EDITORIAL: CLICO debate must go on
The management of a country speaks to, necessarily, the welfare of the people. It also addresses the integrity of the people’s freedoms, the maintenance of their security and safeguard of their property, and the general protection of the law.
These are major responsibilities, and the good politician takes them seriously, for on his decisions depends the fate of the people and the state.
Politicians are responsible for the things they do, but they are also required to fix the things they did not exactly do – that which affect the warp and woof of the society.
The CLICO debacle is one such matter, which perforce must command the attention of the politicians. It must have the immediate and urgent attention of all members of the House of Assembly, and each and every member of the Senate in the first place. It ought also to be the business of every right-thinking member of Barbadian society.
Statements suggesting that it should not be a political football are important, but they must not be taken to mean that CLICO should be off the political agenda. It must remain at the centre of the political debate, and must be subjected to the most vigorous discussion, because the CLICO fallout affects the politics, business and social development of this country, as much as Budgetary Statements, the Estimates or any other economic proposal ever made here.
We most emphatically assert and support the right of the people, particularly out of Parliament, to make their voices heard on this and indeed on other issues, and the establishment of BIPA, lobbying on behalf of the policyholders is a most welcome democratic development that goes beyond CLICO!
Democracy works better in that way. The institution of Government becomes more responsive to the public when its thoughts and actions are fertilized by the views and concerns of what might be called the common man.
Economic development in this country will be hampered in the extreme if the savings of the people are not mobilized for the general good. Banks, insurance companies, credit unions and other deposit-taking institutions act as conduits for the collection, lending and investment of these savings, with returns both to the savers and to the institution.
This activity requires confidence on the part of the savers and investors: that their money will be returned to them on maturity with periodic interest payments. But that confidence has to be matched by the prudential behaviour of the managers and directors of these finance companies.
When matters like those in the CLICO case arise, public confidence cannot be taken for granted. It is better protected when the sterilizing influence of public debate exposes the inner workings of the institution to public scrutiny. When this happens, the wisdom of the policies and practices of the troubled company takes centre stage not only to see what happened, but more importantly, to make sure that it does not recur and to determine how the law might be changed to enhance the protection of the investing and saving public.
It would be regrettable if the debate descended into one of the nature of a political football, but the greater and more demanding concern is that the discussion, with its warts and all, should continue at least until all the facts are out in the open, and appropriate steps taken to ensure that public confidence in the private financial system of this country is fully restored.
We therefore call for ongoing reasoned and informed debate on CLICO and related issues. Such issues obviously relate to the supervisory regulation of financial institutions, their ring-fencing from other related non-financial institutions, and their corporate governance.
None of these matters can be properly ventilated without the most widespread public debate, and it must continue if public confidence is to be maintained in private financial institutions. Political football or not, there is too much at stake for silence to be an option.