Beyond Duprey

By Raffique Shah
February 08, 2009
Trinidad and Tobago News Blog

Lawrence DupreyUP TO ten days ago, Lawrence Duprey was one of most admired businessmen in Trinidad and Tobago. He was not self-made, as some of his peers and predecessors were. He inherited the biggest and strongest insurance company in the country founded by his uncle Cyril. But having taken over the reins of CLICO, he quickly moved to diversify the insurance giant’s vast resources, to venture where no other local entrepreneur had, into the downstream energy sector.

It was that move that put him on the Caribbean business radar. His daring was matched by good luck: Shortly after his first methanol plant became operational, the commodity price almost doubled. Fortuitous circumstances propelled him to acquire the lone state-owned methanol plant, and from there on his was the classical case of success breeding success. I shall not list his other bold moves, except to mention a few-the acquisition of Angostura and later a global alcohol empire; he expanded in insurance, branched off into finance, made substantial investments in upscale housing, and was soon jetting around the world looking for new opportunities.

Two Fridays ago his global empire imploded, a mere four city-blocks away from where it all started. The nation sat in shock as the affable businessman, defeat etched on his face, surrendered much of his $100 billion empire to the Government. He said little and sat wearing a stoical expression as Central Bank Governor Ewart Williams spelt out his conglomerate’s cardinal corporate sins. He hung his head as Finance Minister Karen Tesheira revealed some of the terms his core companies would be subjected to if Government was to bail him out of a $6 billion-plus hole.

While many people may have savoured the moment, watching a titan tumble, there was something very tragic hovering in that suite where the collapse of CL Financial became a public spectacle. This country is woefully short of heroes, of exemplars, of leaders, of men and women of honour. Except for some of our sportsmen, artistes and scholars who do us proud, there is precious little for our young people to look up to.

Whatever he may have done wrong, and I have no doubt he and his executive managers committed serious corporate sins, Duprey blazed a trail that generated pride among many. His empire’s demise showed that even the gods among us have feet of clay. And if it triggered a crisis of confidence, that applied not only to our financial system. This crisis extends to politics, business, government, education-hell, just about everywhere you look.

Duprey’s demise is not just about whether depositors and investors in his finance houses will get their money. Based on assurances given by Government, I don’t think those people need fear they would lose their savings or investments. The CL fiasco has put us in the unenviable position of not knowing whom we can trust. Nowadays children cannot even trust their parents or guardians. How often have cases of child abuse or incest shattered their faith in adults? Do students have confidence in their teachers to offer them the best education? How can they when so many teachers insist that their students attend (and pay for) “extra lessons”?

Time was when the trust that existed between shopkeeper “Chin” and his many village or street customers was based on their word, their honour. Few records were kept, but both knew what was owed and had confidence that it would be paid-barring some misfortune. That trust has disappeared. People live on the same street, sometimes in the same apartment building, but they don’t know each other. How can trust exist in such environment?

As for the politicians, and I mean all politicians, people have lost confidence in them, the whole lot. Prime Minister Manning may assume that because he won the last general elections handsomely, he commands the confidence of those who voted PNM. He’d do well to disabuse his mind of that notion. Too many people I meet, ordinary supporters of the ruling party, are sorely disappointed in his betrayal of their trust. They voted for a better life, not for death occasioned by a sadly defective health system. They voted for better roads, adequate water, for protection from criminals and security in their latter years.

Instead, they see wanton wastage of public funds on prestige projects from which they reap no benefits. Lest Basdeo Panday feels he can fill the breach, that he enjoys the confidence of the masses, he deludes himself. Like the PNMites who whisper their concerns to me (why me? I often wonder), so are UNC supporters asking: when will he go? Except for the diehards who do not know better and others who would do anything just to hold some petty office, the majority want him to leave in peace, well before his mortal remains are consigned to the Shore of Peace.

Duprey must have disappointed many proud Trinis. But his case is symptomatic of a wider malaise in a country that’s simmering like a volcano about to erupt. I don’t want to be around when the lava consumes those who have failed the people. Black Stalin may be here to “bun dem”.

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21 thoughts on “Beyond Duprey”

    Duprey’s perfect storm

    CLICO’s ‘huge’ problem
    “IT IS HUGE.” Roberto Sifron, a top Wall Street economic analyst at Standard & Poor’s in New York, was describing the financial problems of CLICO, perhaps the Caribbean’s leading conglomerate, in the wake of the move by the government in Port of Spain to come to its rescue.

