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When Race Trumps Reason

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
July 18, 2012

You work at an institution for ten years; you begin to like that institution. You grow to admire the intellectual caliber of the men and women who work there and you embalm those precious memories. Ultimately, you reverence that institution as a place where standards matter and excellence is the order of the day. You read Terrence Farrell's Central Banking in a Developing Economy: A Study of Trinidad and Tobago, 1964 to 1989, you appreciate the origin of central banking in the nation, pre and post-independence. You realize the stature of the men who served this nation as governors (sadly there are no women) and you feel a sense of pride in your nation's achievement. You realize that no matter what its limitations are, it tries to reward excellence signaling to the nation's young men and women that achievement matters.

And then an announcement is made: Jwala Rabarran is the new governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, the premier bank of the region and the absolute envy of its neighbors. You think it's a bad dream; a joke that Kamla and her Cabinet is making on the nation. You feel that they are merely teasing the society; savoring the pleasure it would receive when it realizes that Jwala was a mirage of someone's wildest imagination; an illusion that will dissipate when reality steps in.

And you think Michael Mansoor, the executive chairman of CIBB First Citizen's Bank; a former senator who was involved in financial and economic matters while he plied his trade there part time. He is a chartered accountant and former partner of Ernst and Young with a MBA from the University of Ontario. He is someone who had established his credentials as a solid financial mind of the Republic. One felt certain that Jawla must have been an apparition since Mansoor's name had been sent to Cabinet two weeks prior, there being a certainty that he would be named governor although having an economist would have been more desirable for the post since the Minister of Finance is a banker.

But then I suspect that Mansoor was not Indian enough; perhaps he was too old; nor did he possess the right qualifications.

What then were Jawla's qualifications for the job? He is young. That is true. But his youth cannot be a sufficient criterion for the top job at the most prestigious institution in the region. When Jwala joined the Bank in 1990, he was junior economist. When Winston Dookeran, his uncle-in-law, came to the bank he was promoted to Economist 2. Just before new-politics Dookeran left the job, he sent Jawla on rotation to the IMF, a routine posting for several economists in the Bank. Today, there are at least 6 economists who have done exactly what Jwala did so it is not exactly a big thing, although one should not sneeze at such a posting.

When Jwala returned to the bank he was promoted to the post of senior economist although he felt he should have been made chief economist, a post that was filled already. Indignant that he did not get that post, he left the bank and moved to CMMB, a small brokerage firm, for three years as its head of research. Nothing spectacular came out of that. We are still to learn of any major contributions that Jawla made to his field or what in his experience makes him a fit candidate for the job of governor of our Central Bank.

When Jwala joined the bank both Dr. Shelton Nicholls and Dr. Alvin Hilaire, deputy governor and chief economist at the bank respectively, were senior to him. Dr. Nicholls, a Ph. D from the University of London, is an outstanding economist who has published in several reputable journals and was a former director of the Caribbean Center of Monetary Studies, the leading center for monetary studies in the region. He was also a senior lecturer at UWI Economics Department.

Dr. Hilaire is quite as interesting and just as fitting for the job. He has the economic brilliance and possesses the relevant experience. But then he is African. When Dr. Hilaire joined the bank as a chief economist in June 2009, he had worked for the IMF for several years. From 2006 to 2009 he was IMF's representative in Guinea and Sierra Leone; from 1997 to 2005 he worked at IMF headquarters in Washington, D.C. in the Policy Development and Western Hemisphere Department that included countries such as Croatia, the Cameroon, Columbia Nicaragua and Thailand, to name a few countries.

In the immediate future at least, Jwala will be in charge of these men. Even this can be overlooked. The real question is this: can the country feel safe that the island's monetary fiscal policy is placed in the hands of a man who has no real experience in the area of fiscal and monetary policy and has not run an organization of this size before? Are we prepared to tell the nation that at this moment of our development that the only relevant factor in making national decisions of this magnitude is the race to which one belongs?

Some years ago, Ewart Williams went to the ratings agency in New York to plead the case that our international ratings remain where it is. Anyone who knows anything about international finance knows that a country's borrowing from an international agency is pegged to its international bond rating. On a flight to New York, Wendell Mottley, our former Minister of Finance, told me of the pride he took in the masterful job that Governor Williams did in negotiating our country's bond rating.

Naming a governor of a central Bank has little to with one's race, religion or political affiliation. If he makes any wrong moves all of us will suffer and we will not just feel it in our pride. We will feel it in our pockets and that is the ultimate cost when race trumps reason and racism becomes the order of the day.

Does President Max Richard really have to acquiesce to this travesty?

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