At yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, Rowley said if there were still people who do not believe that Government was only protecting taxpayers’ money, used to bail out CLF, “then all I would say is trust me.” “It is wrong to say that the Government has been raiding these companies and using them for budget support,” Rowley said.
Government, he said, is not interested in running any of the private companies within CLF, “that are up to their eyeballs in debt and owe this Government $15 billion.” He also declared, “This government has no intention of conniving with any person to dispose of these assets.” Rowley said Government only wants, “to ensure that the taxpayers’ money that went into these private companies is protected and there is a reasonable chance of the taxpayer getting back that money.” He said the provisional liquidator is already on the job and this eliminates any possibility of a fire sale of CLF’s assets. After saying the absence of audited financial statements made it difficult to determine the true state of CLF, Rowley said, “When we eventually got the information, what we received was very alarming.” He said Government discovered profits from Angostura were going to the Scotland- based company CL World Brands in which CLF shareholders only owned 40 per cent. Rowley said this meant Angostura’s profits were going abroad and creating “a pool of funds for persons outside of the Government’s glare.” He said shareholders demanded Government remove its shareholders from the CLF board as Government started demanding accountability from shareholders for taxpayers’ money used to bail out CLF eight years ago.
Rowley said Government refused to bow to this demand because it was a violation of the CLF shareholders’ agreement signed in 2009.
He said the agreement clearly stated Government must have majority control of the board as long as taxpayers’ money was being used to bail out CLF. Rowley said the removal of government directors from the board was tantamount to “a hostile takeover” by the shareholders and this also meant taxpayers would have no idea what shareholders would be doing with their money.
While the agreement was supposed to only last for three years, Rowley said it has been extended 17 times and CLF is nowhere close to resolving its debt. He said he would be happy if the shareholders could repay the $15 billion they owe Government but seemed unconvinced they could do so. He also said Government has discovered that “people were settling private sector debts at 43 cents on the dollar” resulting in significant losses to the taxpayer.
“We just found that out a few weeks ago.” The prime minister said Government’s action had also prevented this country from being further downgraded by international ratings agencies.
While CLF’s initial debt was $5 billion due to losses in a particular policy scheme by Clico, Rowley said $11 billion was spent by the former People’s Partnership government to help those people recover their money. However he said apart from the first $5 billion, former finance minister Winston Dookeran said the remaining $6 billion would attract no interest.
Rowley said this meant those people who received that money would have “no incentive to pay it back.” The prime minister said former government senator Patrick Watson disagreed with the PP’s action on this issue and said the affected people should handle their own losses.
Rowley reminded reporters he was not in the Patrick Manning Cabinet in 2009 when the decision to bail out CLF was taken. He also took umbrage with attempts by some people to add a racial dimension to the issue by claiming his government was against black people.
Rowley recalled that some people believed he could neither lead the People’s National Movement nor become prime minister because he was too dark. “I might be the blackest man in TT,” he quipped.