What has happened to our banks?

univestWhat has happened to our banks?

We have yet another scandal at the top of a bank, and another relating to the behaviour of RBS to add to a long list of problems with banks and bankers. As banks are run by people is the problem with bankers who are not qualified to run a bank, or is the problem more broadly one of abstract ideology, greed, and the celebrity culture? To what extent are the media fuelling this problem?

Some months ago I was asked by the head of a UK business school whether or not Islamic Banks had a role to play in restoring credibility to the investment banking sector. After some thought about this question, which I considered as comparing mutually exclusive doctrines, I found myself asking if the definition of an investment bank, and indeed banks in general had become so obscure that no-one really understands them any longer.

Then we have the scandals with the people at the heads of banks. Are these people imposed bankers out of nepotism, very convincing mavericks, or real Bankers? If not real Bankers is their nepotism born out of allegiance and/or celebrity status?

Over the coming days I will express my thoughts from many years of experience about the current events in the banking sector, and the unlawful abuse of their clients by both investment and corporate bankers. The stories that I have heard regarding RBS, if true, are horrific abuse of power, especially as much of it will prove unlawful. I have listened to stories that can only be absolute abuse of banking code, especially in the property sector. It is sad that many finance directors and lawyers are not aware that, other than in extreme situations, the ‘call clause’ in a financing agreement is not worth the paper it is printed on in law. I personally fought off, in 1992, an attempt to have this call clause used by a bank extending a facility to a property company and then having a change in strategy within the bank thus calling all of their property loans. Major plc’s were borrowers, but complied with the call. The property company I represented was the only property loan on their books for 2 years thereafter having realised how much it was going to cost them for me to move this financing elsewhere. The chairman of this bank actually stated to me that he was thankful that not many people had my knowledge of banking law.

So what are investment banks and why do we need them? During the mid-1980’s they evolved out of the former Merchant Banks which provided the liquidity for global trade, and structured debt solutions for major projects throughout the world. However, capital movement around the world was somewhat limited thus frustrating economic growth through lack of available capital. Deregulation of the capital markets of the world in the mid-1980’s enabled rich sources of new capital, but it required very special and creative structured finance skills to satisfy the investment terms of these new investors with the financing needs of projects. For example we saw the global expansion of international securities, the design of structured securities products aimed at providing finance more aligned with the specific needs of a project, and the attraction of major global institutions and private investors to purchase such securities thus providing liquidity to the system that banks alone could not provide. It was instilled into me in those early days that our role was to match financing need with capital availability providing the expertise to both optimally structure the risk in the funding requirement, and to demonstrate our integrity to investors that would lead to the trust to provide the funding. Investment banks do not lend money (their income essentially comes from origination fees and trading profits), but they make it possible for investors to provide capital to funding requirements, (thus the Capital Markets) and facilitate the liquidity of capital investment to optimise the flows of investment capital.

When I first entered the upper echelons of investment banking in the late 1970’s the following parameters were engrained into me:

  • Investment banking is a people business
  • Investment banks do not get involved in politics, religion, or nationality
  • Investment Bankers must leave any political and religious doctrine at home
  • Investment Bankers should not display any nationality or cultural preferences
  • Senior Investment Bankers need to understand the liability side of the Balance Sheet
  • Integrity is paramount, and is a given

The very best bankers shunned the spotlight, and would not consider themselves to be of celebrity status.

Having been part of the evolution of the then embryonic International Securities market in the mid-1970’s (loans syndication was still the major mechanism for major project financing) my work since then has involved the global expansion of international securities, the design of structured securities products aimed at providing finance more aligned with the specific needs of a project, and the attraction of major global institutions and private investors to purchase such securities thus providing liquidity to the system that banks alone could not provide.

For some years this new market worked well especially in the arena of infrastructure development which was a necessary part of global economic development. New products emerged such as asset-backed securitisation making it possible to provide ever increasing funds to satisfy mortgage demand, credit card finance, lease finance et al. However, just as the Manhattan Project produced a new science of nuclear fission which could significantly benefit the world in the development of electronics, energy production, medical treatments, etc., in the wrong hands such innovation would have devastating results.

If we can accept that history has many examples of great inventiveness being used with moral integrity to the greater good of many, and by the few intent only upon greed, avarice and power, can we draw upon these flaws in human nature to describe the culture within investment banks today.

My own view is that the degradation of moral integrity within investment banks started directly after the ‘Big Bang’ in 1986. Too many banks had paid far too much to be part of their somewhat blurred vision of post-deregulation of the financial markets and thus needed an aggressive income generation policy to recoup their costs to save face with their shareholders. At that time I wondered if many institutions had lost sight of the fact that little new capital would be available, just a redistribution of existing availability providing an improved mobility of existing capital, and thus more liquidity.

In the run up to Big Bang in 1986 many uncomfortable marriages of convenience occurred in the form of major banks buying stockbrokers and stockjobbers to include equities within the investment banking environment. The culture gaps experienced created some challenging problems. Whereas technology issues were resolved during those early weeks after ‘Big Bang’ in 1986, the prima donna positioning of the various traders continued long afterwards. This change in attitude by trading staff started a trend across the community that became endemic using ‘profit’ as their argument.

What I noted at that time was that far too many Board members of banks had little idea what was happening in these operations, and relied upon the head of trading departments to manage the bank’s position. Traders saw this as an opportunity to do as they pleased – primarily for their own benefit. I was asked to explain to the heads of the banks in London comprising the Acceptance House Committee why Euroclear and CEDEL were not prepared to provide the settlement credit lines being demanded by their trading managers. This meeting concerned me in that it was clear just how out of touch these people were with this new world of investment banking.

SWAPs became trading instruments leading to synthetics, swap options, and the now notorious Credit Default Swaps. The term nature of these instruments meant that they could span years but traders tended to ensure that they were booked to take all of the presumed profits of a term transaction in the first year to maximise bonus and to hell with the possibility that over time this transaction would have costs on an annual basis, and could completely unravel if rates moved outside of the transaction limits (as per the experience of ill-advised small corporates buying interest rate swaps). Experienced support professionals who understood the degrading impact of these events were patronised, completely ignored, and, if troublesome, dispensed with. Trading managers and their allies surrounded themselves with bright young people who did not have the experience to understand the consequences of what they were asked to do. The rot was setting in. As a Board member of CEDEL at that time I met with peers from other banks so I knew of others who felt the same way. By the end of the 1990’s the mavericks controlled the investment banks, profits from ever more risk taking soared, bonus culture was out of control, the regulators were asleep; and the shareholders loved it.

There is one other facet to this cultural issue that is important before looking at ways to address this problem for the future. There are far too many examples where the investment banking trader/deal maker has evolved into a main Board Director, or even worse the CEO, but without the necessary transition in attitude or skills, especially the prudent management of risk. Would anyone expect a car salesman to become CEO of the car manufacturer? This would be rare indeed as a good salesman is very focused on the next sale/commission, not the long-term interests of the company. Thus when a trader emanates to the Boardroom the checks and balances of reasoned debate tend to be overtaken by the aggressive will of the trader who imposes unilateral control of all investment banking activities over his fellow Directors, and encourages the reckless use of depositor funds in the name of profit. A recent article in the Financial Times on the reflections of Martin Taylor, the former CEO of Barclays Bank, regarding Bob Diamond and his imposing presence on the Barclays Board provides a good example of this. Taylor indicates that Diamond wanted to increase exposure to Russia by 5-fold. The Credit Committee only accepted half of this increase. However Taylor claims that Diamond ignored the Credit Committee ruling, increased the exposure, and within months Russia had defaulted with huge losses to Barclays. Apparently Diamond used plausible deniability, fired the traders (under his control) and charmed the Board by swearing his eternal allegiance to Barclays. In any other environment Diamond would have been fired for blatant breach of the Credit Committee policy irrespective of profit or loss, but he wooed the Board into thinking he was indispensable to the fortunes of BarCap. Taylor regrets the decision not to fire Diamond, but he is not alone in getting wooed by the prospects of vast profits, a blurred understanding of the risks, and the disregard of risk lines set by Credit Committees best placed to take a more circumspect view. I would not like to count the number of times I have encountered this situation.

