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**

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

See Me And Don't See Me

It can be a very nice feeling when people you do not know speak about you nicely as if they know you. This often happens if you manage to get into the public eye as a result of a position or because of some performance. It can also happen by mistake, if someone thinks that they have seen you performing. I had that happen last week when the head of a prominent Barbadian institute commended me for my performance and comments the previous night on CBC television. I was touched, but protested that it was not me: I had been happily putting my daughter to bed at the time. My wife tends to go to be early and read, and she looked at me suspiciously, suspecting that I had gone into a bit of moonlighting, feeling free to be a star on TV while she was soaking up the written words. I could not win, though with my 'admirer' and I would need to see footage of the discussion to see whether or not a double was indeed in the studios.

The other side of this is when you are in the public eye and you perhaps wish that you could become anonymous. I think of two friends who have had themselves appointed to those jobs that can mark the pinnacle of a career, but also mean that life will never be the same again. Each has been appointed Governor of a Caribbean central bank.

One, Dr. Delisle Worrell, took up his post yesterday here in Barbados, and can be seen in the picture alongside having his first management meeting yesterday. I love the Advocate's front page picture, that shows him just as I would love to see him every day: smiling and decked in shirt jack (someone discussed with me the shock they had when they met him at the IMF wearing a shirt and tie). I hope he can retain his sense of humour and balance in coming years.

The other, Brian Wynter, had himself catapulted into the chair of the Governor of Bank of Jamaica, after the post holder suddenly resigned last Friday. That is a job for the ages. I think that Brian has a feeling of heading for a frying pan that is on a blazing fire and whether he stays in the pot or steps out, he will be badly burned either way. Offering technical advice from the shore of bucolic Barbados will seem like a warp drive away from making policy decisions in the cauldron that is Jamaica's economy.

The Jamaican papers were quick to point out that he would have little by way of a honeymoon as Jamaica faces a difficult time getting agreement with the IMF on an economic program. For good measure at the start, Standard and Poor's downgraded Jamaica's long-term foreign and domestic currency ratings yesterday, from CCC+ to CCC, giving as its reason the resignation of Jamaica's central bank governor Derrick Latibeaudiere, who was the country's lead negotiator for the IMF standby facility. (Is it not a slight that they jump to the conclusion that my friend will bring as good if not better given time and what does it say for the idea of a negotiating team?) The country's administration has been quick to say that this downgrade "was hasty and groundless" and insisted that the change of leadership at the Bank of Jamaica IMF (see Observer article).

A letter writer in today's Gleaner points to an issue that may dog both officials. The argument is about the role of appointed public servants, and touches at the heart of the notion that public servants should be foremost servants of the public or servants of a political administration. The writer summarises the two schools of thought: one is "that a new prime minister needs persons in key positions who he/she can trust and whose thinking and philosophy are on the same page as he is. Another and seemingly more popular view is that any such change is political victimisation." Put this way, it suggests that the best way for an administration to get its program rolling well is to have in place people who are of the same mind. I have no issue with looking for officials whom one can think. But I do not see that they need to be of the same thought or philosophy: that makes for a precarious world, with 'musical chairs' of officials coming and going and the electoral calendar doing more to develop a public service rather than seeking to have a public service that is 'professional', 'excellent', and 'competent', that gives unvarnished advice that reflects proper consideration of issues. Politicians should be left to choose from options laid before them, by other politicians as well as by public servants, and also by members of the public (whether corporations or individuals). "Yes, Minister" should not be the way forward to getting good decisions.

In the case of a central bank governor, we have the issue of whether the bank is merely an extension of a government or if it can really operate independently, fulfilling whatever mandate it has been given. If there are conflicts or contradictions they should not be resolved by removing the messenger, but by seeking to make policy consistent. One can see in the UK and USA at this time a great interplay between monetary and fiscal policy.

The view that you try to fill key positions with 'like minded' people is a recipe for keeping good people out of public service. If they want that merry-go-round then they can become politicians and push the wheel themselves. The normal way to deal with some of the conflicts is to have many of the top posts subject to some form of term limit, so that post holders can have a guarantee of sorts that they can work untouched by the buffeting of political favour. The other point is that the head of an institution is him/herself surrounded by people who may or may not be like minded. Should we be encouraging what is akin to purging every time the political wind changes?

As the letter writer notes, "A few years ago, both political parties agreed to give the previous and any future BOJ governor a seven-year contract to insulate the position from political interference." Yet the writer sees that as having "paid the price over the last two years and the PM must now move swiftly to change that." In other words, political interference is alright. That is not the same as what the writer argues as giving "our leaders levels of authority commensurate with responsibility and then hold them accountable".

Policy conflicts are not resolved by removing people with whom we disagree. The dissenters may be right.

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