Williams: It was a ‘labour of love’
Thursday, July 12 2012
CENTRAL Bank Governor Ewart Williams will step down from his post on July 16, 2012, bringing to an end a remarkable career in the world of finance which spanned a decade. In a wide ranging interview at the Eric Williams Financial Complex in Port-of-Spain, Williams summed up his career at the helm of the Bank as “a labour of love” and one which he would happily do all over again if given the opportunity. Williams was appointed Central Bank Governor on July 16, 2002.
He completed his graduate and his post-graduate training in Economics at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad in 1968 (BSc, Economics) and 1970 (MSc, Economics) respectively. He was the University’s first post-graduate student in Economics.
Prior to his appointment as Governor, he worked for 30 years at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), starting off in 1977 as the Resident Representative to Jamaica. He subsequently held the positions of Assistant to the Director, African Department; Division Chief, Central American Division, Western Hemisphere; and Assistant Director, Western Hemisphere Department. He completed his career there as Deputy Director of the Western Hemisphere Department in June 2002. In this capacity, he was one of four senior managers responsible for the IMF’s work in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In 1994-1995, Williams led the IMF team in negotiations with the Mexican government during the economic crisis in that country. Williams was the main architect of the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC) which was established in Barbados in 2001 by the IMF and other multilateral and bilateral agencies to help in capacity-building in public finance, banking and statistics in the region.
In 1988-1989, under a UNDP-financed Technical Assistance Project, Mr. Williams also served as an advisor to William Demas, then Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.
Williams has concurrently served in other positions at a number of national and financial institutions while holding the position of Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. These positions include Chairman, Deposit Insurance Corporation (July 2002 – Present); Alternate Governor, Caribbean Development Bank (July 2002 – Present); Alternate Governor, International Monetary Fund (September 2002 – Present); Alternate Governor, Inter-American Development Bank (September 2002 – Present); Chairman, G-24 Deputies, International Monetary Fund/World Bank (October 2003 – 2004); Director of the Caribbean Information & Credit Rating Services Limited (CariCRIS) (May 2004 – Present); Director of the Heritage and Stabilisation Fund (March 2007 – Present); Member of the International Working Group on Sovereign Wealth Funds (April 2008 – Present).
Williams has also maintained positions at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). At UWI he was the Chairman of the Audit Committee and he is currently the Chairman of the Campus Council. At U.T.T. he is a Member of the Honorary Degree Committee.
As he reflected on the last decade he spent as Central Bank Governor, Williams described the way he to became Governor as “an interesting story.”I was in UWI and immediately after that, I happened to have been the first Masters student at the UWI St Augustine Campus. I worked for a year and a few months at the Bank and then I got the opportunity to go off to Washington to the IMF,” Williams recalled. “The irony was I was recruited here along with (former Finance, now Foreign Affairs Minister) Winston Dookeran who was, a senior economist at the Ministry of Planning at the time,” he continued.
“I left here with the intention of staying two years and ended up staying 31. However in the course of that long career, I got the opportunity to come down for 18 months to be adviser to William Demas who was the Governor at the time. That was around the middle of 1988,” Williams said. He recalled that was the time when TT “was facing serious balance of payments problems” and Trinidad was actually negotiating a programme with the IMF. “I came here and had such an exciting, intellectual experience working with William and actually negotiating from the other side of the table that it whetted my appetite to come back and serve,” he explained.
Flashing the trademark smile he has become known for during his tenure as Governor, Williams said: “ I always felt that I did fairly well at the IMF. I did not have the kind of qualifications that most of my colleagues had. In fact, when I went to the Fund, I was in a group of young professionals and was perhaps the only one who did not have a phD or who did not come from one of the Ivy League colleges.”
Williams said in 1971, “the IMF people told me they were impressed with my ability to think on my feet. I could only have got that skill if I can call it that from my experience here (at the Central Bank),” he added.
“I have always felt this very serious compulsion, this obligation to come back and work in TT. Therefore when the opportunity came in 2002, I recall very well that my second daughter, my last child had just graduated from U Penn. This was in May 2002, I got the invitation to come down and I seized it without even a second thought,” Williams declared. He disclosed the invitation came from then Trade and Industry Minister Ken Valley (now deceased) who was also a Minister in the Ministry of Finace at that time.
“He (Valley) had made the call, it was just after the 18-18 stalemate. I was asked to come down and meet the (then) Prime Minister (Patrick Manning). I came down, had a brief discussion with the Prime Minister. Minister (Conrad Enill) was the Minister of Finance at the time. They offered me the job, I accepted willingly because I had this compelling sense of obligation, that I wanted to come back and give something,” he stated
Williams continued: “I can tell you it was such a good decision because my ten years working here was clearly a labour of love.” He said while his decision to leave the IMF and accept the post of Governor did result in a reduction in “monetary compensation” because the IMF is one of perhaps the better paid international institutions. Noting his three children were out of university at that time, Williams said: “I could not put a monetary signal or indicator to that. In fact, when I came, I was told when you come down, you will negotiate the salary.”
He said his acceptance of the job was not a case of where the salary and conditions of employment were determined before hand. “Coming back to be the Governor of the Central Bank of your country is not something that you turn away from. You talk about the salary afterwards. If it was a reduction in my monetary compensation, my psychic income, the opportunity to do something for the country more than compensated.
On life after the Central Bank, Williams said: “This might sound strange. I don’t have firm plans. I’m still attached to the University. I’m still chairman of the St Augustine Campus. I have this faith that I’m going to find something. I am going to take a rest but I am going to find something to do ultimately.” Casting a glance at the array of family photos close to his desk, Williams chuckled and said: “I’m going to have to mingle that something with my three grandchildren. There are two in Washington and one in Atlanta.” Williams also said he has a house in Tobago and he plans to spend a lot of time there as well.
“I bought it. I convinced my family that I would be spending two weekends a month in Tobago. I have not been able to deliver on that. I love Tobago, this is the time to move on but I’m sure I’m going to find something to do around here. I think I have some shelf life,” he quipped.
Asked if he’d be willing to consider a position if the Government offered him one, Williams replied: “ I came down here because I wanted to serve TT. I always remind people, when I came to work here, I came to work with Williams Demas. That was during the time of an NAR administration.” “I was appointed by a PNM administration and I was kept on by the People’s Partnership administration. So I have, sort of gone through it all,” he added. Asked about the types of working relationships he had with members of the three political entities which have been in Government during his public life, Williams replied: “ When I came as advisor to William Demas,I had interesting things to do but I did not have the responsibility.” “Demas took the brunt of anything that came and I served giving him background support.”
“Clearly when you come as Governor, you have the final responsibility and it’s much more of a challenge because the weight of that responsibility is immense,” he explained. Williams said he worked much more closely with Enill and former Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira when they were in office. He said he had a “cordial relationship” when Dookeran was Finance Minister, having known him before as his predecessor as Central Bank Governor.
However Williams said he did not work as closely with Dookeran as he had with Enill and Nunez-Tesheira. “It might have to do with the fact that he was also Governor or he had a strong team on his own and he did not need my support but it was a cordial relationship and I am grateful for that.” Asked if he had any regrets in accepting the job as Central Bank Governor, Williams responded: “ In the final analysis, you have to step back and say look, was this meaningful? I look at the experience as a whole and it was a very meaningful experience.”
“I would have hoped that I made a contribution. My immediate colleagues tell me that I did. If that is so, I’m very pleased. I learned a lot from the experience. I learnt a tremendous amount. I learnt more about my country and about my people over the last ten years that I had not known previously. Therefore when I look at the experience as a whole, I still think I’m ahead of the game. I’ll do it all over again.”