The once-feared Bernard Coard of the People’s Revolutionary Government in the 1979-83 era was not the only government minister who was out to remove the late Lauriston Wilson (JR) from the powerful post of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.
Local attorney-at-law, Debra St. Bernard alluded to another government minister during the 1984-90 rule of late Prime Minister Herbert Blaize who was bent on toppling Wilson who served under five administration in the top post in the Ministry of Finance.
In paying tribute to Wilson who died two weeks ago at age 78, St. Bernard who worked under Wilson’s stewardship in the Ministry of Finance made mention of the fact that the PS Finance knew that efforts were being made under Blaize’s leadership to secure his downfall.
“I recall Laurie telling me that former deceased Prime Minister Hon. H.A. Blaize, may his soul rest in peace, told him that he had to often times defend him, whenever a Minister in the Cabinet repeatedly raised an ex-agenda item, to wit, “getting rid of Laurie from the Ministry of Finance”.
Late Cabinet Minister, Bennett Andrew had told a journalist in the 1990’s who was working with a regional media house that the then Communication & Works Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell who is the island’s current Prime Minister was the one calling in Blaize’s Cabinet for the removal of Wilson from the post of PS Finance.
Andrew said that Dr. Mitchell was advocating for the post to be given to his close family, Denis Campbell who was recalled home from Kenya to be installed as the new General Manager of the state-owned National Water & Sewerage Authority (NAWASA).
In paying tribute to Wilson, Attorney St. Bernard described him as a committed worker who was always in charge of what he was doing.
Following is the tribute delivered by the barrister-at-law who is an executive member of the Grenada Bar Association:
As a certified accountant, Laurie served in the public service of Grenada as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance for many years and latterly as the Director General until his retirement in 1991.
It was at the Ministry of Finance where I spent most of my years in the public service that I served as his subordinate.
Laurie was in charge at all times, he was the chief and there was no doubt about that. The Cabinet Secretary, though she was the head of the public service, was often times reminded by him that he was the man whom the Government relied on for advice on the availability of finances to conduct the day to day business of the State. Laurie was the man with the “pepper sauce” not her.
I recall an incident involving myself relating to the matter of time off for Christmas shopping for public officers, when Laurie clearly showed me that he was the man in charge. Despite the fact that at the time the other Ministries were allowing the staff one day off for Christmas shopping, he was of the view that one half of a day was sufficient time and that the entire working day was a source of loss for the public finances.
As an Economist at the time, not a junior officer, I decided to take my time off on a Christmas Eve morning and since it was a tradition for work to stop at about 2:00 pm on Christmas Eve I would end up with a whole workday. Well, the man in charge was unto my plan and he addressed the matter of me not showing up at 1:00 p.m. to be dismissed at 2:00 p.m. as was the custom.
When I returned to work after the Christmas holidays, I received a very stern letter from him chastising me for not reporting as I was supposed to at 1:00p.m. on Christmas Eve, without tendering an excuse. I responded by writing to him about his “wanton implementation of rules and how that could have a negative impact on morale”.
His reaction was to copy his response to my letter to the Public Service Commission. The Commission called me in and in my defense to their finding that there was strong language in my letter, I told them them that it was Laurie who taught me to write that way.
I must let you all know that this issue never changed the excellent working relationship between us. He did not hold this incident against me. I recall him thereafter recommending me for a position on promotion, even though at the time I was on maternity leave and it required me curtailing some of my leave.
With him, when it came to the functioning of the Ministry there was no room for pettiness or malice. Let’s get the job done was his paramount concern, once you performed your duties he recognized you for that. The lesson for me was, Laurie is the man in charge and he never failed to establish that, it never mattered who or what and that was it.
If the task at hand could not be accommodated within the law, statutory rule or regulation or any other regulatory provision, convention or principle it just could not happen with Laurie at the helm.
I recall Laurie telling me that former deceased Prime Minister Hon. H.A. Blaize, may his soul rest in peace, told him that he had to often times defend him, whenever a Minister in the Cabinet repeatedly raised an ex-agenda item, to wit, “getting rid of Laurie from the Ministry of Finance”.
The complaint by the Minister on him, was that he was “stopping the progress”. As a professional public officer he would never allow any transaction to proceed under his watch, if it offended or violated any law or regulation. His bible on the job was the Finance and Audit Act and the Finance and Store Rules.
He was not the public officer who would close his eyes and sign a letter prepared by a Minister of Government or any other document on behalf of the Government if the contents thereof were objectionable and in violation of any law, rule, norm, principle or convention. Laurie would respectfully quote to the Minister the provision which was offended by what the Minister wanted to do and that was it.
His professional approach had a positive impact on the Heads of Departments in the Ministry, for example, the late Andy Mitchell in the Customs and Excise, and the late Alfred DeBellotte in the Inland Revenue – both were known to be public officers who would often quote the relevant law or regulation in defense of the position they would have on a matter and they did not waiver.
Indeed, it was well established in the public service that with Laurie as the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, a public officer who was found to be responsible for any loss of money would be surcharged. There was no consideration at the time that this exercise of power by him may have been challengeable. In fact, the knowledge that they can be surcharged if their actions or omissions resulted in loss for the public purse, kept most public officers on the straight and narrow.
Laurie’s Legacy in the Public Service.
(i) Punctuality always. He was known to be on the job long before the official start of the workday, this did not mean that he left earlier or at the official end.
(ii) He was known to work long days. If it was necessary, he worked on weekends, for instance the preparation of the annual budget “b.c. computers” (and I mean before computers), he would be at the desk ensuring that the Minister of Finance would have a high quality speech to deliver on budget day. Oh how some of us waited with baited breath for the delivery of the budget speech back then.
(iii) Despite the fact that in his capacity as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance for many years, he would have had many opportunities to enrich himself either directly or through the use of surrogates, there are no reports or even innuendoes of him being involved in any shady activities.
(iv) He was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance whom the Ministers of Government including Bernard Coard of the People’s Revolutionary Government, had difficulty to overrule or to get rid of.
(v) Laurie was the man in charge, when the Cabinet Secretary at the time shied away from chairing the Board of Permanent Secretaries, it was Laurie as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance who chaired the board without fear.
(vi) He was plain spoken and he did not fail to discipline even his favourite worker if that became necessary. He held no malice and with him there was no vindictiveness.
Laurie was the consummate professional public officer whom my colleagues at the time and I admired and revered and I found myself wanting to emulate the performance of this man. May his soul rest in eternal peace.