By the end of 2006 skilled observers knew that the credit markets were out of control, but no-one was listening. The CDS and CDO money machine had far exhausted the capability of the monoline insurers, whose Balance Sheets had been stacked with more dubious assets in order to meet the demand of their fee generation activities, and the ever increasing production of irresponsible concepts such as ‘super-senior debt’ were all part of the profit frenzy of unregulated activity. Chuck Prince, the then CEO of Citigroup was recorded as saying to the Financial Times ‘As long as the music is still playing, we are still dancing – and the music is still playing’. In her book ‘Fool’s Gold’, Gillian Tett describes how, during this period, Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan Chase had refused to participate in the frenzy, but was being pressured by greedy investors to match the profit of other banks engaged in these activities. What a fall from grace he has suffered over recent months.

Even today, post the 2007/08 meltdown, we find the mavericks still essentially in control epitomised by the most recent scandal in the UK whereby corporate bankers, probably from an orchestrated script that even they did not understand, were encouraged to sell complex SWAP instruments to small corporates with devastating effect. Bonuses taken, but leaving the banks to face humiliating fines and further damage to reputation.

If it is accepted that the above defines a major, if not predominant, flaw in investment banking culture then what practices could be instituted to change this culture to a more acceptable form of banking without losing the creative skills for formulation of new and applicable products, and the liquidity environment to make such products attractive to the widest range of investors.

The typical cry from outraged politicians across the world (who for all intent know little or nothing about these markets) is for more regulation. This is nonsense as no amount of regulation will impact a short-term culture environment where traders will take whatever risks they need to make their bonus as they will be long gone to their retreat in Barbados before the devastating  (both reputation and financial) impact of their actions are felt by the banks. The only changes to regulation that will extract any effect would be the prosecution of reckless traders who profit from the damage they do albeit I see a legal minefield differentiating between rogue trader, and irresponsible trading with plausible deniable consent of management. The legal maxim actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea comes to mind. Furthermore the UK Financial Services Act would need to be amended to bring habeas corpus into effect for individual prosecution so that banks could limit their legal liability to the trader and thus impose some responsibility discipline into their actions without removal of the rights of the individual in Common Law. The Serious Fraud Office would need to be the prosecutor for UK based traders. Importantly any such change of this type of prosecution needs parity in each of the major financial centres to have any real deterrent value. Rendition of individuals to the USA when London is the heart of the financial World is not a reasonable solution.

Furthermore my experience of regulators is that they have little or no knowledge of the complexities of securities products, or the markets. Forensics and post-mortem after the event is a far cry from being able to evaluate the impact of new financing structures, e.g. super-senior debt, and realise the impact of such artificial concepts on the market, and thus prevent its introduction. It is also worthy of note that the independent rating agencies and monoline insurers also need to take responsibility for what they are prepared to acknowledge as worthy credit, and in the case of monoline insurers, their capacity to manage major defaults.

Asking a trading manager to operate with constraint is counterproductive as it is easier to ask forgiveness than seek permission. Equally you would not expect such a trading manager to determine credit or risk policy as this would invariably lean toward excess. The role of the trading manager is to maximise return on capital employed within pre-determined credit and risk boundaries and thus looks out into the market to seek opportunity. The trading manager, director, or whatever you wish to call him plays the role of the trading team captain ensuring that the play strategy is right, and that every player is contributing at peak performance.

Therefore a counterbalance is needed to ensure that rules and boundaries are independently derived, and then observed at all times in order to protect the Balance Sheet of the bank from inappropriate exposure, i.e. looking inwards. In conventional businesses such activities can be dealt with over days or even weeks, but in a trading environment with a turnover of some USD billions per day such attention can be minute by minute. Whereas a Credit Committee can provide overall guidelines on limits and exposure, the reality of the trading environment requires credit and risk limits such as new counterparties, trading in hybrid securities to fulfil a client requirement, etc. to be determined swiftly, and certainly within a trading day. Thus a combination of compliance, settlements, and funding act as the referee during the trading day.

One important lesson of the past 20 years is that the door was open to let the mavericks take control, and they were treated as gods. They have taken their rich bonuses and so can live in luxury whilst everyone else has to burden the cost and pain of their activities. Only after a major reorganisation of investment banking, essentially from within, can we revert back to the banker’s creed ‘My Word is My Bond’ with any sincerity and integrity..

The superior nature of Syndicated Insurance for Project Finance

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The superior nature of Syndicated Insurance for Project Finance

Syndicated Insurance for construction projects is well defined for projects throughout much of the world. However other types of project require a tailored approach depending upon the defined risks involved. But the principle of syndicated insurance for project finance is not just an insurance solution – but a global comprehensive risk management tool for qualifying projects.

 Integrating comprehensive event risks into loan/bond documentation was initiated by myself with invaluable help from Dennis Parker (from Aon in London), and Clifford Chance (law firm) both in London and New York. It took 7 months of negotiation with bankers and underwriters to achieve a wording consistent with formal offering documents such as Trust Indentures in order for acceptance, albeit that it was the important endorsement of investors that finally achieved acceptance.

 It might be helpful to define the diverse range of insurance products available to the project finance specialist to understand the problem with the conventional approach to adding event risks to a financing, whether public or private placement, syndication, or bond issue. I would also include quasi-equity products such as convertible debt structures into this group.

Types of Insurance Products Available for Project Finance

Insurance products for project finance can be conveniently discussed from two different perspectives, i.e. those that require Political Risk insurance (developing and/or politically unstable countries), and those that do not. However the crossover point can be fuzzy as the need for such political risk is not only applied to developing or emergent economies but can vary depending on the term of a transaction for so-called industrialised countries. The fortunes of countries wax and wane, both through domestic political situations, and adverse effects of global economic conditions. The normal determinant is whether or not a country has an acceptable credit rating from Standard & Poor or Moody for the term of the proposed transaction, albeit  such ratings can adversely change for any country very quickly as we have seen in the Eurozone countries.

Just by way of example of how fuzzy the parameters for determining whether or not political risk cover is required in any of its various forms we only need to look at how many major countries or cities in the world would now require civil disruption, riots, or terrorism insurance cover for certain types of project.

Add to this the general myth that a corporate within a country cannot borrow at cheaper interest rates than the Government (sovereign debt) of that country then it is easy to understand why there can be confusion. Utilising insurance-based risk mitigation, which has the effect of credit-enhancing the transaction by effectively moving the domicile and credit rating of part of the risk, can easily result in lower costs of borrowing than the project country risk would otherwise dictate.

The general classifications of insurance products used in project finance are:

  • Investment Risks – Inconvertibility, Expropriation, Creeping Expropriation, War, and other Political Violence
  • Collateral Deprivation Risks – Asset Repossession and Deprivation, Civil Disruption
  • Non-payment Risks – Commercial and Political Causes, short medium and long-term credits, leases, Documentary Credits, Promissory Notes
  • Contract Frustration Risks – Including Wrongful Calling of Guarantees, Non-Delivery
  • Transportation Risks – In-transit risks
  • Credit Enhancement – Third Party credit, asset securitisation, cash flow securitisation
  • Business Disruption – Third party commercial disruption e.g. utility and transportation disruption
  • Transfer Risks – Repatriation of Investments, Debt and Leases payments, etc.

 

Project Finance Requiring Political Insurance

This is a specialised area of insurance as, by definition, the project is in a territory that has less certainty of political stability and/or appropriate legal structure than one would like in order to secure an investment or lending position in the event of problems. Such political insurance is available to cover a whole host of possibilities such as:

  • Confiscation, Expropriation, and Nationalisation
  • Forced Abandonment
  • Transfer Risk
  • Refusal of host Government of Repossession and Disposal Rights
  • Contract Repudiation
  • War, civil war, civil unrest,  and terrorism

However there can be a number of interested parties that need cover within any one project, and there can be a number of different scenarios that require the security of a political insurance wrap in order that they are effective. This is further complicated by the fact that it is not always possible for any one insurer to assume the total insurance package thus various legal platforms for each insurable risk need to be interpreted and reconciled.

Bonding

One of the prevalent features of international commercial life is the need to issue on-demand guarantees to satisfy advance payment, performance, and warranty obligations. Bank bonding has been the traditional source of such bonding but this is another area where insurers can provide a far more reasonable and appropriate instrument.

If we consider conventional bank demand bonds it is easy to understand why they are an onerous burden on the provider, and gross overkill on the part of the receiver. The onerous burden on the provider includes the capability of the receiver to call the bond at will without declaration of default, and the burden is then upon the provider to prove whether or not there is good and reasonable cause, and if not then the burden is upon the provider to reclaim their money which is both time consuming and expensive. Banks do not generally accept any responsibility for payment under an invalid presentation of such bonds. Although such risks as invalid presentation can be covered through insurance this is yet a further unnecessary and avoidable cost.

