Retired executive chairman of CLICO Holdings (Barbados) Leroy Parris yesterday called in some sections of the media to clear the air and give his side of what led to the collapse of CLICO International Life Insurance Company in Barbados, which followed that of the Trinidad-based parent company CL Financial.
With him were two of his four lawyers, Queen’s Counsel Hal Gollop and Vernon Smith. It was his first time speaking since the 2009 debacle that has still not been resolved.
Below is an edited version of Parris’ responses to reporters’ questions after the lawyers initially spoke on his behalf.
Q: What do you think would have been the best course [to deal with CLICO]?
A: I [had] retired so all they had to do was to put a manager in there, keep their eyes on the system, don’t get rid of all the agents and keep the company going, because the company cannot survive without the selling of insurance. But [the judicial manager] fired all the agents.
Q: What about the concerns with the EFPA [Executive Flexible Premium Annunity]? If you didn’t fire people would you still have continued to sell those?
A: If you had doubt in that particular policy you could have stopped selling it. Trinidad stopped selling it. All we had to do is to stop selling that individual policy and sell the traditional insurance that was selling before. This is a short-term investment policy. This policy was for two years, three years depending on how long you wanted to put your money in the company. It was not a life policy, it was a short term investment policy.
The company was put under judicial management. What has happened since it was put under judicial management in the last four years? What happened with the company?
Q: Mr Parris, do you feel in any way responsible for what happened to the company?
A: No, I did nothing wrong. If I have to do what I [did] again I would do the same thing over. The way how I managed it before, I would manage it again –straightforward and honest. I did nothing wrong.
A lot of the investment in CLICO International Life, the expansion of CLICO International Life through the islands, was money from Barbados. We bought the St Lucia distillery, which was a successful operation that I bought, making one of the greatest rum about the place in St Lucia.
When I came to that company we were sitting in a little space down Broad Street. We put up a big building, bought one and put up a new one. We put up a new building in Christ Church. Everywhere in Barbados you can see housing projects . . . done by CLICO. Look at Crystal Heights. You see that? That was my brainchild. Mangrove, another housing project. Grenada housing project, St Lucia housing project, St Kitts Housing Project.
Q: What would you say went wrong then?
A: The company Trinidad [was heading] to a collapse and the people in Barbados asked policyholders to pull the money out of the company. The money was going to go to Trinidad so the policyholders run to the office and take their money out of the company. In any financial institution that has a run, it would collapse.
I take your money and I am investing it to have a return, so when that run starts I cannot go and liquidate all of those assets. You put money in different things – estates, buildings. We [were] asset strong but cash poor and that was really the problem with the company.
Q: What would you say to the policyholders now?What message would you have for them?
A: I am sorry for what happened, but it was not under my control.
Q: Do you have empathy for them?
A: Very much so. I am one of the largest ones [policyholders]. I am sorry. It bothers me everyday I drive around this country and I see the investments that I had control of. To see how they look, the way they have been treated, the direction they are going, it really hurts. I am a hurt man by that company to see what those guys did for four and a half years or so and to kill it. But what is important is to ask them [judicial managers] is how much money they [took] out of it? How much money have they been paid? That is the question you should ask. How much money were they paid out of that company? Tell them give me a report on how much money they get and what they have done with the company to keep the company alive, because my assertion for a judicial manager put in a company is to turn it around and make it work, not to kill it. That’s what happened to CLICO. But I become now the [one] who getting all the licks. I become the one who did everything wrong . . . But I can sit here and stare you in your face and tell you that Leroy Parris has never take one blind cent of the policyholders’ funds and put it in my pocket. First thing, I never use to sign cheques . . . because I was too busy. So if you had to wait for me to sign a cheque you wouldn’t get paid. I did what I had to do and I did it right, the best I know, the most professional way . . . and I was convinced in my mind that I did a good job. I took that company with $2 million in assets and when I walked away from it, it had $1 billion in assets. So I can take my lashes and I am going to walk free . . . I can walk with a straight head, a straight face, because I know what I have done. I am no thief. The only thing I have going for me is my name, Leroy Parris, and nothing more and nobody else. I am just Leroy Parris, a simple individual.
Q: What do you think about the impressions that are being cast on the late Prime Minister?
A: I can’t speak on that. I don’t know what impressions are being cast. I don’t know what impression was cast. I don’t know what it means or I don’t know where you are going.