According to former director of the NIS, Ian Carrington, the government of the day (DLP) was to blame for the Clearwater Bay Ltd fiasco. In a Barbados Today report of 21 August, Mr. Carrington revealed inter alia that:
“The $124 million advanced to the Government-owned company to settle a loan guarantee for the Four Seasons project did not go through all the right procedures”.
By “right procedures”, Mr. Carrington, who was NIS director at the time the loan was made, is merely parroting the finding of the Auditor General that it “was not from an appropriation as required by law”.
Perhaps before drilling down into the issue, we should provide a little relevant background to the management of government revenues.
All Barbados Government revenues are held in an account called the Consolidated Fund. Such an account exists in most, if not all, former British colonies and is patterned after that of the former colonial master.
By way of comparison, the Consolidated Fund is the equivalent of an individual having a single account into which all earnings are paid and from which all payments are made.
Unlike a personal account, when monies are to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund they first have to be authorized by a bill which is a piece of legislation designed for the purpose. Such authorization is called “appropriation”; therefore, such bills are logically described as “Appropriation Bills”
Appropriations have to be voted on by the parliament and therefore, they are brought to the House as “resolutions”. Once these resolutions are passed, they become “bills”.
Click here to see last appropriation bill for the financial year ending March 2022.
- Paradise Beach Ltd (Four Seasons) had taken a BDS $120 million from ANSA Merchant Bank to restart the Four Seasons Resort.
- The DLP administration at that time had agreed to guarantee the loan in return for a 20% stake in the project. The Government had formed a company, Clearwater Bay Ltd, presumably to manage its stake in the Four Seasons Project.
- When Paradise Beach Ltd defaulted on the loan, the government had to repay the outstanding principal and interest amounting to $124,329,766.
- This money was was “borrowed” from the NIS. Mr. Carrington, who was NIS director at the time, states that he made the advance “based on instructions sent down by the Ministry of Finance at the time to the Treasury”.
- Security for the loan was to be the land and buildings at the Four Season’s tourism project at Paradise Beach.
- It was later “discovered” that the government did not have title to the property because the title deeds were “passed” to a company called Blue Development Ltd. There is a case on this matter in the law courts of Barbados.
- On account of the “uncertainties” of outcomes of the legal case, the current BLP government wrote off the loan (reduced its value to zero) which was (is) a primary concern of the Auditor General.
- Three years into the DLP’s first term (2011) is it the case that Chris Sinckler, former Minister of Finance, DID NOT UNDERSTAND that such a loan had to be passed through the Consolidated Fund via the appropriate resolution and ensuing bill? We find that hard to believe since he would have been leading government appropriations on an annual basis since 2008!
- Why did the then Director of NIS (Ian Carrington) think that advancing the central government the pension funds of the citizens of Barbados to cover government’s guarantee of a private venture a sound investment of NIS funds?
- As a fiduciary, the NIS director is required to make sound financial investments. This includes doing a sound due diligence. Did Mr. Carrington engage in such due diligence?
- It is acceptable accounting practice to make adjustments for fixed assets through depreciation and to make adjustments for investments by amortizing or writing down (which is different from “writing off”) their value. However, completely writing of a loan that is secured on physical assets that include land (which appreciates in value rather than depreciates) is definitely questionable. Why was the political administration able to override these accepted professional practices?
- The fact that there is an ongoing legal case on the matter is not sufficient grounds for writing off the loan. In accounting practice this matter could could have been handled by (a) notes to the accounts and/or (b) creating an appropriate off-setting provision. In any event, why does the government seem to be assuming that it will lose the case? As the excerpt from the 2020 AG’s report shows, notes to the accounts are woefully inadequate.
- What complicates the problem is that, as alleged by Avinash Persaud, ownership of the property at Paradise Beach “had been handed over to a company called Blue Development Ltd” meaning that the government could no longer claim it as collateral (security) for the loan of NIS funds? What is meant by “handover” here? Was it an administrative handover or an actual sale?
- If it were an actual sale, due legal process would have uncovered any liens be observed. A lien is a form of legal security that gives a lender (in this case, the Barbados Government) “the legal right to seize and sell the collateral property or asset of a borrower who fails to meet the obligations of a loan or contract. The property that is the subject of a lien cannot be sold by the owner without the consent of the lien holder” . The logical question is: Did the government take out a lien on the property at Paradise Beach? If it did not, this represents either gross incompetence or worse case scenario, a deliberate ploy to misappropriate the government funds and by extension, the funds of ordinary Barbadians.
- Avinash Persaud was the “former Executive Chairman of Paradise Beach Limited”. This same Persaud person has been on the government’s payroll as a consultant. Mr. Chris Sinckler, who was often attacked by Mia Mottley when in opposition, is now her administration’s representative at the World Bank in Washington. Are we missing something here ?Are there dots to be connected here?
Whether or not the $124 million advanced to the government by Mr. Carrington as NIS Director was paid to Four Seasons is not an issue for the pension contributor. Neither are the legal proceedings that has been enjoyed between the government, Clearwater Bay Ltd and Blue Development Ltd.
What is of concern to the pension contributor is the fact that on this matter alone, NIS contributors are owed some $124 million (plus interest) at a time when they are being asked to work longer (up to the age of 72), when they may have to pay more in national insurance and where there are companies and government departments that owe the NIS millions of dollars.
The managers of NIS funds are required to make profitable investments of those contributions like any other pension fund. To the extent that it has been able to generate profit to enhance the fund as its several reports show, it has been successful.
However, this interface between NIS and the central government has and will always be of concern and the subject of distrust for the NIS contributor. History is littered with cases of misappropriation and theft of pension funds.
Perhaps the contemplated class action suit against the NIS is the best way to send a stern message to the management of NIS and other parties that pension funds and tax payers monies are NOT there for the taking. This is where the “accountability rubber” must now meet the road.