Having studied this problem for some years it became apparent that it is frequently possible to clearly define the conditions that would reasonably justify a call on such a bond. Therefore it has been possible to negotiate with insurers the development of a demand bond that is more reasonably aligned with the purpose of its existence, and callable on demand by the receiver given a specific event of default by the provider. This bonding has a number of significant advantages over bank bonding namely:

  • The bond is an off-Balance Sheet instrument for the provider and thus no adverse gearing implications;
  • It does not consume valuable bank facilities that might otherwise be better utilised;
  • They are more flexible in that there can be a number of callable events with different levels of monetary penalty;
  • It is usually cheaper.

The practical application of such bonding is fundamentally unchanged other than the bond will be defined in a contract which will also define the events under which the bond can be called, and the associated amount. In the event of a claim by the receiver the only change is that the receiver must lodge a formal notice of specific default with the insurer to invoke the demand for payment. Such payment will be made upon presentation of such claim. In the event that the claim proves invalid then it is the insurer, not the provider, who will pursue recovery. This takes the burden from the provider and imposes a more disciplined attitude to default claims by the receiver.

There are a small number of specialised brokerage houses in London that specialise in the arrangement of such bonds.

Problem Summary

Albeit that there is a whole spectrum of insurance-based products available that can be beneficial to a project financing the problem is that we have a multitude of insurers/underwriters using different types of wording on different platforms, and even in different legal jurisdictions. This does not make lenders very comfortable as they do not know which insurer is assuming what risk, or whether there are gaps between the various wordings that potentially leave the borrower, thus lender, exposed. Furthermore many of these products are annual renewable whereas a typical project will involve 5 – 10 years of debt service. The downside for the project promoters is that they would not benefit from the potentially large discounts from consolidated premiums, nor the benefit of reduced debt pricing because of the lack of confidence in the event risk integrity.

A Practical Example Using Syndicated Insurance to Credit Enhance Capital Risk

One of the major problems encountered with developing economies is that long-term capital for business development would be a preferred solution under normal circumstances, but the political risks dictate short-term exposure. For a lender or investor to consider long-term capital the event risk cover must look like an integral part of the asset risk financing, and be of a quality that the integrity and robustness matches that of the financing terms. Thus we need, at the very least, the matching concept of a single underwriter assuming the lead in the event risk package, i.e. syndicated insurance.

Rather than consider how to build a syndicated insurance product for a generic project I would like to demonstrate how this product was derived for the very first complete application of syndicated insurance. I had already used a subset of this idea for previous projects in Eastern Europe, and successfully applied it for an Interest Only financing that I devised and structured for a capital financing in the former Czechoslovakia written by Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt (look out for ‘Interest Only financing’ as a future blog).

The project presented to me was a requirement of USD 100 million for an oil & gas development and production project in Western Siberia, Russia and in which Deutsche Morgan Grenville was already an equity investor for the exploration phase, and a solution would have a co-lead of HSBC and Deutsche Bank. It was in the Yeltsin era in Russia and no-one wanted to invest or lend for Russian projects. The company was a joint venture between a USA company (provider of finance and drilling expertise) and a Russian company (owner of a valuable Exploration, Development, and Production Sharing Agreement (EDPSA) negotiated by the USA company). Even though the assets (oil & gas) were proven and considerable they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and thus conventional funding did not arouse any interest. At that time no public bond offerings had been successful.

An overview of the primary criteria that needed to be considered:

  • The terms of the EDPSA stated, as a condition, the need for evidence of the availability of all of funding needed to develop the field. Funds were needed for 3 years with repayment within 5 years.
  • The joint venture company was Russian (this was not safe then, and recent problems encountered by BP in Russia confirm that not much has changed). If USD 100 million was injected into the joint venture company it could easily disappear.
  • All oil had to pass into the state-owned Transneft pipeline as Urals blend and could be diverted to Russian refineries (payment issues & business disruption if otherwise sold)
  • Western Siberia is a frozen wasteland in the winter, and a swamp in the summer thus sand pads with interconnections would be required (transportation issues)
  • There was only one power station in the region – very old, and the workers had not been paid in over 3 months (business disruption risk as surface equipment such as separators and compressors need energy supplies)
  • Third party transportation risk of piping crude oil to Novorossiysk on the Black Sea.

In spite of the considerable proven oil reserves even the hardened oil & gas investors had no appetite for this financing unless the risk profile could be dramatically improved. It was obvious from the outset that merely attaching a number of insurance products to the investment would still not attract interest. The conventional source of a political wrap for this financing, MIGA (the insurance arm of the World Bank), wanted a 3 – 6 month review period and a large amount of money in fees with no commitment to provide anything.

Thus a different approach was needed if we were to credit enhance this offering to make it attractive. It was clear that we needed, at least, to tap into just about every insurance product in our tool chest, and which ordinarily would provide a complex mix of wordings, platforms, and jurisdictions.

Some of the primary considerations were:

  • This financing could not be a conditional debt structure as this would not satisfy the terms of the EDPSA.
  • Asking investors to provide equity (conventional financing for oil & gas for pre-production activity) would not work. Thus a convertible debt structure would be needed through a public offering to capture the largest market of investors available, and providing an element of liquidity to investors.
  • The USD 100 million could not be placed into the Balance Sheet of the Russian j-v company. A trustee arrangement would be needed where a credible third party acceptable to all parties, and especially the Russian partners, could provide confirmation of available funds, but only release funds against confirmation of agreed deliverables. This trust arrangement would also have to provide unconditional comfort to the investors that their money was safe from unauthorised call by anyone, including a Russian court.
  • In order to achieve the comprehensive range of event risk protection needed we would need to convince the underwriters that every risk that could be mitigated through good corporate governance has been identified and addressed, e.g. placement of a generator on the field to satisfy the energy requirements of the array of separators and compressors needed to keep the oil flowing to the pipeline.
  • A secure off-take of the oil from Novorossiysk by a trusted Western company well placed in that arena.
  •  All oil payment receipts would need to be directed to the trustee with the full co-operation of the Russian j-v partner, and the Russian authorities (payment of their share of the oil revenues plus any taxation due from the j-v company)
  • Managing cash flow to keep the fields producing in the event of any third party business disruption

Having agreed these requirements in principle with all relevant parties, Dennis Parker and myself prepared a single event risks policy inclusive of all political risks and bonding requirements (irrecoverable political disruption, i.e. forced abandonment, would trigger a full refund to all investors). Insurance risks had never previously been included in the main body of a Trust Indenture but I knew that if we could achieve inclusion for this issue the financing would be significantly more attractive to investors. Clifford Chance provided oversight to this process to ensure that the drafting was consistent with Trust Indenture requirements. This process was complicated by the fact that the chosen trustee was Bank of New York who wanted their obligations written under US law, and specifically New York State law, whereas the main body was under English Law with Norwegian Arbitration.

Whereas I was concerned that we would not find a suitable single lead underwriter for such a comprehensive package I have the competence of Dennis Parker to thank for a relatively easy task.

Both HSBC and Deutsche Bank agreed to put the package to the appropriate authorities for consent to launch the issue. The road show would be the litmus test. We organised presentations to investors in 14 cities in just 28 days. We were oversubscribed after the eleventh city, Toronto – we had a product that satisfied the most hardened of investors.

This project financing demonstrated that event risks and asset risks can rank pari passu with each other providing integrity into project finance that fits the requirement in difficult environments, and at an affordable price. The credit enhancement meant that we could set a coupon yield at 10% against sovereign debt of 14.75% for Russia at that time, and with a total insurance premium of just 1.75% per annum of actual exposure for the term of the issue. This is the power of syndicated insurance for project finance.

The superior nature of Syndicated Insurance for Construction Projects

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The superior nature of Syndicated Insurance for Construction Projects

Syndicated Insurance is not so much an insurance solution – more a global comprehensive risk management tool for qualifying construction professionals. The application to major construction projects was developed by myself and John Curran, an expert in construction risks insurance, to provide banks with a quality event risk package in order to facilitate rapid financing at a lower cost to developers. It took 2 years of negotiation, cajoling and proving in whole or part with construction professionals.

It would also be reasonable to acknowledge David Barnes, Executive Director of Construction Risks at Willis in London who championed this product within Willis.

Having been asked to explain Syndicated Insurance I would suggest that this blog is for the spectrum of construction finance professionals as I must assume a reader knowledge of the conventional process of construction finance and construction risks insurance. Thus this blog will outline the features, scope, comprehensive nature, and benefits of Syndicated Insurance for construction projects.

