Jokers here, there, and everywhere

 History reveals that in one of his many letters to British diplomat Sir Horace Mann more than 200 years ago, English politician and author Horace Walpole suggested that the world was a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel. The CLICO saga evokes images of a great tragicomedy that one would have desired remaining on the pages of some piece of fiction, rather than being played out in reality to the detriment of those who think and feel.

We understand the sense of frustration that has been vented by retired Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance and former CLICO Oversight Committee chairman William Layne, when he describes his fellow countrymen as “jokers” and calls for legal action –– civil and criminal –– to be taken against those who presided over the CLICO fiasco in Barbados.  Perhaps, the title of “jokers” is very apt in a country and among a citizenry that have previously been caught in financial intrigue, played out in a business world that can be as sordid and sleazy as it can be successful.

Nothing, it seems, is ever learnt from history. This is a Barbados that allowed Trade Confirmers to take deposits from citizens without regulation from the Central Bank of Barbados. This is a Barbados, we daresay, where indications are that some companies still accept deposits from the public while not being licensed banks or deposit-taking institutions.

For those hundreds, perhaps thousands, who never regained any of their investments in Trade Confirmers, and who will not see a penny returned to them from CLICO, they will go to their final resting place bemoaning the lax regulation of these institutions by offices stretching from the Ministry of Finance to the Supervisor of Insurance and the Central Bank of Barbados.

And what about the country’s esteemed auditing firms? We assume that the likes of CLICO would have been subjected to annual audits. If they were done, why was this financial mess not spotted and reported? To even suggest that no audits were done over a protracted period spanning 1999-2009 is worse than not to reveal infelicities.

The irony of the CLICO debacle is that in the absence of the global financial crisis, the improprieties that existed at the company might never have come to the fore. Make no mistake about it, CLICO was not a victim of the world recession; CLICO was exposed as a result of the world recession.

Again, the description of “jokers” is perhaps relevant where the powers that be and the systems in place allowed former CLICO captain Leroy Parris to leave his sinking ship on a lifeboat with personal nets filled, while other crew and passengers remained submerged below water gasping with seeming pulmonary edema.

Almost three years ago, Mr Parris and a CLICO colleague were criminally charged under Section 185 of the Insurance Act, Chapter 130, for in essence, the niggling offence of selling business contrary to the orders of the Supervisor of Insurance. That the charge carries a maximum penalty of just a $1 000 or a year in prison, within the context of the pain caused by the CLICO meltdown and the millions involved, speaks for itself. Surely the police “investigation” into CLICO could have taken a different direction other than what those involved readily admitted they had done.

That this niggling charge has not yet been brought to closure since February, 2012, could possibly conjure up further images of Mr Layne’s “jokers”. Perhaps, and it would come as no surprise, the matter has been adjourned sine die.

Now, while CLICO International Life’s judicial manager Deloitte Consulting Limited speaks of the company’s liquidation, a financially embarrassed Government is talking about “restructuring” and “commitment” to this and “commitment” to that, and spouting the usual, meaningless political rhetoric. More jokers, you say?

There are CLICO policyholders still paying premiums, as instructed, without any tangible assurances that they are not placing their funds into further oblivion, at worst, or at best, likely to receive some monetary return posthumously.

We note in other jurisdictions where citizens suffer monetary loss as a result of the less than prudent and transparent financial oversight of their financial business by company executives, heads inevitably roll. Alas, in Barbados, they are deemed pals and pose for photo opportunities with political associates.

Yes, Mr Layne, jokers abound among us, but unfortunately, and invariably, the joke is on us; and no one is laughing.

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