The Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago is without a single Deputy Governor months after Dr Sandra Sookram’s term came to an end—even though the law calls for up to two.
Since the Rowley administration came to power in 2015, the government and Finance Minister Colm Imbert have failed to recommend to the President anyone to be appointed as Deputy Governor and the Bank has been operating for the last five years short of its compliment of Deputy Governors.
Several members of the Central Bank have expressed concern about the implications of not having a Deputy Governor since in the past—apart from being a member of the Board—one Deputy oversaw the important research function at the Bank while the other dealt with operations, inclusive of ensuring the health of the financial system.
Sources in government have also told SBG that a senior public servant is tipped to become the Governor at the ended of the year.
The Sunday Business Guardian reached out the Central Bank and asked the following questions.
1) How long has the Bank been without a deputy Governor?
2) When are the two positions expected to be filled? What are the challenges in filling them?
3) Why was Mrs. Sookram’s contract not renewed?
4) Who will act in the Governor’s place should he not be available or able to perform his role?
The Central Bank did not directly answer any of the questions but instead sent the following responses.
“Dear Curtis by way of background on the most recent Deputy Governor appointments:
Dr Sandra Sookram was appointed to the position of Deputy Governor by the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago for a 5-year period from June 26, 2015 to June 25, 2020.
Ms Joan John was appointed as Deputy Governor for the period February 1, 2010 to January 31, 2015.
Dr Alvin Hilaire was appointed as Deputy Governor from April 1, 2013; his appointment as Deputy Governor was revoked when he assumed the position of Governor from December 23, 2015 for a term that ends on December 22, 2020.”
It added: “In terms of the appointment, terms of service and tenure of the office of Deputy Governor, the Central Bank Act, Chap.79:02 specifies the following:.
Section 5 states that the Bank shall be managed by a Board of Directors comprised of a Governor, not more than two Deputy Governors and not less than six other directors, two of whom may be public service directors.
Section 7(1-3) state that:
(1) The Governor, Deputy Governors and the other directors shall be appointed by the President by instrument in writing.
(2) The Governor shall be appointed for a terms of five years.
(3) The term of office of a Deputy Governor shall be for such period as the President may fix in the instrument of appointment.
Section 8 (1) states that the Governor and Deputy Governors shall be men of proven financial experience and each shall devote the whole of his time to the service of the bank and while holding office shall not occupy any other office of employment whether remunerated or not.”
It is unclear if Dr Sookram, who was appointed by the President on the recommendation of the UNC Cabinet and then Minister of Finance Larry Howai, did not choose to return or was not offered the opportunity by the Rowley administration.
The Deputy Governor plays a crucial role in the running of the Central Bank with section 6 (1) of the Central Bank Act indicating that the seal of the Bank shall be kept in the custody of the Governor or a Deputy Governor and shall be authenticated by the Governor or a Deputy Governor and a director authorised by the Board to act in that behalf.
It adds that all documents, other than those required by law to be under seal, made by, and all decisions of, the Board may be signified under the hand of the Governor or a Deputy Governor.
Former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank and economist Dr Terrence Farrel told SBG that he is worried about the Bank and what he sees as the continued diminishing of its role and independence.
“It is a matter of some considerable concern. The Central Bank ought to be a critical institution in the whole set-up for economic management—playing a critical role. It seems to me over the last five years that role has diminished in the economic policy management of the country.
Farrell said he was surprised that the government set up its Roadmap to Recovery committee and there was no one from the Central Bank appointed.
He said: “Imagine we are charting the future development of the country and I thought that it was odd but consistent with what we have been seeing, an overriding reduction of the role of the Bank in the last five years.”
The former Deputy Governor added: It is not as if something else has replaced it. So now have a situation where you haven’t had a Deputy for the last five years and one demitted office or term ended and not replaced, and an inspector of financial services acting for a long time. For an institution to be in charge of the financial institutions, it too has to be stable and has to have a cadre of committed, competent people, who are tasked with moving the policy agenda forward.”
Farrell again said he was very concerned that the Central Bank “seems to be no longer be an independent voice articulating on macro-economic policy and broadly on economic policy.”
He said with the collapse of the Central Statistical Office the Central Bank is not only the repository of a lot of knowledge but has a cockpit view of all that is happening in the economy.
The Former Deputy Governor said the Bank has lost its voice.
“It has become silent and I find it disturbing in a lot of ways and in other countries you hear the fed chairman and central bank governors speaking and people look for a clear independent view as to what is happening in the economy, particularly in terms of what is happening in monetary and financial markets. The Bank’s voice is missing and all we hear is government ministers speaking,” Farrell articulated.
According to the act, in the event of absence or inability of the Governor from whatever cause arising, the Board may appoint a Deputy Governor to exercise the powers and functions of the Governor.