UTC executive director tells senator: We can’t change the law

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

UTC executive director Nigel Edwards. – File photo by Jeff K Mayers

INDEPENDENT Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye has asked the Unit Trust Corporation (UTC) to make changes in the law that governs its operations in order to allow attorneys to access information from the corporation about unitholders.

Thompson-Ahye, an attorney, put this to UTC officials during the corporation’s 2024 annual general meeting at Government Campus Plaza, Port of Spain on May 23.

After congratulating the UTC on its continued strong financial performance, Thompson-Ahye said, “There is always room for improvement.”

She then raised the matter, which she also raised in the Senate last May.

“I speak on my behalf and on behalf of a number of lawyers who are dissatisfied with the UTC Act section 40 (1) and (2), which precludes staff of UTC from revealing to a lawyer information about a unitholder’s status.”

These sections of the act indicate that UTC employees subscribe to a declaration of secrecy with respect to communicating information about people who have dealings with the corporation to people not legally entitled to that information.

The breach of this secrecy declaration by UTC employees, according to the act, can result in their being liable on summary conviction to a $1,000 fine and imprisonment for a year.

Thompson-Ahye said the act only allows information about a unitholder to be provided to someone nominated by that unitholder.

She asks what happened to the information about the unitholder’s business with UTC if that nominee were deceased or there was no nominee.

Thompson-Ahye opined that there could be many unitholders who are elderly people and others who have mental health issues.

She argued the law did not cater for these situations either.

She said other financial institutions such as commercial banks and credit unions do provide information about their respective clients, when they are dead, to attorneys who represent relatives of those clients.

She asked UTC officials to consider amending the act to address the matters she raised.

The audience laughed when Thompson-Ahye said, “You don’t trust us lawyers? I don’t think so.”

In response, UTC executive director Nigel Edwards said, “We don’t have first-hand control over amendments to the act.”

But he added, “We can and will make approrpriate representation to make changes to the act.”

Edwards told Thompson-Ahye while this may not happen in the time frame she wanted, the matter will be explored.

In response to Thompson-Ahye’s statements in the Senate last May, Minister in the Ministry of Finance Brian Manning confirmed that the Unit Trust Act restricts the UTC from “disclosing information to any person not legally entitled thereto of any information related to the affairs of any person having any dealings with the trust.”

The UTC, he continued, does not disclose information to applicants for letters of administration following the death of the unitholder.

That information is provided to executors appointed by the unitholders in their wills.