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Playing down wrong enquiry line
As the commission of enquiry into the collapse of the CL Financial empire in January 2009 continues, the public of Trinidad and Tobago is anxiously awaiting clarity on two of the issues outlined in the terms of reference that the sole commissioner, English Queen’s Counsel Sir Anthony Colman, was mandated by President George Maxwell Richards to carry out. The first issue, outlined in the terms of reference, is that the commissioner should enquire into the “circumstances, factors, causes and reasons” leading to the collapse of the CL Financial empire in January 2009. Given the testimony of former CL Financial finance director Michael Carballo, and others, there can be little doubt that the general public has a much clearer idea of the financial wheeling and dealing that may have contributed to the collapse of the region’s largest conglomerate. But there is another important area of enquiry, also mandated in the terms of reference, on which the commission has been less successful in casting the bright light of transparency.
Sir Anthony’s mandate clearly requires that he should have a precise idea of the assets and liabilities of Clico, Clico Investment Bank, British American and CMMB “and the extent to which the existing assets of the said companies are capable of meeting the financial demands of investors, policyholders, creditors, depositors and shareholders of said companies.” In order to fulfil this term of reference, Sir Anthony is required to have two discrete sets of information: knowledge of the net value of the four companies that are the subjects of the enquiry, as well as knowledge of the extent to which that value can be used to satisfy the legitimate demands of the policyholders, creditors, depositors and shareholders of the companies. But it is simply not enough for the specifically mandated information on the assets and liabilities of the four companies to remain a secret shared by the sole commissioner and the attorneys representing various clients at the enquiry.
That information should be made available to the people of T&T through the broadcast of the information on live television, the streaming of the event on the commission’s Web site, as well as reports in the nation’s newspapers. We raise the issue of the publication of the financial information of the four CL Financial companies in the context of an apparent agreement by certain parties involved in the commission of enquiry to redact some of the documents submitted by the Methanol Holdings (Trinidad) Ltd (MHTL) chief executive officer, Rampersad Motilal, based on a notion of “commercial sensitivity.” Giving evidence at yesterday’s sitting, Mr Motilal referred to the fact that the company’s net income ranges between US$300 million and US$350 million based on revenue of about US$2 billion and from assets of US$3.2 billion. He even allowed that MHTL had paid its local shareholders, who own about 56 per cent of the four-million-tonne-a-year methanol producer, a dividend of US$56 million in 2006.
But noticeably absent from his testimony was any specific reference to MHTL’s annual profits, dividends, revenue, interest payments and retained earnings since establishment. That the commission of enquiry allowed the argument about “commercial sensitivity” to stretch enough to cover MHTL’s basic financial information—which is widely available to the global methanol industry—is surprising and regrettable given the fact that Clico owns 56 per cent of MHTL, that Clico received over $5 billion in taxpayers’ funds and that, as a result of that bailout, the State owns 49 per cent of Clico. It is recommended that the many experienced attorneys involved in this matter should assist the commission further by bringing fresh eyes to this issue of “commercial sensitivity” and framing the discussion in the context of the public’s right to know, the vast sum of taxpayers’ dollars pumped into Clico and the fact that publication of financial information is one of the terms of reference of this enquiry.
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