Golden Rules’ were abandoned.  The Agents, many of whom masqueraded as ‘Investment Advisors’, appealed to people to close-off their other accounts and sell other investments so as to put as many eggs into that one basket as possible.  After all, the more money you put with them, is the more interest CL Financial was offering.  We all know that is how the thing went.

At the same time, these agents were busy telling people that their product offered these tremendous rates of return and complete security of funds, etc. etc.  I bet everyone reading this heard those lyrics, at least once.

This concession is short-sighted and I am urging the Colman Commission to reconsider its position urgently.  There must be no easy concession to allow less light.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The depth of this tragedy can only be plumbed if we are able to see the true extent to which the ‘Golden Rules’ were broken.

The Colman Commission has to keep its focus.  That concession needs to be renegotiated, if it is not already too late.

SIDEBAR: The levels of responsible investors

Apart from the individual investors who suffered from their misplaced faith in the CL Financial and HCU Products, there are others who also need to be examined by the Colman Commission if we are to have a proper picture of those events.

Firstly, there are the Credit Unions, who were acting for many small and relatively unsophisticated investors.  Several Credit Unions placed heavy investments into these EFPA products, which of course was a product approved for individual investors.  The nature and extent of those Credit Union investments need to be a living part of this enquiry.

Secondly, there were yet another species of large-scale investors who were the chiefs of the State-owned National Gas Company (NGC) and the nation’s largest pension plan, the National Insurance Board.  Those two companies were reported to have invested the sums of $1.1Bn and $700M, respectively, in a Clico Investment Bank (CIB) product called the Investment Note Certificate (INC).  This was another ‘gravity-defying’ product which offered attractive rates of interest along with the guarantee of being backed by good-quality investments.  Like a close relative of the EFPA.  In ‘Taking in Front’ published here on 25th April 2010, I examined the NGC’s involvement in those CIB products.  At one point, up to 40% of NGC’s money was with the CL Financial group, so it is clear that its own Board policy on the placement of large-scale, short-term deposits did not insulate that State Enterprise from the temptations which afflicted others.

Given that the highest levels of commission were paid to the agents for these products which yielded so much cash for the CL Financial group, Colman has to ask whether inducements were ever offered to these people in positions of trust.  Apart from the question of possible inducements, the real question is whether the kind of over-concentration of deposits which exists is at all compatible with the proper execution of one’s fiduciary duty.  Colman will never know unless he withdraws that fatal concession.

Colman Commission considerations

This is a rapid look at some of the news coming out of the Colman Commission – the first live evidence was given on Monday 4th July.

That evidence has so far been into the Hindu Credit Union (HCU) and already some peculiar things are emerging.  I do not follow it on TV and just read the newspaper reports –

  • Breach of Trust – It seems clear to me that the depositors had a seriously misplaced faith in HCU and Harry Harnarine, which itself raises certain questions as to who was really fooling who.  It is basic and inescapable that a higher rate of return will mean a higher level of risk, which is why it is important to be more sceptical about high-return investments.  My point being that as a Credit Union, one has to become a member to participate and therefore one has a stake in the success of the organisation – with access to the accounts and attendance at the AGM, one can only wonder what kind of dance existed between the HCU chiefs and its ordinary members.  Yet, we are hearing from people who seem to have deposited their money at these  incredible rates of return and adopted attitudes of complete trust.  The witnesses need to be more seriously probed on what happened at those AGMs and so on – if they HCU conducted its AGMs anything like the CL Financial’s final AGM, it will be quite a story.   We need to get past the various heartbreaking stories, to the nexus of responsibility which is where this entire game is played.  I am sure there is plenty more to come out, plenty more.
  • farid scoon
    Farid Scoon

    Farid Scoon, Attorney-at-Law – Was expected to explain how he could be representing a group of HCU depositors and the former HCU chief, Harry Harnarine, at the same time.

There also seems to be a strange situation on CL Financial, since I am told that none of the affected people are willing to come forward to testify.  I am not very surprised at that and it is yet another indication of the extent of that toxic ‘Code of Silence‘.

