(Trinidad Guardian) When former Hindu Credit Union (HCU) president Harry Harnarine’s attempts to win over former Commissioner of Co-operatives Beemal Ramroop with gifts like a gold chain failed, Harnarine then resorted to threats. Charles Mitchell, another former Commissioner of Co-operatives, said this while testifying for another day yesterday at the Clico/HCU Commission of Enquiry at Winsure Building, Richmond Street, Port-of-Spain.
Mitchell said one Christmas season Harnarine sent to Ramroop a hamper containing much more than sweets and goodies. “HCU sent a hamper to Mr Ramroop, a lovely basket decorated with chocolates and all different goodies. When Mr Ramroop opened it, he decided to share goodies with members of staff and as he went down further into the basket, he found a gold chain, a very thick gold chain. He said he would send it right back. He took it back to Mr Harnarine and from there the threats started to come to him,” Mitchell told Queen’s counsel Edwin Glasgow while under cross-examination.
Glasgow leads the enquiry into the investigations of HCU’s collapse. The English attorney asked Mitchell if he thought anything should have been done about the gold chain. “Mr Ramroop communicated what was found in the hamper to the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Labour and I cannot say what transpired from there,” Mitchell replied.
Farid Scoon, attorney for Harnarine, questioned Mitchell on Ramroop being threatened and applying for a firearm. While cross-examining Mitchell, Scoon said: “You are suggesting that an inspection team visited HCU headquarters while you were deputy commissioner and Ramroop was then Commissioner of Co-operative Development and he had appointed a team to investigate HCU and he received an unsigned letter. You said after Mr Ramroop made a complaint to the police and, as a result, the police gave him a firearm.
“You are suggesting that the application was because he received this and police gave him a gun. So if Mr Harnarine and anybody else disturbed him in the future, he could shoot them and that is how you conducted your affairs as commissioner.” Mitchell replied by saying Ramroop already had a shotgun and was within his right of self-defence. “If they attack him, he has to defend his life,” Mitchell said.
HCU ventures into non-traditional investments
Also testifying yesterday was Terrance Jules, Co-operative Officer, Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprise, who said HCU was not the only credit union that went beyond the traditional role of credit unions. He said HCU went further than other credit unions had.
Scoon asked him about other credit unions which suffered financial difficulties and experimented with non-traditional financial products. “There would have been some societies that went into products and services that went beyond the traditional savings and loans. There would have been other societies that offered other services to their membership. In relation to the operation of the HCU, there has not been a society that went into the extent that HCU went to,” he said.
When cross-examined by Scoon on First National Credit Union also having problems having ventured into non-traditional products, Jules replied that he could not verify that. Jules admitted that under his portfolio at the Ministry of Labour, neither First National nor HCU was ever assigned to him.
He also spoke of Christian Credit Union, now in liquidation. Jules spoke about the need to update the Co-operative Societies Act of 1971 and other legislation. Scoon asked him if he thought the 40-year-old Act was “out of sync” with modern times.
“With the modernisation of co-operative societies, yes, the Act needs to be updated. There are two pieces of legislation currently undergoing finalisation,” Jules said. “There is the Credit Union Bill that will allow supervision in terms of financial matters and would be handled by the Central Bank. This will then become the Credit Union Act. The Co-operative Societies Act will also be amended and is ongoing.”