Ramesh Persaud is a policy holder with the embattled Colonial Life Insurance Company Limited (CLICO) and like many others, his life has almost come to a standstill as a result of the limbo the company finds itself in.
Persaud has invested in an annuity policy offered by the insurance company – one that offers a return every year and with all his hard earned savings tied up in CLICO, he is at a loss as to when he will ever get to move on with his life.
After putting in 10-12 hours a day for many years overseas, Persaud returned to Guyana with his life savings.
Three years ago he saw an advertisement in the newspaper and decided that since he had his savings, it would be best to invest it in the CLICO-advertised policy.
He talked to one of the company’s insurance agents and “heard good things”.
“Compared to the bank, you know, they offered an exceptionally good rate. Not anything that would make you rich. But after investing it, you don’t have to worry for the rest of your life. When you’re in your fifties, you start thinking about these things,” he explained.
Although the returns were high, at that time Persaud still had concerns for the safety of his money since he claimed that he has been around long enough to know that despite the smooth-talking salesman, absolutely nothing is certain in life.
He referred to the collapse in the United States of the mega company, Enron, when a number of investors, many of them over 50 years old, who had invested their savings, lost all as a result of the decline in the share value.
“The question you ask is how do you start over? That was pretty much a question for me,” Persaud said.
For Persaud, now he wished that he had considered other insurance companies.
“I wish I had known about the other companies because had I known about companies like Demerara Mutual Life, certainly, I would have considered them and spread out things a little bit more as opposed to putting most of the eggs in one basket,” he reasoned.
This he said is one of the problems he now has with CLICO, since investment strategies would negate such a move.
“They put most of the eggs in one basket,” Persaud added, referring to the huge investment made by CLICO (Guyana) in CLICO (Bahamas).
According to Persaud, the company’s executives with all their MBAs and other economic qualifications should have embraced this theory.
It is Persaud’s opinion that the company’s top executive was reckless with other people’s money.
“Geeta Singh has a right to be reckless with her own money and Duprey in Trinidad has a right to be reckless with his own money but neither has a right to be reckless with other people’s money. That is their major sin and they have to be held accountable,” Persaud told this newspaper.
The remigrant believes that somebody is covering for the CLICO executives, since he is of the view that a fiasco like the one the insurance company finds itself in, should have caused heads to roll.
He said that the reckless use of other people’s money shows clearly that the CLICO executives violated the laws of Guyana.
“The government knew about it, (Maria) Van Beek knew about it. I am sorry about what happened to her, I don’t support her being shot but she didn’t enforce the law when she should have. She got shot and she abandoned ship and left us in a mess that she helped to create,” a livid Persaud exclaimed.
Maria Van Beek, Commissioner of Insurance, was appointed Judicial Manager of CLICO Guyana, following the reported financial breakdown of the company.
The warning signs were there, according to Persaud, since it was reported that CLICO’s parent company CL Financial Services was experiencing liquidity problems.
President Bharrat Jagdeo at a press conference had assured then that policy holders with CLICO (Guyana) were not in danger of losing their investments.
Persaud stated that he does not know who advised the President about the financial state of CLICO but he believes that whoever it was probably did not give him truthful information.
He told this newspaper that recently he inquired of Geeta Singh-Knight if policy holders will ever get their money back and she could not give a definitive answer.
“Could we now really trust the President to honour his promise that the policy holders would get back their money?” Persaud asked.
He told this newspaper that as soon as word of the financial problems in Trinidad was broken, he went to the CLICO office immediately.
He wanted to pull his money out of the entity.
According to Persaud, a senior official of the company, Sharon Melville, was at pains to assure him that CLICO was strong.
“She told me that she would not deceive me, she has to sleep at nights, she’s a God-fearing woman and things like that.”
Persaud said that he was also assured by CLICO officials that Guyana had first rights to the money in the Bahamas, should CLICO (Bahamas) be placed into receivership.
Of course this was not so.
“In retrospect, I don’t think Melville knew what was really happening. She did not know the financial ‘guts’ of CLICO,” Persaud said.
He added that even some of the agents did not know about the over expenditure of 50% of the company in the Bahamas.
What CLICO officials did not reveal at the time was that CLICO Bahamas had invested money into the US housing market which was collapsing.
Persaud is of the view that when the cracks in the US housing market began appearing, CLICO (Guyana) should have demanded that its investment in CLICO Bahamas be returned.
“They knew that the market was collapsing in Miami, they knew, and they did nothing to bring the money back (to Guyana). They said that they had first lien,” Persaud said.
He still believes that CLICO officials were only interested in saving their jobs and were trying to prevent the possible run on the company.
He told this newspaper that at first he was working with what he was told, but then when he found out otherwise, his whole world came crashing down.
“I kept hoping that what I was hearing in the news was not true. You know with human beings you go through a state of denial. Friends were telling me to pull my money out when the news broke of what was happening in Trinidad,” Persaud said.
The re-migrant said that while senior company officials remain on the job and are collecting a salary, many persons who have invested in CLICO do not know if they will ever see their hard earned money again.
As it is, there is the likelihood that litigation after litigation will delay the process of the insurance company honouring its liabilities, and many could leave this earth before that becomes a reality.
“The other countries affected have moved on, only Guyana is stuck in quicksand. On behalf of all the policyholders, I call on the court to close the matter. We want our money and we want it now,” Persaud declared.
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