WHEN THE State approved a billion-dollar bailout of insurance giant Clico and the CL Financial group in 2009, few could have anticipated the twists and turns this chapter of the country’s financial history would take – and the fact that, decades later, it would still be unfolding.
That it is still unfolding was brought home powerfully on Sunday by Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne.
Mr Browne publicly upbraided the TT Government, complaining about the reported failure of the State to honour fully a commitment to pay a settlement of US$100 million in relation to Clico. He said while the TT Government had paid about US$40 million, US$60 million was outstanding.
“We have written to the Government of TT,” the Antiguan PM said in a radio interview. “They have not even treated us with the type of respect that is typical among countries and colleagues.”
In a sign that the matter has risen to a level beyond a mere contretemps, Mr Browne threatened to retaliate: “If they continue to treat us with contempt, then we will have no choice but to sue them.”
Such statements should be of concern to the Government, suggesting as they do that the financial crisis posed by Clico has now birthed a diplomatic one.
Antigua and Barbuda is not the only Caricom nation that is unhappy with TT on this matter. Policyholders in other Eastern Caribbean states, such as Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Vincent and the Grenadines, are dissatisfied too. A case is before the Caribbean Court of Justice.
None of this is good for this country’s standing in the region, particularly within the Caricom bloc.
At a time when regional initiatives are more vital than ever to our own domestic economic prospects amid a rapidly shifting global economic and political environment, we need to be deepening our ties with our Caribbean family, not unwittingly alienating them.
While there are undoubtedly nuances that may be involved, and while the Clico matter straddles several governments, if the present government does not expeditiously bring this matter to a close, it will only serve to needlessly prolong a matter that has dragged on for far too long.
Worse, whatever rights the State has in relation to the assets involved, litigation will be costly. It will divert resources that could be used to address other issues in the region. Any final award might also come with more than just legal fees, namely interest.
But the real price of this matter dragging on is symbolic, suggesting as it does how money woes break more than just companies, but families too.