(Trinidad Guardian) Lured by high interest rates, shareholders who invested in the Hindu Credit Union (HCU) went from prosperity to poverty, after HCU’s funds had dried up in June 2008. After she’d invested her life’s savings into the HCU, all Camini Cole could get back was TT$500, she testified at Monday’s sitting of the Commission of Enquiry COE into the collapse of the CL Financial and HCU empires. The “beautiful life” Cole had planned to live when she retired had evaporated along with her independence. Shaun Khan said his grandfather died from a stroke three days after he learnt that his money was in trouble in the Harry Harnarine-run credit union. Khan said he’d never been able to get the money his grandfather had invested in the credit union to pay for surgery.
But blame should not rest solely on the shoulders of Harnarine, conceded Jennifer Gobin, a nurse manager who represents shareholders and depositors of the HCU. “I sit here today and I can’t say it was just him alone who caused the demise of the HCU,” she told the COE on Monday. Gobin said the lack of oversight by the Commissioner of Co-operatives into the growth and expansion of the HCU was one factor to consider as well as a management failure in the organization. “And although I may cry, it’s crying out of anger because the people who have the power vested in them to actually make the situation better are just not doing anything about it. Whoever has caused this situation to happen—while I am not saying Mr Harnarine solely caused the demise of the HCU—I am saying I am certain he enjoys his quality of life while myself and my family continue to suffer. There’s some unfairness about that,” Gobin told the COE. “Certainly sounds like it,” responded Peter Carter, counsel to the Commission.
Gobin, who spoke of counselling other cash-strapped shareholders of the HCU, said the COE was the first forum that allowed them to outline their woes. She explained that the shareholders could not drum up the money to pay for a lawyer and had written to ten attorneys seeking representation but were rejected. She said a letter was also sent to the Ministry of Finance with a request for financial assistance to pay for legal representation but the advice was to seek help from the Legal Aid Authority. Up to Monday, when several witnesses gave statements about the HCU at the COE, they were still in the dark as to the exact cause of the company’s crash. Gobin who acknowledged that being a member of a “Hindu” organisation was part of the pull for her investment, told the COE: “It always pained me to hear the Hindu Credit Union in a negative light. It always did. Even now I would wish the HCU well. I just don’t want my funds there.”