The Government is renegotiating the return to local ownership, lands which were used as collateral under the previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration to settle millions of dollars in insurance claims for policyholders of the collapsed CLICO International Life across the Eastern Caribbean.
Minister in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs Ryan Straughn made the disclosure during an address to the annual general meeting of the St George South constituency branch of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) at the St Luke’s Skills Training Centre on Sunday.
Straughn took the DLP to task for issuing $600 million in bonds in 2017 for CLICO with no way of paying it back.
“When we did the debt restructuring, we had to deal with this $600 million from CLICO. So, the haircut for the NIS had to be larger than it would have been if the Democratic Labour Party did not issue $600 million in debt for CLICO,” the minister said.
“In fact, some of the lands that we are trying to renegotiate with the OECS [Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States] to get to do some more housing and agriculture in this country, they gave away the lands that were in production, vested them in the OECS, which we are trying to get back now to do a little swap.”
According to Straughn, the DLP administration “took up Bajan land and set it as collateral, effectively to settle claims for CLICO outside of Barbados”.
“When you commit Government resources for a 100 per cent private operation, the taxpayers have no place in it, because if you were a CLICO policyholder or British American policyholder you did not have any conversation with the Government when you went and got the policy.
“Right now, we have to renegotiate for land that is in Barbados. We are looking for land now to do more agriculture to improve food security, so we have to be in conversation with somebody outside of Barbados as to how we are going to use land in Barbados. You can imagine that?” Straughn added.
He also criticised the former DLP government for failing to pay $250 million in National Insurance Scheme (NIS) contributions for public servants between 2015 and 2018.
DLP president Dr Ronnie Yearwood has been calling on the Government to repay the $1.3 billion debt to the NIS which was written off during the 2018 debt restructuring exercise, but Straughn said the DLP should come clean to the public and admit that it did not pay contributions for three years.
“The Government that we had wasn’t paying National Insurance contributions for public servants. So, in none of this conversation about NIS have they told the country they didn’t pay NIS contributions for public servants,” he contended, adding that the Barbados Labour Party administration had to settle that debt when it came into office.