From banking to blood sport
WITH the appointment of Larry Howai I am constantly reminded of one of my favourite questions.
During that invariable drift into friendly conversation, on meeting a person for the first time, I have always felt compelled to ask: "Who is the person living or dead in Trinbago that you most admire?"
Most times their answers have told me a lot about them. Now, I am fully aware that in conversation one can be led astray by personal experiences and that the possibility of errors and distortions should be factored into one's judgement.
We also work through the "halo effect", showering those we respect with our highly positive personal blessings.
I acknowledge, too, that people are given to over-generalisation, i.e. at some point, we all arrogantly assume our views as absolute truths, believing mistakenly that the general mass also see them as the answers to humanity's problems.
In brief I tend to view those responses as indicators of a person's values, ambitions, how they see Trinbago; in short, their answers encapsulate their world view.
Of course one has to factor in ethnicity in its broadest sense. So I have found that Dr Eric Williams has figured highly among what Lloyd Best used to call "the East-West corridor tribe", on a national list that includes religious and corporate leaders, a lawyer or two from a bygone era, trade unionists, Sparrow and Kitchener for their music, Minshall for mas, pan men, memorable teachers, managers, public servants and of course parents.
Interestingly, Howai's name came up a few times, under "corporate leaders". He was praised as the individual who cultivated a team at First Citizens bank that successfully built upon the platform created by FCB's late chairman, Leonard Williams.
Handed the challenge in the 90s of rummaging through the ruins of three failed local banks — National Commercial, Workers' and the Trinidad Co-operative — Williams created a corporate structure that later allowed First Citizens to become a $31 billion national asset.
Last July, Howai, then its clearly successful CEO, made the career change to politician in what the Prime Minister had touted weeks earlier as her coming "Cabinet re-alignment" or as it was spun -- "re-configuration", "re-construction", or "re-imaging".
To be safe, let's use Communication Minister Jamal Mohammed's word "re-branding". First, Mr Howai, Finance Minister and Corporation Sole, with responsibility for all state enterprises, was handed a $10 million departure bonus by the state agency, FCB.
It is apparent that neither Howai nor the FCB board, headed by an up-and-coming lawyer whom Jack Warner, as Works Minister previously promoted as "a Mari time legal expert" to chair the Port Authority, ever considered: How dat gift go look!
So Howai's entry was expected to "re-arise" a ministry and an economy that has been deflated, and demerged by the demoded "strategies" of the "Dook-onomics" of May 2010.
We were promised — yes, another promise — that Larry's Oh-Howai-onomics would help us all to "move on". But the Prime Minister should have understood that economics, as Steven Levitt points out in his book Freak-onomics, is a science with excellent tools for gaining answers, but is also short on interesting questions.
The mild-mannered Howai, sitting comfortably on his bonus, made his first attempt at such questions, hinting at his intention to introduce "austerity measures".
The immediate public outcry caused his "Oh-Howai-onomics'' to turn turtle, where it has been since July. Before Larry's national budget, we saw the Prime Minister, in a disastrous announcement, revealing to the country the Minister of Finance's intention to remove VAT on food items.
Another example of the cheapening of our national values — a significant measure, with wide economic implications, was announced recklessly days before the national budget.
In Britain a similar mistake cost Dr Hugh Dalton, a Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) his job. Questioned by a journalist about his intended budgetary measures, Dr Dalton refused all questions, but then joked that the journalist would have had to pay more for his drinks and smokes.
The story the next day indicated the coming increases in prices of alcohol and cigarettes, which led — just as the Prime Minister's premature announcement — to hoarding and unscrupulous price increases.
Larry's new paradigm was supposed to move us on, but before it could be launched, it is being demobilised and disabled. Over the past weeks, the successful banker has been turned into a publicly-demeaned politician — firstly by the Prime Minister, followed by the bravado of Jack Warner, clearly intending to show the Finance Minister that he truly carries clout, and then by the Attorney General, who "instructed" Larry on the cancellation of projects in Tobago.
In his turn-turtle position, Howai is now required to write to the Tobago Chief Secretary, after the fact, requesting information on the projects that the PM and her AG have cancelled.
For Larry, the questions may be now about from banking to blood sport.
For me, the question now is: who can you really admire in Trinbago?
• Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a
career in communication