What a shame!  25,000 policyholders said to be affected by the failure of CL Financial, yet only one is willing to testify.  Only One!   I wrote before in this space about the probability that a high proportion of those EFPA monies had never been screened by rigorous Anti Money Laundering (AML) procedures.  I suggested to the Minister of Finance that provisions be made in the payout agreements for the applicants for bailout monies to have the source of their funds vetted for compliance with VAT, PAYE, Income and Corporation taxes.  The Minister did not adopt those proposals.

So, what we now have is the spectacle of the Colman Commission set up by the government to examine the causes of the collapse and finding that few want to speak, very few.  I don’t know if it’s dirty money, or ‘keeping it in the family‘ or what…but I do hope that Colman takes a robust approach by using his powers to sub-poena people to appear and testify.

The Colman Commission needs to deploy more resources in getting info up onto its website in a timely fashion.  Just as a simple example, the opening arguments which were heard last week have been posted onto the website in very erratic, delayed fashion.   The session of Monday 27th June was posted on Tuesday 28th June, but the sessions of Wednesday 29th and Thursday 30th June were posted on Tuesday 5th July, no explanation given.  If more resources are required those need to be deployed.  The Colman Commission must not be allowed to become an orphan in our land of grandiose schemes and projects.

Of course we have seen the expected attempts by Lawrence Duprey to remove himself from being enquired into or even being required to answer questions.  At this time those attempts appear to have been thwarted, but we can surely expect more spoiling tactics and not just from Duprey, either.

Fourth submission to the Commission of Enquiry into the failure of CL Financial Limited, et al

4 July 2011

Afra Raymond’s fourth submission to the Commission of Enquiry into the failure of:

CL Financial Limited
Colonial Life Insurance Company (Trinidad) Limited
Clico Investment Bank Limited
Caribbean Money Market Brokers Limited and
The Hindu Credit Union Credit Union Co-operative Society Limited

My name is Afra Martin Raymond and I am a Chartered Surveyor, being a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.  I am Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited – Chartered Valuation Surveyors, Real Estate Agents and Property Consultants.  I am also the President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC), an umbrella organisation which represents the interests of Engineers, Surveyors, Architects, Town Planners and Contractors in this Republic.

This submission is being made in my personal capacity and does not represent the position of either Raymond & Pierre Limited or the JCC.

My work on this vital issue can be seen at www.afraraymond.com.

I am willing to give oral evidence before the Commission.

This submission is supplementary, providing an update on the work which I have published since the first submission on 14 February 2011.

I have attached a ‘live’ table of contents in pdf form, for ease of reference.

I do believe all the items in this submission to be true and correct.

……………………………………………..

Afra M. Raymond B.Sc. FRICS

www.afraraymond.com
Apt. #14, Highsquare Condominiums,
1a Dere Street,
Port-of-Spain
625 8168 (h)
678 9802/350 6215 (c)
625 6230 (d)
afraraymond@gmail.com

CL Financial Bailout – The big question

twintowers_conversationThe current talking-point is the major lawsuit launched by the Central Bank against CL Financial sowatees, Lawrence Duprey and Andre Monteil.

From what has been in the press, the lawsuit seems to be aimed at recovering huge sums of money alleged to have been improperly taken from the CL Financial group.

There has been a mass of press comment and the reactions have ranged from relief at the launch of the lawsuit to great skepticism as to its duration, cost and effectiveness.

In the Business Guardian View of June 9, entitled ‘The path of good intentions‘, the Editor-in-Chief of that newspaper set out cogent grounds for his skepticism on the new Central Bank lawsuit.  The old saying comes to mind – The road to hell is paved with the very best intentions.

For my part, I am doubtful of the choice of targets in the apparent attempt to deal with this financial fiasco.

The early questions emerging from this action by the Central Bank are for me ‘Why this lawsuit?’ and ‘Why now?’.

In the case of the CL Financial fiasco, the basic ‘fit and proper’ requirements have been ignored by the Central Bank, exposing us all to continued levels of risk.

The fit and proper requirements set a standard for those people who are responsible for the safe custody and investment of our monies.  If they are upheld as an important part of the financial system’s architecture, they contribute to stability and confidence.

If they are not upheld, for whatever reason, we are all left to wonder, what is the point of having yet another set of rules which are not being enforced?