The objective of this approach was to provide a totally comprehensive, all-inclusive insurance package that would include, and commit the lead underwriter to provide all requirements throughout the debt service period regardless of when, in the project timeline, certain requirements need to be activated. This provides security to a lender that all event risk requirements are guaranteed throughout the debt service period. 

Features

The ultimate global comprehensive and integrated insurance solution, designed with project finance specialists to address principal and bank requirements with unparalleled service and risk management delivery

Specifically designed to incorporate all development risk mitigation requirements for the larger contractor, property developer, and construction professional 

Flexible in its application – select what is required in the most applicable form – with consistency in delivery and cover 

Aligned with concepts such as long-term finance initiatives to offer long-term indemnity up to 30 years to satisfy bank finance requirements, and maintain a consistent bank risk profile, even during delays and disputes 

Comprehensive inter-laced cover with a single, major underwriter to emulate the way that bank’s syndicate the debt financing component thus simplifying risk assessment, cover, claims and disputes

A comprehensive solution for the construction professional throughout the world with valuable new features not currently available with any other product

Non-collateralised bonding facilities available to limit unnecessary use of working capital – the financial and security benefits are immediate and considerable 

Many of the difficulties encountered in construction litigation are avoided, significantly reducing the possibility of lengthy disputes, or project delays 

Added value benefits include 3 or 5 year fixed pricing with a share of insurers profit, loss control and evaluation services provided without charge, 24-hour helpline World-wide including collateral warranty advice and claims services. 

Cover Synopsis

Contractors “All Risks”Includes full cover for works, temporary works, materials & plant, whether owned or hired whilst at the contract site, in transit to or from the site, or temporarily stored away from site

Financial Risks – Takes the pressure off the Balance Sheet by avoiding the unnecessary use of working capital and bank bonding – Annual bonding facilities for Performance, Bid/Payment, Maintenance/Retention, Highways Act and other commercial guarantees

Advance ProfitsEmployer and contractor indemnified against consequential losses following contract delay – Exceptionally wide cove including interest on loans and loss of rent

Building DefectsUp to an initial 12 years’ cover with options to roll – initial technical audit uniquely leads to an automatic option to purchase for all projects – electrical and mechanical services can be included – enhanced value to completed construction sites – immediate compliance with requirements such as the Latham report objectives and anticipated EU directives – includes post-development efficacy of new technologies

Professional IndemnityLiability arising from architectural surveying and other agreed professional activities – High premium discount for modest voluntary excess – wide subrogation waiver agreement

Public and Products LiabilityIncludes contractual liability and indemnity to principal – World-wide coverage – optional excess levels

JCT Clause 21.2.1Automatic annual facility – No individual Surveys – No specific contract underwriting

Directors’ and Officers’ LiabilityComprehensive cover for the obligations of Directors and Officers to meet existing legislation, company and employee reimbursement – World-wide coverage – no excess option

Employers’ LiabilityIncludes cover for labour-only sub-contractors, hired or borrowed persons, all other self-employed persons, and authorised work experience schemes. World-wide coverage

Property DamageA wide range of financial protection opportunities for completed off-site properties occupied by you or leased to other parties – consequential loss – contents and other assets

Fidelity GuaranteeNo mandatory system of check – generous discount for voluntary excess options – automatically includes money and goods for first and third party fraud

Motor FleetIncludes courtesy vehicles – third party claims management – automatic repair authorisation – no excess option

Terrorism & Civil CommotionIncludes Terrorism, Riots, Strikes, Civil Commotion and Malicious Damage including fire

Brown FieldIncludes latent defects arising from assuming certified brown field sites for development including asbestos and heavy metals

Environment ImpactIncludes environmental pollution as a direct result of development works

Political RisksFor International projects where the political environment dictates the need for comprehensive cover against Expropriation, War & Terrorism, and Force Majeure

CONTRACTORS ‘ALL RISKS’

Cover

Responds to obligations arising from all standard conditions of contract including:

  • JCT – Joint Contract Works Tribunal
  • ICE – Institute of Civil Engineers
  • GC/Works/1 – General Conditions of Government Contracts
  • Other International contract conditions

Cover is provided in the joint names of the Contractor and/or Principal for unforeseen events causing damage to the works, temporary works and materials, whilst:

  • In transit to, or from, the contract site and while temporarily stored off-site
  • Own plant and hired plant
  • Site huts, Employee’s Tools and Equipment

Extensions

  • Removal of debris following loss or damage to the contract works
  • Professional fees in connection with reinstatement of the contract works
  • Cover for completed buildings pending sale, including show houses and their contents
  • Cover for loss of or damage to temporary works and other equipment during any maintenance period
  • The cost of recovering immobilised construction plant from any site
  • Cover in respect of the liability to meet loss of income claims made by a plant owner following damage to any plant hire

The Policy will automatically reinstate the sum insured following a loss.

FINANCIAL RISKS

Cover

Increasingly developers, banks, investors, local government and private sector employers are demanding the provision of guarantees, which will ensure that, in the event of insolvency, the costs they incur completing a development will be met.

 Bonds

  • The Performance Bond makes available to the employer a sum of money, normally 10% of the contract value in many parts of the World rising to 100% in countries such as the USA, which will facilitate completion of the contract should contractor insolvency occur.
  • Deed or Tender Bond – against withdrawing from a contract and that a Performance Bond is available.
  • Advance Payment Bond – against non-completion of a contract, including repayment of monies advanced by the employer.
  • Retention Bond – replaces the retention fund.
  • Maintenance/Retention Bond – against non-performance of maintenance responsibilities thereby releasing the retention fund.
  • Highways Act Bond – to local authorities against non-completion, to their satisfaction, of roads and sewers within developments.

These bonds can be provided through insurance companies. The advantage over banks, who also issue bonds, is that insurance company bonds are generally unsecured, whereas banks require collateral. Furthermore, bank-bonding facilities form part of a general overdraft facility, which could cause excessive borrowing requirements.

Insurance bonding facilities are off-balance sheet with consequential beneficial impact on statutory accounts.

ADVANCE PROFITS

Cover

Contractor and Principals’ loss of:

  • Rent Receivable
  • Interest Receivable on net proceeds of project
  • Interest Payable on project loans
  • Increased Cost of Works

all as a consequence of a delay emanating from an indemnifiable loss under Contractors ‘All Risks’.

 Definitions:

Loss of Rent – Rental income which, but for the damage, would have been received during the Indemnity Period.

Interest Receivable – The Interest Payable for outstanding loans in relation to the Project which have to be extended or re-negotiated and/or additional loans which may have to be raised to finance other projects which would have otherwise been funded from the net income of the sale of the Project.

Increased Cost of Working – The additional expenditure necessarily and reasonably incurred for the sole purpose of avoiding or diminishing loss of Rent Receivable and/or Loss of Interest Payable and/or Loss of Interest Receivable which, but for that expenditure, would have taken place during the Indemnity Period in consequence of the damage but not exceeding the loss of Rent Receivable and/or loss of Interest Payable and/or loss of Interest Receivable thereby avoided.

Indemnity Period – The period of delay in the letting (or sale) of the Development in consequence of the damage beginning on the date upon which, but for the damage, rent would have commenced to be earned (or the sale of the Development would have been completed).

 

BUILDING DEFECTS

Cover

Physical loss, destruction of or damage to the property insured. This includes the collapse of the building caused by a fault defect, error or omission in design, materials, components or construction of the building, which remain undiscovered on the day of practical completion.

  • First Party cover. Insurers assume responsibility for immediate rectification thereby avoiding the need to rely for compensation upon litigation against a Third Party.
  • Policy fully assignable for the benefit of future owners, tenants and occupiers.
  • Twelve-year period to comply with legislation such as the Latent Damages Act 1986, automatically extendable for up to 30 years to provide cover throughout various national financing initiatives and bank financing requirements.
  • Technical Auditing carried out by Insurers and included in premium thereby avoiding high cost of appointing independent consulting engineers which has previously made cost of cover prohibitive.
  • Initial Technical Audit leads to a facility for all projects, which avoids the need to audit each project, thereby reducing the cost and greatly simplifying arrangement of cover.

Extensions

  • Roof, Cladding, waterproof membrane, and underground services.
  • Electrical and mechanical services
  • Loss of rent, loss of profit and the costs of alternative accommodation.
  • Sum Insured includes demolition costs, Professional Fees, Regulatory Compliance and Inflation Provision.
  • Efficacy of new technologies post-completion
  • Premium Instalments

PROFESSIONAL INDEMNITY

Cover

In respect of the Insured’s legal liability for negligence in the conduct and execution of their professional activities and duties involving design or specification, supervision of construction, feasibility study, technical information calculation, always under the direction and control of a qualified architect, engineer or surveyor.