    Clico: A history of growth
    In an economically turbulent atmosphere, characterised by the global financial crisis and government bail outs, it was just a matter of time before investment companies in TT would feel the effect.

    Following is a timeline of the development of the financial crisis facing CL Financial:

    House prices for HCL’s Crossings slashed

    Expect more price cuts

    ‘Republic standing strong’

    The politics in all of it

  2. Watching “the Titian tumble” is just the continuation of the Domino effect,in the worldwide economcy.Companies have hit the road,and unfortunately,the Government never took the hint, when the U.S.” Titians” began the Domino effect.Titians that will make Duprey Empire look like “smallfry” failed.
    At the same time the T&T government was telling the population,that that there were no need to panic,as the recession would not affect us.While the price of oil was on the decline no attempt was made to alert the citizens of the serious impact that it could have on the country,rather the opposite was done even while the Central Bank Governor thought otherwise.To this end,the Government actually fooled the population i.e.those who wanted to be fooled.
    I will like to believe that there are more in the “Moter than the Pistle”and no coincidence, that the Duprey news -breaking this week was done to overshadow the Udicott affair? Lots of things seems to fit just perfectly,including Rowley having a change of “HART” and supporting the Rescue packagewithout making his demands, and appointments made without the proper proceedures.Certainly,there are a lot mre to came ..Hopefully one day,,a”Half White P.M.

  3. No Roger again you are wrong about a “Half White P.M,” in sweet T& T . It won’t happen in our lifetime unlike the late Jamaica Michael Manley , and Barbados Tom Adams, our mulattos tend to shy away from hard core politics , opting instead for the more relaxing business world where they are free to party like rock stars, drink funny tasting teas at the Queens birthday bash , sail their expensive yachts along the shores of Chagaramas , and eventually blossom into power brokers obscured from the inquisitive public eyes.
    You therefore stand a quicker stand a chance of driving your 2009 fully loaded Lexus , Toyota ,or BMW , from upscale Maraval or St Anns ,all the way to the moon before you see the day of what you like to call half white PM. Now if you ask me a more realistic development might just be a Dougla PM , or better yet , a half black PM . Now Roger I am all confuse , is half white and half black the same . “O what a tangle web we weave ………..! “
    I sense that you are not that optimistic , or simply latently abhorred at the historical development in those United States eh ?
    I have already informed the Mason Hall Kid Rowley aka our ‘political Rottweiler,’ to be wary of some folks in or out of this this country that come bearing complimentary gifts. As much as he might want to change residence from Diego Martin to the 25 room PM’s mansion ,desperation should not dictate his actions. Sometimes one needs the foresight or sound council to know that when one hear run , it should be better interpreted as lie down , and vice -versa. I told him also he should continue his ‘Mauve -Lang’ Hip Hop style beef as played out in the media with our PM -Uncle Patrick Manning , as such might better dividends.

  4. Why is race always a factor on these boards? While we are on the subject, what about a half Asian PM? My only requirement is that the PM be Trini 2 de bone!

  5. Neal, but you already have a fully black PM, would it better to have a half black one, what has he done for you? The people in TNT (BLACK, WHITE, INDIAN, ASIAN) are all catching their buns to make a living and make ends.

    So why cant there be a half white PM, or will that be a sin, dare I ask, even a half indian one 🙂

    Maybe your current PM, can take you for a flight on a private jet and show you how people should really live?

    Politics has no color or race, the only thing that matter is power and wealth…

  6. My friend,Trinidad is made up of many diverse racial blends,and that makes it” Sweet T&T”.The very fact that you added your say,seems to suggest that Race is not a factor in the contex above.However,are there any differences to the following?
    Pres. Obama(Afro American)who is half black/half white,but is noted as the first Black American President.We must not loose sight of Reality,but keep focus on the real issues.
    Lastly,what is your definition as being “Trini 2 de Bone”.I do hope that it is not explain the reason why the Country is in such a Big Mess

  7. There is nothing in Raffique’s piece that suggest that Mr. Duprey was deficient in character. Who could have forseen the “death” of methanol as a fuel? No one. If we could see into the future, we would avoid pitfalls. Mr. Duprey could not have foreseen that US businesses, lending money to sub-prime borrowers(borrowers who could not afford their mortgages, and who were given erroneous information to get them to “sign”,) would bring down the house of cards.on which the world economy is built.
    The domino effect began with people who could not pay their mortgages, which led to bank failures, which dried up credit to businesses, which caused people to not buy more stuff, which caused the manufacturers of stuff to go into bankruptcy, which caused the car industry (even Toyota)to be in financial trouble. The whole world is affected by this situation.

