Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is preparing citizens for another difficult year, and has outlined Government’s strategies to tackle the crime epidemic and stabilise the economy.
In an address to the nation, the Prime Minister also announced decisive action on the acquisition of an inter-island ferry, CL Financial/Clico, and Petrotrin.
He said that the new vessel was sourced, and should in the country within weeks from a port in Asia, having passed the necessary inspection, examination certification checks and sea trials.
He said that said that as the major assets of CL Financial/Clico becomes available by the Liquidator, it will be placed in a newly created National Investment Fund (NIF), units of which will be available for purchase by all.
“The creation of this Fund has already commenced with the transfer of Clico’s shares in Angostura to the Corporation Sole, as part of the continuing effort to recover the debt owed by Clico to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. And as more assets become available, such as shares in Republic Bank and other listed companies, they will be placed in this National Investment Fund” said Rowley.
He also detailed the $15 billion debt burden placed on tax payers by State-owned Petrotrin, stating: “Only last Wednesday the Cabinet received a series of specific presentations from the new Board to address Petrotrin’s many challenges in order to ensure its long-term sustainability. It is our intention to fix Petrotrin’s problems once and for all in 2018, so that the company can service its debt and taxes thereby contributing to Government’s revenue and the country’s development in the way that it should as well as providing job security for an adequate quota of high performing employees”.
He said the Government was “reasonably confident” that the economy will begin a slow recovery this year, initially be based on a strong turnaround of the energy sector as several new gas projects come on stream.
The section of his address on the Clico matter follows:
I come now to a thorny issue which has crossed over three administrations. I refer to the resolution of the CL Financial/Clico matter.
Fellow Citizens, I am pleased to report that we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of the Clico/CLF restructuring exercise. You may recall, Ladies and Gentlemen that in June 2009, the Government, CLF Directors and a majority of CLF shareholders entered into a Shareholders’ Agreement, which was extended 17 times, up to 2016. The intention of this Agreement was to repay the substantial sum of $23b of taxpayers’ money as a bailout to Clico, a privately owned company. However, this repayment never materialized as anticipated.
In 2017, $15 billion of debt owed to the Government was not appearing as a liability at CLF and under the guidance of former Government Ministers the private shareholders refused to continue extending the terms of the Agreement and moved for an AGM to take back control from the Government without fully acknowledging a debt to the taxpayers of $15 billion nor making any satisfactory provision to repay the outstanding monies.
To date the Government has been repaid just over $8 billion by Clico, which has left the balance outstanding to the Government at $15 billion.
The Government, in 2017, successfully applied to the Court to wind up the Company in order to liquidate the assets and repay the taxpayers. This bold but necessary action had the effect of securing the public interest and the asset transfer process is proceeding apace.
In order to ensure the widest possible public participation in ownership of these shares, it is our intention that the major assets of the Group, as they become available, from the Liquidators, will be placed in a newly created National Investment Fund (NIF), units of which will be available for purchase by all.
The creation of this Fund has already commenced with the transfer of Clico’s shares in Angostura to the Corporation Sole, as part of the continuing effort to recover the debt owed by Clico to the people of Trinidad and Tobago. And as more assets become available, such as shares in Republic Bank and other listed companies, they will be placed in this National Investment Fund.
The plan is to have the new Investment Fund established and units available to the public and institutions for purchase before the middle of 2018. It is noteworthy that we do not believe that it is in the public interest that the CLF and Clico companies be sold to selected private individuals, but rather that these assets should be preserved and maintained for the benefit of all citizens who would share in them by purchasing units in the NIF or through UTC or be a beneficiary through the NIB.