In addition to meeting costs and expenses in respect of damages and defense of a claim or potential claim, the cover may also be extended to meet those expenses which you may incur as a result of any action you take to reduce the cost of a claim or potential claim.

Extensions

  • Libel and slander
  • Loss of documents
  • Dishonesty of employees

 PUBLIC AND PRODUCTS’ LIABILITY

Cover

Liability to third parties following accidental bodily injury, loss of or damage to material property or accidental loss of amenities, trespass, and nuisance arising out of your normal business and site operations.

Extensions

  • Liabilities arising from defective design, specification or workmanship in respect of any structural materials or goods that you supply erect or repair.
  • Liability arising out of the use of mechanically propelled contractors’ plant on site.
  • Contingent liability arising out of employees using their own motor vehicles on company business.
  • Liability for loss or damage to premises which are leased or rented.
  • The Financial Loss Public Liability cover provides for financial losses but only arising out of loss of, or damage to, property. This Extension provides cover for liability in respect of accidental financial losses suffered by third parties where damage to property has not occurred.
  • Automatic Indemnity to Principals
  • Cross liabilities

 JCT CLAUSE 21.2.1 (OR EQUIVALENT)

Cover

Loss resulting from damage to property caused by collapse, subsidence, heave, vibration, weakening or removal of support, or lowering of ground water arising out of, and in the course of, carrying out the works.

 As there are various contractual clauses necessitating this cover, it requires each to be considered on an individual basis. This would not stop work on site commencing but it may mean after a risk assessment, that the final terms and conditions will be finalised subsequently.

The period of insurance cover will equate to the contract term.

 DIRECTORS’ AND OFFICERS’ LIABILITY

Cover

Protecting Directors and Officers of the Company, and the Company itself, in respect of claims made against them for any wrongful act in their capacity as Director or Officer.

A “Wrongful Act” is defined as breach of contract, breach of duty, act, neglect, error, omission, mis-statement, misleading statement or breach of warranty of authority.

Extensions

  • Shadow directorship
  • Costs of representation at official investigations into the affairs of the Company or its subsidiaries
  • Outside directorship
  • 12 month discovery period
  • Spouses of the Directors and Officers
  • Pollution defence costs

EMPLOYER’S LIABILITY

Cover

Provides against the cost of claims for bodily injury or disease, sustained by employees during the course of their employment, for which there is legal liability. Cover includes the actual damages awarded plus the cost and expenses incurred in defending a claim.

 An important feature of the Policy is that “employee” is widely defined and includes:

  • Labour only sub-contractors
  • Any other self-employed person
  • Employees hired or borrowed from another employer
  • Anyone participating in authorised work experience

 Extensions

  • Liability to employees and the public
  • Contractual liabilities and indemnity to Principal
  • Additional liabilities in respect of bodily injury or loss of or damage to property you assume under contract
  • Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), or national equivalent
  • Kidnap and Ransom

 PROPERTY DAMAGE

Cover

Comprehensive cover for all buildings upon Practical Completion. Cover is available for a single building or any number of buildings, with emphasis on flexibility to accommodate a diverse range of properties, resulting in tailoring cover to meet specific requirements. To obtain the optimum level of protection, a number of invaluable extensions are included as standard, removing unnecessary complication and outlay involved in purchasing additional policies, resulting in overlapping or duplication. Conversely, gaps in cover, which may only come to light at the time of a claim, are avoided.

  • Consequential loss – advance rental
  • Property owners & employers’ liability
  • General interests
  • Denial of access
  • Automatic reinstatement
  • Trace and access
  • Capital additions
  • Internal maintenance contracts
  • Loss of metered services
  • Loss of keys
  • Unauthorised use of services
  • Landscaped gardens

 FIDELITY GUARANTEE

Cover

Loss of money or goods caused directly by an act of first or Third Party fraud, theft or dishonesty by an employee provided the loss is discovered within two years of the termination of the Policy or the period during which it occurred.

An “employee” is widely defined and includes:

  • A person under a Contract of Service or apprenticeship with the Insured
  • Trainee under work experience schemes
  • Directors under a Contract of Service who have a shareholding in the Company
  • Temporary employees provided by staff agencies excluding computer staff, warehouse staff, drivers and others where special consideration is required
  • Staff retired on a pension still working on a consultancy basis

Extensions

  • Auditors’ fees in substantiating the amount of claim, or amending or re-writing computer programs or security codes following fraudulent use.
  • No compulsory requirement to prosecute defaulting employees.
  • Defaulting employee not required to be identified if proven loss was caused by an employee.
  • Cover provided on each and every basis not restricted to an aggregate.

MOTOR FLEET

Cover

All types of vehicles ranging from private cars, commercial vehicles, special type vehicles or motor cycles or hauliers.

This cover can be diverse to include:

  • Normal Commercial Fleets
  • Industrial Fleets
  • High Performance Cars
  • High Net Worth – Collection of valuable vehicles
  • Plant equipment licensed for road use

Extensions

  • Unlimited third party property damage
  • Unlimited manslaughter defence costs
  • Full cover for trailers whilst attached to vehicle
  • Courtesy vehicles
  • Automatic repair authorisation
  • No Excess Option

TERRORISM

Cover

Indemnifies the Insured for the Ascertained Net Loss sustained as a result of direct physical damage to or physical destruction of Insured Assets arising directly out of Terrorism, Riots, Strikes, Civil Commotions or Malicious Damage including fire damage and loss by looting. For the purpose of this cover, an act of terrorism means an act, including the use of force or violence, of any person or group(s) of persons, whether acting alone or on behalf of or in connection with any organisation(s), committed for political, religious or ideological purposes including the intention to influence any government and/or to put the public in fear for such purposes.

BROWN FIELD

Cover

Provides full indemnity against any latent problems associated with certified brown field sites including asbestos and heavy metals

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

Cover

Provides for cover against environmental impact of accidental spillage or other non-negligent events that cause environmental problems

 

POLITICAL RISKS

This is a truly International product and thus, for countries for which such cover is required,  provides a comprehensive Political Risks section that covers the full spectrum of risks such as Expropriation, War & Terrorism, and Force Majeure.

Cover

Expropriation – indemnifies the Insured for the Ascertained Net Loss sustained as a direct result of the Insured Events of Expropriation, Selective Discrimination, Forced Abandonment, Forced Divestiture, Cancellation of Concession Agreement, Cancellation of Export Licences or Imposition of Export Embargo

War & Terrorism – indemnifies the Insured for the Ascertained Net Loss sustained as a result of direct physical damage to or physical destruction of Insured Assets arising directly out of the following Insured Events: Political Violence, Civil War, Revolution, Rebellion, Insurrection or any Hostile Act by a Belligerent Power or Terrorism, Riots, Strikes, Civil Commotions or Malicious Damage including fire damage and loss by looting during the occurrence of or following an Insured Event, provided that such physical loss or damage occurs during the Policy Period at the location(s) of the Foreign Enterprise

Force Majeure – indemnifies the Insured for its provable and ascertainable Net Loss resulting from, due to, or in consequence of any cause beyond the reasonable control of the Insured including Business Interruption as a result of emergency partial or total closure of any road or railway line or port of navigable waterway or airport by or under the lawful order of the police, local or national authority or government, or the electricity, water or gas supply authority, and Third Party Blockade (or Quarantine) which means the politically motivated use of military force, or the direct threat thereof, of one or more third party sovereign nations.

FAQ’s

 What are the real benefits to a developer of this package?

  1. A single policy, segmented into chapters relating to the various categories of risk, on one common legal platform with one major rated underwriter, and from which qualifying construction professionals can select their requirements safe in the knowledge that there is no expensive crossover cover, nor unforeseen gaps.
  2. Known cover for all aspects of the development (regardless of the date of required cover activation) from the beginning of the project at a known cost, and not subject to any detrimental market changes throughout the development period.
  3. Latent Defect and Advance Profit features not currently available under any known construction development insurance.
  4. Developers can dispense with the need to negotiate lengthy warranties, and to scrutinise the terms of professional appointments.
  5. As the insurance package is not on a “claims made” basis but is, rather, for a fixed duration and level of cover from the outset, there is no need for the developer to concern themselves with the maintenance of insurance cover by professionals and the contractor nor with the continuity of the professional team in existence into the future.
  6. Many of the difficulties inherent in construction litigation (particularly as the apportionment and extent of liability) can be avoided. This substantially reduces the possibility of lengthy disputes.
  7. The sales process is substantially simplified and the need for additional documents and negotiations is kept to a minimum.
  8. Development financing becomes simpler and quicker as the lender does not have the concern of ensuring that all required risks are adequately covered and on what terms as this package provides a fully uniform and inter-laced insurance platform with only one substantial underwriter, and in a language suitable for bank professionals. This makes financing substantially simpler.
  9. The latent defect aspects of this policy provide for a far wider scope than currently available, and cover is available for up to 30 years before new inspections are required making this a significant sales aid.
  10. All of the above and more at a probable lesser cost than could be achieved using conventional insurance with less cover.

