Delayed justice is a national joke
By Raffique Shah
June 12, 2011
Civil lawsuits filed by the Central Bank last week against two of the most senior CL Financial directors, elicited scepticism across the country. Lawrence Duprey and Andre Monteil may now face the courts and answer wide-ranging allegations, from fiduciary irresponsibility to misappropriation of funds. The matters are now sub judice, so we cannot discuss them here, or anywhere else in the public domain.
I should declare that I was an ardent supporter of Duprey when he took CL into the energy sector. For far too long before he did, the local private sector was timid when it came to investing in the country's downstream energy industries. They were experts at buying-and-re-selling consumer goods and services. But real entrepreneurship was beyond them. Duprey's plunge into methanol, his subsequent expansion of MHTL into the biggest industrial conglomerate, was a most welcome initiative.
Duprey also expanded CL's investments in the global alcohol market, making some strategic investments abroad (and other questionable ones!). As a consequence, Angostura, for all its problems, remains the region's premier brand. He also dabbled in the region's financial institutions—Greek for simpletons like me.
Somewhere along the line he went off-track, maybe even lost his way. I don't know the details, so I cannot comment. I can say only that if he did wrong, if those around him misled Clico policyholders and depositors to the tune of billions of dollars, then they must be made to pay for their sins.
Which brings me to a real challenge here: how long will it take for justice to be served in this matter? The dictum "justice delayed is justice denied" does not apply in Trinidad and Tobago. I recall when Ivor Archie became Chief Justice, he vowed to speed up the judicial process. It was a daunting challenge. There were tens of thousands of matters before the magistrates' courts, thousands before the high courts, and hundreds listed in the Court of Appeals.
To date, there has been little progress in the nation's judicial system. Criminal matters, which are usually given priority because of their nature, take forever to be determined. In recent times, judges have set free persons found guilty of offences as serious as manslaughter because of the number of years they spent behind bars as they awaited their day in court.
When the State wants to speed up matters, it has proved that it can. If I hark back to the 1970 mutiny trials, it took all of 27 months between the arrests of 80-odd soldiers, and when our matters were finally determined at the Privy Council. There was one preliminary inquiry into charges of treason (that charge was eventually withdrawn by the State), three courts martial, one appellate hearing, and the Privy Council decision. When one is in jail, a day seems like a long time. So 27 months for us seemed to be a lifetime. But we knew that our imprisonment was not inordinately long given the number of persons charged and the number of charges we faced.
While we were still in prison, the notorious Abdul Malik and his associates were arrested for multiple murders. Within two years, Malik and his gang of cutthroats went through a preliminary inquiry, a trial before the legendary Justice Evan Rees, appeals—and they were hanged. Ditto for Dole Chadee and his gang in the mid-1990s. They went from being arrested for murdering the Baboolal family, to crude graves at Golden Grove, in short order.
In stark contrast, first arrests in the Piarco Airport scandals took place some ten years ago. Within a year, almost 20 persons were charged with related offences. Not one matter has been determined to date. True, the accused have employed every legal option available to them, sometimes repeatedly. But what accounts for these matters taking more than a decade to come to closure? It is unfair to the accused, to the judges who must hear and re-hear them ad infinitum, and to the public, who expect justice to be dispensed within a reasonable time.
Now that initial proceedings may soon begin in the country's biggest financial scandal in history, is it any wonder people remain very sceptical over the matter? People are laughing over the fact that it took the Central Bank 30 months to lay charges in the first instance. True, the Bank could do nothing until its forensic audit of CL's complex operations was completed. But 30 months?
Clearly, too, while Duprey and Monteil were among the most senior CL directors when the meltdown happened, they would hardly have been the only persons culpable—assuming they are found to be responsible for the fiasco. While policyholders and depositors are seeking to retrieve their money, taxpayers, too, have an interest in the outcome of this matter.
After all, some $7 billion in public funds were allocated to CL to save the conglomerate from collapse. No one knows how much of that has been used thus far. But public sector workers, who are being offered five per cent increase over three years, must wonder if the CL bailout did not lead to the paltry offer made to them by Government.
As for criminal charges arising out of the affair, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said that was in the hands of the DPP. Roger Gaspard said he was not pursuing the matter—investigations must be conducted by the police. It seems that we are heading for another decades-long, inconclusive court drama.
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