    Mr. Dupree may have over-extended his empire a bit, but risk taking is the hallmark of success.

    The commentators so far, have gotten into the usual PNM vs UNC nonsense as if a TnT dollar bill is marked by the ethnicity of who is spending it.Guys, get a life please. Try, when the next erudite piece is written to see if you could say something that did not include Manning and Panday, or race, or refer to Obama as if he is involved in this mess. Allyu tink you could do dat?

  8. It should be mandatory in Trinbago that all students read your column. It is sad to see how the politicians stand idle while lavantille fizzles. If the hill is no longer safe for D’radoes supporters then we might as well pack it in.

  9. Hopefully someone can explain to Our 15th century thinkers that in the words of Cornel West, “Race Matters,”especially in sweet T&T or our South American neighbor Guyana,where it translates to votes and therefore political power.We would never now know if the Obama’s political fortunes would be the same if he had dared to run as anything but a black president,eh?

  10. Neal, you are forcing me to repeat myself: Obama ran as the most erudite candidate for the Democratic nomination, he ran as a former prsident of The Harvard Law Review, a candidate who passed up the fat salaries of Wall street for the job of Community organizer, a candidate who could put two intelligent sentences together, and had no dirty baggage- not sexual licentiuos spouse, no outside children, no dumping of one wife for a younger prettier one. Mr. Clean is a wind of change blowing through washington and rattling old bones. You who keep harping on the race thing show how limited your vision really is.
    When a certain campaign tried to send out pictues of him that were darker complected that his real skin colour, that person went on to defeat. America was at the point where it needed inspiration, a need to believe in itself again, and so did Europe. this is why he was greeted with the Rock Star status wherever he went. He is uniquely suited to bring people of the world to the table to talk. His multi-ethnic family was preparation for that, so too was his growing up in Indonesia and Hawaii, where race is not the poison it is in TnT and The USA. If he had grown up in TnT he could have ended up drowned in Petrotrin’s pool, or on a Maracas lime, as so many young Dougla boys did four or so years ago. If he had grown up in the USA he would have been a failed basketball player, because although he can play, he is not tall enough. God seems to have designed him for the purpose he is now fulfilling. so, get back to the economy of the world, and of Tnt. I am tired of you guys, but sometimes feel the need to do a little distance educating. He did not run as a Black candidate, but as the Democratic choice for President, a man who electrified voters in every state. You could still download the map of the election from the New York Times and see how the people voted for change.

  11. Neal- Obama didn’t run as a Black President. He tried not to discuss race because he was running for the Presidency to represent all of the people in the country.
    My Definition of Trini2 de Bone is a person who would represent the wishes, hopes, needs, and wants of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
    Race matters if you let it.
    Linda was right in her last paragraph of her previous comment. It’s not the race of a person that is important but rather what their intentions are. For example, Condoleeza Rice.

  12. Curtis,your definition seems to suggest that the Past and Present Governments, have failed the population,and as such are not” Trini 2 de Bone “My friend,I am sure that you will agree, all citizens,must also help to make that happen,as no Government can do it without the genuine participation,of us all.Even if we us the “Vote them out” method of participation every five years.Are we all ready for being the true “Trini 2 de Bone”and demand better representation?
    No,I think the “Institutional Power”factor is still embeded in our minds and why not when” Money flowing like water”

  13. That is the hallmark of a good politician , to make the gullible and often desperate masses believe whatsoever you want them to. Thanks for the long distant education Ms. L.
    To think that I was of the view that the principal reason he won was due to the fact that his two major opponents of both parties Hilary and John ran two of the lousiest campaigns even in the wake of America’s first MBA /War President disastrous stewardship during the past eight years.

  14. Mr. Smith you are on point. Society is a population of humans characterized by patterns of relationships of individuals that share a distinctive culture. One can be a bum and still be apart of society not seperate from the corporate or political elite. The people have to do as much for themselves as possible and ask for the government to support their shortcommings. I personally do not believe that any society should be a welfare state. Countries that have made the biggest strides in development were composed of members of society that put the differences aside and worked together for the sole purpose of improving their society. That is from the school child to the president or Priminister etc…If some in TNT would not like to work together to improve society, then they should not be apart of society because we are all connected by our society. That is just my opinion. Either your against us or your for us and that “us” has to be determined by the society as to how they would like to proceed in the direction that most decided to go with fairness to all.

