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Karen's dilemma

By Raffique Shah
March 15, 2009

When she entered the political arena and accepted the Cabinet position of Minister of Finance, Karen Nunez-Tesheira must have been familiar with the adage, "In politics, perception is reality." She would also have been aware that politics exposes office holders to intense scrutiny, and more than that, all politicians are presumed to be corrupt and liars unless or until they prove otherwise. In other words, politics is downright dirty business.

She chose to leave the safe haven of academia where she is said to have been doing well. Had she remained an obscure professional, it would not have mattered if she'd had $20 million in Clico or $100 million with CIB. But as Minister of Finance, she's in a different mud-fight, one in which there are no rules. Like Caesar's wife, she must be above suspicion. It matters not that many among her accusers are guilty of sins or crimes worse than what they allege she has committed.

In the wake of the CL Financial debacle, her integrity and character are being questioned, if not already destroyed. Of course she helped when, unwittingly or otherwise, she spun a web of contradictions that only fuelled the fire and brimstone directed at her.

First, she claimed to have forgotten about the shares bequeathed her by her late husband, Russel. Maybe, for someone who has multiple investments, 10,000-odd shares in a company like Clico could be easily forgotten. Basdeo Panday forgot a minor million-dollar joint-account he held with his wife in some bank in the UK. It's a problem the wealthy face. You and I, the average pauper with one account, we know exactly how many pennies are held in it. The bank takes four dollars for an ATM transaction, you pick that up.

Minister Tesheira fell flat on her face was when she withdrew some petty sums she had invested in CIB, that on the eve of Lawrence Duprey's appeal to Government for a "bailout" of CL Financial. She claimed to have known nothing of CL's precarious position when she made the withdrawal. Maybe she didn't. That would be strange, though, since, for some years now people-in-the-know have been whispering about Duprey's dilemma.

Ramesh Maharaj claims he reported Clico's delinquency in meeting its statutory requirements before the UNC Cabinet well before the year 2000. The ex-AG said his concerns were dismissed by his colleagues, who would have included at the time Kamla, Mark, Partap and Gopeesingh, to name a few.

Why did the UNC Government not act on the information and save Duprey and Clico from themselves? Of course, when you talk Clico, you are also talking billions in workers' pension funds. Surely that should have alarmed a Cabinet that came from the bowels of the labour movement. Clearly it did not. If Ramesh is telling the truth, then this sorry mess that sees billions-of-taxpayers'-dollars being ploughed into CL might have been averted. But they failed to act, leaving a small wound to fester until gangrene set in. So the putrid mess was left for Karen to clean up, and based on documented reports in the media, she made sure she secured her "kakada" before CL caved in.

If her flight from CIB is found to be based on "insider information", then the Minister may well come under investigation by the Integrity Commission and the Fraud Squad. To put it brutally, Karen can be hauled before the courts the same way Brian Kuei Tung, Finbar Gangar and Carlos John have been. She could be handcuffed, frog-marched through the city streets and held in the "pen" with dangerous criminals before being brought before a magistrate. I don't want to frighten the lady, but it is a grim prospect that she faces.

Whatever their political differences, she'd probably want to chat with Oma to prepare for such experience. Of course if she has connections, she could well get heavyweights like Duprey testify in court that she did nothing wrong. He has already said as much in a newspaper interview. But would he defend Karen in court the way he defended Panday and Oma? Then, the CL boss swore that Oma went to him seeking a petty $1 million to pay for her children's education in England, and he obliged. Nothing sinister in that.

Should Karen find herself in a fix, Duprey would rush to her rescue. Bear in mind the Minister's late husband, Russel Tesheira, a decent man by any standard, was a senior manager with Clico until his untimely passing. It was he who left her the shares she forgot she owned, and more than likely she would have chosen to invest in CIB because of that connection. So should the baying hounds nipping at Karen's heels get their wish-to see her arrested and hauled before the courts-she may have a "get out of jail" card in the person of Duprey.

What this situation exposes is that irregularities, if not outright corruption, are par for the course in politics, matters not which party is in power. Yesterday, Duprey defended Oma and ex-UNC-PM Panday. Tomorrow he would easily do the same for the PNM's Nunez-Tesheira. The poor? They are shafted from all directions.

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