Here is an outline of the bare facts –

  • The ultimate Trinity – Lawrence Duprey was the majority shareholder, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the CL Financial group.  In those multiple senses, he was the Chief of chiefs and the main figure of authority.
  • The Duprey letter – That elusive bailout request of 13 January 2009, signed by Lawrence Duprey, on CL Financial letterhead is the most solid piece of the puzzle. The plain meaning of that letter is that the CL Financial group had run out of money and was in imminent danger of insolvency.  The reading of that letter into the Hansard on 4 February 2009, appeared to have been motivated by the desire of the then Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Tesheira, to protect her reputation from allegations of insider-dealing.  That the signature on that letter was Lawrence Duprey’s is important.  Having made three fruitless applications under the Freedom of Information Act, it seems clear that there is no will to disclose the Duprey letter.
  • The bailout negotiations which were consequent on the request are additional proof of the ‘failed or failing‘ companies.
  • The 30 January 2009 MoU was irrefutable proof that 5 companies had failed – CL Financial, Clico Investment Bank (CIB), British American Insurance, CLICO and Caribbean Money Market Brokers (CMMB).
  • Given the background, a finding by the Central Bank that the Directors and Officers of those 5 failed companies are no longer fit and proper would have been incontestable.
  • That action would have sent a strong and unmistakable signal that this type of costly failure cannot occur without some sanction.  Of course we know of the deep links between the PNM party, then in government, and the CL Financial group.  I have also written about the fact that these CL Financial chiefs are embedded into all our political parties and that is one of the externalities of this entire fiasco.
  • The Central Bank never took that line of action against the CL Financial group. Throughout all this time, the Central Bank has never disclosed its reasons for not implementing these elementary safeguards, which led to the position of four of the former Executive Directors of CMMB being able to obtain a licence to open yet another investment house in late 2010, KSBM.

The CL Financial group has failed on a colossal scale, so what are the penalties to be levied against their Directors and Officers?

cbtt letterThe sidebar shows a Central Bank letter of May 2011, which is clear and strong in calling for the rigorous application of the fit and proper standards to all Directors and Officers of insurance companies.  That letter was signed by the Inspector of Financial Institutions, Carl Hiralal, so the call for upholding of the correct standards came from the very top regulator.  No right-thinking person could object to its contents.  I think it is a strong and necessary letter.

The emerging issue for me here, given these events, is the extent to which our Central Bank could be under political control.   What is the desirable level of political control to which the Central Bank should be subject?

Those questions on the degree of independence of the Central Bank would inevitably lead to consideration of the charged issue of campaign finance/political party funding.  There is considerable evidence that CL Financial made large political donations and that is a key part of the story here.

So, to summarise on the new lawsuit, the Central Bank did not take the effective, incontestable actions available to it in the CL Financial matter.  It chose instead, having steadfastly maintained its silence on its inaction, a complex, risky and expensive course of action.  Why?

What are the results of this new lawsuit?

  1. The Central Bank at last appears to be taking decisive action
  2. The forensic reports are now placed outside the consideration of the Colman Commission, which can limit damage to the CL Financial chiefs and the regulators, auditors etc. That is because the Colman Commission is televised with its daily proceedings posted onto its website, while the High Court is proceeding under antiquated rules which prohibit any private recording devices, cameras or even the use of pen and paper!
  3. The potent issue of ‘double jeopardy’ will no doubt rear its head, sooner rather than later, with the probable effect of derailing the Colman Commission.

The big question for me, given their positions, is whether the Governor of the Central Bank and the Inspector of Financial Institutions are themselves fit and proper to continue in their ruling on this matter.  If any decision has to be made on this CL Financial matter, it will only be human for them to give some consideration to how that decision might possibly affect their individual interest, as the responsible people for such a significant period in the build-up to this fiasco.

Setting the Standard

The PP government is establishing a ‘new normal’ insofar as ethics and acceptable standards of behaviour in public office are concerned.  As with any real-time and complex situation, the signals are mixed, but from my point of view, the direction is a welcome one.

