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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Why Worrell should change course


TONY BEST

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Why Worrell should change course

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IT WAS A THUNDERING MOVE by one of the Caribbean’s leading media institutions and it was aimed, for good reason, at Dr DeLisle Worrel, governor of Barbados’ Central Bank.

In an unusual step for an independent newspaper, THE NATION published a front page editorial in which it focused public attention on the way Worrell was carrying out a key function: providing the people of Barbados with credible information about the economy.

As the paper saw it, there can be “no justification” for the Central Bank governor “to assume the prerogative to turn public accountability of office into a personal plaything” by opting out of holding “a genuine news conference to address” Barbados’ economic affairs while staging a “highly promoted televised ‘discussion’ paid for by a bank with declining profits and featuring “two hand-picked media men”, presumably to give the appearance of journalistic legitimacy.

“We abhor this obfuscation of culpability and transparency and dismiss it as counter to the best interest of the country,” stated THE NATION.

It is rare for a paper of the standing of THE NATION to publish a front page editorial and to focus attention on the Central Bank. Just the other day, the New York Times, the paper of record in the United States (US), ran a front page editorial for the first time in almost a century when it published one shortly before Christmas calling for a reduction in the availability of guns in the US.

The editorial was published in space normally set aside for hard news, an approach embraced by THE NATION and in order to avoid any confusion about what’s news and what’s comment, both papers labelled them “editorial”.

Quite unlike many papers in Italy and France, where the practice of placing editorials on the front page is common, publications in the US, Caribbean, Britain and Canada are reluctant to follow suit because of the unshakable desire to separate fact from opinion.

Until December, the Times hadn’t placed an editorial on its front page since July 1920 when it dealt with Warren Harding’s nomination as the presidential standard-bearer of the Republican Party.

“Even in this digital age, the front page remains an incredibly strong and powerful way to surface issues that demand attention,” explained Arthur Sulzberger, the Times publisher, who said the recent editorial aimed to “deliver a strong and visible statement of frustration and anguish about our country’s inability to come to terms with the scourge of guns”.

Obviously, THE NATION felt as strong about Worrell’s performance as governor as the Times assessed Hardin’s nomination and how it felt about the proliferation of guns in America.

Central banks play a pivotal role in a country’s economic life. They are charged with the responsibility of overseeing a nation’s financial condition. They function as the leader of the money market; manager of foreign reserves; printer of money; and controller of inflation.

Little wonder that Sir Courtney Blackman, first governor of Barbados’ Central Bank, described its creation in the early 1970s as an “important institutional addition, indeed an innovation” in the island-nation’s financial management.

Combine those responsibilities and it would become clear why THE NATION became so frustrated with Worrell’s style of running the Central Bank and sharing information with the public that it used its front page to address the issue.

But the financial house in Bridgetown isn’t the only one that’s under intense scrutiny. Shortly after he took office in Port of Spain, Dr Keith Rowley, Trinidad and Tobago’s new prime minister’s administration forced out the Central Bank governor there in dramatic fashion.

And a new book, entitled The Only Game In Town: Central Banks Instability And Avoiding The Next Collapse, is throwing more light on the missteps of central banks around the world and the damage they often cause if not held accountable for their policies.

Mohammed El-Erian, a former economist of the International Monetary Fund where Worrell also served as an economist, is the author of the book that has sounded the alarm about the troublesome paths central banks have taken in recent years, and while El Erian didn’t zero in on Barbados, he certainly raised issues which THE NATION’s editorial hinted at.

For example, El Erian was quick to praise central banks as a group for averting human suffering over the years but they fell down by not pushing for much needed fiscal reforms.

They also failed to pave the way for the “combination of high, durable and inclusive growth with genuine financial stability.”

The Economist of London, the English language’s premiere weekly news publication, gave the book and its author high marks for outlining the financial and other problems countries and their central banks were facing but complained that the book “falters when he tries to set out” a plan for the way forward.

THE NATION didn’t stumble in that regard. Its editorial outlined a relatively easy route for Worrell to take: “return to the high road” of communicating with the public of Barbados “set by his esteemed predecessors”. The governor in Barbados should do exactly that. He must become more open to news organisations and let the proverbial chips fall where they may.

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