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Winston Dookeran's New Politics

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 19, 2007

One expected something new and refreshing when Winston Dookeran entered the political area and announced that "new politics" were the order of the day. In his attempt to offer an alternative to the PNM and UNC one felt that there would have been a stricter adherence to decency and truth and that he would have tried to lift the political discourse to a "higher" level. But, as the French says, the more things change, the more they remain the same; the newer the politics, the more repulsive is its contents.

On Friday, August 17, Mr. Dookeran launches Uncertainty, Stability and Challenges, a selection of the speeches from over one hundred speeches that he delivered while he was the governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (1997-2002). In his acknowledgement he thanks the Bank for its support (presumably including financial support) and the Research Department, in particular, for "the preparation of the speeches." This is not unusual. In any institution of this kind the staff's job is to prepare material for the CEO who makes revisions as he sees fit. However, the policy positions so espoused are the positions of the Bank. They are not the CEO's thinking.

Therefore, it was surprising when Mr. Dookeran disclosed to Clint Chan Tack of Newsday (August 9, 2007) that that "much of the book's material was put together when he was a visiting scholar at Harvard University," a position he occupied for a month or at best two months, after he left the Bank. This raises the question: were these speeches re-written or are they the same speeches he delivered when he was the governor of the bank. It would be interesting to compare the two versions.

Truth in advertising and in new politics demands that he tells us the truth about this transformation. It is also more than a bit curious that nowhere in his interview with Newsday or in the invitation to the launch the book is the Central Bank mentioned or its role acknowledged.

Mr. Dookeran also tells us that "his Harvard colleagues hailed the book as a good example of how a small economy like Trinidad and Tobago manages to remain stable and keep the value of its currency in the midst of global economic turbulence." One suspects that Mr. Dookeran rather than the Central Bank must be complimented for the work he did in guiding Trinidad and Tobago through this turbulent period. But then he makes an excruciatingly breath-taking statement: "Many people feel monetary policy is a technical matter. It is not. Monetary policy has deep political consequences." But this is a non-sequitur. If monetary policy is not a technical matter; and economics is a dismal science, what constitutes the essence of monetary policy and what are its constituent parts?

Mr. Dookeran's statement raises other questions: Did he consider the work he did at Central Bank political, technical, or monetary or were they all of those things? Although monetary policy has "deep political consequences," can we reduce it to politics? And if economics is a science, the accent being on the word science, what are we to make of its scientific content?

In his interview, Chan Tack asserts: "Dookeran was skeptical that inflation has really dropped to 7.3 per cent as reported last month by the Central Bank. He said that during the COP's public meetings and walkabouts, he meets many people who complain to him about high food prices and their inability to purchase basic food items. Dookeran wondered how this could be when Government claims it is bringing down inflation." Is Mr. Dookeran calling the governor of the Central Bank or the Central Statistical Office that produces the data liars?

Mr. Dookeran's statement impugns upon the reputation, character and truthfulness of the Governor of the Central Bank who has a responsibility to use his technical and professional knowledge to report truthfully on the performance of the economy. If Mr. Dookeran wishes to take credit for the stable nature of fiscal policy during his reign is it fair to imply that the present holder of that office is misrepresenting the evidence that he finds?

Mr. Dookeran also called into question the integrity of the directors of the Board of the Central Bank whom, he suggests, are willing to tolerate and support the governor's lies and the technical falsification of the officers of the bank whose function is to tell it like it is when it comes to reporting on the inflation of the nation.

Let me hasten to add that I do not write in my capacity as a director of the bank but as an interested citizen who wishes to uncover the truth. It says something about the integrity of the Governor of the Bank when the political leader of the PNM becomes piqued when the Central Bank noted that the inflation rate was threatening to reach ten per cent (that "slippery slope" argument) and the political leader of COP questions the truthfulness about the slowing down of the inflation rate.

It's unfortunate that Mr. Dookeran, the purveyor of new politics, is willing to make a political football out of one of the most pressing issue of the nation. Suffice it to say that the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago holds the copyright of Uncertainty, Stability and Challenges which means that the Bank has "the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, and sell the matter and form of [this] work." It is incongruous that while one acknowledges that "this publication would not have been possible without the support provided by the Central Bank," the assistance of the governor and the arduous work of the Research Department that one impugns the integrity of the institution and personalities to make a cheap political point against the government and its shortcomings.

There is another issue that is troubling and I would only ask the question. At the launch, Mr. Dookeran will be selling his (sorry, the Central Bank's) book at $100 per copy. Who will get that money? I am sure that Mr. Dookeran (honest man as he is) will not use that money to fund his political campaign and certainly not with a Central Bank copyright. But then again, who knows?

Perhaps in Mr. Dookeran and COP one is looking at the same old wine in a new bottle and with a new label. One is only left to wonder: "Why can't the bottle be half clean and its contents less murky," and why do they need to sully the name of others to advance what should be an honorable cause? One expects more from Mr. Dookeran.

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