Box of Chocolates

For people like me who have spent almost all of their careers working within the machinery of government to advise, influence and nudge policymakers to effect change, it’s always an amazing moment when such changes do happen (which is rarely, but with just enough periodicity to keep us addicted to our work). I use this page to remember some of those moments – either through the end results, or through the inputs that were used to effect change. I also use it to remember some of the learning moments and failures I’ve had. I will keep adding as I remember stuff, so there are lots of placeholders for when I get the time to write.

 

Guyana

  • On the 26th of January 2008, eleven people in the town of Lusignan, Guyana, were murdered in a hideous rampage led by a notorious gang. My memory now fades a bit, but if I am not mistaken, it was on the eve – or two days before – the annual Budget was due to be presented to Parliament by the Finance Minister. Even by Guyana’s dark standards for gang violence, this was a truly shocking event, and led to the postponement of the Budget. Only, it had to be postponed again following a second rampage by the same gang in the town of Bartica (just across the pond from where ODI Fellows and Georgetown residents spend weekends upriver on the Essequibo). In fact, I remember being in one of those houses – the Willems’ family house (Uncle and Aunty Willems were my landlords and had given us the place that weekend) on the day that the Bartica massacre would later occur. The second event was too much for the Government to take quietly, and as a result, the President ordered wholesale revisions to the Budget – and I mean WHOLESALE. For those of you who have put together a budget and budget speech, you know that the entire process (mostly) needs to run like clockwork – from when the call circulars go out to line ministries – to when the printer inks the budget books that you later take to Parliament. Prior to this decision, I had not been part of the group working on the budget from the Central Bank side, but because the Deputy Governor (now Governor) thought I could help with quick analysis and writing, he brought me on board. The Minister of Finance had a week to totally reshape the budget in response to the security events, reallocating greater resources to policing and security needs while sticking to a tight fiscal plan. At the time, it was easily the craziest and most intense 7 days I had ever had. I knew literally nothing about budgets or even how a finance ministry worked. And Google was touch and go with the patchy internet.¬†Somehow, it all worked out. This was the result. It looks like a normal speech and budget. It feels like a normal speech and budget. It tastes like a normal speech and budget. But it certainly didn’t feel that way during the one week we had to completely re-engineer it from start to finish. It was the only budget I worked on in Guyana, but it was one of the first – and arguably the most useful – lessons on how to piece together budgets in a British-style parliamentary system. Everything I learned that week came mighty handy in both Zambia and New Zealand, as well as with some of the Pacific Countries I supported during their budget preparation seasons.

Zambia

  • PER/Constitutional amendment: how Andrew Bird’s simple question at a meeting led to an amendment of the Constitution, and arguably the most significant budget efficiency gains in the history of the country.
  • IMF program: the first and (until now) last time Zambia completed a program with the Fund.
  • Electricity price increases: encouraging the IMF team to enjoy the Safari
  • Death as a constant.

New Zealand

  • Macroprudential advice
  • LVR switch on advice
  • Aid budget
  • FSR fiasco
  • G20
  • FSB invitation
  • Remittances

Pacific

  • Kiribati
  • Cook Islands
  • Addis
  • OECD DAC meeting