How will this insurance package affect the bid process?

Traditionally, as part of the procurement process, each contractor would factor into their bid the cost of obtaining insurance and obtaining any necessary bonding for their obligations. Contractors with fewer claims and who are more reliable would have access to cheaper insurance which, in theory should give them a competitive advantage. Under this policy the developer would be advised of the insurance cost differentials associated with each bidder and the developer would then use this information in assessing any bid. In this way the developer has total control on insurance costs.

What is different about the latent defect cover under this policy?

In its simplest form the latent defect cover addresses what should be available to purchasers, i.e. full rectification of any and all defects for a period up to 30 years without inspection and subject only to a satisfactory claims history. This cover is flexible in that the developer can provide say, 12 years, as part of the purchase contract with the purchaser having the automatic right to continue such cover on an agreed basis thereafter.

Can the insurance premium be broken down into its component parts for allocation purposes?

Apportionment of premium is essentially a mute point to the developer as it is a project cost, whoever initially bears it. The mechanism of this insurance product reduces the overall cost of insurance, and thus project cost. However each risk component can be separately costed for apportionment purposes.

VALUE ADDED SERVICES

This sophisticated product can only be realistically negotiated, placed with underwriters, and administered by the likes of Willis, Aon, and Marsh. For example Willis, with 300 offices in 74 countries and 14,500 associates serving clients in some 180 countries, have the capacity to provide the following added value services to ensure a quality service to construction professionals:

  • A specialist construction division with staff throughout the World from surveying and/or construction loss adjusting background.
  • Specialist construction claims staff enables a pro-active stance on contentious or complex claims. Integrated computerised systems enables instant access to claims information;
  • Contract conditions – advice on all insurance implications and assistance with negotiating the most effective and beneficial wording for each specific project;
  • Risk Management – advice in compliance with local legislation such as CDM – Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and general loss control;
  • Production of a service plan which would obligate Willis to implement all elements of service from pre-renewal meetings to site surveys on a specific time scale by way of a detailed bar chart;
  • 24 hour helpline throughout the World including collateral warranty advice and claims services;
  • Dedicated legal services from your usual supplier.

Small Print

  • The very nature of this product means that it is available to qualifying professionals prepared to engage in a technical audit for qualification purposes. This audit is for a developer or main contractor and should only need to be conducted once, irrespective of the number of construction projects.
  • A first time developer is unlikely to qualify if using standard JCT or equivalent contracts. However a non-qualifying developer employing a qualifying main contractor on a full Design and Build basis is likely to qualify.
  • The construction project needs to be agreed by a lender to be commercially viable.

I am happy to address any questions via  ‘leave a comment’ (at top) or by ’email’ (below).

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EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On? – Market Economy

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EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?

Market Economy

Is the so-called European Union worthy of all the time, trouble and cost, all fully funded by the people of Europe? Firstly let me clarify the value-added components of a market economy worthy of the time trouble and cost of our United States of Europe. I refer to a secure, self-sufficient, free market economy consisting of a secure and sustainable supply of raw materials and energy, a relatively cheap labour force, innovative skills (excellent education), technology transfer skills, manufacturing, marketing, and with stable and effective financing (banking).

An economic definition of a Free Market Economy is a system in which decisions regarding resource allocation, production, and consumption, and price levels and competition, are made by the collective actions of individuals or organizations seeking their own advantage, i.e. profit. In all market economies, however, freedom of the markets is limited and governments intervene occasionally to encourage or dampen demand or to promote competition to thwart the emergence of monopolies. Also called free economy, or free market (ref: BusinessDictionary definition). But this can occur at the nation state level, or as a collective of nation states such as NAFTA.

The free market viewpoint defines ‘economic freedom’ or ‘economic liberty’ or ‘right to economic liberty’ as the freedom to produce, trade and consume any goods and services acquired without the use of force, fraud or theft. This is already embodied in the rule of law, property rights and freedom of contract, and characterized by external and internal openness of the markets, the protection of property rights and freedom of economic initiative.

However in this world of globalisation recent history has shown that uncontrolled greed by the few can have devastating impacts on the many. The most obvious of these is the banking crisis where a few greedy investment bankers, interested only in their personal wealth, saw the opportunity to use their banks as casinos. When they were winning everyone was happy, ignorant of the fact that it could not last. The effects of this have caused widespread hardship, putting excessive stress on all of the welfare initiatives inherent in a democratic system.

We also see this excess in the boardrooms of major corporates who award themselves excessive bonuses, pensions, and salary increases whilst the workers, who actually create the wealth, have to suffer wage increases below inflation, i.e. they get poorer.

Clearly entrepreneurs and wealth creation are at the heart of any free market economy and must be encouraged and rewarded. Furthermore it is arrogant of politicians in general to think that they can outsmart the clever people whose sole intent is to make money regardless of consequence, and avoid or even evade taxes where possible. However united political systems throughout the global economy can take steps to close many of the gates to ensure that such excessive freedom is not available. For example investment banking is a global business so governments throughout the world need to legislate in tandem that banks cannot act as casinos, and must contain their activities to creating economic value and global liquidity. We need the creativity of investment banks, but we do not need their casino activities.

Likewise we now see moves by various governments to give stakeholders, the owners of the company, more powers to curb the excesses of the executives. However this is not the part of a market economy that I wish to address in this essay.

I want to refer to our template of the USA and examine the parameters that fuelled their economy, especially throughout the 20th century. If we refer back to the opening paragraph of this essay we will see a definition of a secure and self-sufficient, free market economy. If we examine the components of this definition there is one which can be considered as deficient within the EU as it is today, i.e. a secure and sustainable supply of raw materials and energy. My use of the word ‘sustainable’ in this context relates to volume rather than the Kyoto concept of ‘renewable’, especially for natural minerals. This component was fundamental to the industrial development of the USA and, indeed I am aware of expansionist plans of the USA to restock when they are close to exhausting their own supplies. For example we see how fast the USA has embraced fracking for both oil & gas exploration and development resulting in the material reduction in energy costs in the USA. This enables the USA to resume as a competitive manufacturer and supplier, thus reducing imports. This is a win-win-win for the US economy and its people. It is very refreshing to see that David Cameron has fully embraced this technology as a counter to the usual doomsayers who would have people starve rather than benefit from this technology.

So where does the EU find secure supplies of raw materials? The logical choice is to look east to our neighbours in the outposts of Eastern Europe. Russia has already demonstrated that it does not understand how to engage in secure supply, thus can only be considered a secondary source for the time being. It is possible to engage with countries such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan albeit with caution bearing in mind their continued alliance with Russia.

We cannot assume that the plundering the natural resources of third world countries as with Bougainville Island can continue. For those who do not know this story Bougainville is a small island state near to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific south of the Philippines. Before the war it was placed under administration of Australia under mandate of the League of Nations, but was invaded by the Japanese during the war. After the war Australia did not officially resume its role of administrator but, as soon as Rio Tinto found that Bougainville had enormous reserves of copper ore and gold in the 1990’s Australia went into business with Rio Tinto and passed statutes giving the mining rights to Australia who then gave Rio Tinto the exploration and development agreements without any regard to the people of Bougainville. The process of extraction polluted large tracts of the island until the people of Bougainville forcibly removed the Rio Tinto personnel (who were supported by Australian police and the Philippine army) from the island, with many dead. There is much on the internet about this tragedy for those interested. Rio Tinto and Australia are still looking at reparations of some USD 8 billion to the people of Bougainville.

Parts of Africa are also rich sources of minerals, but the Chinese have secured much of these for their own industrial requirements, as is the case with Brazil.

Thus the EU will primarily have to compete in the open market – not the strongest base on which to build a United States of Europe, especially with competing countries as large as China and India, both willing to secure as many resources as they can find to fuel their own needs.

