Monday, January 22, 2018

A lot to hope for

Keith Subero logo37

Mark Fraser

I had promised myself that I would write about my impressions of the mas, the pan and where the music is heading.

But in my band, Just We and Friends, social activist Anton La Fond was clear-headed enough on Carnival Tuesday to raise his nagging concerns about this country’s unpreparedness should there be a serious disaster on Carnival days.

Anton followed up with a passionate call early on Ash Wednesday: “Are we prepared? Do we have adequate hospital services? Do we have the infrastructure in place for a major disaster at Carnival or any other event? God forbid! What if something major happens involving hundreds, thousands, at any large event…say, in large bands, at Soca Monarch, kaiso at Skinner Park?

“Think of the mass confusion of hundreds running for safety. The stampede! When people gather on Carnival days, at the stadium, at large events, they should be sensitised, prepared, on how to react, if such an eventuality occurs. Our major events, as they are organised, are just disasters waiting to happen. We have to be ready!”

If Anton’s conscientious appeal displaced my intentions, the premature conclusions last week of Nyree Alfonso, chairman of First Citizens, in defence of the bank’s Chief Risk Officer, Phillip Rahaman, in the ongoing investigation into the bank’s recent initial public offering (IPO), nearly bulldozed me.

Ignoring Finance Minister Larry Howai’s recent commissioning of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to conduct a detailed audit of the allocation of shares in the bank’s IPO, Ms Alfonso challenged anyone to identify the regulations that were breached.

Should anyone identify them, she promised to personally send them on to PwC for investigation.

“But you cannot use morals and ethics, because everyone’s are different,” Ms Alfonso said.

Her defence of Mr Rahaman fortunately reveals more about First Citizens’ policies than she intended. Many persons may interpret it as an implicit policy that First Citizens should operate unchecked, without corporate conscience, responsibility, or a corporate code of ethics. So if there are no prohibitions in law, First Citizens has no injunction to be a moral corporate entity.

After reading the chairman’s comments online my friend Keith Jeffers, a management consultant in Toronto, called in “horror” to remind me that morality is the basis of the law, and it always goes far beyond what the law requires.

Ms Alfonso did not await the PwC and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reports. She did not even assure that there was no insider trading in the transaction. It is significant that the First Citizens employee did not use the bank’s stockbroking facility but rather used a competing firm which received a commission on his sale of 634,588 shares.

Without any final report, she promptly assured T&T that the bank executive was cleared, ignoring the other questions surrounding the second largest shareholding among the bank’s officials—215,000 shares, owned by its CEO, Larry Nath.

It is the same premature conclusions that the Health Minister, Dr Fuad Khan and UWI made, in separate official statements last week on the death of baby Simeon at the Mt Hope Hospital.

To her credit, this prompted Dr Shehenaz Mohammed, chairman of the North Central Regional Health Authority, to warn that an investigation, in a fair and transparent manner, was yet to be conducted.

“You have to go back to medical jurisprudence and medical ethics. It is against natural justice and good industrial relations to draw conclusions,” she said.

Khan was immediately off the mark; to him the surgery was routine. “It was a normal C-section surgery. There was nothing untoward about it. The fact is that consultants were available, and just a phone call away. There was no need for them to be around the hospital at that time,” he said. But was one consultant in Tobago? Dr Khan replied: “So what? Tobago is part of Trinidad.”

The baby’s mother, Quelly Ann Cottle, summarised it painfully: “Is UWI forgetting that my baby dead?” To her, the institution’s indifference was “the deepest cut of all”.

So we can hope for an official response to Anton La Fond’s warning about possible large-scale disasters; then a transparent Health Ministry inquiry; and something similar from the Finance Ministry and the SEC —both of which are yet to prove that they are not neutered watchdogs.

In the meantime, the First Citizens chairman should be reminded that US corporate giants Arthur Andersen and Enron crashed—because their executives ignored ethical standards.

* Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a career in communication and management.