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No findings on political funding

By Andre Bagoo Sunday, July 20 2014

click on pic to zoom in
Conrad Enil...
Conrad Enil...

THE CONDUCT of some former PNM politicians — including former Prime Minister Patrick Manning — during their tenures in office is criticised by Sir Anthony Colman in his Report on the 2008 collapse of the Hindu Credit Union(HCU), tabled in Parliament on Friday.

Sir Anthony criticises the lack of evidence of any action in relation to an anonymous claim that the HCU and Clico may have been involved in money-laundering, possibly from under the time of the previous UNC administration.

“A letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Manning, dated 13 January 2002, from an anonymous writer who described himself as a former Member of Parliament and Member of HCU alleged that HCU had ‘significant and mutually unexplainable interests in Clico’,” the Report states.

“It was said that financial assets of HCU were being channelled through Clico. There was ‘premature’ (sic) evidence of money laundering within HCU and Clico and this had been encouraged by the previous (UNC) Government. The letter went on to observe that care should be taken by all HCU and Clico members, ‘to avoid sudden depletion of and loss of all forms of life savings and pension plans.’” The letter ended by asking the Government to investigate the regulatory compliance of HCU and Clico via a commission of inquiry.

Sir Anthony states, “The Prime Minister passed this to Mr Enill with a request to look into the matter. According to the then Commissioner for Cooperative Development (CDC), Keith Maharaj, he received no contact about this letter from Mr Enill. Nor did he recall ever seeing this letter.”

Further, “The complete lack of evidence of any communication to the CCD or response by the Prime Minister, the Attorney General or the Minister of Labour exemplified a pervasive tendency by Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to avoid as far as possible becoming involved in any issue going to the probity of HCU.”

Sir Anthony also criticises an apparent over-reach by former Minister of Labour Danny Montano, who Sir Anthony said wrongly stopped moves by the independent regulator to intervene at HCU; the record-keeping of former Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheiera.

Of Montano, Sir Anthony finds that in 2005, the then CCD Keith Maharaj sought to start an on-site examination of the HCU. However, the Minister called for such action to not be taken given the risk of the public detecting it and the possibility of triggering a run.

“(The minister) viewed such action as both dangerous and a last resort because it might give rise to a run on HCU,” the Report details. “The minister instructed Mr Maharaj to implement such measures as would enhance the supervision of HCU.

Further, it was asserted that under anticipated legislative changes credit unions were about to be supervised by the Ministry of Finance or Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.

Consequently the Minister of Labour would not make funds available to CCD to pay Pannell Kerr Foster to conduct an inquiry.” Of this, Sir Anthony remarks, “Mr Maharaj was justified in wishing to proceed with the Section 4 Inquiry regardless of the chances of a run on HCU. Given the information as to HCU’s management and over-investment in illegal assets in 2005, the risk of collapse if nothing were done was sufficiently serious to justify the commencement of the inquiry... It is not for central government to arrest the CCD’s operation of that protective machinery by withholding essential funds from the CCD. Even if there were a perceived risk of a run on HCU, it was for the CCD and not the Minister to judge the magnitude of such risk as against the necessity for an inquiry.”

In his Report, Sir Anthony makes no adverse recommendation in relation to Montano. However, he recommends the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) test the possibility of a charge of misfeasance in public office in relation to Maharaj for his tenure, which exceeded that of the minister’s, in relation to other failings. Sir Anthony criticised the apparent lack of record-keeping in relation to a meeting between Nunez-Tesheira and Harnarine in April 2008.

“The Commission records its strong disapproval of the failure of the Ministry of Finance, when confronted with a matter as serious as HCU’s survival, to take any minutes or prepare any other written record of that meeting,” the Report states.

Also mentioned in the report is Emmanuel George, the current Minister of Justice, but for his tenure as a former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Labour.

However, no adverse findings or recommendations are made in relation to any of these politicians. Former Ministers in the Ministry of Finance Mariano Browne and Conrad Enill as also mentioned and, in particular, Enill’s correspondence pressing for updates on the situation at the HCU is alluded to. Sir Anthony makes no findings in relation to evidence heard at the inquiry of the HCU’s funding of political campaigns of both the UNC and PNM.

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