The case is a critical challenge to the detrimental notion that $24Bn of Public Money can be spent without Accountability or Transparency. That notion does violence to any healthy conception of the Public Interest, so I expect this contest to be a sharp one.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand…” Frederick Douglass…Freedom Fighter and esteemed ancestor…
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant!” Former US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis…
We are entering the endgame of the Colman Commission, so we need to maintain full vigilance. We must bear witness in a sober manner.
The PNM element
Former PNM Ministers Danny Montano, Conrad Enill and Mariano Browne were recently named by Commission Chairman Sir Anthony Colman as having declined to testify.
“It is noticeable that there has been a remarkable lack of cooperation from others, who were responsible for political decision-taking — to mention a few names: Mr. Enill, Mr. Browne and Mr. Montano in particular — have not offered to come and give evidence,” Sir Anthony said at Winsure Building, Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain.
“It is surprising perhaps that those who were the political representatives of the people of Trinidad and Tobago have not been able to provide assistance to the Commission in circumstances where it might have been expected of them,” he added.
That refusal to appear before a Commission of Enquiry amounts to a kind of contempt of court, since it is wilful disrespect for a lawful enquiry. These are PNM Seniors, whose testimonies would have been invaluable in unraveling this series of financial collapses.
Here is why those missing testimonies are so important –
Mariano Browne is a Chartered Accountant who left a successful career as a Banker – including a significant part of that career spent at CLF, Browne was the first head of Clico Investment Bank and CLF’s Barbados Banking arm – to become Minister of Trade and Minister in the Ministry of Finance after the 2007 general elections. In addition, he is PNM Treasurer, so he could have given a rare insight into the linkages between these collapses and the large-scale donations made by both the CL Financial Group and the Hindu Credit Union (HCU).
Conrad Enill comes from a Credit Union background, was also Minister in the Ministry of Finance up to the 2007 general elections and served as PNM Chairman up to their 2010 election loss. Enill called for an investigation into the finances of HCU as far back as mid-2002, but swiftly withdrew from that course of action after reportedly being pressured by then PM Manning.
Danny Montano is also a Chartered Accountant, who was Minister of Labour at the time of the HCU collapse (that Ministry has supervisory responsibility for Credit Unions).
“…THE Hindu Credit Union (HCU) financed Karen Nunez-Tesheira’s successful campaign to become the Member of Parliament for D’Abadie/O’Meara in the 2007 general election.
However, Nunez-Tesheira was not the only People’s National Movement (PNM) candidate who secured campaign financing from the HCU during that election.
This was revealed yesterday as the commission of enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial and the HCU resumed at the Winsure Building on Richmond Street in Port of Spain.…”
“….THE Hindu Credit Union (HCU) financed the campaigns of the country’s two major political parties—the People’s National Movement (PNM) and the United National Congress (UNC)—in the 2007 general election, former HCU president Harry Harnarine said yesterday….”
It is clear that the testimony of these three former PNM Cabinet Ministers would have been crucial to the Colman Commission unravelling this financial fiasco. I am convinced that the matter of what Cabinet knew at the time it took the bailout decision is crucial. For one thing, was Cabinet told that the beleaguered CL Financial group had paid a dividend on 16 January 2009, three days after they had written to the Central Bank for the bailout? If the Cabinet knew of the illegal dividend payout, why were no provisions made in the MoU of 30 January 2009 for the recovery of those monies? If the Cabinet were not told, then we are contemplating what might be a prior case of a senior Minister misleading colleagues to get the required result. A kind of pre-S.34 situation.
Both Browne & Montano are Chartered Accountants, so this reported refusal to give evidence seems to be a case of ‘conduct unbecoming a professional’.
The PNM is now making serious efforts to market itself as a party which stands for good values in terms of Accountability, Transparency and Good Governance. Given the PNM’s track record that is a great challenge. These reported refusals are doing great damage to those efforts.
Ironically enough, at this moment Dr. Bhoe Tewarie and Karen Nunez-Teshiera, are both looking better than these three former Ministers, given that they have appeared before the Commission. Just imagine that.
Sir Anthony Colman was reported to have issued subpoenas for certain missing witnesses in the HCU matter and held them in contempt of court when they failed to appear. I am waiting to hear whether the same treatment will apply to these PNM Seniors.
“…THREE witnesses have been held in contempt of court for not responding to subpoenas issued by the Commission of Enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial and the Hindu Credit Union.
A commission of enquiry has the same status as that of a High Court.
Those deemed to be in contempt of court yesterday by commissioner Sir Anthony Colman are former chief executive officer of HCU Communications, Gawtam Ramnanan, former HCU financial consultant Jameel Ali and Dave Jagpat…“
It seems like this is yet another episode of inconsistent behaviour which serves to reinforce my belief in this potent ‘Code of Silence’. Let me explain with these facts set out above. One group of witnesses have offered weak excuses of the familiar kind – questionable medical certificates and so on – they were served with orders compelling their attendance (those are called subpoenas) and when they failed to respond, Colman made a ruling that they were in contempt of court. That group was HCU witnesses.
