He has been warned by former prime minister Owen Arthur not to do so, but Dominica’s prime minister Roosevelt Skerrit has rejected the former leader’s advice on the appointment of Barbadian economist Avinash Persaud as his special economic advisor on economic recovery post-Hurricane Maria.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY last month, Arthur had cautioned Skerrit to think twice about putting his country’s future in the hands of the ex-Paradise executive chairman, given his role in the “mangled” Four Seasons project (otherwise referred to as the Paradise development) in Barbados between 2010 and 2012.
“Any basic due diligence would tell you that . . . Paradise is mangled and the job of reconstruction of Dominica is massive. It is urgent and will be complex and priority should be given to people who have experience and skill sets to manage complex reconstructions,” Arthur had said after Persaud was seen accompanying Skerrit at meetings in New York and had subsequently revealed to Barbados TODAY that he was “prime minister Skerrit’s senior economic advisor tasked with helping the economic recovery and rebuilding”.
Arthur had not minced his words, stating that while the wreckage caused to Dominica so far could largely be blamed on category five hurricane winds and rains, “you cannot explain it [wreckage] in the case of Paradise” where Persaud was part of a team trying, but failing, to raise money to pay creditors.
However, in a national address last night, Skerrit was full of praise for Persaud, listing the economist’s many accomplishments and the many positions he has held internationally.
At the same time, while not mentioning Arthur by name, the Dominican leader took a dig at those who he said “would rather pontificate from a safe distance”.
He hailed Persaud as “the principal architect of our external funding and economic strategy” and as the ideal man for the new economic advisory post.
“He has been working closely with my team over the past few weeks . . . [and] you are going to see a lot of him over the next six months,” Skerrit said in his address to the nation in which he pointed out that “a few years ago, Professor Persaud was ranked in the top ten of all economists in the world on the financial crisis by a panel of leading experts.
“No other Caribbean name was in the top 25. One of the reasons why he is up there is that he is not afraid to accept the toughest challenges when others would rather pontificate from a safe distance.
“He made his stamp on the policy world as one of a handful of economists who developed the new macro-prudential rules now applied to all international banks after the global financial crisis.
“Previously his work during the Asian financial crisis helped change the standard global approach to financial risk management and won him the Jacques de Larosiere Award [named after the French central banker and former managing director of the International Monetary Fund], “Skerrit said, adding that Persaud was a visiting scholar at both the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank, as well as chairman of the regulatory sub committee of the United Nations Commission on Financial Reform and a member of the Pew Task Force to the US Senate Banking Committee.
“He was the independent expert member of the UK Government’s audit and risk committee in the middle of their banking crisis. He is well known amongst the senior international policy officials that we need to have access.
“Before his work in policy he was a senior executive at J. P. Morgan and UBS and this private sector background is also proving helpful as we work with private investors and foundations on debt-for-nature swaps and the like,” Skerrit further acknowledged, adding that “it is with some pride that I can say that the best person for this job internationally is one of our own, a Caribbean man”.
During last night’s address, Skerrit also acknowledged “the ongoing and invaluable support” of Irish businessman and Digicel founder Denis O’Brien to Dominica in its “denuded” state.
He explained that “after rushing to check on us soon after Maria struck, he [O’Brien] has assisted us greatly by asking his network of influential connections to identify experts who could help us; also, he got them to us or us to them.
“He has also pressed his contacts to consider what they can offer us and some have outdone themselves. For instance, we hope to announce an extraordinarily generous gift in the power sphere next week when the details are confirmed,” the Dominican leader said, adding that “O’Brien has truly demonstrated his personal commitment and genuine friendship to the people of Dominica and for this, I and my team am exceptionally grateful”
O’Brien was listed among the world’s top 200 billionaires in 2015, three years after then Haitian president Michel Martelly awarded him with the National Order of Honour and Merit for his investments, contributions and promotion of Haiti.