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BUSINESS GUARDIAN www.guardian.co.tt JUNE 2013 • WEEK FOUR
Most of the economic decisions taken by the
National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR)
were taken internally and were not mandated
by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said
former NAR finance minister Selby Wilson.
"I say this to defuse any feeling that we can-
not think for ourselves, we cannot make hard
decisions and all those decisions are being
directed from external sources. That is not nec-
essarily true. I can tell you that I have walked
out of World Bank and IMF meetings because
I could not have my way. Under Prime Minister
Robinson, we did not willy-nilly accept direc-
tions from the IMF," he said.
Wilson was speaking on June 14 at Nalis at
the launch of the book, The Courage To Go
Forward, by Bernadette Hood-Caesar, a trade
union member of the Canadian Public Employ-
Hood-Caesar, in 1987 a junior staff member
at St Ann's Hospital, backed by the 65,000
member, Public Services Association (PSA),
successfully sued the Government which had
cut public servants' salaries by ten per cent
and removed their cost of living allowances
Independent economic decisions
Wilson had just begun an accounting practice
when he joined the NAR in the mid-1908s.
He said his family was fearful when he told
them he was contesting the Point Fortin seat,
but comforted them by saying he could not
live in a country in which he was not free to
do what he felt was best.
On assuming office, the Government brought
together a team of T&T nationals who drew
up an economic plan.
He made it clear that contrary to what is
widely believed, the IMF had no input into the
Government's first budget.
"In 1986 the country was in dire circum-
stances. We won the elections in December
1986 and had to present a budget in January
of 1987. We had not yet spoken to the IMF. We
appointed a team headed by Frank Rampersad.
Trevor Farrell and Eugenio Moore were also on
that team. They were all nationals of T&T.
Much of the budget in 1987 came out of the
recommendations of that team who prepared
a report called The Status of the Finances, so
the IMF had no inputs into that document,"
He continued: "We had not spoken to the
IMF, but to the national technocrats. Most of
what came out of the budget came out of their
Wilson said prior to coming into office, there
was another committee made up of T&T
nationals, namely Williams Demas and Euric
Bobb, the then governor of the Central Bank,
who had prepared a report called, Imperatives
"A lot of that report informed the actions of
the Government in 1987. That report identified
that though the adjustment had started by the
late George Chambers, the report concluded
he had not gone far enough. He started the
process and realised the difficulties, and like
any other politician, was careful, wary of the
consequences that could arise from any sudden
Wilson said the Government was transparent
in laying before Parliament its document to the
Wilson said by December 1986, T&T was in
dire straits and had one month's foreign reserves.
"We were on a ration basis. People had to
fill out forms to get foreign currency. There
was a black market for foreign currency, that
is where the country was heading. How did we
get foreign currency in a market where oil prices
were falling, earnings were dropping and there
was a demand from the local manufacturers
for this foreign currency to keep their business
running and people employed?"
He said what Chambers was saying is that
T&T had lost real income but, at the same
time, had not adjusted expenditure habits and
was still spending more that it was earning.
In 1983 the wage and salary bill was at the
same level as total revenue from the oil industry.
By 1988 the wage and salary bill had exceeded
tax collection from oil sector by more than 40
per cent, Wilson said.
"This is only the wage and salary bill of the
central Government; it does not include the
wage and salary bill of the statutory bodies or
city councils. If we include the personal emol-
uments of the Tobago House of Assembly and
the local government, the total wages exceeded
total oil revenue by 85 per cent in 1988. That
was the situation we were in," Wilson said.
He said one of the first things that was done
in the 1987 budget before the World Bank and
IMF got involved was to defer increments and
to temporarily suspend payments of COLA.
Twenty-six years later, Wilson admitted the
measure was "severe."
"Ministers at that time also took a five to
ten per cent cut in salary and we also lost our
COLA, which, by the way, I had never got back
any part of it or the ten per cent. The Gov-
ernment appreciated that there would have
been a sacrifice."
