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Howai Takes Blame (with CNC3 video)
Former independent senator Phillip Marshall was yesterday given the responsibility to take Caribbean Airlines into clearer skies. In making the announcement yesterday, Finance Minister Larry Howai said an interim board headed by Marshall had been given a fresh mandate to restructure the cash-strapped airline. Marshall’s unit replaced the old board led by businessman Rabindra Moonan.
Jamaican government representative Dennis Lalor was the lone survivor of the old board. Moonan, CAL vice-chairman Mohan Jaikaran, Avedanand Persad, Venosh Sagewan-Maraj and Gizelle Russell are all gone. The decision to disband the old board followed a T&T Guardian exclusive report on May 8, which revealed Jaikaran had allegedly received 19 complimentary airline tickets for Mother’s Day concerts in New York and Toronto last week.
T&T Guardian learned acting CEO Robert Corbie, who is presently on leave, objected to the number of tickets requested, but was pressured to approve the request. Howai requested a report from Moonan to determine whether Jaikaran was part of the decision-making process. Responding to questions at a news conference at Eric Williams Financial Complex, Port-of-Spain, yesterday, Howai said he was not absolving himself from blame, but taking full responsibility for the CAL fiasco by the former board.
“Yes, I am responsible,” Howai said. Howai said the immediate mandate of the new board was to provide a detailed diagnostic review of CAL and offer recommendations to turn around the airline. He acknowledged that the new board may not be able to make overnight changes, but must be able to take the airline forward. “This is why I said the first step will have to be a diagnostic review,” he said.
“They need to get that done, and as soon as they get that done, in the context of that they can identify what are the changes that are required for the restructuring plan, if any, and then we move forward with the process of implementation.” Asked whether the former board members possessed the competence and expertise required for the airline industry in the first place, or were appointed because of political and party affiliation, Howai said: “A critical issue is the kind of support structure that you have within the organisation.”
“At the level of the board it is more policy and strategy, because they do not get involved in the operational details of managing a company,” he said. “To that extent, the critical issue is to ensure that you have the management to ensure that you achieve the objectives set out by an organisation and those are some challenges that we had. We have to take that in stride and move forward.”
Admitting the former board faced a number of corporate governance issues, Howai said: “The attorney on the (new) board is very strong in the area of corporate governance. “I made the point very clear to the new board that I expect them to adhere to the strictest guidelines as far as corporate governance is concerned.” He said he was forced to act quickly on the old board after issues of corporate governance came to light recently.
“It certainly was an issue that became a matter of serious concern,” Howai said. “It is a matter we have been monitoring and looking at the whole financial situation of the company. As things begin to add up, you have to continue and react as soon as possible.” Copies of the State Enterprise Performance Monitoring Manual, Howai said, would be provided to all new board members to ensure all decisions are within the set guidelines.
Howai said the new board was not at a disadvantage although it did not have an aviation expert. “We will be able to outsource that skill and would be able to bring individuals in who have that technical competence,” he said. “I should add that Mr Lalor has a reasonably good background and understanding of the airline industry, which will be helpful.” The appointment of a CEO was also high on the agenda of the new board, Howai said.
Speaking briefly yesterday, Marshall, the current director of the Strategic Management Office at the Finance Ministry and former deputy chairman of Ernst & Young, only said: “CAL is a Caribbean organisation and there are many stakeholders whose interest have to be balanced and dealt with in the very competitive challenging time.”
Assuring Howai he would not be disappointed, Marshall said: “I wish to assure you that both the board and myself, we will serve the company with the best of our ability because the corporation is primary in this aspect. “You can rest assured that every aspect of the challenge and mandate that faces us will be accomplished in good sense and in the shortest time possible,” he added.
New CAL board
Phillip Marshall (director of Strategic Management Office at Finance Ministry)
Vishnu Dhanpaul (permanent secretary at Ministry of Energy)
Indira Ramkissoon (attorney, current board member Occupational Safety and Health Authority)
Courtney McNish (human resource management consultant)
Patricia Kong-Ting (finance and risk management consultant)
Dennis Lalor (Jamaican representative).