Noble: Forgetting the past, repeating mistakes—Jack’s return and Jamaica’s NCB mess

EPL Infrafred Sauna

There were two disturbing events in a week when the nation needed to be reflective because of the anniversaries of 27 July and Emancipation Day.

The first was the re-publication of a Jamaica Observer column by Lisa Hanna about the Jamaica bank debacle, and the second was the re-emergence of Jack Warner.

Photo: NCBFG chairman Michael Lee Chin.
(Copyright The Globe and Mail)

Two quotations are relevant. The first was from George Santayana’s The Life of Reason (1905) which says: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

The other is from Earl Lovelace’s book It’s Just a Movie in which it was said of Clayton Blondell, an arrogant pan-Africanist proselytiser:

Thinking later about what made him an arresting figure, I concluded that it was not only because… we believed in the simplicity of his accusations, but because we had nothing to say, or, rather, we had been saying nothing. Clayton was filling a space.

Both are true of us: we forget and give our space to people with nothing meaningful to say because we have nothing to say.

As a consequence, we are attracted to larger-than-life fakes. Hear Earl Lovelace again: “My name is Kangkala, maker of confusion, recorder of gossip, destroyer of reputations, revealer of secrets . . . I reduce the powerful by ridicule. I show them their absurdities by parody.

Image: Oh gaddo…

Things to cry at make us laugh!

I had intended to ignore the shenanigans of Michael Lee Chin, which included the apparent dismissal of his two top executives. That storm is not unusual stuff for the verandas of upper-class Jamaicans. But the Express chose to republish a surgical attack on the two executives neatly wrapped up in a populist rant against banks.

My position about the banking sector’s shortcomings is on record. In essence, I agree with several points Hanna makes, but she segued into a space that seems unfair.

Image: A satirical take on banks.
(Copyright Hedgeye)

Hanna characterises the remuneration paid to the executives as excessive. Executive compensation is a Parent Board governance matter, not a decision made by the executives. She would have done well to compare that board’s quality and independence with what obtains at Republic, our biggest bank.

She also omitted that the Board Chairman earned over US$30 million annually from dividend payments.

So which drawdown is problematic? The shares owned by the two executives or those which Lee Chin owned?

The context of the Jamaican banking system was not addressed in any way. That system had a 1997 meltdown, making our problem with NCB, Workers’ Bank, and the Cooperative Bank look like pocket change.

The Jamaican government created an entity called FINSAC to clean up the mess. FINSAC sold their shares in the struggling National Commercial  Bank (NCB) to AIC Ltd in January 2002.

The National Commercial Bank of Jamaica.

We cannot understand the present dynamic if we do not appreciate the making of the financial crisis and how it was resolved. Read Wint, Campbell and Barclay (2005).

Patrick Hylton came across from FINSAC to NCBJ in 2003 and became managing director in December 2004. Since then, NCBJ has become a very profitable front-runner.

Hanna’s absurd comment: “… there is no real rocket science or creative management behind how most of the company’s income was earned”, mirrors the Chair’s opinion: NCBFG is just a holding company… Patrick [Hylton] and Dennis [Cohen]… they just provide oversight on all the subsidiaries, they are not running the businesses.

Former National Commercial Bank managing director Patrick Hylton.

What a commentary on the Parent Board! Why did they pay the best compensation packages in the region for a job now seen as easy to do?

The market does not care about feelings—will the dismissals improve performance or change the rapacious nature of the sector? All desirous of a change in the behaviour of the banking system should know that removing the two executives does not alter the extractive method of the institutions.

We should also know the measure of success will not be only the share price but also the price of the bonds, which are needed to support the business.

NCBFG chairman Michael Lee Chin.
(via Caribbean Value Investor)

How does Hanna reconcile the disclosures in this interview by Hylton? Does this sound like the Group only needed “a set algorithm” to churn the profit?

The Group recently launched a digital solution to increase banking access to unbanked people. That effort has not yet emerged from its teething pains, but it is instructive to look at the thinking.

The bank could transfer many of those customers to Lynk, which could more easily and cheaply serve them. On the tech side, Lynk had newer and more advanced tech, so our people could learn how to use the cloud, for example.

A NCB employee (right) serves a customer.

“I sat down with each executive in charge of the main business units—retail banks, credit cards, and so on—and laid out how Lynk could benefit them. I had to have multiple conversations with them.

“I spend a lot of time on our new business—about nine to ten hours each week—and I talk to the CEO every day. I don’t sleep very well, so we’ll often chat at two in the morning.

“And I constantly talk to people who use our services to get their reactions and see what their experience was like; I read the traffic on social media; and, in general, I try to build a perspective from multiple vantage points.”

