Clico, Panday and the oligarchy

By Trevor Sudama
November 09, 2010 –

Basdeo PandayIt is said that those who do not learn from the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them. It is my view that it is a government’s duty to have a holistic view of the circumstances and situation of the various elements of the society and, in the light of that assessment, pursue the national interest which may be defined as the greatest good of the greatest number.

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.,130490.html


Part 2

By Trevor Sudama
November 16 2010 –

For the General Election of 1995, Clico and Lawrence Duprey had supported the PNM as indeed they did for the General Election of 1991, but, by 1997, Duprey as a dominant figure of the “parasitic oligarchy” was well on board the UNC Government’s bandwagon when the issue of Clico’s purchase of an eventual total of 55 percent shareholding in Republic Bank Limited came up for the approval of the government. Such a purchase would have enabled Clico (and indeed CL Financial) to have a controlling interest in Republic Bank Limited.

There were arguments for and against this transaction. A Committee of Ministers headed by the then Prime Minister was set up to hear the representations of both sides. I recall Claude Musaib-Ali and others appearing before this committee to make the case for the Clico bid. After the committee listened to presentations, I strongly opposed the proposition by Clico on two basic grounds, among others.

Firstly, if Clico was permitted to proceed with the acquisition it would further facilitate the concentration of economic power in the country in a single enterprise, and indeed, in a single individual and his cohorts, placing the management of billions of dollars worth of financial assets in their hands. The largest insurance company in the country would have then been controlling the largest bank.

Secondly, it was uncertain what kind of influence the directors of Clico and CL Financial would wield over the management of Republic Bank and how this would affect the loan portfolio of the bank. In my mind there was a particular concern that an additional source of substantial savings would have been at the disposal of the controllers of Clico and CL Financial and that depositors’ monies could have been applied towards significant risky investments at the whim and fancy of Duprey and his boys, in contravention of good banking practices.

The Committee of Ministers was never reconvened and we subsequently learnt that the UNC Government had approved the transaction and Clico had had its way. There was no doubt in my mind that the hand of Lawrence Duprey operated behind the scenes and Basdeo Panday had made the key input in the decision to grant approval. In hindsight it seemed that all these representations and discussions were merely a formality and compliance with the wishes of Duprey was a prior consideration in Panday’s mind.

In the years that followed, the entrepreneurial acumen of Lawrence Duprey was loudly praised and promoted and the close and cordial relationship between him and Panday was deepened so much so that Panday would leave urgent party and government business in Trinidad to fly off to Miami to attend the christening ceremony of Duprey’s son.

As the divestment of state enterprises proceeded under the aegis of the Divestment Secretariat with Jerry Hospedales, a key Duprey associate, as its head, Panday became more and more convinced that private sector take over of state enterprises would significantly assuage our economic problems and, in this mode of thinking, Duprey’s intervention was seen as crucial and compelling.

I was not opposed to divestment per se, but was apprehensive about the manner in which it was to be implemented. I had many concerns which included whether there was a transparent invitation and tendering process, a proper valuation of assets, a reasonable quantum of proceeds on sale accruing to the Government, the nature and extent of concessions to be granted by Government, and above all else, the immediate fate of workers employed in these state enterprises.

It was obvious that no private sector concern which contemplated outright purchase or a controlling interest in a state enterprise would want to continue with the existing modus operandi of these enterprises. They would focus on strategies to achieve profitability which would mean the reduction of costs. And the largest element of cost was labour. It was inevitable that one consequence would be either wholesale or significant retrenchment of employees in these enterprises. It was incumbent on Government to consider the socio-economic impact of such an outcome.

These were concerns I raised when the CL Financial group made its bid for purchase of controlling interests in a number of state enterprises. When the company’s offer on Trinidad Lake Asphalt had come up, the union raised strong objections, no doubt sensing serious loss of employment by its members. When CL Financial made its bid for Tanteak Limited, I insisted that the conglomerate should agree to a moratorium on retrenchment for two years during which time the workers likely to be affected would have some respite in order to seek alternative employment or retraining.,130904.html

8 thoughts on “Clico, Panday and the oligarchy”

  1. Is this our national ,political stalwart , in Uncle Trevor Sudama ,of ULF /UNC fame? We welcome your views on the political shenanigans of always suspect so called champion of working class folks – especially from within the enclave – Papa Panday. Some trouble makers might say ‘a day late , and a dollar short, ‘to this revelations ,or request for a purge ,due to cultivation of a conscience , but who cares , and what do dey really know? We will take this.
    Now let’s get down to the ‘real nitty gritty,’ and tell us what role a certain former top female national AG played , as well as a one time UWI lecturer ,com central Mayor, and now lofty ,Foreign Minister ,had to do in helping the Bengal Tiger solidify his grip on poor desperate people ,he claimed to serve , and in the process,also help tarnish our country’s image globally, due to his penchant for double dipping in our national coffers ,or getting into bed with landed gentries ,and as you both, now out of power , refer to dem ,obvious non patriotic , greedy,country leeching , overt /covert/miscreants as – de “parasitic oligarchy.”
    For the record , I don’t care what bad things any might say about Basdeo Panday , aka de Bengal Tiger’s two trusted henchmen Lieutenants, a la one time MP of Oroupuche North Trevor Sudama, and Couva South Kelvin Ramnath, I – can I say that? – still luv you guys.
    Now let’s take this country back , quickly before dem encroaching barbarians, finish destroy what we still refer to as a growing Democracy, yes?
    Down with the unc, down with the pp, down with the pnm, and time for a new Progressive movement, in support of a motivated, and united people, striving to aspire and achieve together, hmmmm?
    However, enough with this early morning ,Fenandes Va19 Rum ,Neal!

