As Vincentians prepared for the holiday season, one retired man contemplated how his EC$1.45 million investment in the failed British American Insurance Co. Ltd (BAICO) had come to be worth just 10 per cent of its original value.
“All I can say, a great evil has befallen me. That is all I can say and it has shattered people’s confidence in these investment funds,” the man, who is in his 80s told iWitness News on Dec. 18 in Kingstown, where EC$13.5 million was being paid out to 1,147 persons and institutions who have investments in BAICO.
“In old age, one can never have too much to live a comfortable life, having worked so hard,” said the man, a former public servant and banker, who asked not to be identified in this story.
BAICO has been placed under judicial management following the financial problems plaguing its parent company, the Trinidad and Tobago-based regional conglomerate CL Financial, which had also operated the beleaguered Colonial Life Insurance Company (CLICO).
The man who spoke to iWitness News had been an investor in BAICO for more than 10 years before it failed, during which time he invested what should have now been worth a “few million dollars”.
“Recently, they told me it was worth EC$1,450,000, from which I am going to get 10 per cent. So I end up with 100 and something thousand.
“I got 30,000 before and I just went and gave them my bank details, it will be sent to my bank sometime this week,” he said, referring to the latest payouts.
The investor was, however, not sure when he would get the remainder of the monies.
“Well, nothing is sure. They are not clear in what they are saying. They said hopefully. They said you would never get all; they made that quite clear. But, as funds come in, you get from them. They say you have to hope,” he said, after the meeting between the judicial managers of the company and investors.
The money being paid out is coming from the sale of assets belonging to the failed company and also through litigation and negotiations between Caribbean capitals.
For example, last Thursday, Dec. 22, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who was the Minister of Finance when BAICO failed, said that Port of Spain was “stalling” in honoring its commitment to Kingstown under the BAICO settlement.
Gonsalves reminded listeners to Star FM, his party’s radio station, that although BAICO was headquartered in the Bahamas, “the mind” was in Trinidad under CL Financial.
He further said that Port of Spain, under the Kamla Persad Bissessar administration – which was voted out of office in September 2015 — had acknowledged that some of people’s premiums had gone to assets in Trinidad and Tobago or located somewhere connected to Trinidad and Tobago.
The Gonsalves administration had negotiated with Persad Bissessar’s government for US$100 million.
Gonsalves said last week that although the US$100 million wasn’t enough, Kingstown has only received US$36 million of it.
He further said the Keith Rowley government in Port of Spain “hasn’t been paying us any [mind] and they are stalling and stalling.
“That’s a matter of great importance to us and I have written again about it recently and I will raise it in February at the CARICOM heads of government, which takes place in Haiti,” Gonsalves said.
In the meantime, with most of his life investment lost, the man who spoke to iWitness News said that he has resigned himself to a frugal life.
“I am a practical person, so I live on whatever income I get from my small pension from the NIS (National Insurance Services). I live on that plus government pension,” he said.
“I live a careful and frugal life now. I really don’t have any obligation now. I live frugally, and so, my monthly income and so on, I live within that. I have no dependents at the moment, but I give [to] charity. I won’t say they depend on me, but they expect it from me.”
Regarding the outlook for him, he said, “Just resign yourself to your fate and don’t make it get you down.”
He told iWitness News that such an approach makes it easier to cope with the situation.
“And I believe in prayer. I believe I am given my daily sustenance. Every morning I say thanks and ask for protection and guidance throughout the day.”
He said he had also invested $1 million in CLICO but was fortunate enough to get back every cent from that company, having handled those negotiations himself.
He told iWitness News that he got the name and information of a particular person in the company “and I harassed him day and night. They eventually paid me in four instalments.”
He said that investors would have “definitely” been in a better position if they had taken the matter into their own hands and filed a civil suit against BAICO.
The man further said that RBTT — a commercial bank whose Caribbean headquarters are based in Port-of-Spain and has a presence in 17 countries and territories across the Caribbean — violated the trust when it allowed the funds to leave SVG.
“So I still think they are culpable in many respects and can be pursued, as far as I am concerned.”
In March 2012, Gonsalves said his government was taking practical steps to recapture investments by citizens and local companies jeopardized by the collapse of BAICO and its parent company, CL Financial.
Gonsalves told Parliament that the Registrar of Insurance has instructed lawyers to put in court a commercial bank here in SVG, “which had held out that it was in a fiduciary position in relation to certain assets” from the failed entities.
Gonsalves, as in August 2011 when he had first made the announcement, did not name the bank but said that the claim for EC$140 million (US$56 million) was not against the Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, of which the state is a major shareholder.
The former investor who spoke to iWitness News last week, however, admitted that he has lived a full life but there might be people involved in BAICO and CLICO who are yet to construct their homes and have children to take care of.
“My heart goes out to such people,” he said and chuckled.
“I am only laughing. My heart goes out to such people. I wonder when they wake up on mornings — Like I said, I live frugally, I live within my means and I have enough for my regular sustenance. But, for those who don’t have it, I try to put myself in their place,” he told iWitness News.