King Imbert's Court
By Dr Selwyn Cudjoe
December 28, 2020
Trinidad and Tobago became an independent country in 1962 and a republic in 1976, in which the people, through their representatives, were supposed to control their affairs.
Such a political arrangement sounded enticing since it promised to place the country's destiny in the hands of people they knew, rather than foreigners (white) whom they did not know.
Over the years, citizens' rule morphed into a Cabinet culture controlled by one or two persons, who demand: "No damn dog bark." When one minister tendered his resignation to protest this one-manism, he was removed immediately from the Cabinet and later from a place in the Government. He had not learned to say, "Yes, Your Majesty," in an accommodating manner.
The recent changes in the Public Procurement Act (PPA) and the Central Bank Act (CBA) demonstrate a continuing tendency to remove the people's business from their control and place it in an ever-tightened centre called a Cabinet. As this centripetal tendency tightens its grip around the necks of an unaware population, it gradually disenfranchises ordinary people and places the control of their affairs in the hands of a wealthy ruling clique.
Martin Wolf calls this tendency a "Pluto-populist strategy" in which politicians use identity issues to convince voters to act against their own interest. Wolf notes: "To achieve this end, they (politicians) have to convince a large proportion of the population to vote against its economic interests by focusing on culture and identity" (Financial Times, December 23). Afra Raymond alerted us to this tendency when he described the implications of the PPA amendments. He says these changes "are a serious blow to the long-term campaign for proper control over transactions in public money and are extremely detrimental to the public interest. Our elected representatives proposed to our Parliament that the biggest contracts executed with public money were better administered without independent oversight as intended by the Act, proposed as #1 of 2015" (Express, December 20).
He opined: "The current debacle, in which a PNM government has effectively crippled our independent oversight agency, is merely the latest chapter in that party's long-term and deep hostility to any such oversight."
Last Monday Faris Al-Rawi went on the offensive. He claimed that the amendments to which Raymond referred were only part of a long-term oversight function of the Act. He didn't explain why the Cabinet needed to bring yet another independent agency under the tight grip of a Cabinet that opens up itself to corruption, favouritism, and authoritarianism.
A week earlier, via an Omnibus Bill, it was discovered that Cabinet changed the terms of the office of the governor of the Central Bank from a fixed five-year term to a minimum of three years and a maximum of five years. King Imbert reasoned that "governors of the bank are usually appointed later in life, rather than at a young age….If one wishes to renew the appointment of an older incumbent under the existing law, the Government is tied to a second fixed term of five years, making a total of ten years in office, rather than eight or nine years as the case may be. This makes succession planning cumbersome." (Express, December 20.)
He did not say why serving for ten years was/is necessarily incompatible with the efficient running of a Central Bank, especially if the governor is doing an outstanding job. I am not even sure why a government should practise age discrimination in such an important job. Alan Greenspan served as governor (chair) of the US Federal Reserve for 19 years. The length of his tenure did not make him less effective.
My term as a director of the Central Bank (2003–12) convinced me that a central bank is strongest when the governor is independent of, even though he must work with, the finance minister. However, King Imbert wants a governor who is more compliant with his wishes rather than maintaining the bank's independence. Senator Wade Mark says King Imbert wants to turn the bank "into a virtual division of the Ministry of Finance". (Newsday, December 10)
Over the last five years the CBA was amended four times with the intent of giving King Imbert more control over the running of the bank. Terrence Farrell notes: "The UNC's troubling assaults pale in comparison with the sledgehammer the PNM has taken to the Central Bank over the last five years. The PNM administration seems allergic to institutions which are independent within the executive and run by unelected persons.
"It is clearly one of the reasons for the pre-emptive assaults on the Office of the Procurement Regulator rendering it a eunuch, so that the hands of elected ministers will not be ‘tied' by unelected officials."
Farrell's No Sacred Cows Revisited and Mark's vigilance may have prevented King Imbert from appointing Vishnu Dhanpaul to replace Alvin Hilaire as the governor. While it's commendable that Dorian Noel was appointed deputy governor, I wonder if Shelton Nicolls, one of our more distinguished Central Bankers, will ever become governor of the bank? He may be too old three years hence.
The politicians we elect are supposed to act as our servants, yet they do everything in their power to resurrect the ancient credo of the divine rights of kings. As the poor people struggle to be free, this ruling clique does everything to solidify their power over us, believing that it is their natural right to control their "subjects".
The PNM, it seems, is always working in the interest of their wealthy friends rather than the people who elected them. Wolf reminds us: "There is none so blind as the rich egotists who will not see." Does it really profit these men to gain the world and lose their souls?
Prof Cudjoe's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.
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