Outgoing Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Timothy Antoine has, for the first time, publicly spoken about the financial hardship the ministry faced during the onslaught of the economic and financial crisis that came to the fore in 2008.
Antoine who is due to take up the position of Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) from February 1st outlined to a radio programme last Sunday the difficulties the technocrats faced in meeting government’s financial commitments.
He disclosed that as Administrative Head of the Ministry of Finance, he noticed that the economy started slowing down in 2008, but the recession “really started to bite 2009.”
“During 2009 and 2012, that was the height of the great recession,” he said.
The main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) of Tillman Thomas came to office in July 2008 and was booted out of office 15-0 by the New National Party (NNP) of Dr. Keith Mitchell in February 2013.
Antoine is taking over the regional bank from the retired Sir Dwight Venner who held the position for 26 years.
Antoine was informed about his appointment last week Friday by Chairman of the Monetary Council, Victor Banks who is the Chief Minister of Anguilla.
The senior Grenada Civil Servant started working at the Ministry of Finance in 1993 with the Public Sector Investment Programme, and within six years was elevated to the top position.
He was asked by Prime Minister Mitchell to act as Permanent Secretary in 1999 following a fall-out with Dr. Brian Francis, a Senior Lecturer in Economics with the Cave Hill campus in Barbados of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Antoine took up a World Bank position in 2005 in Washington DC for two years as an Advisor to the Executive Director for Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean.
The outgoing Permanent Secretary said that upon his return to the Ministry of Finance in 2008 the recession started not too long after.
“In all my years in the Ministry of Finance, those were the most difficult years (2009 to 2012),” he added.
Antoine recalled that in 2009 the revenue shortfall was $80M.
“There were days I really don’t know how we paid anything, and I would get up, pray and march into the Ministry of Finance and, with God’s help, we’ll pay a bill or two, or whatever we could do… Those were very, very difficult days,” he remarked.
According to Antoine, over the years he has been able to develop a working relationship with the different Ministers of Finance in the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
“I have always had a respect for who is in Office, and I tried my best to support them,” he said.
He noted that civil servants do not get to choose their bosses, and who ever the people elect they work with them.
“It is our job (as pubic servants) to give fearless advice,” he said.
Antoine also said that it is the job of the public servants to work with the Government Ministers to assist them in the implementation process of their policies.
The outgoing Permanent Secretary disclosed that before he moves out of the service the ministry will be meeting with the public sector unions to trash out some issues.
According to him, discussions with the unions will centre on pension reform, salary negotiations, increments, and public sector reform.
Public Sector unions in Grenada have been forced to accept a wage freeze during the 3-year period of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) initiated by the Mitchell government in 2014.