Trinidad’s newly minted Afro Prime Minister Keith Rowley last week got acting President Christine Kangaloo to sign off on a cabinet recommendation to dismiss the island’s seemingly combative Central Bank governor for allegedly breaching key state rules largely linked to confidentiality of financial information.
The charges against Jwala Rambarran had much to do with his pre-holiday season announcement that the island was in full recession after four quarters of negative growth, owing largely to depressed international prices for oil, gas and petroleum products.
He was also booked for releasing the names to the public of companies and individuals who had received large tranches of foreign exchange from the bank. Clients had complained about the breach, alleged safety concerns and possible ridicule they could have received from the public.
Once he had done so without prior notice to Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Rowley himself and the local stock exchange which reacted negatively, his pronouncement was immediately interpreted as a blindside to a government to which he is not seen as supportive or neutral in any way.
General elections were held on the island in the first week of September. The polls were won by Rowley and his People’s National Movement (PNM). It easily defeated the one-term Indo dominated People’s Partnership coalition which had appointed Rambarran to the top financial regulatory post back in 2012 just before hiring him as a highly paid consultant. The PNM won 23 of the 41 parliamentary seats.
That Rambarran chose not to indicate that the country was clearly headed to recession as general elections loomed was also seen as a gift to the partnership. Such an announcement would clearly have been a key issue on the campaign.
Gary Griffith, the partnership’s former national security minister added credence to the belief of members of cabinet, PNM supporters and others who feel that Rambarran had set out to both blindside and embarrass the Rowley administration. He suggested this week that Rambarran had indeed chosen not to do so while the previous administration was in office because it would have hurt the administration.
“The question must be asked, for what reason did he never reveal to the pubic the first three periods when this negative growth was taking place, which was ironically under the previous government?” Griffith said in a statement.
The dismissal has caused quite a stir on an island whose economy is indeed reeling from extremely low world oil and gas prices. The energy sector is the largest source of foreign exchange in the country and one of the biggest employers.
Rambarran says he will sue the administration for wrongful dismissal and as if on cue, former prime minister Kamla Persad Bissessar has come out swinging for him, blaming Rowley for political bias.
“The surreptitious firing of Mr. Rambarran in the absence of the substantive president leaves great doubt about the sincerity of the Rowley government. More and more they cannot be trusted as their spoken words and actions are poles apart revealing a hypocrisy that is unparalleled in our political culture,” the opposition leader said.
Like almost everything else in Trinidad, the issue of race has raised its head as partnership supporters seemed to think that Rambarran was fired because he is of Indo extraction, forgetting that he might have transgress by not consulting his superiors and for breaching confidentiality rules in detailing the names of firms and individuals who received large sums of foreign currencies from the central bank.