To me, the main positive signs were –

  • Coup Enquiry – The July announcement of the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 attempted Coup, now underway, was most welcome.  It seems certain that we would still be waiting in vain, if either Manning or Panday were still in power.
  • CL Financial bailout – Dookeran’s decision to review the payout to beneficiaries of the bailout was necessary and long-overdue.  Dookeran has done his cause no favours by with-holding the accounts and seeming to suppress vital information, but the decision to revise the bailout terms was a sound one.  On that occasion, he also took the steps of introducing relief for Hindu Credit Union depositors, which was a step in the direction of equity. Even those of us who did not support any bailout can concede that point.
  • On October 1, the Prime Minister resisted the temptation to use the PP’s Parliamentary majority to force through a new law to limit the legal rights of CLICO policyholders.  The PM chose to set aside that legislative proposal and embark on an act of persuasion.  That was a defining moment in our nation’s development of a democratic culture.  The announcement of a Commission of Enquiry into the entire financial collapse (CL Financial and HCU) was another high point.
  • Nizam Mohammed’s removal as Chairman of the Police Service Commission was overdue in my view, but not because of his ‘last-ditch/red-herring‘ attempts to martyr himself.  His primary and unpardonable offence, given his position, was his bold-faced abuse of power in that traffic police episode.
  • mary king
    Mary King

    Even Mary King’s removal from office earlier this week was a welcome sign despite the doubts over who knew what and when.  That was a good move because it is the first time a Minister has been fired for acting in a manner which causes reasonable suspicion.  Up until now in this country the rule followed by the various Ruling Parties has been the ‘wrong and strong‘ one, joined-up with the ‘do as I say and not as I do‘ one.  To have moved away from those immoral practices is a big step in the right direction, despite the ragged edges.

Even when I consider the disastrous Reshmi-gate episode, that list adds up to substantial progress in the right direction.  Democracy is a messy affair and coalition politics has particular challenges, so progress will be uneven, with some pauses along the way.  But progress we must.

The Prime Minister reportedly commented that there was no pressure from COP to replace Mary King with another of its members, so that the replacement would be chosen on merit.

I am very concerned at the fact that the CL Financial collapse has cast a literal shadow over our country.  Aside from the financial costs, there are significant areas of collateral damage which are now becoming visible.  I referred in an earlier article to one of the main externalities in this episode being the fact that many of the CL Financial chiefs are deeply embedded in our political parties.

Even now, with this new government – their honeymoon will end on the first anniversary, I think – we are witnessing acts which can make one wonder if the CL Financial disaster ever really happened.

The official Terms of Reference for the Colman Inquiry into this financial fiasco were published in the Trinidad and Tobago Gazette of 17th November 2010 – No. 144 in Volume 49.  Here is the first sentence in the second paragraph –

…And whereas the President on the advice of the Cabinet has deemed it advisable and for the public welfare that a Commissioner be appointed to enquire into the failure of CL Financial Limited, Colonial Life Insurance Company (Trinidad) Limited, CLICO Investment Bank Limited, British American Insurance Company (Trinidad) Limited, Caribbean Money Market Brokers Limited and the Hindu Credit Union Cooperative Society Limited with a  view to ascertaining why such events occurred…

robert mayers
Robert Mayers

Caribbean Money Market Brokers (CMMB)
The first example is Robert Mayers, former Managing Director of CMMB up until 7 December 2008 – see here.   Mayers is also a Deputy Political Leader of the Congress of the People (CoP), a leading element in the Peoples’ Partnership government.  CMMB collapsed along with some of the significant companies in the CL Financial group – the Terms of Reference for the Colman Commission refer.

On 20 November, there were reports that Robert Mayers had been offered a position as a Director of our Central Bank.  Mayers is reported to have declined that offer on the basis of a conflict of interest.  The burning question has to be ‘What kind of process could produce such a recommendation?

Consider this arresting headline ‘Investment pros set up new business‘ at page 10 of the Business Guardian of 9th December.  It was reported that a new investment house, KSBM, was launched and it seemed that they were profiling.

