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The Governor General

For me, this is a bad idea. Especially if, as I’m hearing, he’d be allowed to continue as the Bank’s Managing Director.   

Now, you may say that he’s been deputizing for the GG in very brief spells, and that there ought to be no difference between him deputizing for the GG, and holding the substantive post as GG, while still being at the Bank. I don’t agree.

 

I must confess, and with more than a little embarrassment, that this isn’t a matter that I had ever considered in the past. If I had, I would’ve said that it was wrong. And if it was wrong then, it must be wrong now, whether for him to deputize or to hold the substantive post, while still being at the Bank (not to mention his holding directorships on other corporate boards, etc.).

 

And here’s why.

 

It’s a full-time job, the top job in the civil service.

 

The GG must be above the day-to-day commercial and political fray, both in terms of the office and the person.

Yes, he or she can have political preferences and business interests, but the possibility of encroachment upon the sanctity of this highest of offices must be avoided at all costs.

And problems can arise if he’s both GG and Managing Director of the Bank at the same time, given the obvious potential for conflict of interest and the implications of such conflict of interest.

For example, suppose, unlikely as it may be, the Parliament seeks to enact legislation which he, or the Bank (and for some people, there’s no difference) might consider not to be in its best interests. Might he not be conflicted? Might he be tempted to slow down or to otherwise frustrate the process? What would be the repercussions for governance within the public sector and for the country as a whole?

 

On the other hand, would the best interests of the country be served if an Administration decides not to take a matter to the Parliament simply because it wouldn’t want to offend the GG, or the interests of his other job, or some other corporate interest of his?

 

Or generally, given that the GG is to be briefed regularly by the PM on matters of importance, might he have access to insider information which could give the Bank (or some other of his interests) an unfair advantage over its competitors or potential competitors?

Similarly, if there are Crown Grants on his desk for persons who may be looking to get housing loans, or who may have already begun to negotiate such loans, might he not find himself in a position whereby he could use that information unfairly, to the advantage of the Bank?

 

And the question here is not so much what the GG-Bank Managing Director would do, but what he could do.

Then what happens at meetings of, or on behalf of, the Bank? What happens when the schedules of the GG and the Managing Director of the Bank clash? Would we have to engage someone to deputize in those situations, at extra, and avoidable, expense to the already besieged taxpayers? Is this what the Constitution envisaged? What happens if and when there are queries by the Inland Revenue, the Police, or some other Government department or agency into the operations of the Bank, or into the Managing Director, as Managing Director or as an ordinary citizen? Could justice be thwarted if that person is also the GG? Could good governance, and the good name of the country, be compromised somehow in any of this?

 

The potential for conflict and embarrassment is extensive.

 

And this applies to any other commercial or other concern in which Mr. Lawrence is actively involved, whether, as Managing Director of the Bank, he deputizes for the GG, or is the substantive holder of the post.

 

The short point is that the Bank is in the fray. And its Managing Director is in the fray with it. In fact, he’s leading it in the fray.

 

Integrity in public life legislation, where are you?

 

And with regard to the politics, how can we be satisfied with the GG or Deputy GG being in the middle of a town hall meeting, a political powder keg, representing the Bank or any other enterprise in relation to land-for-debt swap, or the like. That too is the fray. The political fray. As is the fact that hardly is a major political decision taken without him having had a chance to provide his input and guidance.

 

Now let’s turn to the personal relationship between the Mr. Lawrence and Dr. Douglas.

Mr. Lawrence had been an integral part of the Bank since its inception in 1970, and felt, as, I suppose he always will, that he and the Bank should be together until his chosen departure, or his death.

 

But he was dismissed in 1982, which would have displeased him greatly, and he knew that his return wouldn’t be possible as long as PAM remained in Government.

Historically associated with the Labour Party anyway, his dismissal from the Bank served only to give him more motivation to get PAM out.

He advised and supported Dr. Douglas after the latter succeeded Mr. Lee Moore as the leader of the Party following the 1989 elections. But their relationship might’ve suffered a setback when Mr. Lawrence was encouraged to contest for the post of Secretary to the Party, and lost. He was manifestly displeased. Did he get a ‘Dougie’? I don’t know.

But his wound healed, or at least it was concealed, and Labour’s success in the 1995 elections gave both men what they really wanted: Dr. Douglas became the Prime Minister, and Mr. Lawrence returned to the Bank.

