A matter of public concern To the Editor
Guyana Chronicle
January 4, 2002

I HAVE read with much interest a letter in the Stabroek News, December 21, 2001 written by Alston Sookraj of R. Sookraj & Sons in which he disclosed his gross disappointment at not receiving a settlement of his fire claim from his insurers, the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Company.

Mr. Sookraj stated that he placed the matter in the hands of his brokers, referring to the reputable broking firm of Insurance Brokers-Guyana Limited and the well-respected Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Kaisree Chatterpaul, and perhaps these references may suggest to some, that not even the learned attempts of these advocates were able to move the Hand-in-Hand nearer to a settlement.

The Sookraj issue has to my mind now become a matter of public concern, since it alludes to a perception, held by a significant section of the public that certain insurance companies usually give people who make claims on them a hard time in reaching a satisfactory settlement. It is very obvious that unless a settlement is made very soon, and the Sookraj's anger continues to be the focal talking point among the business and other social sectors in this society, then the Hand-in-Hand may well be singled out as the company, which always has difficulties in settling claims.

Whilst it would be unethical of me to join with anyone in expressing such a view as my own, I will not hesitate to state that I am extremely disappointed that that company has not deemed it expedient to practically demonstrate its eagerness to settle this claim prior to any resort to arbitration.

It has been stated that the Kissoon Group will receive $200,000,000 or 98% of their sum insured, no doubt, following the report of their Loss Adjuster, whose report forms an independent guide for insurers, who in any event have the final decisions to make, as to quantum of settlement.

Being fully cognisant of all the rules of the game in this instance, I have a real difficulty in my readiness to find any comfort in the Hand-in-Hand's Loss Adjuster's final report, which indicated initially a sum of $24,594,553.00 as Sookraj's assessed loss, but indicated to Sookraj that in an effort to bring closure to this claim, reflecting their relationship with the insurers, they were prepared to compromise on a settlement greater than the $24.6 million and in conjunction with the Insurers, agreed to offer the sum of $30.8 million representing just 83.2% of the total sum insured.

That offer was rejected by Sookraj and it was decided that the matter should be dealt with by Arbitration in accordance with Section 18 Terms & Conditions of the Policy. There always remains however, an opportunity to settle such matters prior to the commencement of Arbitration, and at the instance of the Hand-in-Hand, Sookraj, through his attorney, disclosed an amount which he would be prepared to accept as final settlement, but the Hand-in-Hand has not, so far responded. Sookraj has up to this time left the door open, in order to give his insurers an opportunity to conclude this long outstanding matter in an amicable manner, but to no avail.

I should indicate, that it was after his initial negotiations had taken place that he resorted to consult with Insurance Brokers-Guyana Limited and his lawyer.

My principal concern in this unfortunate incident is the dreadful public perception of some Fire Insurance Companies which accept business from the public, agreed the value of Property to be covered, and then from the public's point of view, seem to abandon their responsibility to the dictates of some foreign Loss Adjuster who for obvious reasons do not fully understand the Guyanese ethos, but who have to justify their high charges by seeking to save Insurance companies, from paying out money in honouring claims. To this end, some Adjusters tend to be heavy handed, in making deductions for depreciation, or even when confronted with prices submitted by highly qualified contractors.

The insurance association of Guyana which has always been a toothless organisation, does not seem capable of convincing certain leading insurers that their action towards business people such as Sookraj will do much harm to this respectable industry which has been preserved by honour and integrity.

Finally, I would appeal to the Board and Management of the Hand-in-Hand to make a conscious review of their claim settling policy, taking into consideration that as a responsible insurer, they must endeavour to protect the industry by ensuring that the public at large, represented by the Sookrajs' and such others can feel very confident, that their claims will be satisfactorily settled, or when doing business with Insurers in Guyana.