Why bail out Clico investors?
WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I was told that I should listen twice as muchas I speak. For only then would I truly appreciate and understand what was being told to me. Unfortunately, through the years I have failed to do this – often to my own detriment.
A recent visit to check on an elderly friend made me realize the importance of taking a step back and listening to what people are really saying about what is happening around them. And though his view and those of his three buddies who popped by cannot be used as a gauge of widespread public opinion, I found the exercise useful as it presented a different perspective on topics, based on the life experiences of individuals with little formal education but who provided adequately for their families by adhering to simple, age-old beliefs.
At this impromptu gathering, when aspects of life in Barbados today inevitably arose, the topics included:
• The high cost of living and the fact that their National Insurance Scheme (NIS) pensions don’t buy as much these days. But they understood this is a worldwide phenomenon which will only improve when the international economy gets better.
• The need for the Government, the Opposition and the Central Bank to stop “making mock sport” over the economy and come up with real solutions to help the average person. One suggestion was for small loans of no more than $5 000 so people could buy build pens to raise chickens, pigs, rabbits and sheep which they could sell.
One man reasoned that that would be better than giving people a welfare cheque every month – it would help people help themselves rather than to have to beg for handouts, he asserted.
• The Four Seasons Project and the intended use of NIS money to help kick-start that initiative was highlighted too. I expected a lot of talk on this because I figured that as pensioners they would have seen it as threatening their livelihood, so to speak. But the group said that was for youngsters like me to worry about as they were already in the departure lounge awaiting their boarding call.
For them the project would bring jobs and that was what was needed now. And hopefully by the time the hotel is finished in a few years, things would be better and people would come here and make it a success.
Issues discussed Surprisingly, for me, the two issues which they discussed most were the need for Government to pay contractor Al Barrack and the unwisdom of reimbursing those who invested in CLICO.
On the Barrack issue, they said as the evidence showed the bureaucrats in the National Housing Corporation were to blame for messing things up, the contractor should be paid as the judge ruled. They thought it disgraceful that anybody should have to be waiting for money six years after the court said twice (the original judgment and then the Appeal Court) that they should get it.
As for the CLICO investors, they saw it as a case where people took a chance in making a lot of money in a short space of time by investing. It didn’t work out and they lost, so they should be satisfied with that.
The seniors reasoned that if all had gone well and the investors had made a big profit, then they would not even want to pay taxes on it, as they would argue it was their money which they risked, so they should enjoy every cent of the profits. Therefore, now that the whole thing has failed, why should they be telling Government to make sure they get their money back?
They dismissed my suggestion that Government has a moral responsibility to assist investors because its regulating agency had failed to be the authoritative watchdog it was supposed to be.
For them, the fact that every Government regulator in the Caribbean failed to deal with CLICO showed the company could do what it liked, and those who controlled it were powerful men.
Therefore, the seniors argued, the Government should hold an inquiry similar to the one being undertaken in Trinidad to find out how the money was spent, and the big-ups who enjoyed the sweets are found guilty they should be made to pay the investors out of their accounts.
One argued too that late Prime Minister David Thompson had $10 million transferred from the Central Bank to CLICO, and no more has been heard about that money.
The majority said the only reason Government was devoted to help these investors was because they are middle class people.
Though I could not agree with their position, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people feel this way about these issues, which Central Bank Governor Dr Delisle Worrell said could be settled this year.
Worrell said last month that Government had factored in possible major payouts this year to Barrack (about $70 million) and the CLICO investors. He said he did not anticipate that the sums would pose a risk to Government’s fragile finances.
• Sanka Price is the WEEKEND NATION and SATURDAY SUN Editor. Email [email protected]