Given that all four of KSBM’s Executive Directors are ex-CMMB chiefs, Robert Mayers among them, there are inescapable questions –

How come the former chiefs of CMMB, a financial institution which is known to have failed on this scale, can be permitted to open another one?  We are acting as if we have no capacity to learn from our errors.  Just carrying on as though nothing happened.  What is the role of the SEC and the Central Bank in all this?  Have we learned nothing?

mervyn assam
Mervyn Assam

Clico Investment Bank (CIB)
Mervyn Assam was the Chairman of CIB at the time of the collapse.  Assam had been one of CIB’s founders in 1990 and was reportedly ‘cleaning house’ at the bank, which I do believe to be true.

But the picture is far from a simple one.  On 22 January 2009, CIB hosted its inaugural Investment Seminar at the CL Duprey box at the Queen’s Park Oval – I spoke at that event, together with Professor Patrick Watson.  Now, according to  para 5 of the April 2010 affidavit submitted to the High Court by the Inspector of Financial Institutions, Carl Hiralal, in the CIB winding-up petition, the CIB liquidity problem was disclosed to him in a meeting on the 15 January.  I have serious doubts as to the veracity of that statement, but yes, it is still a full week before the Investment Seminar.

Assam held 7,500 shares in CLF as at 7 February 2009.

Assam also launched a lawsuit to recover $1M he had deposited with CIB, that case went against him in January this year – see the judgment – and he is reported to have filed an appeal.

In October, Assam was appointed as Ambassador Extraordinaire and Plenipotentiary of Trade and Industry.  He has served in the NAR period as High Commissioner to London and as a UNC Senator, both in Cabinet and during their recent spell in opposition.

Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie
Dr. Bhoendradatt Tewarie

CL Financial (CLF)
Dr Tewarie was a Director on the Board of the parent company, CLF, which wrote to the Central Bank, seeking a bailout, on 13 January 2009.  On 16 January 2009, CLF paid dividends of $3.00 per share to its shareholders.  According to the CLF Annual Return of 7 February 2009, Dr Tewarie held 1,171 shares.

As I write this, we are informed that Dr Tewarie has been sworn in, to replace Mary King.

To be perfectly clear, I am making no allegation of theft against Mayers, Assam or Dr. Tewarie.

Does the ‘fit and proper’ criteria apply to these CLF chiefs?  Should those criteria apply to the holders of high office in our country?  What do you think?

We need new politics like no time before in our country, but that must involve new thinking.  The State must behave in an exemplary fashion if we are to uplift ourselves without civil disturbance and unnecessary confusion.  The State needs to set the standard.

I trust that the Colman Commission will give the proper attention to these episodes.

CL Financial Bailout – Retirement Planning

When you consider increasing lifespans, inflation and the greater likelihood of major medical expenses as one ages, it is clear that proper retirement planning should be a major factor for most people.

Some extracts from relevant advertisements to start off –

Company A

“Maintain your lifestyle – even after retirement…”

The time passed so fast and now you cannot imagine life without the luxuries you have come to know, the luxuries you deserve. The Company A annuities and pension plans allow you to live the lifestyle that you have become accustomed to – even after you’ve retired – without sacrifices that will affect your current quality of life.

Company B

“I WANT TO RETIRE COMFORTABLY”

It can be daunting to consider how much money it takes to retire in comfort. And government pensions do not provide the guarantees that they once did. But it’s never too late – or too early – to get started.

Company C

“At the rate things change today, long-term financial planning has become a concern for all of us.”

The responsibility for securing a comfortable retirement continues to shift from employers to the individual. Whether your goal is saving for retirement or you’ve already reached that goal and you want to be sure that you will never outlive your savings, an annuity may be just what you’re looking for. In Trinidad & Tobago as in the wider world, life expectancy has lengthened considerably with people living well past their retirement age. This introduces a new risk – outliving your savings.

Company C’s preferred plan features “…guaranteed income for the rest of your life…

Yes, Retirement Planning is an essential part of any good investment planning.

Central to the growth and long-term success of the CL Financial group was its ability to mobilise the retirement savings of the Caribbean people in pursuance of its wider commercial objectives.  I have been writing on how it all went wrong and who is to blame.

In preparing my submissions for the Colman Commission it occurred to me that the financial provisions made for the 3 CL Financial chiefs who departed in the last 12 months before the group collapsed is central to understanding the entire fiasco.  It is rich in irony.