It is worth returning to the situation in Brazil, one of the so-called BRICS, as an example of not understanding the economics of owning raw materials. Currently in Brazil they mine their raw materials and export them to countries such as China at Rial:USD exchange rates that do not optimise value to Brazil. They then have to import finished goods made with these raw materials thus consuming more than their receipts from the raw materials to satisfy their own internal market demand for goods. This is a sad reflection of a country with outdated fiscal and social policies, woeful internal transport systems, and that cannot attract large-scale manufacturing industry because cost of production could not be competitive at current exchange rates. Contrast this with the USA who would use their capitalist economy to convert these vast reserves of raw materials into goods for both internal consumption and export thus reducing the need to import, and receiving export income. Think of the employment difference between Brazil and the USA – Brazil only engages nominal labour in mining the materials, whereas the USA would also engage the manufacturing design and process people, distribution, etc. The market economy of the United States of Europe needs to resemble the USA model to satisfy the definition that I have proposed. Indeed if Brazil were a direct neighbour of the EU they would be a ‘must’ to be a member as the EU could provide all of the market support to Brazil that it lacks in exchange for its raw materials – this would be a fantastic outcome for our United States of Europe. It does not matter that Brazil is a developing economy as the capabilities within the other member states could rapidly transform Brazil into a vibrant economy having all of the infrastructure necessary for a 21st century country.

Therefore I would suggest that we consider the current 28 member states as phase I of European integration, or even phase I and phase II if we adopt a more pragmatic plan of integration. I see phase II (or III) as the inclusion of Ukraine: (coal, iron ore (5% of world reserves), manganese, nickel and uranium, mercury ore (2nd largest reserves in the world) and sulphur (largest reserves in the world)), Azerbaijan: (rich variety of minerals, oil & gas), and Turkey: (many types of minerals, and close links to the Kurds in northern Iraq and their large oil & gas reserves). Before anyone asks, Turkey would have to commit to continue as a fully secular democracy as part of membership, but having worked with Turkey since the late 1970’s I do not see this as a problem, and as is evidenced with the current unrest in Turkey. Just as we have seen in Egypt the majority of people in Turkey value a free secular society, and will fight to keep it.

Ultimately I see the integration of Russia with its vast mineral wealth (our local equivalent of Brazil) thus placing the United States of Europe as a significant self-sufficient market able to compete with any other economy in the world. As improbable as this seems today, if Europe can achieve a United States of Europe similar to what is proposed in these essays, then a more pragmatic regime in the Kremlin will see the advantages of being within, rather than the vast costs to create their own economic system – especially if Europe can substantially reduce its need of oil & gas supplies from Russia.

The value of a market economy, as per my definition in the opening paragraph, to our United States of Europe is the lack of dependency (and thus exposure) to any other country for the supply of materials strategic to the economy of the nation. This is also applicable to agriculture, but in this regard I do not anticipate any problems with capacity to feed the people of the United States of Europe today or in the foreseeable future. For example we have not yet begun to properly and fully exploit the vast black gold agricultural regions around the river Danube throughout the former Yugoslavia and Romania, and which could potentially produce a significant amount of the produce required. They call the soil in that region ‘black gold’ for a reason, and most of this region is organic soil.

Thank you for your continued interest in this European venture.

This blog is part of a series of blogs called ‘EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?’ and which examine the framework for a truly United States of Europe, and what would be needed to achieve it. Look at the archive index to find other blogs in this series.

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EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On? – Taxation

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EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?

Taxation

Taxation is the instrument of State that provides the income to service the functions of government. It can also be used to incentivise investment, to change behaviour, and to redistribute wealth.

Within the EU today each nation state has its own tax regime plus a tax to fund the various organs of government of the EU – notionally VAT.

The disparity of tax regimes and the effectiveness of collection throughout the EU is almost a north/south divide. The Mediterranean nation states have proven poor at tax collection much through corruption and black economies, and thus their current dilemma. The more Northern nation states have reasonably good collection and little or no corruption.

Years of attractive stimulus for businesses by providing complex tax incentives are now coming home to roost. The desperate need by governments for new sources of tax revenues has unleashed wrath on major corporations who are certainly exploiting the available tax incentives albeit, by and large, they are not contravening statute. However politicians are suggesting that these businesses have a moral duty to pay more tax, thus whipping up the flames of anger among the electorate, and working with other governments to do the same in order to close the door on these businesses relocating – a coup. It will be interesting to see how these corporates respond to this approach as they have a right to think it a breach of faith. Not that I support their position as I have seen smaller, developing states essentially raped by corporates forcing their terms onto inexperienced struggling governments just trying to bring some wealth creation to their country. Furthermore I have already mentioned in a previous essay that corporates have a moral duty to the welfare of their staff and immediate environment – something that has substantially diminished as a result of globalisation, but needs to be reintroduced.

I think it justified within a discussion about the EU to include the converse of taxation in the form of nation state subsidies from the EU government. The most contentious of these is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) a mechanism created to normalise competition in farming output whilst markets adjusted, but which has not yet gone away. Indeed the CAP still accounts for some 50% of the EU budget. The French appear to use the substantive revenues they receive under CAP to put off the fateful day of much needed social reform in France. It is easier for the French government to plead with the EU Commission to keep this subsidy than it is to break the stranglehold grip over social policy of the trade unions in France. This has been a thorn in the side of EU integration for too many years. A unified tax system throughout Europe, applied equally to all, could address this problem without any reasonable objections from any trade union movement.

If we refer back to our corporate structure described in ‘EU/Eurozone – Start Again of Plod On – A New Government’ it is easy to see that tax revenues yield the income streams that provides for the State to function. A nation state, just as with a corporate, has a Balance Sheet showing all State assets and Liabilities, an income statement showing all tax receipts and the costs government and the social state, and a cash flow statement showing tax receipts versus expenditure on a timeline indicating when the government coffers will be short of funds to meet its commitments (and thus the need to visit with the Central Bank to cover any shortfall), and when it will be in surplus. The theory is that good government will result in balanced books, something Margaret Thatcher was forever reminding her colleagues in the House of Parliament when they wanted yet more money for some social crusade, and something Tony Blair just ignored in favour of expensive social engineering intended to buy popularity and the votes of the people. Thus the infamous note left by Labour MP, Liam Bryne, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the time of the general election in 2010 which stated ‘Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid that there is no money. Kind Regards and Good Luck’ – a very different situation to the one Labour inherited when they came to power.

What about the rest of Europe? We know that Germany has probably the most austere tax regime, albeit that the Scandinavian countries make take exception to this statement. The most lax at tax collection is probably Greece where, by all accounts, tax officials are readily corrupted, and the ruling elite are part of the problem. As far back as ancient Greece Aristotle knew that no freedom is limitless. The negative aspect of too much freedom of economy was an issue already recognised by the ancient Greeks, and proves to be one of major reasons for the current huge crisis in Greece today. As in ancient Greece it is still typical that very rich people think that is very natural not to pay taxes, and not even to have a conscience about it.

Clearly entrepreneurs and wealth creation are at the heart of any free market economy and must be encouraged and rewarded. Furthermore it is arrogant of politicians in general to think that they can outsmart the clever greedy people. However a united political system in the form of a simple and unified tax structure applied throughout our United States of Europe could close many of the gates to ensure that excessive freedom is not available.

In our United States of Europe the whole tax system would have to be overhauled in the name of equality for all. Thus what might a centralised tax system look like so that it is seen to be balanced between rich and poor states?

Within a framework of subsidiarity the central government would need funds, and each member state would also need centrally allocated funds to operate State policies. Furthermore each member state could raise taxes specific to the requirements of each state, with the consent of the people of the member state. There are a multitude of cultures within Europe having different requirements in the name of well-being and quality of life. These should not be stifled by an overbearing central government, and thus allow the state assemblies to respond to such requirements through a democratic process of state taxation.

Thus we would need State taxation in the form of corporation tax, income tax, investment income tax, duties, levies, etc. The rate of taxation on these sources would need to be the same for everyone, and collection would be controlled by a central government revenue agency. For example all employed people would have income tax and national insurance (for healthcare and pensions) deducted monthly at source thus providing central government with a constant stream of income, easy to collect, and overcoming the existing difficulties presented to citizens in some nation states who are paid their salary gross of deductions and then have to find funds to pay their taxes at the end of the tax year. Income tax thresholds, i.e. the minimum salary to attract any income tax, should be set at a liveable level (thus optimising the tax collection body to a cost effective level), and national insurance contribution up to this level should only include a pension provision – healthcare should be free for the poorest.

