Massy chief concerned at foreign exchange disclosures

(Trinidad Guardian) President and chief executive of Massy Group, Gervais Warner, has expressed deep concern about the recent disclosure by Central Bank Governor Jwala Rambarran of the country’s 18 biggest foreign exchange buyers, saying it may have set a dangerous precedent.

The head of one of the country’s biggest conglomerates made the comment as he said he viewed Rambarran’s act a breach of confidentiality, adding they are now exploring their legal options in the matter.

“We had our legal team work over the weekend. Can he? We found that really he shouldn’t. The information that was used and disclosed is confidential to the commercial banks with whom we do our banking,” Warner told the T&T Guardian.

“If the Governor of the Central Bank can disclose confidential information that is shared with your commercial banks, just like that, he could share other information.

“He could share your personal information, or my personal information. I think it’s a really dangerous precedent and everyone in T&T should be concerned about it,” he added.

Gervais Warner
Gervais Warner

Several of the companies named by Rambarran last week have officially written to Finance Minister Colm Imbert alleging that the Central Bank governor may have been in breach of the Central Bank Act in disclosing their information.

The T&T Chamber of Commerce also released a statement expressing similar sentiments but Rambarran has defended his action, saying he acted in the public interest.

Imbert told the Senate this week that after receiving complaints from companies about the issue, he had advised his legal team to look into whether there was indeed a breach.

Addressing this, Warner said: “I think it is pretty obvious that there are some parts of the Act/laws that have been breached. I will sit back and wait to see what officials do about this.”

He said the Massy Group respected the right of the people to know and was big supporters of transparency.

“We are a publicly traded company. We disclose a lot of information all the time. We have no problem disclosing information that is either required by the authorities or if we think the public should know,” he said

However, Warner said Rambarran should have used industry data rather than individual company figures to make his point about the use of foreign exchange. He also wondered why the governor did not include companies in the foreign used vehicle sector.

He said publicly disclosing how much foreign exchange 18 companies used also gave the impression that they were putting it to their own use rather than for the purpose of satisfying public demand.

“We don’t take the US dollars and hold them for ourselves. It is the pharmaceuticals that you need in the hospitals, it’s the food that we consume, it’s the cars we want to drive,” he said.

“It is not like these companies are the consumers of foreign exchange. These companies are the intermediaries who the consumers purchase from.

“We can’t buy a car from Nissan with TT dollars. No. It’s a Japanese company. They are manufacturing in Mexico. We need to get US dollars to pay them. It is misleading to zero in on specific companies and say these are the major users of foreign exchange.

“We are using it to satisfy consumer demand. I think that point really needed to be made properly,” Warner added.

The Massy Group boss’ comments came even as Finance Minister Colm Imbert gave the Government an update on the situation during yesterday’s Cabinet session.

Speaking at the post-Cabinet media briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister, St Clair, afterwards, Communications Minister Maxie Cuffie confirmed Imbert had updated Cabinet on legal advice sought in the matter.

He said, however,  while Imbert presented a comprehensive statement on the matter he was not at liberty to say any more, adding only Imbert could speak about the matter.

Imbert could not be contacted for comment yesterday.

It is understood that Cabinet is seeking legal advice on whether last Friday’s naming of some of T&T’s largest users of foreign exchange in the last three years by Rambarran constitutes “misconduct in relation to his duties.”

Section 12 of the Central Bank Act outlines ten grounds that can be used to terminate the appointment of a Governor, deputy Governor or director of the Central Bank.

The legislation, at section 12 (e), would allow President Anthony Carmona to terminate the appointment of Rambarran if he is “guilty of misconduct in relation to his duties.”

Cabinet is also seeking legal advice on whether the President has the discretion to reject, modify or delay a Cabinet directive on the issue of the Governor’s termination.

Cabinet is being advised, the T&T Guardian understands, that unless the Constitution specifically provides for the President acting in his own discretion—as with the appointment of Independent Senators—the convention is that heads of state obey the wishes of the Government of the day.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Central Bank governor defended his decision to disclose the information.

The statement added: “The Central Bank remains an independent national institution integral to the financial architecture of T&T and stands as the guardian of the country’s economic and financial stability.”

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