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Wednesday 13 November 2019
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Business Day Editorial: Opening up the Central Bank

Central Bank of TT.

Photo by Jeff K Mayers
Central Bank of TT. Photo by Jeff K Mayers

It is admirable that Government has taken steps to increase transparency and accountability with regards to the Central Bank.

Under Section 56 (1) of the Central Bank Act, the bank’s officers are exempt from sharing any information with the public arising from the course of their work.

As such, under the Freedom of Information (Exemption) (No 2) Order, the bank is not obligated to give information about its operations. These new amendments to the Section 56, will however, now make it mandatory for the bank to release information on the salaries and terms and conditions of the employment of the Central Bank Governor, deputy governors, directors, officers and employees of the bank; the organisational structure; current and former employees, the number of filled or vacant positions at the bank and “such other matters relating to the employment of staff as the minister thinks fit.” These requests from the minister can also relate to periods before the amendments are enacted.

In his argument to the Senate for the Miscellaneous Provisions (Tax Amnesty, Pensions, Freedom of Information, National Insurance, Central Bank and Non-Profit Organisations) Bill, Finance Minister Colm Imbert pointed out that the “all” in the Central Bank Act means that even if it wanted to, the bank could not share any information with those requesting disclosure.

“Why would anybody argue against the taxpayers of this country having the right to know what is being done with their money that is being provided to the Central Bank by way of payment of salaries to officers of the bank?” Imbert told the Senate, insisting that the amendments do not allow for any extraordinary overreach.

Ironically, the closest TT has come to such information being shared was when former governor Jwala Rambarran in December 2015 announced the names of the biggest users of foreign exchange in the country. He was immediately censured and a few months later, sacked by the Government citing Section 56.

As much as the public will appreciate Government’s attempt to lift part of the veil on the bank, we must also question the objective. This piece of legislation that in Clause 9 would ostensibly allow for greater transparency in the bank, followed the now rescinded Clause 7, an amendment to the FOIA that was widely condemned as an attempt to control the flow of information to the public.

There have been several criticisms of the amendment to a monolithic entity like the Central Bank, but Imbert has dismissed them all in favour of the public interest.

But is it really the public interest? In his closing statements in the House of Representatives on Friday, Imbert suggested that there were people in the bank, former governors, whose interests would be upended if this information was made public. A former governor, for example, he said, claimed $10 million for 17 months of work. This amendment would solve that issue. The Express on Sunday reported that the individual in question was Rambarran.

One would therefore hope the minister did not bring forth a bill intent on settling a personal vendetta, although he drew examples from other countries where at least some aspects of central banking is overseen by ministers of finance or allowed via freedom of information legislation.

Regardless, the Finance Minister has allowed a small victory for the people to access information in their interest. Once he has requested the information and it is in his possession, it will have become public information, accessible via the FOIA.

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