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Former Co-op official: Manning chaired meeting with HCU
The political directorate was fully apprised of what was taking place at the Hindu Credit Union (HCU), said former commissioner of co-operatives Keith Maharaj. Testifying yesterday for the second consecutive day at the Sir Anthony Colman-chaired commission of inquiry into the failure of HCU and Clico, Maharaj said between 2001 and 2005, he remembers receiving two letters of complaint, which were referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
To the suggestion that the Commissioner of Co-operatives Division “sat back and did nothing” about the HCU, Maharaj said, “The political directorate was very fearful of instituting a Section 71 of the Co-operative Societies Act, where there would be court proceedings.” Under questioning by senior attorney Sophia Chote, who is representing Maharaj at the inquiry, Maharaj said his office sent two letters of complaint to the DPP, but no response was received.
Chote asked Maharaj about two letters that were sent to former prime minister Patrick Manning and were copied to Maharaj, requesting Manning to call a commission of inquiry into the HCU. Acknowledging those two letters, Maharaj said a meeting was held with Manning following a protest march held outside PNM’s headquarters.
Maharaj said that meeting was held at the Prime Minister’s office, which was then located at the Ministry of Finance Building, Independence Square, Port-of-Spain. “I was present,” Maharaj said, speaking of the meeting. Chote: “Did the then prime minister make any statements in regard to the HCU?”
Maharaj: “He chaired the meeting. He allayed the fears of the HCU and said there was no investigation and advised the commissioner of co-operative development to supervise and monitor its operations.” Asked who else was at that meeting with Manning, Maharaj replied, “The line minister Lawrence Achong and Conrad Enill.”
In the previous administration, Achong was Minister of Labour and Enill was a minister in the Ministry of Finance. Chote asked Maharaj if he agreed with Glasgow’s repeated accusation that the commissioner of co-operative development was “passing the buck,” to which Maharaj replied, “Not at all.”
Maharaj said in reading the newspapers, he has never seen instances where the commissioner of police or the governor of the Central Bank personally investigated complaints, but delegated staff to do so, as he did when he delegated then deputy commissioner Hyder Ali to do so.
In response to an earlier question from Glasgow, attorney to the commission, Maharaj said it was standard procedure to refer correspondence to his deputy, who died in December 2010. Glasgow asked: “It was standard procedure for you to send all complaints to your deputy?” The English Queen’s Counsel asked Maharaj whether it was appropriate to delegate those complaints in the way he did.
“That was the chain of command,” the former commissioner replied. Maharaj said the office of the Commissioner of Co-operative Development moved four times up to his 2006 retirement: Salvatori Building, Colsort Mall, Duncan Street and Duke Street in Port-of-Spain. Maharaj complained that his office was badly understaffed and he had arbitrated over hundreds of disputes.
Glasgow put it to Maharaj that one letter delegated to Hyder Ali was a request from the HCU to increase its maximum liability from $20 million to $50 million, on which Maharaj attached the note, “ASAP.” “That’s a serious request?” Glasgow said.
“Normal,” Maharaj said, to which Glasgow asked, “Normal?”
Glasgow: “Must be approved by annual or special general meeting.” Glasgow told Maharaj when he got the request to increase HCU’s maximum liability, he attached an ASAP instruction to it, but when he got complaints from members or the Prime Minister, he delegated. Maharaj: “I did not put a deadline, sir.”
Maharaj said he had served under six line ministers, none of whom had ever written to him or “pulled me over the coals.” Maharaj said he had spent a considerable amount of time arbitrating over credit union matters, including the HCU, and he’d ruled against the HCU in almost 100 per cent of those matters, for which the HCU constantly criticised him.
Glasgow referred to a June 11, 2003 letter written by Maharaj to Gayndlal Ramnath, secretary to the HCU board, in which he “grovellingly” apologised for the absence of certain officers being on vacation, causing a review of HCU’s records to be aborted. “I, however, wish to convey my appreciation to you and the board for the excellent co-operation and assistance you extended to the team at these preliminary meetings,” Glasgow read.
Asked if he’d regretted writing that letter, given what has happened to HCU investors’ money, Maharaj said, “No, sir.”
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