Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Action soonest on HCU probe findings

 Trinidad and Tobago cannot wait for something to come of the Hindu Credit Union (HCU) debacle whose unfolding focused extensive attention and heightened national scandal. It is to the credit of the Sir Anthony Colman Commission of Enquiry that separate attention has been given to the HCU. In consequence, findings and recommendations relevant to the fallen credit union were delivered last week, as and when they became ready.

His enquiry encompassed the multi-billion downfall of the CLICO empire. Had Sir Anthony waited to present both HCU and CLICO findings in a single package, the undesirable result might have been the overshadowing of specific outrages uncovered in the examination of the HCU’s decline and fall.

In that for now limited way, the Colman enquiry has delivered value for the considerable sums expended in its process. The 24-month exercise entailed 85 sitting days, involving participation of 23 parties, 77 lawyers, 57 witnesses, 50 subpoenas and perusal of five million pages. Earlier reporting suggested that $36.2 million had been spent on the HCU/CLICO explorations, a charge for the Office of the Prime Minister, who got to deliver the headline-grabbing results. 

Sir Anthony, reporting the story so far to President Anthony Carmona and indirectly to the Government, noted that he needed until the end of 2014 to deliver, as the single writer, the expected CLICO blockbuster. Cost considerations notwithstanding, it might have been, in hindsight, better to hold an enquiry with more than just a single commissioner.

Achievements in respect of the HCU are nevertheless impressive. It will take time and effort to digest the enormity of what Sir Anthony has held up as worthy of criminal investigation or civil litigation. Regarding the HCU president, the report bluntly proposed: “The DPP should take immediate steps to test the sustainabity of criminal proceedings against him.”

The telling words “knowingly or recklessly” recur in a litany of breathtakingly damaging findings about how the HCU was run into the ground. Allegations point to an organization being manipulated rather than managed, in cynical disregard of statutory regulations and due diligence, to serve the self-interest of those in occupation of its engine room. 

Eighteen charges of fraud and four of larceny were recommended by a commission that regretted lack of opportunity for other charges based on offences now “time-barred”. Informed by the Colman findings, Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar apologised to those victimized by the shortcomings of the “regulatory mechanisms”, rampantly exploited by those in a position to take such advantage.

 The T&T public and HCU depositors, however, need and deserve more than apologies. Expectations are inevitably raised by reports of improved legal staffing, such as would enable the DPP to move smartly in the direction of prompt and effective prosecution of identified violations.

 T&T has waited long enough.