The controversy over management of Caribbean Airlines (CAL), whose entire board was replaced last month, has not yet had time to fade–but already there is word that the man who helmed that disgraced board, Rabindra Moonan, has been appointed chairman of another major state enterprise, the Housing Development Corporation (HDC).It is hard to ignore the jobs-for-the-boys stench that hangs over this matter.Just last month, as he revoked the appointments of Mr Moonan and the other directors of the cash-strapped state-owned carrier, Finance Minister Larry Howai was critical of the lapses of corporate governance committed during their 11-month tenure.The matter that led to the ousting of Mr Moonan and the other directors was hardly a minor infraction.
CAL's deputy chairman Mohan Jaikaran had requested 19 complimentary airline tickets for Mother's Day concerts he was staging in New York and Toronto last month. It was also revealed that, from time to time, directives had come down from board members to upgrade certain passengers on the loss-making airline from economy to first class. Mr Howai, in announcing the replacement of the Moonan-led board, also raised concerns about a company owned by a CAL director doing business with the state-owned carrier.And this was happening even as the financially-troubled airline was asking the Government for hundreds of millions of dollars in funding after suffering an unaudited loss of US$52 million in 2011.These developments–along with other issues that had been plaguing the airline under Moonan's watch–do not suggest, even by the longest stretch of the imagination, that Mr Moonan has the capabilities to successfully preside over a state board, far less one as important as the HDC with its huge mandate of providing affordable housing to low- and middle-income families.
From the very beginning, Mr Moonan's tenure at CAL had been marked by controversy. Early on there had been questions about his experience and qualifications to take up such an important appointment.It didn't help that within weeks of being made chairman of the airline he was facing harsh criticisms over the leasing of an expensive SUV–a facility that had not been enjoyed by his predecessors.The primary responsibility of a board of directors is to protect shareholders' assets and ensure they receive a decent return on their investment. Directors do this by ensuring there is effective organisational planning, resources are managed effectively and the entity's products, services and programmes are properly monitored. In state-owned entities like CAL and the HDC, directors must be accountable to taxpayers and not just the political administrations that appoint them.
However, these crucial considerations appear to have been disregarded by the government officials who are intent on rewarding Mr Moonan–who has acted as a temporary government senator in the past–with another plum state directorship.From his CAL tenure, there is no basis for the confidence being expressed in Mr Moonan by way of this new appointment to successfully manage the fortunes of an important agency like the HDC. This decision must be explained and re-addressed.