On the Pass­ing of the Gi­ant, Sir Dwight Ven­ner

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Neville Cenac

H e hav­ing been so sig­nif­i­cant a part of it, the world that knew Sir Dwight Ven­ner could not but have stood still on hear­ing how sud­denly the breath left his body. I was as sad­dened as any­one was bound to be who had known him well, and for as long as fifty-five years. My re­mem­brance of him goes back to 1961 when his fa­ther, Noel Ven­ner of St. Vin­cent, was our Sec­re­tary of Fi­nance, my brother, Win­ston, At­tor­ney-Gen­eral, and I, Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of the Civil Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion.

The young Dwight, seven years my ju­nior, was then 15, and a stu­dent of St. Mary’s Col­lege. From then, and for as long as my brother lived, Dwight al­ways called him, “Un­cle Win­ston”. Of­ten, and up till he was ripe for univer­sity, I saw him walk­ing across the gov­ern­ment car park on his way to meet his fa­ther, Noel, whose of­fice was above the Au­dit Depart­ment, my first place of work. As reg­u­lar and on time as the sun was he, and al­ways alone. A model of a youth he might have ap­peared to all. So, to me, it was.

In­duced by the pain of his pass­ing, I am called upon, there­fore, to say that Saint Lu­cia has as great a claim to Sir Dwight as the is­land, St. Vin­cent, that bore him; if only for the fol­low­ing rea­sons: he was ed­u­cated here, at St. Mary’s Col­lege; he mar­ried into the St. Rose fam­ily, ad­mired by us all for their dis­tin­guished ser­vice of com­mit­ment in the med­i­cal field; and be­cause, it was Saint Lu­cia that gave him the golden op­por­tu­nity to soar in his pro­fes­sion, and be seen as one of the bril­liant stars in the sky of eco­nom­ics, dom­i­nated by our Sir Arthur Lewis. Of that, much is to be said, which is not known and has to be said.

The 1979 to 1981 lead­er­ship strug­gle in Saint Lu­cia which placed the Prime Min­is­ter­ship on my brother, Win­ston’s lap in May 1981, had this ben­e­fi­cial ef­fect: it opened the way for the emer­gence of that gem of the Univer­sity of the West Indies, where he was a Re­search Fel­low, to con­vert book-learn­ing into loaves and fishes to feed mul­ti­tudes. At the time of his ac­cep­tance as Prime Min­is­ter, two im­por­tant va­can­cies needed to be filled: Di­rec­tor of Fi­nance; and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of the newly formed De­vel­op­ment Bank.

I rec­om­mended Ge­orge Theophilus as be­ing em­i­nently qual­i­fied to hold any of the two posts since he had worked in the Min­istry of Fi­nance, was then Deputy Di­rec­tor of the East­ern Caribbean Cen­tral Bank (ECCB), and had been a Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Civil Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion while I was the Gen­eral Sec­re­tary, and had found him to be an ex­cep­tion­ally good thinker, and a no-non­sense per­son. As both of­fices seemed tai­lor-made for both Theophilus and Ven­ner, the ap­point­ments were ef­fec­tu­ated quickly, much to the de­light of the en­tire Cab­i­net. So ad­mirably did Mr. Ven­ner (as he then was) per­form as Di­rec­tor of Fi­nance, that eight years later, in 1989, he was unan­i­mously em­braced as Gov­er­nor of the ECCB. In that po­si­tion, no one, up till his re­tire­ment in 2015 (a pe­riod of 26 years), found a sin­gle fault with his work, even in the worst of times.

While Mr. Ven­ner was Di­rec­tor of Fi­nance, I hap­pened to have been the Leader of the Op­po­si­tion and the Chair­man of the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee. As Chair­man, it was my duty to keep a close watch on the run­ning of his depart­ment. There are two things in par­tic­u­lar, which, in my es­ti­ma­tion, el­e­vated him far higher than any other man in pub­lic of­fice: his in­tel­lec­tual hon­esty and his fore­sight in creat­ing sys­tems that work well. That hon­esty was demon­strated in plain and un­am­bigu­ous lan­guage when, as Di­rec­tor of Fi­nance, Mr. Ven­ner, in re­ply to a query, ad­mit­ted to the Di­rec­tor of Au­dit, Mr. Aichin­son, a Cana­dian, “We did not know what we were do­ing.”

The Di­rec­tor of Au­dit’s query was based on a re­quest by me that the 1982 For­eign Ex­change Ex­port Tax be in­ves­ti­gated, a tax I had, as Leader of the Op­po­si­tion, op­posed, con­tin­u­ously, since its in­cep­tion, and which was even­tu­ally abol­ished. It was that type of pure hon­esty, (so rare among the pow­er­ful, and men of learn­ing), that en­deared him to min­is­ters, col­leagues and all, and gives me a spe­cial je ne sais quoi to eu­lo­gise him on this sud­den pass­ing.

For pur­poses of the record, I wish to place to his credit the in­tro­duc­tion of “The Cash Flow” Sys­tem. By that, only the dol­lar earned yes­ter­day was spent the next day, and no more: “Pru­dent man­age­ment of the pub­lic purse” be­came a com­mon phrase and a cu­ra­tive medicine for mount­ing over­drafts, debts etc. It was a motto.

Though the bou­quet for find­ing Dwight goes to my brother, Win­ston, no one was more proud of him than Saint Lu­cia’s most revered politi­cian, Prime Min­is­ter and States­man, Sir John Comp­ton. In fact, in em­brac­ing Dwight on his re­sump­tion of the Prime Min­is­ter­ship in 1982, John Comp­ton found him to be the Labour Party’s best work. “You all gave me Ven­ner,” he is re­ported to have said.

I can do no more now than to ask that what I have just writ­ten be taken as a mark of the depth of grief felt by my fam­ily, and me, and by my brother’s wife, Flora, who had the great­est re­spect for Dwight’s mother, one so quiet and gen­tle, a replica of his own wife, Lynda.

I ask that we all pray for Sir Dwight, for “it’s a holy and whole­some thought”.

Former Gov­er­nor of the East­ern Caribbean Cen­tral Bank (ECCB) Sir K. Dwight Ven­ner will be laid to rest on Jan­uary 4, 2017 at 2 p.m. at the Basil­ica of the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion in Cas­tries.

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