Friday, February 23, 2018

‘Probe manager’s $14m in First Citizens shares’

Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley is calling for a forensic investigation into the sale of 695,000 shares (valued at $14 million) to a middle manager at First Citizens. 

Speaking at a news conference yesterday, Rowley said the Opposition also wanted to know whether the shares were still with the manager. “Our information is that the shares have been sold. And we want to know under what circumstances the shares were sold, so that the original owners (the people of Trinidad and Tobago) would know what has happened to the wealth that was transferred from the State to persons who are the beneficiaries of this block of shares,” Rowley said. He said it was imperative that the transfer of shares be free of any manipulation. 

Rowley said the Opposition supported the Minister of Finance’s (Larry Howai) position that the matter be put for forensic investigation. “That investigation must determine all circumstances and identify all decision making within the bank which allowed this development. And the report must be made available to the public immediately upon its submission to the Minister of Finance.” 

He said the bank had stated that all employees who wanted shares got them. But, Rowley said: “We are being told by some employees  that  they did not get all the shares they wanted and were limited by some formula.” 

He said the average citizen who made a request for shares was limited to 10,000 to 12,000 shares at most. 

He asked under what circumstances did this member of staff end up with a humongous number of shares? And how much of these shares in this block were acquired from the subsidised nature? he asked.

“This has serious consequences for the manner in which we treat with the State sector and for any further distribution of State wealth,” Rowley said, adding that he would hate to think the same thing could happen with the imminent divestment of shares at Phoenix Gas Processors. “I would hate to think that some other lucky individual would end up in this fortunate position while the rest of us have to admire their success,” he said.

Rowley said it was equally worrisome that the First Citizens was saying there are “legalities” that would have prevented it from limiting the amount of shares an employee could have got and therefore the bank was powerless to prevent any wealthy person from acquiring any block of shares as has been done.

Rowley said when the Government had decided to put the FCB shares out for public purchase, the PNM had called for an increase in the number of shares available for the average citizen and called for the divestment to take place in a manner that encouraged the widest possible participation.