CL Financial bailout – Charting the Ruins

…We have to make that honest assessment…Our society has become despondent, a resignation to decadence, where everyone owes everyone else a favour it seems… (1981)
…Who will rechart the ruin?… (1970s)

—Quotes from Leroy Clarke’s MACO interview 20 February 2016


Then they fill yuh head with all kinda story
Until truth becomes a mystery…
Now is time to Boom Up History!

Boom up History (3canal) © 2008 Machette Music

Correction

In my previous article, Camille Robinson-Regis was incorrectly named as a member of Cabinet in January 2009, when she was in fact serving at that time as our High Commissioner to Canada.

The voices of our leading Artists urge us to search for meaning, if we are serious about building a civilisation out of the lies and ruin we inhabit. That kind of serious building requires a solid foundation which must contain sober reflection and acceptance of responsibility by both the people and the leaders. This is the Season of Reflection, so this week I am looking backward to go forward. A Sankofa pause to delve into these sobering CL Financial events to try to derive some meaning. We have now passed Emancipation, so the series is moving onward to Independence.

In this article I will examine the positions taken by various leaders as the CLF crisis gathered force, culminating in the declaration of the bailout on 30 January 2009. There is either a sobering naivete or a lack of rectitude in the highest chambers in our Republic.

4ministers

The main persons dealing with the crisis were the Cabinet, the CLF Chiefs and the Central Bank. The former Cabinet members from whom we need to hear are – Colm Imbert, who is the current Minister of Finance; Mariano Browne, then Minister in the Ministry of Finance; Conrad Enill, former Minister of Finance and Chairman of the PNM; Karen Nunez-Tesheira, then Minister of Finance. Continue reading “CL Financial bailout – Charting the Ruins”

AUDIO: Interview with Tony Fraser on CL Financial and the return of Lawrence Duprey

power102fmThis is an interview on Hard Talk with Tony Rackhal-Fraser to discuss the CL Financial bailout with myself and Peter Permell of the Clico Policyholders Group. Audio courtesy Power 102.1 FM.

Programme Date: 12 July 2017
Programme Length: 00:58:34

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”

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

VIDEO: 4th Biennial Business Banking and Finance Conference (BBF4)

This is the video of my address to the 4th Biennial Business Banking and Finance Conference (BBF4) held at the Trinidad Hilton from 22 to 24 June, 2011. The session I participated in was devoted to ‘Lessons from the Financial Crisis: The Resolution of Failed Entities.’ [See the acknowledgement letter from the conference convenor here.]Video courtesy UWI

  • Programme Air Date: 24 June 2011
  • Programme Length: 0:15:21

CL Financial bailout – The Final Solution?

The new bailout formula was approved, as two new Acts, by our Parliament on 14 September –

The first one prevents any lawsuits against the Central Bank by claimants, while the second gives the Minister of Finance the right to borrow up to $10.7Bn and places the Republic Bank Ltd. (RBL) shares formerly held by CLICO into a new investment vehicle, NEL 2.

These seem to represent what I am calling the Final Solution, in that the clamour and protest which had marked the last year seems to have been fading away.  There have been queries from the various ‘Policyholders’ groups’, but those have been limited.

Whatever one thinks of the actual bailout, which I maintain is a perversion of our Treasury, there are valuable lessons to be learned from all this.  The main lesson for me is the Power of the Few.  In that although only about 16,000 investors were affected, they were able to mount a successful campaign to improve their position.  We need to note that lobbying and campaigning can be effective in gaining benefits for limited groups.  To all the weak-hearts who say nothing ever changes, please take note.

We also saw the position set out by the PM in her important speech on 1 October 2010 being reversed, in that the claimants’ rights to sue the Central Bank have been extinguished.  There are rumblings about a challenge to the constitutionality of that restriction, but we will have to wait on that one to play out.  The fact that the right to challenge the Central Bank’s actions in respect of the bailout has been removed opens fresh dangers in terms of the payout process.

We have all had bad experiences of what usually happens when serious unrestricted power is held by someone who does not have to answer for their actions.  My concern is that there does not seem to be any avenue for oversight of or appeal/redress against the Central Bank, in the event that claimants feel they are receiving unfair treatment.  That concern will have to be addressed at some stage.

Even as an account of the payout, we have deficient reporting with no true profile of the wealth being returned having been presented for public consideration.  The Central Bank and Ministry of Finance is in possession of this critical information as to the amounts of money to be returned to claimants, but that is being suppressed, for whatever reason. This episode has been a real stain on our stated ambitions towards accountability, transparency and the ever-distant ‘Good Governance’.