  2. Trevor Sudama’s simplistic analysis is the stuff that a Sociology 200 essay on “The Parasitic Oligarchy”, is made of.
    And at best he would receive a grade of C-.His central theme is sketchy. His supporting evidence is inadequate.His conclusions are questionable.Please rewrite and resubmit!

  3. Good try T-Man , but be careful about trying to demonize my new found buddy Trevor S. I am just glad that the brother has seen the light , and might be tempted to now become the Deputy PM of the next post PP government , as he is now prepared to come clean , and hand the head , heart, and questionable cohones ,of the UNC hiriarcy to the nation, in like manner to which Dr. Keith Rowley did for the PNM. Simplistic analysis is the stuff of Sociology 200 essay? Yeah right!
    Please leave my major alone , as what you guys are engaged in, not only defies logic, but would require a discipline all of it’s own. We the new Progressives welcome you aboard ,Uncle Sudama. Let T-Man and company, remain fixated on defending the honor of the pseudo Stalinist Basdeo, until he dies. May the blood , sweat , and tears of all the thousands of tribal supporters he help betrayed,ensure that he never get a good night sleep , until Mikela , build a her new 10 room mansion ,next to our new party headquarters in John John .

  4. Ohhhh , poor, poor Karen, and similar screamers!She just cannot phantom the thought of a fellow tribalist ,succumbing to an obvious,unknown , cultural taboo, by daring to break ranks , to do the unthinkable , and speak out against a fellow member, or party.
    Not that we can blame Uncle Trevor Sudama really, for trying to be a spoiler. After all , there must be some bruised egos involved here , and he is just clamoring for ‘a lil piece oh de action,’ for being a high end , ULF/UNC driving force for so long , and now with the Queen, in charge , having to observe every Tom, Dick,and Bridgelal sharing in the spoils of an organization that he helped create.
    Your move Uncle Trev, if the opportunist ‘Jack Sprat could eat no fat,’ can set up camp in Chaguarnas, and end up getting the most votes in the entire last election, then you too can ‘bust a move,’ on a similar Eastern neo tribal seat,like let’s say El Socorro, Tacarigua, or Tunapuna, on behalf of the lifetime kinky headed enemies , on the other side of midnight , and be a similar top dog . What say ye?

  5. When in Dec 31st 1994, “OLD BWIA” ended and the new airline “NEW BWIA” began, the CLICO – OLD BWIA 1971 Staff Pension Plan also ended. This 1971 Staff Pension Plan had generated approximately $376 millions (of profit) surplus. Under the Valley Agreement, OLD BWIA workers were to get a third of that surplus in 1995.

    Up to today, it seems that efforts are still being made to deprive OLD BWIA workers of monies from that one third portion of the surplus, namely those monies which were meant to buy (for the OLD BWIA workers) shares amounting to 15.5% of NEW BWIA, with an option to buy a further 10% of NEW BWIA, and to thus become BWIA majority shareholders.

    There are concerns about why CLICO, NEW BWIA, the plan actuary Buck Consultants and WISE (West Indies Stockbrokers Limited), and others … are keeping NEW BWIA Valley Agreement “Shares” information secret from the OLD BWIA workers who have a right to know where their monies (tens of millions of dollars) went more than 15 years ago. The Unions have asked by writing and not received a reply. A veil of secrecy gives the impression that there is something to hide.

    Last year, in the newspapers there was an offer of an ex-gratia payment 20 cents per share to all BWIA minority shareholders and former employees. Many names were included of persons who never bought BWIA shares. It appears that there is a deliberate to confuse {A} {BWIA shareholders and former employees who bought out of their own pocket “BWIA shares” sold on the local stock exchange, (April, 1999)}, with (B) [CLICO – OLD BWIA 1971 Staff Pension Plan Surplus members who were entitled to the March 29th 1995, “Valley Agreement NEW BWIA Shares” which never came to pass].

    Members of the 1971 Staff Pension Plan could not have bought “March 29th 1995, Valley Agreement NEW BWIA Shares” because the Shares part of the “March 29th 1995, Valley Agreement” was never honoured. For the entire time since March 29th 1995, OLD BWIA workers never received NEW BWIA shareholder benefits. “Valley Agreement NEW BWIA Shares” certificates were never issued to those OLD BWIA workers. OLD BWIA workers were never invited to a NEW BWIA shareholders meeting.

    Mr. Jerry Hospedales, Chairman, BWIA West Indies Airways Limited, C/o The Divestment Secretariat Ministry of Finance, Eric Williams Financial Complex, Independence Square might shed light on this.

    It is my feeling that OLD BWIA workers should therefore not be made to pay for shares that they never received.

    Based on the above, the monies of the OLD BWIA 1971 Staff Pension Plan members (valued at $1USD for each Valley Agreement NEW BWIA Share), which were withheld from those same members for the purpose of buying NEW BWIA shares, should be returned to those same members.



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