He was this island’s first Central Bank Governor and during his 15-year stint at the helm of the monetary authority, Sir Courtney Blackman initiated efforts for Barbados to have its own currency and for it to be pegged against the United States dollar.
Last Friday’s renaming of the Central Bank’s Grand Salle in Sir Courtney’s honour was therefore as good an occasion as any for the Freundel Stuart administration to seek to reassure Barbadians that the country’s dollar, which has been under significant threat in recent months, remains safe.
“The peg is still the bedrock of our economy. He [Sir Courtney] was of the view that the two-to-one peg was to be defended relentlessly . . . and to achieve this objective, we had to prudently manage our fiscal affairs, something which I’m sure we all agree as a policy stance, remains very, very relevant and applicable today.
“Indeed, the Government, of which I am a part, remains committed to maintaining that peg at all costs and we recognize that an internal part of the framework for sustaining such an exchange rate is indeed the fiscal discipline,” Sinckler said, while acknowledging that “in recent years, we have deviated from [the] strictest of those disciplines, a measure to which we must return without delay”.
Without dwelling on the country’s financial challenges, Sinckler used the occasion to hail Sir Courtney’s contribution to the country’s overall development.
While describing him as one of the finest citizens Barbados has ever produced, the Minister of Finance also hailed Sir Courtney as a pioneer in management leadership and scholarship “not only in Barbados, but outside of Barbados, making him, not just an individual, but practically, over the many decades he has served Barbados and the international community, virtually an institution among us”.
Acting Governor Cleviston Haynes noted that at age 39, Sir Courtney had set about, as the world’s youngest Central Bank Governor in 1972, to build a financial institution that was independent of “political colour”.
Haynes also said Sir Courtney, who was present in the audience, was committed to high standards and this was best exemplified in the bank’s delivery to the Minister of Finance of its annual reports and financial statements by the March 31deadline.
In fact, the Acting Governor reported that it was only on one occasion during his 15 year stint at the helm of the monetary authority from 1972 to 1987 that the documents were delivered a day past the end of the financial year on April 1.
Ex-Governor Winston Cox, who was Sir Courtney’s protégé, commended the Government for bestowing the honour on him while he was alive.
“What a wise and generous decision by the chairman and board of governors of the Central Bank and by the Government of Barbados . . . represented by the Minister of Finance to bestow this honour instead of waiting to raise a memorial to Sir Courtney,” he said to applause from the audience that included members of Sir Courtney’s family and another former Governor, Marion Wiliams.
“What a happy and glorious day for Sir Courtney, Lady Blackman and for their family,” Cox added.
When it came time for Sir Courtney to respond, the acclaimed economist, who is now in 80s, allowed his son Christopher to speak on his behalf, as he stood, next to the podium, supported by his other son Martin.
However, Sir Courtney was extremely pleased with his honour.
“Some of you recall the criticisms that were heaped on my head when I proposed a Central Bank building with a concert hall attached. The then Prime Minister, who shall remain nameless, announced . . . ‘wild forces cannot get me into the building’ [but] he lived to eat his words,” said Sir Courtney, who was appointed by DLP leader and national hero Errol Walton Barrow to head up the bank before their relationship soured.
“A priest preached a sermon on me and likened the towers of the bank, to the Towers of Babel,” he recalled, adding that a member of Sir Courtney’s own board had objected to the purchase of the grand piano for the Frank Collymore Hall.
However, Sir Courtney noted that the current Acting Governor was by his side during those challenging times, so too Haynes’ immediate predecessor, Dr Delisle Worrell, who he said “understood my belief as I pressed ahead with construction of the Frank Collymore Hall”.
His belief was that the Central Bank was not only about maintaining the country’s economy, but about prosperity of the island and quality of life of its people.
With the renaming, the Grande Salle is now known as the Courtney Blackman Grande Salle.