Finance Minister Colm Imbert
FINANCE Minister Colm Imbert and Minister in the Ministry of Finance Brian Manning rejected claims from Opposition Senator Wade Mark that certain insurance companies would receive preferential treatment if the Insurance (Amendment) Bill, 2022 became law.
Imbert and Manning gave their respective responses during debate on the bill in the Senate on Tuesday. Before its adjournment to Thursday,the Senate passed the bill. The House of Representatives passed the bill on June 13.
Imbert checked his cellphone for the definition of hyperbole which is exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.
“Senator Mark is such a proponent of hyperbole that he expects his wild statements to be take literally.”
While acknowledging that some people take Mark’s comments literally, Imbert countered, “What we are doing here is the exact opposite of what Senator Mark has been shouting about for the last 40 minutes or so.”
He reminded senators the bill has been in the making in Parliament for more than ten years, with his predecessor Larry Howai and himself chairing joint select committees on its development.
The bill requires foreign insurance companies doing business in Trinidad and Tobago to incorporate a local subsidiary. He recalled after losing the September 7, 2015 general election, the UNC admitted to never completing its work on the bill.
Imbert said, “That is a transformative move that is designed to allow the Central Bank to have more control over foreign companies, in terms of these companies’ responsibilities, in the case of insurance companies to their clients.”
By incorporating a local company, foreign insurance companies must now submit to all the regulations governing insurance companies in TT. Imbert said this was not the case before the bill.
“It is designed to protect people in TT who do business with these insurance companies.’
He described the bill as ground breaking.
“Prior to this foreign (insurance) companies could operate in TT without the same level of scrutiny for insurance companies as local companies.”
During the bill’s development, it was acknowledged that foreign insurance companies needed time to incorporate themselves into local subsidiaries. Imbert said it was accepted by the Central Bank and other stakeholders that 18 months was a sufficient time for this to be done.
Imbert dismissed Mark’s claims that the covid19 pandemic did not affect the time for foreign insurance companies to incorporate local subsidiaries in accordance with the bill.
“We had something called a curfew in 2021 (associated with a state of emergency in that year to curb the spread of covid19), closure of a number of number of sectors of the economy, work at home was common place.”
He opined, “It is only somebody who lives on Mars or some other universe could come into this Parliament and say that covid had no effect on the operations of business in TT in 2021.”
Imbert described Mark’s claims of preferential treatement of four foreign insurance companies as preposterous. Mark claimed those companies were Massy United Insurance Ltd, Insurance Company of the West Indies Ltd, Sagicor General Insurance Inc and Sagicor Life Inc.
Imbert said, “All four companies. All four have completed the reorganisation of their business for the establishment of the local subsidiaries.”
He added, “The assets of these companies have to be vested in the local company in TT. That’s the protection that the new insurance act gives to citizens of TT.”
The ownership of foreign insurance companies is irrelevant.
Imbert said, ‘What is relevant, is whoever owns it, it’s a foreign company and it must establish a local company.” .
He found Mark’s allegation that he wanted to become a financial czar through the bill as even more ridiculous.
“If you listen to Senator Mark. If you don’t know what’s going on, he could send you off not just on a wild goose chase but a whole flock of seagulls.”
Imbert said the bill said the finance minister on the Central Bank’s recommendation, could extend the date for foreign insurance companies to complete the incorporation of local subsidiaries.
“The minister is simply a facilitator. The minister is not an autocrat or a dictator or on an escape.”
Manning agreed with Imbert’s comments. He was confident the bill “would facilitate and or continue to attract continued business endeavours with these foreign entities.”