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PURELY POLITICAL: What would David do now?

Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: What would David do now?

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Such is the power of politics that whatever the issue, once there is a politician in the mix, the politics dictates.
The recent revelations from the forensic audit of CLICO International Life Insurance Company (CIL) and CLICO Holdings Barbados Limited have prompted the question: what if David Thompson were alive?
The contents of the audit suggest that the late Prime Minister’s law firm, Thompson & Associates, received a payment of $3.33 million for fees or retainers which came from “four different legal matters”.
According to the document, the payment was “actually to the benefit of Mr Leroy Parris, the former chairman of CIL and CLICO Holdings, and related to partial payment of a gratuity”.
It was further noted that the auditors “found no reference to this payment in the minutes of CIL or CLICO Holdings at or around the time it was made”.
This was one example of what some people have been suggesting was the way in which CIL was being used as a cash cow with respect to CLICO Holdings, and of equal concern is that “some of the documents we [the auditors] reviewed showed that the releases of funds by CIL were made based on directions from Mr Parris that were acted upon by executive management, such as Mr [Terrence] Thornhill [CLICO president]”.
So it seems that, in every sense, Parris was large and in charge.
For many years, the personal and business relationship between the late Prime Minister and Parris was a source of concern on both sides of the political aisle and indeed outside of political circles.
On January 17, 2008, THE NATION published an article on the occasion of Thompson’s success in the general election which attributed the following to Parris: “A lot of people do not know this, but David is the godfather of my son and I am the godfather of his last daughter; so there is not only a political relationship, but a personal relationship as well. Also, David is my attorney at law.”
Now, there was nothing wrong with this public show of support and disclosure by Parris and it was never, to my knowledge, contradicted or denied by Thompson, even after he became Prime Minister, and some felt he would have wanted to create some, at the very least, public distance between them.
That’s because politicians are not known for their loyalty to the extent that they are willing to go against a substantial majority on any matter, far less one in which public sentiment was obvious.
The late Prime Minister was quick to defend the management of CLICO Holdings and equally quick to approve a contribution of $10 million to CLICO Mortgage & Finance Company (CMFC), first, as a show of Government confidence in a well managed and “sound” company, and then as a line of credit when news of the parent company CL Financial’s difficulties surfaced in Trinidad and Tobago in January 2009.
In the absence of a forensic audit, the Central Bank of Barbados agreed with the observation that the CLICO group was well managed and would have recommended the pouring of the $10 million into CMFC.
In the face of recent evidence, it would be apropos for the bank to explain in detail how the contribution had been utilized and what are the benefits to the taxpayers.    
The then Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley’s insistence that a judicial manager should have been appointed was initially met with resistance. Perhaps the new Government was of the view that a rescue plan could be delivered without having to do a thorough investigation of the financial status of the CLICO operations.  
It was always felt in some quarters that the CLICO affair, which broke in 2009, contained the information to verify, one way or the other, the nature of the business relationship.
The acquisition of the property, which was formerly owned by CLICO, at Aquatic Gap where Thompson & Associates is located, was raised in public. An investment company called MAFA purchased the well known property in the fishing village at Martin’s Bay.
These public revelations sowed the seeds from which public whispers sprung. In the absence of enough information to validate the whispers, the task for journalists in pursuit of the truth becomes more difficult.
But one recalls the issues of corruption and promises of integrity legislation and the declaration of assets by those holding political office being at the forefront of the Democratic Labour Party’s successful 2008 election campaign.
In fact, in the Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals of 2008, Thompson, as Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, spoke on matters of openness and transparency and announced the establishment of a Governance Advisory Board chaired by Independent Senator Orlando Marville.
Its mandate included integrity legislation with special emphasis on declaration of assets by public officials, and a code of conduct for ministers, defamation, freedom of information and new constitutional provisions to rationalize the powers of the Prime Minister.
“In addition, it will advise on a comprehensive public education programme on matters of good governance. The board will also address matters of the role of the Ombudsman and a Contractor General. It is proposed that draft legislation will be completed by the end of this calendar year.”
The Budget Speech was delivered on Monday, July 7, 2008, and a governance consultation was set for July 20 with all chairpersons and deputy chairpersons of all statutory boards and companies owned by Government to deal with issues relating to corporate governance and accountability, as well as human resource issues.   
By the end of the same year, Thompson & Associates had sent invoices valued at $3.33 million for legal fees or retainers, which turned out to be a partial payment of gratuity to the former chairman of two corporate entities – CIL and CLICO Holdings.
How are these matters to be explained against the backdrop of promised transparency and accountability?
With criminal charges in the air, it is difficult to reconcile in one’s mind, such electioneering promises and actions allegedly taken in the public’s interest.
Though the audit investigators and law enforcement must see their work through, it is intriguing to speculate on whether Thompson would have been able to continue in office, or would the disclosures that have set the nation abuzz this past week have made his position untenable and forced an unprecedented resignation of a Prime Minister.