Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Situation Vacant: No-On-The-Job Training Needed.

A good friend and former colleague of mine just lost his job at the start of this week (see Reuters report). I had to hold back a snarl. He had made a tough decision just over a year and a half ago to return to his native country, Guinea, to become the Finance Minister. The country had just come through a national crisis, and a new government of "national consensus" was being put in place.

His working career started simply enough (see summary). He was an engineer by initial training and only later gravitated to economics, a field in which he then got a doctorate in the US, taught and then worked at the highest levels.

He had done what many sons and daughters with origins in poor countries do after they get a good education. He migrated to a developed country (USA) to further study and work. He then did what is also common, he made a decision to go back home and "help". I remember once being told by Alassane Outtarra (former prime minister of Cote d'Ivoire; former deputy Managing Director of the IMF; former presidential candidate for his country) "Dont stay too long at the Fund." He meant that every economist at the IMF, who had come from another country, should aim to go back home and help his or her country develop. If they worked again at the Fund, it should always be at a higher position than the one they left. He really meant those who had come from poor, developing countries, but the advice could apply equally to say those who came from developed European countries.

My snarl was forming because my friend was yet another "sacrifice" on the altar of a president who has a long habit of dismissing successful officials, especially his prime ministers. Dr.Dore had chaired the organizing committee for his country's 50th anniversary celebrations, and his pparent failing had been to organize these poorly: there had been a number of diplomatic snafus, and some major protocol errors concerning foreign dignatories. He was also getting some heavy flak from the unions. His reported failings were not in having managed to get his country's economy back from a financial abyss--of hyperinflation, rapidly falling currency, and little growth--and into a shape where they could once again get financial assistance from institutions like the IMF and World Bank. Nor were they in the area of helping his country move to a point where they would get major debt relief, which would then open the way for more investment in education, health and other social services.

Our careers were not necessarily similar, though we had both worked a lot on European countries. We had each started at the IMF in the early 1990s and really only met in early 2003 when we were each designated to be "resident reprentatives" (similar to an ambassador but for the IMF) in Africa. He was to cover Senegal and Guinee-Bissau, both of which bordered his home country, Guinea. I was to cover Guinea (and later also Sierra Leone). We met and got to know each other better during a week of discussion with other resident representatives, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We stayed in touch as our work continued over the next 3-4 years. I visited Senegal and stayed in his residence, with him there or when he was not there. His office staff got to know me and take care of my needs whenever I was in Senegal, and often when I needed help for someone who had to pass through Senegal. He visited Guinea often to check on his family and home, and we would often talk in my office or at my residence about problems he had in his job, very rarely did we speak about problems in Guinea. We spoke more about our problems doing a job whose value is largely about "keeping the door open" to discussions. It's the only form of institutionalized daily contact with a country that the IMF has. But, being out of Washington, out of sight can often be out of mind--until there is some crisis.

My friend is from a part of Guinea that I adore, the Fouta Djallon, a lush mountainous region in the middle of the country, sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Africa. That would be for the natural beauty, not for the wealth and efficiency. He helped me appreciate some of the beauty of a country whose natural resources are to die for--bauxite, gold, diamonds, rivers, rich soil--yet are mainly squandered or plundered. A country that could feed most of the subregion yet has to import the bulk of its food. A country with the potential to produce hydroelectricity for its whole area, yet cannot provide regular electricity even in its capital. A crying shame.

My snarl turned into a wry smile when I read a story at about the same time about America's equivalent to a Finance Minister, Secretary of the Treasury, Henry (Hank) Paulson (see picture; he's the clean shaven one). He, with Chairman of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke (the bearded one), is presiding over a possible financial calamity for the US and maybe most of the world--what some have referred to as the country's worst financial mess since the Great Depression. Mr. Paulson, a former CEO of Goldman Sachs, a major investment bank, admitted to Fox Business News: "We're not proud of all the mistakes that were made by many different people, different parties, failures of our regulatory system, failures of market discipline that got us here". Mr. Paulson acknowledged that the government's initial response to the crisis was probably too meek. For that admission, he was not asked to "fall on his sword" and resign, nor was he fired; he is left to soldier on and we hope help solve the problem. Different strokes for different folks.

My friend worked and lived in a country whose president has been there for nearly 25 years. He is what is called a military man, a former army general who initially got power in a coup. He happens to be in his mid-70s. His behaviour is often referred to as "erratic". Some of this sounds like a picture that is a bit familiar for one of the US presidential candidates.

When I started writing this, it was 2am in the morning. A short while after starting it a friend posted a Facebook item that the IMF's Managing Director (MD), Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), was being investigated about an improper sexual relationship with a subordinate (see Wall Street Journal report). I honestly thought I was dreaming, but got confirmation from another friend/ex-colleague later in the morning. This MD had been in the post just about a year and last weekend was seeming like the toast of the town at the G7 Finance Ministers' Meetings. Now, he may be toast. Ironically, the former President of the IMF's sister organization, the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz had to resign about 15 months ago under the pressure surrounding his relationship with a staff member. I will be interested to see how this plays out and if in someway DSK avoids either resigning or being dismissed.

High office comes with many stresses, and always has the risk that dismissal will come for real faults or for no real faults at all. At the highest levels, good conduct and performance are no guarantee for success; nor is poor performance and conduct a sign that dismissal will follow. Most of us never get the dubious pleasure of working under such bizarre conditions.

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