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Dookeran: Wrong to blacklist T&T

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There is no basis for the “blacklisting” of Trinidad and Tobago by France, Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran and Minister of Finance Larry Howai said yesterday.

In a statement Howai said: “I question the legitimacy of this categorisation of Trinidad and Tobago and I consider that there are no grounds for including Trinidad and Tobago on such a list.

Dookeran said the country was deeply concerned. He said the blacklist purports to deal with investigating foreign aid fraud and the banning the use of banks in countries in the list, from helping in the distribution of developmental funds. But he said Trinidad and Tobago does not have any foreign aid funds from France. “We don’t even get any aid funds so I don’t understand how the issue could have incorporated Trinidad and Tobago,” he said. Dookeran said the two countries had a technical assistance cooperation agreement but that the last time there was any activity on this was way back in 2001. 

“Therefore it is more than unfortunate that our name would find itself in that list. My understanding is also that we were not on the list that was purportedly put out in 2010, 2011, 2012. And therefore this is a new turn of events,’ he said. 

Howai said he was confident that the controls that exist in the country’s banking and regulatory system compare favourably with those in any other jurisdiction.

Howai said he had asked Dookeran to seek clarification from the French Ambassador Jacques Sturm.             

Dookeran noted that the purported blacklisted came on the heels of an announcement made by the last French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, who listed Trinidad and Tobago as one of the countries who had not yet complied with the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for tax purposes. Dookeran said at that time he was Minister of Finance and he had indicated that the statement was premature, that the country was in fact meeting the requirements but that the goal post was being changed without preparation. He said since then the country had taken more steps to be compliant.  “But in the French capital there seems to be a tendency to make these statements without having consulted or without having the facts clarified,” Dookeran said.

Dookeran said he had been in touch with French Ambassador Sturm  to get clarity on this issue.

Asked whether Trinidad and Tobago was behind in terms of legislation on banking structures and information sharing and therefore always seems to have a blacklist ‘cloud’ hanging over its head, Dookeran said the issue of rule-making in the world of finance was one of contention because small economies in particular have found themselves at the mercy of public statements made in capitals of the larger country. “We, in Trinidad and Tobago, have taken up this issue with the G24 in the World Bank, the IMF and the UN. And we have sought to get the issue- which does not only affect Trinidad and Tobago but other small countries-  brought on the agenda.  He said on our insistence the Economic Commission for the Caribbean and Latin America recently prepared a preliminary report on rule-making on financial matters.

Citing the Financial Intelligence Act, Dookeran said this country has always made the necessary corrections within a legislative framework. He cited the FIU Act. What we have found is that the bodies which have been given the authority to look into these matters are sometimes not well equipped to do so”. He said much of this has come from the old traditional issue of OECD countries trying to “blacklist” Caribbean countries for matters such as  tax evasion etc. He said that issue has been on the agenda for some time and Trinidad and Tobago has never been in that category. He said the country’s legislative framework has been very solid and has been accepted by all. He said the country was addressing the issue on three levels- a) international public advocacy; 2) with the respective capitals (governments); 3) seeking to rectify any deficiencies, bearing in mind that some of them are a moving target.

Reports in the international media said France had added this country to an already established register of non-cooperative statements and territories who do not help investigate foreign aid fraud.