A related point is that the PM gave a clear commitment to revealing who benefited from the first wave of bailout funds, said at the time to be of the order of $7.3Bn. The PM’s speech is at pages 19 to 34 of Hansard – at pg 24 –

The previous administration injected $5 billion into Clico and they spent $2.3 billion to bail out the other distressed entities such as CIB in particular, so coming to a total of $7.3 billion has gone into that hole and yet today the Government and, therefore, the taxpayers of this country have been called upon to come up with another $16 billion to $19 billion. So what happened to that $7.3 billion? Where did it go? Who are the people that were paid? How was it utilized? What happened to that $7.3 billion?…

The concern here is that we are not at all sure that this new arrangement will in fact yield the required information as to who are the real beneficiaries of this bailout.  In view of the fact that the entire deal is a burden on our Treasury, this opaque arrangement is unacceptable.

After all –

Expenditure of Public money – Accountability – Transparency = CORRUPTION

Quite apart from those concerns, the fact is that provisions should have been made for Anti-Money Laundering and Tax Evasion screening.  The Treasury must not be used for Money-Laundering and the proper safeguards need to be put in place to prevent this.

The lack of accounts for the CL Financial group, after 31 months under State management, is also unacceptable.  The essential terms of the bailout are being sidelined, since the original agreement was for the State injections of cash to be repaid via asset sales.  Both 2009 agreements – the January MoU and the June CL Financial Shareholders’ Agreement – also spoke to the preparation of accounts and provision of information.

The perturbing aspect is that there continues to be a uniform silence as to the preparation of these overdue accounts, so the taxpayer must wonder just how, or if ever, these vast sums of bailout money are to be recovered.  This is the burning question which is at the root of my outrage.

The new arrangement is also silent as to the position with respect to other creditors of the CL Financial group, so there is no certainty as to how those claims would be treated.  On 31 October, Trinidad and Tobago Newday reported on ‘CLICO Bahamas seeks $365M from CL Financial’.  There are substantial regional and local claims outstanding, so the entire cost appears is an unknown quantity at this time, given the lack of accounts.

As I pointed out previously, the Directors and Officers of the CL Financial group and its subsidiaries ought to be subject to the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act, by reason of its being a State-controlled company.  The Integrity Commission needs to demand the required declarations from those persons, if we are to secure the required level of transparency.

The continuing failure of the Central Bank to make rulings as to the extent to which CL Financial’s Directors and Officers at the time of the collapse are ‘fit and proper persons’ is the final piece of the sorry picture.

The State’s period controlling the CL Financial group, ends on 11 June 2012 – a mere 7 months away – at which time the group will return to its owners.  Given the fact that the Central Bank has not made an adverse ‘Fit & Proper’ finding against Lawrence Duprey, in the absence of accounts and with a significant part of the RBL shares divested in this fashion, what will be the out-come?  Is the stage now set for Lawrence Duprey to return?

I spent last Wednesday afternoon in New York’s Zucotti Park, with so many points to share on that experience.  For now, I leave this striking slogan of the Occupy Wall Street movement –

If you are not outraged, you haven’t been paying attention…

AUDIO: High Noon Interview – 22 September 2011

Power 102 FM

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.

  • Programme Date: Thurday, 22 September 2011
  • Programme Length: 0:23:21

The Colman Commission – Preserving Natural Justice

Following my last article on the Colman Commission –Balancing the Scale – in which the recent private meeting of Attorneys was discussed, I wrote the following to its Secretary.

From: Afra Raymond <afraraymond@gmail.com>
To: judith gonzalez <comsecclfhcu@gmail.com>
Sent: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 9:02 AM
Subject: To the Colman Commission

To – Judith Gonzalez, Secretary to the Colman Commission

Dear Ms. Gonzalez,

I was perturbed to learn, only recently, that the Commission had convened a meeting on Friday 8th July at which one of the items discussed was whether my various submissions should be admitted as evidence and if so, what should be the ‘status’ accorded it.

Here we had the situation of a Public Enquiry into a matter of Public concern, convening a private meeting which discussed as one item of business my inclusion as a witness.  As a participant in the Enquiry, not a party, I was excluded from the  discussion as to whether my evidence should be omitted…I was not invited to that meeting and only found about this afterwards, almost in passing.  I also understand that the various parties are to be given the opportunity to make submissions on those issues on my testimony, on which the Commissioner can make a ruling.

My work on this matter of grave public concern has been a solo exercise, except for the occasional assistance of friends. I am without legal representation at this important forum.

Given the substantial parties involved – all of whom are represented by attorneys – and the limits placed on my input by the Commission’s decision to deny me the status of a party, one can scarcely imagine a more lop-sided scenario than this one. Natural Justice is not negotiable.

All that said, the meeting in question has already taken place, so I am requesting that you give proper consideration to inviting my participation when this matter is next to be discussed.

Thank you for your consideration.

Afra Raymond

www.afraraymond.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

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.