Another group of witnesses took a different approach….they actually have decided not to testify and communicated that to the Colman Commission as described above. Why has Colman not issued subpoenas or made any adverse rulings against these reluctant witnesses?
They are former member of the PNM cabinet, so I have to ask myself if there is a tacit agreement as to areas which will not be ventilated in this Enquiry.
Those areas which are seemingly off-limits now seem to include serious questions as to whether the Cabinet was misled. This is a sobering example of the channels of power. We have to bear witness.
“…I am particularly concerned that an otherwise credible prosecution might be stopped by the court on the grounds that a defendant’s right to a fair trial had been fatally compromised by the publicity attendant upon your enquiry. As such, I shall be issuing a press release warning the media against the publication of any material which may jeopardise the police investigation and any potential criminal proceedings…”
We also read that “…Gaspard also issued a stern warning to media houses last night to cease publication of “anything which might jeopardise, hinder or otherwise prejudice the investigation or any possible proceedings which might result from it…“.
The Colman Commission has maintained the modern standard of Public Enquiries in that the public can choose from attendance in person, live TV, streaming webcasts, online transcripts and online witness statements. It seemed to me that the position being taken by the DPP could jeopardise the public interest in having this information broadcast in the widest possible terms.
On 10 November, my mind churned as I read this – “…Meantime, the Commission of Enquiry is set to restart on December 3 with former Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams and Inspector of Financial Institutions Carl Hiralal expected to take the witness stand…”
At this stage we are expecting to hear the testimony of the Chiefs in this series of disasters – Lawrence Duprey, Ewart Williams, Carl Hiralal, Robert Mayers, Ram Ramesh, Faris Al-Rawi, Amjad Ali, Anthony Rahael, Andre Monteil. I am very concerned that we are now seeing what appears to be a detrimental development in terms of complete transparency.
“I remain mindful of competing public interest factors including the fair trial rights of potential defendants, the freedom of the press and the requirement of open justice.”
This is definitely an aspect which needs our most intense scrutiny.
The former CLICO CEO
Finally, we come to the matter of former CLICO CEO, Gene Dziadyk, with whom I have been in correspondence, writing and offering to tell the inside scoopon what went wrong inside CLICO.
I have read his material and he takes a completely opposite view to me as to what has happened here.
My own view is that the CL Financial group was able to use its track-record of huge political donations and other links to obtain full State support on favourable turns when the inevitable crisis emerged. The CLF group was able to use its links to take advantage of the State. Dziadyk’s view is that the State used the crisis to take advantage of the CLF group in general and the CLICO policyholders in particular.
I cannot see any way that we could both be right. The critical point is that only the publication of the audited, consolidated accounts and other details I have been pursuing will allow us to see the truth of this matter.
But the fact that Dziadyk is a trained actuary, who was at the centre of the scene for so long, makes his testimony invaluable for the insights it will allow the Colman Commission. I was therefore very surprised to read that he is not going to be called as a witness.
Readers who are interested in having the testimony of Gene Dziadyk form part of the Colman Commission to state their support for that to happen – the Secretary to the Enquiry is Judith Gonzales and her email address is email@example.com.
These kinds of issues are exactly the ones on which the public input of Seenath Jairam, SC is sorely missed. Having decided to take the Ministry of Finance brief and later deciding to return it, any of Jairam’s subsequent public utterances will be coloured by those decisions.
That is the point I was making in the previous column on the sacrifices which leadership demands.
Continuing from last week’s critique of the revised bailout and its implications, I have further concerns as to the process by which the legislation was passed.
I am aware that the Members of Parliament were given a briefing, so that they would be better informed on this complex matter. That briefing was conducted personally by the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank, together with their advisers and certain CLICO officials.
The briefing provided background information on these areas –
The status of the various outstanding audited accounts;
A ‘profile’ of the monies owed in terms of amounts owed to certain classes of policyholders. I am told that quite a small number of these claimants held a large proportion of the monies being claimed;
The various lawsuits/judgments against the Central Bank;
The rationale given for extinguishing the right to sue the Central Bank in this matter was that public rights and stability were being given preference over the exercise of private rights.
I am also told that the Members of Parliament were not given copies of the presentations, which seems to have effectively limited them to gaining certain impressions or the limited notes they would have been able to take during the briefing.
That account of events, given to me by more than one Parliamentarian, seems to suggest that the very rationale of the exercise, said to be the elevation of public rights over private ones, could have been subverted.
