Occasional Essays
June 24, 2005
Chairmen of Government Companies

Finding effective chairmen for statutory bodies and government companies in St. Vincent is no simple task. The function of the Chairman and the rest of the Board is to direct the affairs of the enterprise. A university degree or a gift for public speaking can help in performing this task but the primary requirement for the post of chairman is experience in a relevant field, such as management, administration, finance or accountancy. Expertise in the particular activity with which the enterprise is concerned is of course, an invaluable asset.{{more}}

The difficulties encountered in identifying possible chairmen can be illustrated by looking at what has been happening at some government enterprises such as Vinlec, the National Commercial Bank (NCB), National Properties, the Agricultural Input Warehouse (AIW), International Financial Services Authority (IFSA) and the Post Office.

The driving force behind efforts to improve the NCB has been Andre Iton. Iton was trained in both economics and accountancy. He worked at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) for several years and then went to the Caymans where he helped to build up their National Commercial Bank, eventually retiring as its General Manager. He now sits on the Board of our NCB but could not be made Chairman as he is unable to spend more than a few days every month in St. Vincent. So far Andre has:

l Practically completed the merger of the NCB and the Development Bank.

l Implemented many of the recommendations of a Forensic Report on the NCB.

l Improved the NCB’s management; first he brought in a banking colleague with managerial experience from the Caymans but he remained only for a short while. He has since been trying to develop a relationship with Citizens’ Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. They have provided two (2) managers on a short-term basis, trained NCB staff at their Trinidad headquarters and installed management systems.

Andre however has many commitments in the Caymans to which he wishes to return full time.

A similar problem arose with Vinlec. The Government would have liked to make Leonard Edwards the Chairman. He had served as deputy Chairman and made a significant contribution to the management of the company. Trained as a chemical engineer, he worked for more than twenty years (20) for an oil company in St. Croix where he attained a senior management position. Thus he not only knew about management but also about oil, which is a vital input in the operations of Vinlec. So concerned was he about effective management that he gave several of his friends here a copy of the book – “Execution” by Bossidy and Charan. It is probably the most “hands on” work on management that there is. But even in his retirement, “Pupees”, as Edwards was nicknamed at the Grammar School, could not be persuaded to remain in St. Vincent. The Government therefore turned to Dougie Cole. He had been Deputy Chairman at the CWSA and before that had worked for years with Cable and Wireless rising to the position of Deputy Manger. Thus he has had a lot of experience in public utilities.

The wholly-owned Government company, National Properties, has as its main function the acquisition, development and sale of land as well as the export of agricultural products. Victor Hadley has spent a lifetime in this sort of business and has made a success of it. This was recognized by the NDP and their Government conferred a CMG on him for it. Who better therefore to chair National Properties? Incidentally Victor represented both St. Vincent and the Windward Islands at cricket. His leg breaks and googlies bamboozled many of the opposing batsmen to ensure victory for St. Vincent. You cannot get more Vincentian than that.

The Chairman of the Agriculture Input Warehouse is Maurice Edwards. One hardly needs to write about St. Vincent’s long serving and regionally much respected Director General of Finance. He was trained in economics and accountancy and has served on nearly every Board in St. Vincent. Before joining the Civil Service he worked with a private accounting

firm, which he probably would have headed had he stayed with them. He now uses his expertise to chair the Agricultural Input Warehouse which is responsible for the importation and distribution

of sugar and other agricultural inputs.

The International Financial Services Authority is chaired by Claude Samuel, himself a former Director General of Finance and a former Manager of the NCB.

The Post Office became a statutory body not too long ago. Most fair-minded local people would have noted the changes that have taken place there. Regionally, it is regarded as one of the most, if not the most, improved Post Office in the area. Until recently, the Chairman was Dr. Rudy Matthias who returned to St. Vincent having worked with the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. Dr. Matthias has now moved on to chairing the Fisheries Company and Mrs. Judy Veira, a Vincentian by marriage and former Deputy Chairperson of the Post Office, is now the Chairperson. Mrs. Veira is trained in Actuarial Science, a field which even the most gifted of us hesitate to enter. St. Vincent does not have the money to offer ladies from Trinidad of Mrs. Veira’s quality a salary sufficient to attract them here. We have to depend on our men to do this. Thank you Ian.

In sum, it is possible to identify Vincentians competent to chair our statutory bodies. Many of them, however, have extensive links with other richer Caribbean countries. This is not surprising. Per capita income in St. Vincent being among the lowest in the Caribbean we have become the quarry for other islands. This is a fact we have to face squarely and try to come to terms with it as best we can.

• C.I Martin is the Government’s Fiscal Advisor.