Fiduciary Duty of Directors and Officers

The burning questions are –

  1. When did the Directors and Officers of CL Financial (CLF) know that the group was heading to collapse?
  2. When did the Directors and Officers of the failed subsidiaries know?
  3. What did they know and when did they know it?
  4. How much warning did their management controls give them?

The questions are pertinent and the time-line is instructive –

Timeline to CLICO Bailout

  • 31 March 2008 – Andre Monteil retires as CLF’s Group Finance Director.
  • 6 August 2008 – Anthony Fifi retires as Managing Director of the Home Construction Limited (HCL) group, which is wholly-owned by CLF.  Fifi remained on the board of the parent company, CL Financial.
  • Mid-October 2008 – CLF purchases Jamaica Money Market Brokers’ 45% shareholding in CMMB.  Please note that CLF owns 40% of JMMB.
  • 7 November 2008 – Michael Carballo, CLF’s Group Finance Director gives an interview to the Business Guardian that the group had assets of $100Bn and could weather any storm.
  • 18th November 2008 – CLF 2007 Annual Report is published – its Consolidated Balance Sheet disclosed a Total Asset Value of $100.666Bn.
  • 8 December 2008 – Robert Mayers proceeds on pre-retirement leave from his position as Managing Director of CMMB, pending his scheduled retirement, on 28th February 2009, as Managing Director.
  • 13 January 2009 – Lawrence Duprey, CLF’s Executive Chairman, writes, detailing an asset value of $23.9Bn, to the Governor of the Central Bank to seek urgent financial assistance.  See ‘Finding the Assets‘ published on 23 August 2009 for the text of that letter.
  • 16 January 2009 – CLF pays a dividend of $3.00 per share.
  • 23 January 2009 – CLF has its final and fateful Annual General Meeting at Trinidad Hilton.
  • 30 January 2009 – The bailout is announced at a Press Conference at the Central Bank.

What benefits did the departing Directors and Officers enjoy?  Three of the most important and senior CLF chiefs departed in the 12 months prior to the collapse.  To be fair, Fifi was retiring from HCL, which has not been described as a failed company, despite its challenges.  To understand the picture properly it will be necessary for the Colman Commission to examine the terms of the retirement of these CL Financial chiefs.

Those departures must be examined from the documents if they were to be approached from the compensation aspect.  What I mean is that these chiefs would have been paid upon departure and that would likely have been documented.

The suggested line of enquiry is –

  • How much did Messrs. Monteil/Fifi/Mayers receive upon retirement?  Does anyone believe that these chiefs left without compensation after years of service, at the highest possible level?  The amounts actually received and the bases on which those sums were calculated promises to be very interesting.
  • How were those retirement payments calculated? – Were the amounts arrived at by a ‘set’ formula?  Was that formula specified in their employment contracts?
  • Were those sums reduced to reflect the impending crash? – That alternative is the crux of the issue, coming to the point of what did they know and when.   If the sums were reduced to reflect the poor performance of those failed companies, we need to question the misleading accounts given as to the group’s health right up to the very brink of the collapse.
  • Shifts in asset values – I am also wondering if the sudden drop in asset values from $100Bn + to just under $24Bn, in the space of less than 2 months is part of this aspect of the story.  Only when we have those employment contracts published will we be able to consider whether there was any connection between the chiefs’ compensation formula and the asset values or, to put it another way, their departures and the sudden drop in asset values.
  • Performance-related? – Ultimately, we have to wonder as to the implications of the other alternative.  If we learn that these CL Financial chiefs were able to depart the failing group with no reduction in their retirement payments, that would be very serious indeed.  If that were the case, we would be contemplating employment contracts which divorced pay from performance.  Given contemporary norms that link pay and performance, that would be an appalling vista.  We would be seeing that our region’s largest investment group was saddled with a leadership which had constructed for itself the ultimate high-return, no-risk employment and retirement benefits, all at the expense of everyone else.  The ultimate irony.

I am fully expecting that there will be further legal arguments to silence or shroud any efforts by the Colman Commission to delve into this aspect of things.  Colman must be robust in his probe – he must follow the money.