In T&T: Dr Tewarie: Don’t blame me for collapse of CL Financial

11 January 2012

Minister of Planning distances himself from CL Financial fiasco. Tewarie: “Sub-committee charged with monitoring group subsidiaries… could not function amid the culture of CLF.”

CONFRONTED with the prospect that he may ultimately share some of the liability for what went wrong at CL Financial over his more than decade-long tenure there as a non-executive director, Planning Minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie yesterday heatedly insisted that he is not to blame for the collapse of the financial behemoth.

Under cross-examination from attorney Justin Phelps, who represents former CLF corporate secretary, Gita Sakal, at the inquiry, Tewarie yesterday also insisted that he was not at the inquiry in a political capacity and side-stepped questions over the potential embarrassment that would be caused if, ultimately, he’s found to have played a role in a financial imbroglio which has been roundly castigated by the PP Government.

“It would be politically embarrassing if it were revealed that you were responsible for the need for Government intervention at CLF, no?” Phelps asked.

“Responsibility for things that happened in CLF could not be ascribed to me, not in my role as a non-executive director,” Tewarie said, testifying for a second day at the inquiry. “I would reject that position (that he was responsible).”

On Monday, the minister, under cross-examination from attorney for the Clico Policyholders Group (CPG) Terrence Bharath, was confronted with the provisions of the Companies Act which imposes liability for directors at firms, whether executive, or non-executive.

Phelps said Tewarie, a businessman with an interest in management education, was in the early 1990s appointed to the audit sub-committee of the CLF board. This sub-committee was charged with monitoring group subsidiaries, and the flow of reporting information between them.

Tewarie said in practice that sub-committee did not meet regularly, and it was chaired by accountant John Martin, not him. He also said the committee could not function amid the culture of CLF. “There is a difference between what is written, and what is done,” Tewarie said of documents showing his appointment.

He said it was very difficult to monitor the group because control rested with the chairman (Duprey) and Sakal. “That has to do with the whole character and culture of governance,” he said. “The audit committee was not as active as I think an audit committee should be.”

Tewarie said he got no fees for being on the CLF board aside from some early payments. However, under cross-examination from lawyer for Duprey, Andrew Mitchell QC, Tewarie admitted that he was paid quarterly board fees for sitting as a CLF-nominee on the board of Republic Bank. He said he carried out both functions “independently”.

Tewarie admitted that he was able to arrange sponsorship for interests close to his heart by being on the CLF board, citing his arrangements to bring down Trinidad-born Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul.

Additionally, the Institute of Business, based at the University of the West Indies, got an endowment totalling approximately $2 million.

But Tewarie said these sponsorships by CLF were not for his direct personal benefit.

Noting that he reported troubles at CLF to Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams in late 2008 after being advised that he was liable under company law for whatever happened at CLF, he said he did so out of concern for the public interest.

“When I went to the Central Bank it was not out of personal interest. I would have, at that stage, resigned a long time ago because I was getting no money for being there. My concern was the implication for the collapse of the financial system. It had nothing to do with personal interest it had to do with public interest.”

He continued, “I was not on Clico, I was not on CIB, I was on CLF and I was looking at the global picture.”

Yet, Tewarie added, “I tried to do, even at that end stage, the best I could in the circumstances. It is not my intention now to absolve myself from blame, if there is blame that can be ascribed to me.”

He said he dined at least five or six times with Duprey, hosted Duprey at his home once and had luncheon with him, all the while imploring him to reform the company.


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