T&T gov't to recoup CLICO bailout funds

PORT OF SPAIN – Finance Minister Larry Howai said yesterday that once negotiations with CLICO policyholders and shareholders are complete, the government will move to consider all its options to recoup the nearly $20 billion of taxpayers’ money it shelled out to save the failed insurance giant.

Howai announced on Monday during his Budget presentation that he had added the CLICO debt to the country’s overall debt, increasing the debt-to-GDP level from about $38 billion to $46 billion. He had said the CLICO/Hindu Credit Union issue had dragged on for too long, and intended to bring matters to a close by the end of this year.

When the CLICO Investment Fund begins trading on the local stock exchange next January he had said, that action would bring the CLICO matter to an end.

Speaking during the American Chamber of Commerce annual post-budget breakfast meeting yesterday at the Hilton Trinidad, Howai said once the arrangements can be properly negotiated with the Executive Flexible Premium Annuity holders and other CL Financial shareholders, he would “certainly consider” all the options of divestment or sale (of CLF assets) to local companies to recoup funds put out by the Government. “This will then help us to reduce our debt-to-GDP level,” he said.

Howai’s statement was in response to ANSA McAL chief operating officer Gerry Brooks’ query of whether the Government would consider local and regional companies when considering divesting CLF assets.

CLF assets include Angostura, TruValu Supermarkets, the HCL Group of Companies and Health Net, as well as CLICO and British American Insurance Company.

“The divestment of CLF assets in the area of maritime, distribution and beverage offers an opportunity to build critical mass from a local standpoint for companies that have the cash flow and wherewithal to build on those assets. I would encourage you to not only look at international partners but local and regional companies so we can build capacity to grow our businesses. It’s a financing play and national divestment play, because many of these assets play into several of the pillars you have propagated,” Brooks said.

Brooks also called for an end to the Commission of Enquiry into the collapse of CLICO and the Hindu Credit Union, and instead move towards prosecution.

“Having spent ($20 billion), which we the taxpayers have borne, and in the face of (people) who have breached fiduciary duties and interest, we have to move beyond simply settling policyholders… End the Commission, which has no prosecutorial powers, have files sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and look at work from forensic audit standpoint,” Brooks said. (Express)

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