Clico, Panday and the oligarchy

It therefore behoves the government to balance the legitimate claims of competing interest in pursuit of the larger good.

In doing this a government needs to be largely independent of particular interests in the society and pursue policies unfettered by undue influence from any one quarter and this is where the UNC government compromised itself in its dealings with Clico and its management in that the latter were able to exercise overwhelming influence on key members of the UNC administration, particularly its leader Basdeo Panday.

As a result the government was unable to effectively carry out its statutorily mandated function of supervision, regulation and sanction over a key element of the financial sector.

But a little history of the position taken by Panday prior to the 1995 General Election is relevant. Readers will recall that before that event Panday was fulsome in his condemnation of what he termed the “parasitic oligarchy” in the society. The composition of this oligarchy was not restricted to any ethnic group but comprised all ethnicities. Its defining feature was that it ensconced itself in a monopolistic position in different sectors of the economy and sustained itself through a symbiotic relationship with the higher echelons and key decision makers of the government. It vigorously resisted any competition or attempts to encroach on its demarcated spheres of economic activity. The overall development of the society was the least of its concerns. It was not a tightly knit group but its solidarity was based on the members’ understanding of the commonality of role, circumstances and interests.

As a result the “parasitic oligarchy” was able to exploit the society and extracted from it substantially more than it contributed. It was construed to be an impediment to socio-economic development that encompassed all sectors and interests. Panday must have read Machiavelli who emphatically stated that “it is impossible to satisfy the oligarchy without doing violence to the interests of others”.

Thus it was that in the late eighties and early nineties Panday was vehement in his criticism of the parasitic oligarchy arising from his leftist philosophy as trade union and working class leader as well as the conviction that the oligarchy has sufficient influence with ANR Robinson to have him removed from the NAR government. Subsequent events would lead one to speculate whether Panday was earnest in his condemnation or whether it was just platform rhetoric.

In the run-up to the 1995 general election, it appeared that Panday had softened his position on the parasitic oligarchy and was willing to accommodate certain representatives in the persons of Brian Kuei Tung, Ishwar Galbaransingh and Steve Fergusson. It is not known what financial contribution and other resources these ex PNM stalwarts brought to the UNC to enable it to win 17 seats. It would be useful to recall that prior to these elections, the UNC controlled 14 seats and in 1991 had come close to winning the other three – ie San Juan/Barataria, St Joseph and Ortoire/Mayaro.

It is a moot point whether the UNC needed the intervention of Kuei Tung, Galbaransingh and Fergusson to win these three seats given the party’s much stronger electoral position in 1995 than in 1991. Nevertheless they were able to convince Panday that they were responsible for the UNC’s victory in 17 seats and hence, on the night of the 1995 Election, Panday would express his deep gratitude and boundless indebtedness to Brian, Ish and Steve. The vanguard of the parasitic oligarchy was not only welcomed but given dominant positions in the Panday administration. Brian Kuei Tung was made Minister of Finance in charge overall of all revenues, borrowings and investments. Steve Fergusson was made Chairman of NGC which not only set natural gas prices and built gas pipelines but was also responsible for screening all energy sector investments in Trinidad and Tobago. Ish Galbaransingh was made Chairman of TIDCO which was responsible for screening all non-energy sector investments in the country. It was this trio who collaborated early in the life of the administration and decided that the Piarco Airport Development Project, which included the construction of the new airport, would be the flagship project and investment of the Panday administration. It is now history that these three would be brought before the courts on various fraud and corruption charges and two of them are facing extradition.

As the UNC administration settled down to the task of governing, it was clear that Panday had had a conversion to the virtues of unbridled capitalism and absolute faith in private sector investment for achieving national growth and progress. It was a sea change in his philosophy which might have come about by consorting in high society and being offered the blandishments of comfort and a taste of luxury living not hitherto experienced. Thus it was that the working class hero and his wife acquired the hobby of golfing and fine dining.


"Clico, Panday and the oligarchy"

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