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THE HOYOS FILE: Life through the lens of economics

Pat Hoyos, [email protected]

THE HOYOS FILE: Life through the lens of economics

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Unless you read the RBC Caribbean Economic Report, which is published every month in PDF format and emailed to the bank’s clients, journalists and other interested persons around the region, you may not know of Marla Dukharan.

She is the person who writes the newsletter, summarising the latest economic news from almost two dozen countries in the region.

Her reportage is terse; she uses abbreviations that may take some getting used to, and she doesn’t waste words. This approach has made the report one of the must-reads for people who need to follow economic news from the Caribbean.

Here’s an example from the latest report: “This is the third consecutive year of progressively weaker global growth, and the slowest since the GFC in 2009…” GFC, I am only guessing, stands for global financial crisis. But I could be wrong.

Later in the report, summarising Barbados’ position, she writes “…the fiscal deficit widened 60 per cent y/y to BBD242 million in H1 FY2016/17, and the CBB financed 234 per cent of this deficit, to the tune of BBD566.3 million in just six months – the same level of CBB financing for the entire FY2015/16, the CBB report revealed”. What that one means, of course, is crystal clear, despite the abbrev. 

But behind the economic prowess is a person who lives and breathes economics. She is also a member of that fast growing category of business visitors, as she comes to the island half a dozen times a year, sometimes to hold a local edition of the popular RBC economic seminars. She told me that she loves to eat at Oistins, as well as Champers and Buzo. Running is her hobby and she says her “favourite place in the world to run barefoot” is on Carlisle Bay. She also runs the Barbados half-marathon every year. 

But it was this dedication to economics that I found intriguing. In a recent interview she told me how far back it goes. 

“How did I first get into economics? When I was doing ‘A’ Levels and I first opened an economics textbook – the Beardshaw, as we called it – I just fell in love. And so I always joke and say economics was my first love, and still remains to a certain extent – even though I’m married and have children – something that is always on my mind.”

(By the way, for any students out there, the book is Economics – A Student’s Guide, by John Beardshaw and others.)

I asked if it might be unusual for a Caribbean person to be that interested in the subject. “Yes, there are people who have fallen into this industry who are not as passionate about it. But there are some,” she said.

So what is there about economics that makes her so passionate about the subject?

“What we are taught formally is that economics is about how you allocate limited resources among unlimited wants or needs.” Her thinking about it, however, has evolved over the years. “I think it is ultimately a behavioural science because all economic decision makers are people like me and you, right? Human beings, who are not rational but subject to all kinds of influences and choices.” These affect the way we behave, and “to me it explains everything”.

Because of that, she began to see everything “through the lens of economics”. Adding to the reasons for her interest is that many of the textbook prescriptions, which came out of the experience of developed countries, don’t work for developing ones.

After graduation, Dukharan had no real plan for how to put her qualification to use in terms of a career. She got a job at Republic Bank, starting her career at the bank’s economic unit under Dr Ronald Ramkissoon, who became her de facto mentor.

She left Republic to do her master’s degree and then joined Caribbean Money Market Brokers (CMMB), which was later absorbed into First Citizens’ bank when its parent, C.L. Financial, was bailed out by the T&T government.

After a while, Dukharan left CMMB to be a full-time mom. She had only planned to take a year off work, but after her daughter came a son. 

Three years after her first child was born, Dukharan started working at RBC. The new job entailed a lot of travel, and on a trip to New York in late 2007, right after the financial crisis hit, Dukharan experienced her own tipping point. She returned to her hotel from a day of meetings and called home, “and I heard my children crying: ‘Mommy come home’, and I started crying. When I got back to Trinidad I walked into my boss’ office and said: ‘I can’t do this anymore’. And so it was a tough decision in some respects, but I just knew that I had to do it.”

In October 2011, she resumed her career as an economist with RBC, once her second child was in pre-school. 

Describing what her job entails, Dukharan says: “I’m in risk, I report to the chief risk officer for Caribbean banking. I monitor the economic developments, [and] report on them for the bank, report to the board, to risk, and to the governance committees, help to inform strategy as well as our own sovereign credit rating for each of the sovereigns. So that’s what I do in a nutshell – I monitor about 20 countries.” 

And although we don’t work at RBC, we get to read her summaries every month in the very valuable RBC Caribbean Economic Report.

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