Tue | Aug 30, 2016

Wesley's long break - Veteran civil servant rides off to first proper vacation in 20 years

Published:Sunday | November 25, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Dr Wesley Hughes (left), financial secretary, in discussion with Dwight Bromfield at the 2007 launch of MoneyMasters Limited.

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

It is hard to imagine Wesley Hughes away from reams of government papers, graphs, charts and complex accounts. For more than 30 years, Hughes, the outgoing financial secretary, has served the Government in a myriad of positions with most having to do with complex financial matters.

After decades in the public service, Hughes may finally get a chance to roam barefooted on any of Jamaica's sandy beaches with a glass of red wine and fresh mango slices.

Hughes, a walking encyclopaedia of public information, last week told The Sunday Gleaner that when he leaves his substantive post by year end, he will take a long vacation - his first "proper" one in two decades.

Although he has not ruled out some further role in the public sector, Hughes, in confirming his departure from the finance ministry, put to rest speculation that he may be returning to the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) where his career started more than three decades ago.

"I need a break, man. I have not had a proper vacation in the last 20 years. I have had short snippets. And since 2008 with the financial crisis, I don't know if anyone really appreciates the intensity and scope of the deliberations we have undertaken," said the mild-mannered veteran public servant.

Hughes, an economist, has been at the forefront of Jamaica's development programme since 1977 when he started his career at what was then the National Planning Agency.

His relationship with the public sector would spawn many economic sector agencies, namely the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, the Bank of Jamaica, in addition to being the government's chief economic advisor.

Administration changes

In the last 20 years, Hughes has seen three changes of administration and a departure from and return to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"In the last eight years, I have undergone two administrations - the Jamaica Debt Exchange Programme (JDX) and the standby agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It's extraordinarily intense, and I do need a break," Hughes reiterated.

The senior public servant is now leading the Government's negotiations with the IMF following the failure of the previous arrangement under the Bruce Golding-led administration.

The Government in 2010 implemented the domestic debt exchange which recorded a high participation rate among domestic holders of government debt.

In 2010 also, the then administration signed a 27-month standby arrangement with the IMF. However, the programme was derailed in 2011 after the Government failed to meet some commitments.

"I am leaving. I am going before the end of the year. Initially, the plan was to go at the end of this month, but I can say with certainty that I will leave before year end. And I can definitely rule out the PIOJ. I have been there four times. I started my career there," said Hughes.

The St Catherine native and Calabar High School graduate holds BSc (Hons) and MSc degrees from the University of the West Indies and a PhD from the University of Sussex, UK.

He has no intention of throwing stones behind him, or kicking dust in anyone's face, but a return to the public sector is not immediate.

"I am not ruling out service in some capacity. But that will be after a long break. I can't say how long that will be, but it will be after quite sometime," he stated, with characteristic calm.

Maintained calm

In his long career, Hughes interfaced with prime ministers, ministers of finance, other Cabinet ministers, international development partners, the private sector and other non-state actors, but manages to maintain his calm and self-assurance.

He was unwilling to take any heat, and rejected suggestions that he should have resigned because of the failure of the last administration to meet the terms of the deal with the IMF

"I am not looking for sympathy, but that suggestion demonstrates lack of understanding of the process involved. And it is not unusual for blame to be deflected to public servants when things go wrong…," said Hughes defiantly.

Even more defiantly he said, "The breakdown of the standby arrangement was not caused by a breakdown from technical people. It fell apart because of decisions made that were not supported by the technical staff. To blame the technical staff betrays some ignorance of the process involved."

For now, the Government's chief economic adviser is looking forward to 'me time'.

"I am cleaning out my desk and looking forward to a long break. I need one," he stressed.