On July 22nd, 2015 the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago, in a landmark FOIA ruling, required Minister of Finance and the Economy, Larry Howai, to publish details of the $25b CL Financial Bailout. One week later, it appears that Minister Howai may be hesitant about fulfilling the court’s instructions to disclose all in 28 days, and hiding behind semantics.
The collapse and subsequent State bailout of the CL Financial group represents the most widespread Caribbean episode of improper financial conduct leading to colossal losses, all facilitated by careless regulators against a background of large-scale political party donations to both parties.
As it stands today, official estimates are that the bailout has cost upwards of $25B of Public Money. By way of comparison, the Wall Street bailout was estimated to have cost the US Treasury about 1% of USA GDP; while our own experience is running at figures estimated to range between 10-13% of Trinidad and Tobago GDP.
Despite this substantial sum of public money being spent by public officials, details of the recipients of the funds and the reasons for the decisions being made remain shrouded in secrecy. Further, the terms of reference of the ongoing CLICO enquiry are crafted in such a manner so as to exclude post-January 2009 events relating to this matter.
The Ministry, in response to media queries went on record to say, “A decision will be made within the period of time allowed by the court.” Which begs the question a decision on what? The court has already come to a decision and issued an instruction. Is Howai still making up his mind whether or not he will comply?
What is also troubling is this further comment from the minister that suggests he wants to play games with words and meanings and their relevance to this landmark decision a citizen and the state: CV2013-01162 Afra Raymond v The Minister of Finance & the Economy. Howai seems to be suggesting that because none of Raymond’s four requests specifically refer to, “how over $25b was spent in the Clico bailout,” he doesn’t have to answer that question. And if this is what the Minister is suggesting, then the position is ludicrous. In Raymond requesting all drafts or unaudited statements, Powerpoint presentations and audiovisual aids provided to Parliament during a 2011 debate and the list of CL Financial creditors and the EFPA holders, he is in fact requesting information that will build for us, the taxpayers, a clear and robust picture of what exactly happened with the $25b bailout. Minister Howai cannot pretend to not recognise that; because if
Raymond’s intent eludes him, perhaps he isn’t the best person to hold this portfolio.
Disclosure Today put its support behind Raymond by urging Minister Howai to honour the court’s ruling; while making the following comments, “The persistent secrecy surrounding the decisions taken in this matter of critical public interest, including allegations of back-door deals in favour of the corporate elite going as high as within the corridors of
Parliament can no longer be countenanced by right-thinking citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.”
Raymond, no stranger to fighting legal battles with the state as President of the JCC reminded Poliwatch that this isn’t the first time that a Minister of State “has used Legal Professional Privilege to incarcerate our information” as he cited his experiences with Minister Bhoe Tewarie and the Invader’s Bay case. Raymond continued dryly, “a little bit again, and the right to know exactly how our Public Money is spent might also be subject to politician’s discretion, that is what I am fighting against.”