Monday, June 25, 2012


Okay! Here we go again with a reshuffled Cabinet that held one or two mild surprises. The biggest surprise was also the most important appointment ... that of banker Larry Howai to be the new Minister of Finance in place of Winston Dookeran, who goes to Foreign Affairs. On the one hand, Mr. Howai's appointment has been greeted by most members of the business and banking communities with a large degree of happiness. The business people look at how Mr. Howai is reputed to have turned First Citizens Bank around and are obvioulsy hoping that he can and will do the same for our troubled economy. The banking community is thrilled that one of their own is in charge of the economy. Either way it appears to be a "win/win" situation.

Unfortunately, on the other hand,  while I personally have a great deal of respect for Mr. Howai and like him a lot, I am not certain that he is exactly "what the doctor ordered" at this time. Or, to put it another way, I am not certain that he wouldn't have been a better "fit", say, as Governor of the Central Bank, a post that is becoming vacant fairly soon. You see, at the end of the day a Minister of Finance is a politician. And a good politician has to be able to sell his policies to the population at large. If the politician comes up with excellent policies for, say, the economy, but is unable to convince the general population that his policies will work and that we will all be better off, then no matter what, the population will refuse to swallow whatever bitter medicine that the politician wishes to hand out or believes to be necessary. A classic example of this was when President George Bush (the first) was forced to raise taxes when he had promised that he wouldn't. He did the right thing economically for his country, but the electorate punished him by voting him out because they didn't understand why he had to raise taxes.

Now, I have never met a banker who is a good salesman. The truth is that they don't need to be. They have a product that everybody wants and needs: money!  They are accustomed to sit in their airconditioned offices, drink coffee, and wait for the grovelling hordes to come to their tables to beg for a few crumbs. Further, Trini bankers in particular are notorious for offering their customers an umbrella when the sun is shining and taking it away as soon as there is a hint of rain.

Well, there is more than a hint of rain in our economic skies. Some would even say that the drizzling that started a few years ago is threatening to turn into a downpour! Mr. Howai is going to discover fairly soon that he doesn't only have to please the bankers and the rich businessmen, but he also has to please the man in the the street who has been seeing his life get harder and more expensive and jobs beginning to decrease. He is going to have to come up with 'out-of-the-box' thinking, for even if assuming (though not accepting) that his predecessor's policies were the right ones, he will have to get the country to accept them ... a task at which the inarticulate Mr. Dookeran failed hopelessly. In other words, he is going to have to persuade the electorate as a whole (and not just the bankers and businessmen) that he has the country on the right track. This will be difficult when, for example, my favourite doubles vendor complained to me on Sunday that his little business was down from two years ago and he now has to work seven days a week (he used to take Mondays off). It's difficult to find a smaller businessman than a doubles vendor!

So, let's see what will happen. Only the most churlish will not wish Mr. Howai well. But only the most foolish will not realise that he has a heck of a mountain to climb and that he is going to have to use skills that he never had to use when he was a banker ... that is, of course, if he wants to be a successful Minister of Finance!

And turning quickly to the second most important change ... Mr. Jack Warner as National Security Minister ... it is going to be interesting to see how Mr. Warner, probably the Caribbean's most adept, adaptable and competent politician, will handle this poisoned chalice. For make no mistake, if he fails at this his reputation as a "can-do" guy will certainly take a big "hit". On the other hand, if he does make a noticable dent in crime then Mr. Warner's reputation in this country will be higher than the mountain tops regardless of whatever Mr. Blatter, FIFA or anybody else might choose to throw at him.

So, the race is on once more, the "horses" having been on hold for more than a month. In the coming weeks and months we'll begin to get a pretty good picture of whether or not this particular 'race' will produce the results that we all so desperately crave.

P.S. Proven performers to watch: Vasant Bharath at Trade; Ganga Singh at Environment.

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