He said in circumstances like that, some
would always feel the hurt more than others
and, "unfortunately, those at the lower rungs
tend to feel it more."
"We did not enjoy doing that. It is not some-
thing we did out of spite or wickedness as was
said by Patrick Manning at the time," Wilson
"We had to take risk of doing that, sending
home employees or trying to support the wage
bill by printing money and fuelling inflation.
Those risks would have been more damaging
than the risks of suspension of COLA."
Wilson said the NAR Government did not
have sufficient time to consult with unions on
"It was ruled that the Government acted
unconstitutionally and we cannot argue those
He said there were plans to set up a National
Investment Company to assist public servants
in investing their money, but the plan was
shelved when the PNM took office.
"Manning went up and down the country
complaining that we were trying to make public
(servants) investors," the former minister said.
Wilson then read from his budget speech of
1990: "Mr Speaker, in this budget, we are com-
mitted to the restoration of benefits to all
employees in the central government. The accu-
mulation of these benefits arose as a result of
suspension of COLA in 1987, the ten per cent
cuts in emoluments in 1989 and the postpone-
ment of the Industrial Court award effective
January 1, 1989."
NAR's Selby Wilson:
Harsh salary cuts
Selby Wilson's bio:
Selby Wilson is chairman of the board
of the Telecommunications Authority of
He is also consulting partner at Finan-
cial Resource Management Ltd.
From 1997 to 2004, he was secretary
general of the Caribbean Associationof
National Telecommunication Organisa-
He served as a NAR government minis-
ter between 1986 to 1991.
Selby Wilson, former minister with the National Alliance for Reconstruction, greets Bernadette
Hood-Caesar, trade unionist and author of The Courage To Go Forward.
PHOTO: DARREN RAMPERSAD
Bernadette Hood-Caesar---one of the key
Public Services Association's (PSA) members
who took part in the court action against the
National Alliance for Reconstruction Govern-
ment during the 1980s---has no regrets about
her actions or of her criticism of the govern-
ment of the day.
"I still think those economic policies were
too harsh. It affected not only public workers,
but the entire country. It was rough. Many
years after I returned to Trinidad and I saw
a young child with a donation sheet begging
for money on the streets of Port-of-Spain,
and I shook my head because I knew this was
the outcome of the economic policies and
poverty from the NAR era," she told the Busi-
ness Guardian by phone on Monday from
She was in Trinidad on June 14 for the
launch of her book, The Courage To Go For-
ward, at Nalis, Abercromby Street, Port-of-
Today, Hood-Caesar, who made Canada
her adopted home, remains an active trade
Former NAR minister, Selby Wilson, who
read the book and spoke at the launch, said
he recognised the qualities of a woman "deter-
mined to make a difference", calling it
"Even if some of the premises might have
been wrong, the central theme is here was a
commitment, courage and belief to take up
the mantle of leadership to challenge the gov-
ernment of the day," Wilson said.
"It is our democratic right and it is through
that process that our democracy can be made
stronger. It would be good for the country if
we had more people like her."
Labour historian Bukka Rennie, who wrote
the foreword to her book, said what is impor-
tant about Hood-Caesar is she was not the
first person asked by her union to assign her
name to the class action suit on behalf of all
All whom the PSA had approached before
refused to assign their name to the legal action.
Speaking at the launch, Rennie said: So the
fact that Bernadette agreed to take a militant
stand and saw it through to the very end is
a hallmark of a true heroine. But to me, what
reflects an even more sterling characteristic
is the way she stood up to the mamaguy and
the picong coming from some of her fellow
workers and supporters of the government of
the day. She took it all and pressed on."
NAR austerity measures
In 1987, the PSA asked Bernadette Hood-
Caesar to make a stand in a class action lawsuit
against the State on behalf of 65,000-plus
Continued on Page 11
Militant PSA member
challenged NAR in court
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