The reality is that, despite the extensive debate on the matter, this is the position –
Accounts – There has still been no proper, clear statement on the status of these CL Financial and CLICO accounts, which is unsatisfactory. An emerging view is that this is a calculated silence, since the companies are insolvent, which would make the Directors liable for the criminal offence of ‘trading while insolvent’. That is a considerable issue, which could only be overcome by the State issuing a guarantee to the group’s creditors, which would have exposed the Treasury to the full extent of the huge claims. The silence is a shabby ‘third way’, which gives a further insight into why the bailout remains untenable to so many of us.
There is no publicly-available profile of the monies owed in terms of amounts owed to certain classes of policyholders. That is a major omission and one can only wonder why the information is being effectively suppressed. In addition, there were statements that the claims of Credit Unions and Trade Unions will be fully-paid, which seems to be a favourable treatment in comparison to the individual claimants.
In respect of the lawsuits and judgments, I do not see how the block on lawsuits against the Central Bank can stop claims in foreign Courts.
The rationale of public rights being preferred over private rights is a solid one in a matter of this type, but upon reflection one is left with a different impression. How can public rights be said to prevail in a situation where the public is denied the essential parts of the picture?
The Parliament benefits from briefings on complex and important matters, but it is unacceptable that those briefings should be somehow shrouded in secrecy. The Minister of Finance and Governor of the Central Bank need to publish their full Parliamentary briefing, without delay, to remove any lingering doubts. Good governance, transparency and accountability demand no less.
Another aspect of the emerging situation is the recent reports that the Board of Inland Revenue is investigating the three top CL Financial executives for alleged non-payment of taxes. The report in the Sunday Express of 13 November stated that the tax filings of Lawrence Duprey, Andre Monteil and Gita Sakal were under official scrutiny, incredibly enough, it was also stated that Duprey’s chauffeur was in receipt of up to $3.9M in a particular year.
I had always wondered at whether people who enjoyed favour at the highest level really paid all their taxes. I have pointed out that in the case of Clico Investment Bank (CIB) there are serious and unanswered questions on that point arising from the affidavits of the Inspector of Financial Institutions in the CIB winding-up action. It seems that fresh and serious doubts are now arising on the tax compliance of some of the top CL Financial officials, so we will see. In view of the relaxed stance taken in relation to Anti-Money Laundering and Tax Evasion in the revised bailout process, we should not be surprised if these BIR cases slip into obscurity.
We need to be alert to the costs and other consequences of this crisis. Huge sums of taxpayers’ money are being spent to rescue companies who do not appear to have complied with our tax laws and there are no accounts being discussed.
Last week Wednesday and Thursday I appeared before the Colman Commission to give my testimony in this matter. On Wednesday afternoon there was a very negative reaction to my attempts to introduce a Power-Point presentation as a way to better illustrate some of the points I have been making. It was a frustrating and comical experience for me to hear supposedly learned men asking ‘What is this?’ and one of them even saying that he had no idea what it was…Here, in Port-of-Spain in 2011, we have learned men saying that they don’t know what a Power Point presentation is for. Of course, I am all for transparency, so their patently transparent ‘blocking tactics’ were most welcome, because they showed the viewers on TV just ‘Who is Who and What is What’. Thank you, colleagues, for doing a better job than I ever could have. The public is not stupid and your behaviour has had a clear impact on those who were viewing. That said, the Commissioner ruled that my evidence would be taken the next morning and so it was.
For those who are interested and want to know what all the fuss was about, stay tuned to www.afraraymond.com for a full article on this situation, including the so-called ‘offensive’ slides.
With respect to the method of presenting the evidence in the Colman Commission, I have some serious concerns as to the effect of relying only on written or oral testimony. The volume and complexity of the material and the fact that a wide audience, beyond the attorneys, is watching this Public Enquiry, means that there needs to be an upgrade in the way in which the information is presented. I have written to the Commission on this already and was shocked to learn that a request for further funding for multi-media was apparently rejected at the highest level.
There have been two Power Point presentations to the Colman Commission – my own and Ms. Maria Daniel of Ernst & Young, who was just before me – and in both cases the witnesses had to rent their own equipment.
The purpose of this Public Enquiry is to bring some light and justice to this very shadowy and crooked episode. I am here asking the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and the Attorney General to take proper leadership on this issue. The people need to see the evidence if they are to understand.
I can well remember the Prime Minister’s campaigning words, echoing in my mind “Serve the People! Serve the People! Serve the People!”.
Finally, I am writing to the Integrity Commission this week to request, again, that they obtain declarations from the Directors of CL Financial, as required under the Integrity in Public Life Act.
If you are not outraged, you haven’t been paying attention…
Afra Raymond is interviewed on the “Centre Stage” show on Power 102 FM in Trinidad and Tobago, hosted by Chris Seon, Cliff Learmond and Sherma Wilson, on the Colman Commission and the revelations and possible consequences.
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 –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.