VIDEO: Interview on 107.7 FM on Property Tax and CL Financial.

1077fm-logoThis is my interview with Rennie Bishop on 107.7 FM on Sunday 30 April 2017 to discuss the controversial Property Tax and the prospect of CL Financial being returned to its owners. Video courtesy TTRN -Trinidad and Tobago Radio Network Limited.

  • Programme Date: Sunday, 30 April 2017
  • Programme length: 50:01

CL Financial bailout – Fear of the Facts

PM issues Statement on CLICO Report of Sir Anthony David Colman, QC. Courtesy news.gov.tt

“…Whilst in the last five-year administration, the management of Clico, CLF and the associated companies were shrouded in secrecy by the UNC administration, this PNM Government has no intention of operating in that manner. This Government will operate in an open, transparent and accountable manner as it has been doing…“ (The emphases are mine)

—Extract from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s statement to Parliament on the Colman Report on Friday, 1 July 2016.

SIDEBAR: CORRECTION

On the issue of interest due on Public Money advanced for the CL Financial bailout
I have been stating that the Public Money advanced for this CL Financial bailout was interest-free and that was a clear indication of the ‘most-favoured’ status of the borrowers. With apologies to my readers, CLICO’s 2015 audited accounts, (which were issued on 17th October 2016) disclose at its 32nd note that 4.75% was charged on the first tranche of $5Bn which was lent in 2009, so my prior claims on that item are now withdrawn. That first advance was converted to 4.75% preference shares, so interest was charged on the bailout monies but at such a paltry rate as to leave my fundamental point undisturbed, as explained below.

The Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) is a metric used to show what is the average cost of the capital raised by a company. It is a vital tool in strategic management and allows the company’s leaders to make effective borrowing decisions.

If we apply this approach to the CL Financial bailout the answer is instructive. So, one can assume that the total advanced is $25Bn with only 4.75% interest on the first $5Bn and no interest on any more of the Public Money advanced to CLF. Accordingly, given that only 20% of the CLF bailout pays interest at 4.75% and the other 80% is at zero-percent, the WACC is .95%. Yes, less than 1% is the interest due from CLF for this epic loan. I tell you.

Once again, there are multiple versions of reality operating in relation to the CL Financial bailout, like some award-winning ScyFy movie. In one dimension, we have the PM accusing the previous regime of untoward secrecy while pledging to be open, transparent and accountable. In another dimension, we have a Minister of Finance promising to give us all the details of the monies spent on this bailout, while battling in the Appeal Court to overturn the High Court judgment I won to have those same details published. At the same time, Lawrence Duprey lobbies for the return of the CL Financial companies to him, while sidestepping any proper explanation of what went wrong. Both the PM and the Central Bank Governor label the CL Financial chiefs in scathing terms, while refusing to insist on proper commercial terms for the enormous financial assistance of the State. In yet another dimension, the State is said to be weathering a series of tough financial challenges, while showing stunning generosity to the wealthiest man in the Caribbean.

To paraphrase Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Junot Diaz – ‘ScyFy? What ScyFy?! The Antilles was Scyfy before there was ScyFy!

In July 2015, the High Court ruled in my favour that details of the CLF bailout were to be published by the Ministry of Finance, but that ruling has now been appealed.

Min of FInance, Colm Imbert, MP

The Ministry’s appeal, which was submitted on Friday 30th December 2016, has these main points –

  • CLF Accounts – The order to provide the accounts used by a previous Finance Minister to prepare a High Court affidavit is being contested as being a breach of legal professional privilege;
  • Parliamentary briefing – The order to provide the briefing to Independent Senators prior to debate on two laws on the CLF bailout is being contested as a breach of parliamentary privilege;
  • Who got paid? – The order to provide the names of those who were paid in the CLF bailout and the date of those payments is being contested as inimical to the confidentiality which a private person should enjoy.

Those arguments are only now being introduced, for the first time, during this appeal. That fact alone I consider to be unacceptable, but the points are being contested strongly and of course the Court of Appeal will be ruling on them.

For those readers who might consider the ScyFy comparison to be an overdone one, just consider how the Minister of Finance has approached the appeal with these further excerpts from Dr Rowley’s important address to the Parliament –

“…once the Minister of Finance has completed his on-going audit, he will come to Parliament and tell the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago the exact amount of money expended by the Government with respect to the said bailout. This will include the cost incurred by lawyers, accountants, professionals and all others. Furthermore, any and all disposal of assets from the group will be announced to the public in an open and transparent manner as well…”

At a time of economic sacrifice, the free-ticket given to CLF in January 2009, by the Patrick Manning-led Cabinet is being endorsed and renewed for further travel by the Keith Rowley-led Cabinet…this is where we are…

CL Financial bailout – Bitter Brew

CORRECTION: On the issue of interest due on Public Money advanced for the CL Financial bailout

I have been stating that the Public Money advanced for this CL Financial bailout has been interest-free and that was a clear indication of the most-favoured status of the borrowers. With apologies to my readers, I now accept that 4.75% was charged on the first tranche of $5Bn which was lent in 2009, so my prior claim needs to be withdrawn – see comments below. Yes, interest was charged on the bailout monies but at such a paltry rate as to leave my fundamental point undisturbed, as explained below.

The Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) is a metric used to show what is the average cost of the capital raised by a company. It is a vital tool in strategic management and allows the company’s leaders to make effective borrowing decisions. For example, a company which had borrowed half of its capital at 10% and the other half at 14%, would have a WACC of 12%.

If we apply this approach to the CL Financial bailout the answer is instructive. So, we can assume that the total advanced is $25Bn – there are many estimates floating out there, but $25Bn is recurs quite frequently – with only 4.75% being charged on the first $5Bn and no interest on any more of the Public Money advanced to CLF. According to my calculations, given that only 20% of the CLF bailout pays interest at 4.75% and the other 80% is at zero-percent, the WACC is .95%, less than 1% is the interest due from the CL Financial chiefs for this epic loan. I tell you. It really looks like those insurance and investment gurus had it right, eh…party political investment is really the best insurance policy.

Having said that, the two questions arising are still of high importance –

  1. firstly, why was no interest charged on the rest of the Public Money advanced?
  2. Secondly, why was the low rate of 4.75% charged on that first tranche?

That rate is significantly less than the mortgage rate at that time, so how and why did a distressed borrower qualify for that kind of favour?

Lawrence Duprey. Photo courtesy the T&T Review

The return of Lawrence Duprey was the Sunday Express lead story on 15th January 2017 – ‘Rebirth of Duprey‘. This is one of those times when one is really sorry that an original suspicion was true.

We seem to be striding straight toward a precipice with no clear information at all about why, or how. The largest-ever special interest deal now seems set to return CL Financial to Lawrence Duprey and his cohort, which will be hugely detrimental to the public interest.

These bailout conditions in no way resemble the Wall St examples, despite the comical claims of its defenders that it was the same thing. There are three important differences –

  1. the CL shareholders kept their shares;
  2. the massive loan of over $20 Billion to the Caribbean’s wealthiest individual was made at a zero interest rate, that’s right, zero;
  3. the CL Financial chiefs were never required to give a public explanation of what caused this massive collapse.

Those terms were agreed by the Cabinet in January 2009. It is a real ‘sweetheart deal’ to assist Mr Duprey and his cohorts to a soft recovery so they could get back control of the companies when things improved. We are now reaping what our rulers sowed, hence the title of this article. Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – Bitter Brew”

CL Financial bailout – Duprey’s Story: SIFI vs PIFI

Artwork by NiCam Graphics

On Sunday 22nd May 2016, the front-page story in this newspaper was headlined ‘We will pay it back‘. That article featured very interesting quotes from former CL Financial Executive Chairman, Lawrence Duprey as well as the Minister of Finance & the Economy, Colm Imbert, on the prospects for repayment of the huge sums of Public Money spent on this CL Financial bailout.

Duprey claimed to have made a formal proposal to the State to repay taxpayers and all stakeholders who are owed money, while insisting that the amount owed was yet to be determined. The failure or refusal of the State to publish any audited statements in relation to this CL Financial bailout appears to be impeding the discussions as to a settlement of this massive debt. The sidebar contains a summary of how the Public Money spent on this bailout has grown from the initial 2009 estimates of $5 Billion to a 2016 figure now said to exceed $24 Billion. Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – Duprey’s Story: SIFI vs PIFI”

CL Financial Bailout – Duprey’s Gambit

Lawrence Duprey. Photo courtesy the T&T Review
Lawrence Duprey

Last week we learned that Lawrence Duprey and his fellow CL Financial shareholders are victims of a badly-handled bailout. According to the Duprey version, the State must halt all asset disposals and he must regain control of the CL Financial group of companies. In what seemed to be an immediate response, Minister of Finance & the Economy, Colm Imbert, said he was so alarmed at the gross mismatch in the bailout figures that he decided to order a forensic audit on the entire process. These two contrasting stories are the latest big news on the CL Financial bailout.

I have always objected to the CL Financial bailout and it has become a strong example of how the Public Interest can be perverted under a series of disguises.

The Duprey Gambit is just the latest attack on good values in our country. It is a nasty, shocking outbreak of moral hazard. It needs to be dismantled and discredited, nothing less will do.

The Imbert Initiative looks like a welcome move to examine the details of this scandalous waste of Public Money. The proposed forensic audit seems to signal some official appetite for disclosure. However, if this is to properly protect the Public Interest, there are some ‘litmus tests’ which can show the official commitment to disclosure

This article will examine those two proposals so that some meaning might emerge from this utter, deliberate confusion.
Continue reading “CL Financial Bailout – Duprey’s Gambit”

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”

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

mariano-to-afra4

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?”