“This country should rest comfortably in the knowledge that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago…will do nothing to impede the flow of justice in this or any matter. And […] will do everything within its duty and authority to facilitate the holding to account any and all persons who may have been found to have questions to answer. Like every other citizen, it is our expectation that as rights to fair treatment are protected, justice must always take its course swiftly.”
Extract from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s statement to Parliament on the Colman Report on Friday 1 July 2016.
This season is always one of reflection and re-dedication for me, with the two-month transition from Emancipation Day on 1 August to Independence on the 31 August, then onto Republic Day on 24 September. I always spend this spell in some sober reflection, in between the life.
It seems to me that the very sequence of events and the consequent holidays in the season imbue it with an inner meaning in terms of a national transition to some kind of depth and purpose. Emancipation to Independence to Republican status. Maybe that is just sentimental of me, but let us see.
If we are not alert, there is a real danger that the details of this entire CL Financial matter—both the failure of the group and the huge bailout—will be made to disappear in an epic legal mangle. There has never been a conviction for large-scale white-collar crime in our country.
The CL Financial collapse is such a serious episode that there is inescapable evidence which can ensure consequences. At the same time, the main players are so wealthy and influential that they can devise an effective way to avoid justice, unless we exercise vigilance in the public interest.
The Colman Report into the failure of the CL Financial group was submitted to the President on 22 June 2016, completing the Commission of Enquiry which started in early 2011. It took over five years and reportedly in excess of TT$80M to get to this stage.
The Report was submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions whose advice is that its publication be delayed, pending completion of investigations and probable prosecutions. Presumably, the fear is that, if the Colman Report is published now, those accused persons would be entitled to claim negative pre-trial publicity in their defense, especially as those would be jury trials.
On 12 July, the opposition UNC requested a copy of the Colman Report under the Freedom of Information Act, but there has been no announcement as to an official reply. If that matter gets to court it will be very interesting to see what are the exemptions claimed to refuse publication of the results of this public enquiry.
Deep, tragic irony is on display. The previous government, in which the UNC was the dominant element in the People’s Partnership, strongly opposed my own Freedom of Information request for the details of the CL Financial bailout.
The High Court ruled in my favour on 22 July 2015 and this is now before the Appeal Court, with the newly-elected PNM administration pursuing the appeal filed under the previous administration.
In relation to the Colman Report, the PNM administration is now taking a different position from that of the previous PP administration, which published the Colman Report into the failure of the Hindu Credit Union on 16 July 2014, the very day it was received.
So the UNC, which opposed my Freedom of Information request is now invoking the same Act to request publication of the Colman Report in the cause of transparency and accountability.
Colman’s HCU Report makes recommendations for the DPP to proceed with testing whether criminal charges should be laid against Harry Harnarine and his cohort of HCU Chiefs. I do not recall the DPP making any complaint on the immediate publication of Colman’s HCU Report, so what is the position?
Did the publication of that Report impair prosecutions which may have been made? If not, when can we expect serious criminal charges to be laid against Harnarine and his cohort?
As to the PM’s statement on the importance of swift justice, I do not believe that the existing Fraud Squad, Court System or DPP’s office can handle a case of this size and complexity with any due speed or effectiveness. The only way for the prospect of swift justice to be realized is for arrangements to be made for a special team of prosecutors operating within a dedicated court, funded by a ring-fenced budget.
Similar arrangements were made when the State was anxious to secure convictions against the Dole Chadee gang against a background of the strict timelines which operate in relation to the Death Penalty. If the State can create these effective arrangements to ensure ‘swift justice’ against violent criminals, we must now lobby for these to be used in the CL Financial case.
We cannot continue with business as usual. If the State is serious about achieving swift justice, it must put effective, swift arrangements in place to prosecute the CL Financial ‘kleptocrats’.