VAT could be transformed into a tax to allow for redistribution of wealth to poorer sectors. For example VAT, being a capitalist tax and applied to purchase power (consumption), should have its bounds set such that the essentials of life should not attract VAT. This means that most food, anything to do with rearing children, books, newspapers, etc would be exempt from VAT. Indeed VAT could be seen as a luxury tax and thus only paid by people who had enough disposable funds to afford the items. This means that poorer people would pay little VAT as a percentage of their disposable income, and richer people would pay substantially more. These funds could be used to improve the environment of the poorer people, and help poorer member states to raise the standards of living for its citizen by providing necessary infrastructure to encourage wealth creation.

The essential requirement of the system of taxation within our United States of Europe is that it is seen as unified and fair to all people thus preventing unnecessary competition between member states, and to prevent artificial migration of people. For example, the extreme application of subsidiarity in Switzerland has provided a bizarre situation where people will move just a few streets in the same city for the sole purpose of achieving lower taxation in a different municipal system, but still work in, and enjoy the benefits of the higher tax municipality within that same city. This level of subsidiarity could be compared with tribalism and thus is very undesirable, and should be avoided.

Thank you for your continued interest in this European venture.

This blog is part of a series of blogs called ‘EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?’ and which examine the framework for a truly United States of Europe, and what would be needed to achieve it. Look at the archive index to find other blogs in this series.

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These blogs are intended to provoke thought and ideas so I look forward to any comments about the content. Just move to the beginning of the blog, click on ‘Comments’ and you can record your views, or ask questions.

EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On? – Common Judiciary

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EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?

Common Judiciary

The Judiciary of a nation state is the organ of government that should provide oversight of the legislative and executive (government), and is a comprehensive and integrated structure able to delivery stable legal security according to the laws of the State.

In this blog we will quickly propose an outline legal framework for a common democratic legal system for our United States of Europe that will provide a secure legal structure for all people.

The judicial structure is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the nation state. The judiciary should have the power to change laws through the process of judicial review. Courts with judicial review power may annul the laws and rules of the state when it finds them incompatible with a higher norm, such as primary legislation, the provisions of the constitution, or international law. Judges constitute a critical force for interpretation and implementation of a constitution, thus de facto in common law countries creating the body of constitutional law. Thus the judiciary needs to be fully independent of the legislative and executive, and the judges be conferred on merit, not election.

The judiciary usually consists, at its head, a court of final appeal called the ‘Supreme Court’ or ‘Constitutional Court’, together with various levels of lower courts.

Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the judiciary does not make law, which is the responsibility of the legislative, or enforce law, which is the responsibility of the executive, but rather interprets law and applies it to the facts of each case.

This organ of the state is responsible to provide equal justice for all under law, including human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The judiciary also provides the mechanism for the resolution of civil disputes, and a criminal justice system.

So much for a democratic judicial system definition but the complexity of the various legal structures currently used throughout the EU nation states is mind-boggling. We have Common Law, structures based on Napoleonic Code, Civil Law, Basic law, etc. In the USA there is Federal Law as the legal foundation, and then there is State Law superimposed upon it. The overall legal platform is based on English Common Law which was adopted from the English Legal System. However the USA has subsequently over-complicated this system in their overly litigious society, and we should avoid this. As an example an identical contract drafted under US Law (50 pages), English Law (5 pages), and Swiss Law (3 pages). Any consideration of a legal system needs to learn lessons of the past and to keep it simple and relevant.

For business to effectively operate throughout our United States of Europe there must be a common legal platform. The complexity of the current EU multi-legal systems adds a cost burden to business which ultimately reflects in the price of product or service to the consumer – the people of Europe. But what system to adopt?

My argument for the above structure starts with a global perspective. Our United States of Europe will most certainly want to engage in business with the wider world. If we look at trade in oil & gas, commodities, manufactured trade, international securities, all of these have standard legal packages throughout the world which also provide trusted international arbitration. These legal structures have all been derived and evolved out of English Law, are drafted in the English language, and jurisdiction will be either/and/or English Law and US Law. These systems were devised to create a common and safe platform for international trade, are widely used, and banks prefer these tried and tested structures for their involvement in transactions.

Thus I propose that the legal structure as regards business, commerce, and finance be English Law. As the foundation of the English legal system is Common Law then our Legal System for the United States of Europe would be based on Common law, also known as case law or precedent, and is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals. One third of the world’s population (approximately 2.3 billion people) live in common law jurisdictions or in systems mixed with civil law, and thus this proposed system would be compatible with many major trading partners in the world, including the USA and India.

However I would not propose total adoption of the English Legal system as I would see our new model as a golden opportunity to significantly revise some of the historic anomalies in the process of English Law, not least the removal of the barrister/solicitor structure which adds significant cost to the process of law. Another example would be the abolition of much of our Family Division law and replace it with something more akin to the structure in the German legal system, and the German inquisitorial process (Civil Law) in the lower courts would also be more relevant and cost effective, and thus ensure that remedy in law is available to all. Common law courts tend to use an adversarial system, in which two sides present their cases to a neutral judge. In contrast civil law systems use an inquisitorial system process, where an examining magistrate serves two roles by developing the evidence and arguments for one and the other side during the investigation phase, and which could be heard as litigant in person without fear of being overawed by an opposing lawyer.

I have actually experienced the confusion of examination under an unfamiliar legal system in a language unknown to me as a witness in a case in the Austrian Courts where protocol dictates that the case should be heard in Austrian-German. The proceedings were conducted under civil law and thus the judge was the primary examiner. After about one hour (of a 5 hour examination of my evidence) the Judge, who obviously was fluent in English, was becoming increasingly frustrated with the translator of my testimony which was frequently being corrected by the lawyers to both the claimant and the defendant. Having determined that all of the key people spoke English the judge dismissed the translator, and the hearing was continued in English. This judge was clear in his objective to get to the truth of the matter, and was not about to allow out-dated protocols to compromise his objective.

In Switzerland it is now common to hear cases in English, and which was initiated by cases involving international trade.

A key requirement of any modern democratic system is the rights afforded under habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a writ (legal action) that requires a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court. The principle of habeas corpus ensures that a prisoner can be released from unlawful detention—that is, detention lacking sufficient cause or evidence. The remedy can be sought by the prisoner or by another person coming to the prisoner’s aid. This right originated in the English legal system, and is now available in many nations. It has historically been an important legal instrument safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary state action. The jurist Albert Venn Dicey wrote that the British Habeas Corpus Acts “declare no principle and define no rights, but they are for practical purposes worth a hundred constitutional articles guaranteeing individual liberty”. There are nation states within the EU, and new members under this model who do not use habeas corpus, and thus my reference to its fundamental role in the United States of Europe.

Habeas corpus essentially means that you are innocent until you are proven guilty. There are some exceptions to this, e.g. consumer banking law where a customer who has a dispute with a financial institution can, in equity, reverse this situation in that the bank will be assumed in the wrong unless the bank can prove itself in the right. An ordinary consumer cannot be expected to contest a bank having vast resources with which to frustrate a consumer claim. It could be argued that this removal of habeas corpus should be applied to all service sector corporates, especially energy and mobile phone providers. In this age of automaton account management mistakes are common putting the consumer under much stress and distress dealing with intransigent corporate customer services who believe that their computers are always right. It would be more equitable if the corporate was required to prove that the data in their computers is legitimate.

Thus my proposal for the judiciary of the United States of Europe would be:

  • An independent constitutional judiciary based on merit, not election
  • A European Supreme Court where the judges comprise the senior judge of each of the nation states. The President of the Supreme Court would be determined by election by the Supreme Court judges on a 2 year re-election
  • A legal system based on  English Common Law with appropriate elements of Civil Law
  • Modernised court processes including removal of barrister/solicitor protocol, and introduction of the inquisitorial system in the lower courts
  • Member states to have their own courts subordinated to the Supreme Court
  • Member states to have own assemblies able to enact State law, by-laws, and ordinances consistent with constitutional law
  • Intrinsic rights to all under habeas corpus, albeit with the specific exclusion of terrorists
  • Service sector corporates to have no right to habeas corpus in consumer disputes

Thank you for your continued interest in this European venture.

This blog is part of a series of blogs called ‘EU/Eurozone – Start Again or Plod On?’ and which examine the framework for a truly United States of Europe, and what would be needed to achieve it. Look at the archive index to find other blogs in this series.

I hope that you found this blog interesting, and will give it the ‘thumbs up’ below. You can also use the share options below to share your interest in this blog with others you know.

These blogs are intended to provoke thought and ideas so I look forward to any comments about the content. Just move to the beginning of the blog, click on ‘Comments’ and you can record your views, or ask questions.