    If the “Institutional Power Factor” is the norm, then it is the role of government to educate all or give all the opportunity to understand why that is not right for TNT at the time. Afterwards, it is time to move forward in the new direction as a society. If one cannot adapt, then they are free to protest and better yet, free to leave. This is my idea of what things should be like. Society is more important then the individual and ther is not a world power who does not believe so.

    Obama won because Hillary Clinton was not in touch with society. She took for granted the youth vote and the minority vote and was perhaps a bit elitist. It was as if she expected all Dems to vote for her by default. Eventualy it proved to be for her disastrous. McCaine on the otherhand pandered to a shirnking population in America and they isolated him to the point where no intelligent minority could feel secure in voting for him. Not even Condoleeza Rice has said that she voted for him. She hasn’t said at all, but you get my point.
    In America the unidentifiable group wins. If you identify with one thing too much then you risk losing the masses. You can’t please everyone so how about pleasing noone and getting what you want. I sw Obama on Telemundo talking about things delivering a meessage about the economy to a Spanish speaking audience. If you susbtituted hispanic with Black or lower class/ manufacturing class it was the same message given to others. Politics as usual.

  15. Except, he, Obama, got Congress to pass the economic stimulation package, and already it is a credit against the US federal income tax of those who file. Now, that is Man; and Mr. Duprey, the original focus of this blog, will recoup, and move forward, more slowly, I am sure, but progress will be made. The world of the last ten years will never be the same. We will all have to live more strigently, but Mr. Duprey will be remembered for blazing a trail across the sky, and no other could touch him. I wish him the best. Unlike Madoff and the US crooks at banks, he did not seem to do anything criminal.

  16. At the rate his nominies are dropping out like flies in a local Chinese confectionary store on Charlotte Street ,he might have to import a few agents of changes to serve in his Cabinet to help push whatever post Clinton / Bushes agenda he can conjure up as he attempt to stear the country out of it’s social , economic and political quagmire for the next four to eight years, should he be allowed by imapatient closet racist voters.

  17. If a nominee has to drop out because his(The Pres.) standards are too strict, is that his fault or a defect in the nominee?If I was nominated for a position, in this internet era, I would come very clean. To do so would be to respect and honor the nominator and the position. FAilure to do so is a peronal disgrace.
    How many Clinton nominees were rejected? How many of Bush’s?We focus to omuch on the negative, methinks. No one can be completely vetted by outsiders, one has to tell the tuth too.

  18. Hawaii is the U.S. and he (Obama) played high school basketball there. He is a failed basketball player. He is something else and as we all know that is President.
    His Economic stimulus package is a joke. Everyone knows that construction projects won’t put Americans back to work because only illegal aliens work in that industry besides the few contract owners. If there are an estimated 20 million illegals of which an estimated 15 million employed at suppressed wages, wouldn’t it make sense to deport them so that in these tough times the estimated 6 million plus U.S. citizens can find work.
    Obama should have been on this board so that he could learn that he can’t please everyone.

  19. I Feel sorry for the man on the street, Who may have lost money. Even if most investors did not lose money,the question remains what will be the consequences in the future for the rest of us? Can this hypocritical spendthrift government still basking in the after glow of astronomically high oil prices, truly be trusted to deal with the bind in which we find ourselves? As for Du Prey, he is merely a corporate parasite who reaped what he sowed. It is a pity he has to take all of us down with him.

  20. As I read the comments of past, the tears follow from my eyes.
    The envy and self riches prevails again as it has proven in all of history. One should pause and look beyond the present; it’s sad that a man is judged by his wealth. Dirty politics have been around séance man first learned to lie.
    I believe Mr. Duprey is an honorable person. In today’s business climate, I would still trust and follow his advice over any one else I know.
    Passim, has finally consumed this world. History shows us that one short fall did not change the person to less but, wiser and stronger than before. We are all human and not one of us can convince me they are a saint.
    We are all in the same world and have to deal with wrongs of others. Who among us is going to pick up our bothers and select a direction for the best for all?

  21. I find Linda Edwards’ defence and admiration of Duprey extremely interesting. Duprey “gambled” in international real estate with pension funds which really did not belong to him instead of acting responsibily to secure the pension investments in less risky ventures. Overcome with greed he ventured out and paid the price.
    I belong to a group pension fund and received a 3.5% increase at the height of the financial crisis because wise pension fund managers did not take unnecessary risks.
    I agree that there is a place for high risk investments, but the main reason for the bailout by the T&T government was to secure the pensions of thousands of T&T nationals.The HCU head made the same foolish mistakes, but unlike Duprey he was labelled as being dishonest and allowed to sink.

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