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…”What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” – CLR James

The famous line, “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know” in CLR James book, Beyond the Boundary (1963), is relevant to cricket as an institution but, can be applied to institutional growth, development, and culture in general, despite of James’ reference to the collective forces of colonization, class and culture on colonial education, knowledge, opinion-setting, and decision-making (in Cricket).

Cricket anniversaries celebrate the stars, legends, celebrities, and builders of the national teams. Can one imagine Cricket West Indies (CWI) celebrating its 95th Anniversary since acquiring test status (in 1928) and leaving out the living legends like Sir Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Wes Hall, Clive Lloyd, Sir Anderson Roberts, Sir Vivian Richards, Michael Holding, and Brian Charles Lara (just to name a few), because there is a space problem where they chose to host the Event?  The CWI administration would be described as “insane” and the Caribbean people would call for the President head!

On the contrary, did you know that the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank [a multi-state central bank headquartered in St Kitts & Nevis with seven other member territories including Anguilla, Montserrat, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Lucia, St Vincent & The Grenadines  and Grenada], culminated its year-long 40th Anniversary Celebrations on Saturday 09 December 2023 with a Gala and Award Event but left out the Retirees (the builders of the institution)?  – the message conveyed was “no space to accommodate retirees.”

Institutions celebrate several milestones. One is billed as a Ruby jubilee (40th Anniversary); a Golden jubilee (50th Anniversary); a Diamond jubilee (60th or 75th Anniversary) or a Centennial (100th Anniversary) – each event carries a peculiar context and character.

An institution’s anniversary presents a valuable opportunity to celebrate the establishment. Management takes the time to reflect on the institution’s journey and history, including its challenges and successes. The leadership thinks about how the institution  evolved as an organization, and builds those stories into its celebration.

The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank’s 40th anniversary celebrations should have been about more than just the number of years it has been in business. These celebrations are not merely about eating and drinking. They are about People! All the people—at every level—who helped give the institution its standing in the market.

What is the best practice? What was the Central Bank celebrating?  – a legacy of hard work – endurance of men and women working under difficult ergonomics to produce market excellence with the available backward technology, tools and know-hows; young and old, livewires and hermits working tirelessly and beyond the call of duty – the human capital which stuck to the grind day, night and midnight hours to produce competitive outputs.

Yes, management should have celebrated – men and women who risked their lives on planes; in stormy weather; on overloaded ferries, in rickety hotels and guesthouses, promoting, crusading, and defending the ECCB in meetings, conferences and conventions. People who gave their lives, from a school graduate to retirement – in essence sacrificed their youth and in some cases – their dreams to build an institution of envy in the so called Less Developed Countries (LDCs).

Like CLR James asked, and, in the context of banking, “What do they know about banking… “What do they know about institutional growth…

Perhaps, the best way to make this point is to ask: “What is the purpose of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank? How does the work of the Bank reflect its purpose?

How does the work of the Bank address the prevailing high unemployment, skyrocketing food inflation, and the making of a “working poor” in most of the territories of the member territories? [At this juncture, let us acknowledge the fiscal support provided by the ECCB COVID19 Transfers to the Governments]. What are the interventions of the Bank in the post virus period?

According to the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Agreement Act 1983 page 9,  “The Purposes of the Bank are – (1) to regulate the availability of money and credit; (2) promote and maintain monetary stability; (3) to promote credit and exchange conditions and a sound financial structure conducive to the balanced growth and development of the economies of the territories of the Participating Governments; (4) to actively promote through means consistent with its other objectives the economic development of the territories of the Participating Governments” – simply put, to ensure a strong currency; guarantee financial stability; facilitate payment, settlement and credit creation; and influence economic development.

The platform for a strong dollar is already established – given the fixed exchange rate regime, and the near-currency Authority reserve-backing for every dollar put into circulation. The Key Performance Indicators (KPI) remain – (i)the Stability of the Financial System and (ii) the Active Role of the Bank in Economic Development.

The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank does not have much to write home about the Stability of the Financial System. On the contrary, by International Banking benchmark, commercial banks in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU) are comparatively very poor at granting loans from the Saving Deposits they take from the public. For the period 2015-2021, the Non-performing Loans (NPLs) of the Eastern Caribbean commercial Banks averaged 10.6%, twice the internationally accepted benchmark of 5%. The St Kitts and Nevis banking sector has the highest delinquency rates in the entire Eastern Caribbean – averaging 20.5%. (IMF Report, 2021).

That is to say, despite the relative stability of the ECCU, the ECCB has had to deal with crisis legacies such as financial system vulnerabilities and high NPLs, averaging about a quarter of total loans (IMF Report, 2021). This is a major reason why International Banks have little appetite for providing Correspondent Banking Services to domestic banks in the Eastern Caribbean. And local banks have difficulty finding correspondent banks in our major trading centers.

While the ECCB must be applauded for its several Awards, the regulatory institution must be evaluated based on its original mandate – the four purposes outlined above are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) of the ECCB – the raison d’être of the sub-regional institution.

Despite the Bank’s library of certificates, the sub-regional leading policy institution seems to be bankrupt of ideas and consequently, is losing or has lost its visibility in the currency union and the Caribbean marketplace.

Out-of-the-box leadership demands that the bank’s cadre of economists come up with market-driven models for tourism development; small states competitive development options; employment-generating investment options to address the prevailing crippling youth unemployment particularly in the Windward Islands (the more agrarian-typed economies), and research economic diversification models to lessen the dependence on the fragile Citizenship-by-investment (CBI) export.

Additionally, given the failure of the ECHMB, there is the urgent need to find some institutional responses to address the same problem that the ECHMB was established to address. There is a need to revisit the RGSM (Regional Government Securities Market) and make this outlet an attractive alternative for providing the participating governments with fiscal support given their perennial deficits. Additionally, the policy makers must find ways to reactivate the thrust to harmonize the Caribbean Securities Exchanges since the individual markets are too narrow, too underdeveloped and too uncompetitive to operate as separate platforms.

The large pool of Bank Examiners must come up with a working model to address the crippling NPLs (non-performing loans) and to make commercial banks more internationally competitive – and to ensure the safety of depositors in an environment with no Deposit Insurance.

Let’s get to the last over! “What do they know about organization building who only organization know?”

Did the ECCB Management make amends with the gift of EC$400 to retirees? Some retirees are justifiably asking whether the $400-bonus [paid after the Event] was a compensatory dinner ticket for two? (well, I pay about EC$300-$400 for a dinner for two at my favorite restaurant). Who will refuse a $400 windfall in this inflationary time? But if this was a senior management and/or Board response to their oversight, they are certainly missing the point.

This quotation sums up the discourse very nicely: “An anniversary is about people… A successful anniversary is not the product of a checklist. It is the result of love. You may find yourself falling in love with your company and the people who made it. From that will emerge an anniversary truly worth celebrating.” —Jeff Bradford, President of Bradford Dalton Group

And we go back to Cricket to conclude. The last two balls in a T20 Cricket match are usually decisive. In our context, the 5th ball signals “passage of time heals” – that is to say, Senior Management will have other opportunities to celebrate the “builders of the ECCB.” The 6th ball says “change is the only constant” – that is to say, the “brain trust” of the bank could transform the ECCB into the catalytic institution that the pioneers envisioned in 1983.

Happy New Year!

© Peter Adrien is a Certified Business and Professional Coach; a Development Economist; former senior Adviser at the ECRCB and a Public Educator.

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