 

This time around, however, he’d ensure that no Board, no Administration on Church Street, and no Prime Minister would be able to remove him again. The embarrassment of 1982 would not be repeated.

 

Now while I wouldn’t for a moment doubt the existence of mutual fondness, I’d also say that:

 

(i) Each loves power and high status;

(ii) Each wants to preserve his power and high status;

(iii) Each needs the other to maintain that power and high status; and

(iv) Each will continue supporting the other in his post.

 

In my opinion, this is personal between the two of them. Dr. Douglas doesn’t see anyone whom he’d be comfortable with as Mr. Lawrence’s replacement, and Mr. Lawrence will want to keep it that way. Mr. Lawrence, likewise, doesn’t see anyone whom he’d be comfortable with as Dr. Douglas’ replacement, and Dr. Douglas will want to keep it that way. They’re keeping it locked between them, reinforcing the symbiosis every step of the way.

 

Now as external sources of low-interest funding became less available about 10-12 years ago, Dr. Douglas turned to the Bank; and Mr. Lawrence and his board were receptive, as the national debt rose from about $200 million in 1995, past $1 billion, past $2 billion, and then on to $3 billion in 2012, with the Bank’s portion of this debt reaching over $1 billion.

And as Dr. Douglas borrowed more and more, and plunged the people of this country more deeply into debt, Mr. Lawrence called upon the Government to pass over more and more of its sugar lands to the Bank as collateral, and to keep the half-of-a-billion dollars of Social Security’s money sitting in the Bank.

In the process, Mr. Lawrence, already the Supremo at the Bank, gained even more influence over the Government and further solidified his position in his relationship with Dr. Douglas.

Meanwhile, most of the people who were aware of what was happening seemed, incredibly, to take comfort from the narrative, (I call it “spin”) that the Government was land rich, as if that was a license for Dr. Douglas to continue driving the debt through the roof, or for the Bank to keep lending money to the Government as it was and taking sugar lands in return..

 

As far as I’m aware, the Supremo never sat down Dr. Douglas to say:”This is heading in a very bad direction. You need to smarten up, and we need to tighten up, before the point is reached where the Government becomes unable to pay its debts, and the people of this country are faced with the prospect of great suffering and the risk of losing chunks of their land heritage”.

 

There was no demonstration, as far as I’m aware, of any sensitivity to, or respect for, the age-old connect between Labour, the grassroots people and their struggle for empowerment and enfranchisement, and the land.

 

Couldn’t Dr. Douglas and/or Mr. Lawrence see where all of this spiraling debt would lead us? If they couldn’t, how come? If a man can’t pay you $5 today, and things are getting worse for him, will he be able to pay you $10 tomorrow? Or even $5 tomorrow? No. So you take his land, and you lend him more money, and he can’t pay you. So you take more and more land. But that’s pretty much what the Bank did.

 

Defying simple arithmetic and common sense.

 

Land isn’t cash, and it’s cash that the Bank deals in. And it can take time to convert land into cash that would safely return to the Bank its depositors’ money—yes, it’s depositors’ money, not the Bank’s money–that was used by the Bank to prop up the poor fiscal leadership of Dr. Douglas.

So why did the Bank do it?

Has anyone asked you whether a plan could’ve been hatched in someone’s mind to use the debt as an excuse to put the ownership of these lands into different hands? I’ve been asked that. It’s the last thing I’d ever believe.

 

I’ve heard that when people fail to plan, they’re inadvertently planning to fail. But deliberately planning for something to fail is another matter altogether. I don’t know about that one.

 

By 2007, about 4,700 acres of sugar lands had been mortgaged. That’s over 7 square miles, or over 10%, of our 68-square-mile island. And as a result of the Act passed some weeks ago in Parliament, the Prime Minister has a free hand to pass over more lands to the Bank by the affixing of his signature. So where will it end?

 

Ready as I am to accept correction, It’s my opinion that decisions by the Bank in this matter might’ve been influenced by a desire to help Dr. Douglas remain as this country’s Prime Minister–not just to keep Labour in power, but Dr. Douglas himself. And that the personal relationship between himself and Mr. Lawrence might’ve played a part in the process.

In history, there are many cases where strong personal ties between two individuals have brought great good, or, conversely, great harm to their country.

It may be the latter in this case.

Which, for me, is another reason why Mr. Lawrence should neither deputize as GG nor hold the substantive post.



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