A NCB branch in Jamaica.

Is Hylton, an underprivileged country boy akin to a Moruga boy, too uppity for those who live in the City?

The guy did not even go to Clarendon College! This insinuation is so clever. It is like Trinidadians implying with a wink and nod that he did not attend St Stephen’s College but went to Princes Town Comprehensive.

Oh gorm, man, you did not have to say that when you came to Kingston, you had two bags—one with clothes and the other with a rolled piece of sponge that would serve as a bed. Distance yourself from your poor black brethren! Marry a browning! All of us do that. Sigh.

Former NCB executive Patrick Hylton.
Photo: Jamaica Gleaner

He took a significant portion of his pay in shares, not being seduced by the fame. That has turned out to be a wise move. (How many of us understand the power of shares over base pay?) Lee Chin has now asserted his ownership right to separate from the employees.

As we celebrate Emancipation Day, this is a sober lesson for all employees. Do not drink the Kool-Aid—ensure that you are appropriately paid. You are constantly being judged on the answer to the question: “What have you done for me lately?”

The metric is not who is nice. Loyalty is a two-way street.

Then we witnessed the triumphal return of “Uncle Jack”, the magician!

(From right) Gary Griffith, Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Jack Warner at a UNC political meeting at the Centre of Excellence in Macoya on 24 July 2023.
Photo: UNC

The “Alliance” pecking order was made clear in the stage-managed appearance. No mention of the late Herbert Volney, and Anand Ramlogan did not claim his place on the reconstituted A Team! Anil Roberts had already reclaimed his playing position.

As CS Lewis wrote, nostalgia is not a blueprint for the future. Our nation still has not healed from the trauma that splits history into a “before 1990” and an “after 1990”.

Have we seen the unmitigated grief of big hardback police weeping in the documentary “Code 727”? The anguish over lives lost, the snatching away of the nation’s innocence is yet to be assuaged.

Photo: A soldier waves away a photographer in Port of Spain on 31 July 1990, during the 1990 insurrection in Trinidad and Tobago.
(Copyright AP Photo/ Scott J Applewhite)

We still have not resolved or owned up to any of our corruption scandals—how do we fix our future? When trauma is not repaired, it is repeated. The lesson from 1990 is that we are lawless people who suffer no consequences for our actions. The impoverished suffer.

We may have missed Jack’s point about Nelson Mandela. Jack’s manipulation of Mandela was laid bare in a deeply researched Los Angeles Times article.

In 2004, a frail, unwell Nelson Mandela ignored his doctor’s advice and flew halfway around the globe to win Jack’s support in persuading other officials of Fifa, soccer’s ruling body, to hold the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Late former South Africa president and global icon Nelson Mandela (right) holds aloft the Fifa World Cup trophy, alongside fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner late Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Irvin Khoza, chairman of South Africa’s organising committee, at a university forum in Johannesburg in 2009, said: “Jack bluntly told us that if we wanted his vote, we must bring Mandela to the Caribbean.”

Jack said: “As Mr Mandela told me, he doesn’t know what will happen if their bid fails…they are so passionate about it, and it’s getting very dangerous.” But there was no reported suggestion of any threat of violence over the issue in South Africa at the time.

Wrapped up in the LA Times account are details of the allegations of corrupt behaviour by Jack and his family members. The movement of cash in briefcases allegedly began long before Mohamed Bin Hammam visited the Hyatt.

Then Fifa vice-president Jack Warner shows what he can do with the football at Robben Island in South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s 89th birthday on 18 July 2007.
(Copyright AP Photo/ Themba Hadebe)

Stephen Grootes, a South African columnist, summed the visit up: “We didn’t know then the cost…to Nelson Mandela, shipping (him) around the world to satisfy the craving of some two-bit crook.

Unpack that story and make your conclusions about its meanings for Trinidad and Tobago. Forget about the peacemaker Mandela. That is a shallow diversionary tactic.

As Earl Lovelace may say: “… we have nothing to say, so Lisa and Jack are filling a space…” Lord Nelson is reportedly looking for “Teacher Percy”. Do we have any decency?

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About Noble Philip

Noble Philip
Noble Philip, a retired business executive, is trying to interpret Jesus’ relationships with the poor and rich among us. A Seeker, not a Saint.

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One comment

  1. The long game for all of the key players (Politicians /voters) is simply survival. Whether it be staving off extradition or some other type of legal entanglement, the threat of taxation i.e property tax or inheritance tax (real or imaginary) and crime (laughable considering the personalities involved) in a nutshell sums up the agendas at play. Good morals or ethical behavior in this race simply does not make it into the frame.

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