A distinguished economist and public servant

Dear Editor,

Clarence Frederick Ellis, CCH, 80, is deeply mourned. He was a distinguished West Indian economist and public servant whose service was confined not only to Guyana but also to the Caribbean, particularly as Alternate Executive Director for the Commonwealth Caribbean on the Boards of Directors of the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and as an Economic Adviser/Consultant attached to the then newly established  Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), St Kitts/ Nevis, where he contributed to the strengthening of the Bank’s research department.

He returned to Guyana in 1967 after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University  of  Leicester, England, and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) with a master’s degree. In 1983, he spent a sabbatical at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA.

On his return to Guyana, his first appointment as an economist in the Guyana public service was in the Research Department of the central bank of Guyana. He rose to the senior positions of Chief Economist and Deputy Governor.  He was the product of the training by the first Governor, Mr Horst Bockleman, who produced a chain of calm and  professionally competent and  meticulous  central bank governors/deputy governors, including Willy D’Andrade,  Pat Matthews,  Bonnie Meredith, Dolly Singh, Lawrence Williams and Dr Gobind Ganga.

His first public service before he qualified as an economist was as a primary school teacher in Essequibo. He never forgot his early training and experiences as a teacher which he retained throughout his life. He felt that education was the key to civilized human behaviour and success. Shortly after his return to Guyana, he realized that many Afro-Guyanese could not afford an education at the University of Guyana. Consequently, he used the African Society for Cultural Relations with Independent Africa (ASCRIA) as an instrument for the education of disadvantaged Afro-Guyanese. He recruited qualified volunteer lecturers in almost every faculty to teach at the ASCRIA headquarters on Third Street, Albertown.

Every though proud of his race, he  equally contributed to the education and training of all races at the University of Guyana where he was a part-time lecturer, the Research Department of the Central Bank, and other institutions of higher learning and government agencies where he  worked, including the State Planning Commission of which he was the Chairman.

In my decades of practice as an economist, he was undoubtedly my closest and longest-serving colleague.

While recognizing the previous work done by Dr Wilfred David and Winston King, Clarence was one of the main trio of civil servant drafters under the political directorship of the late Dr Kenneth King, of the 1972-76 Development Plan. The plan was the first national development plan to be prepared solely by Guyanese professionals drawn from across all sectors of the public service. Clarence always considered himself as an economic statistician and therefore concentrated on the macroeconomic aspects of the plan, while Bernard Crawford handled the institutional and administrative aspects, and yours truly focused on the sectoral developments.

His devotion and commitment as a development economist  focused  primarily on  the alleviation of poverty and the raising of the well-being of the people. He had no racial or ideological hang-ups. He was just simply a social and national democrat and a disciple of the New World Movement (NWM) which swept across the Caribbean in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. The NWM, founded by the outstanding Trinidadian economist and political scientist, Lloyd Best, included professionals from all areas of practice. It sought to define for the Commonwealth Caribbean a production system different from that of the colonial plantation structure and to develop a harmonious society from the racially diverse and pluralistic structure. The post-independence attempts at such complex changes saw the introduction  of such policies as nationalization or control of the commanding heights of the national economies, cooperative and small-scale means of production, and social events of which Carifesta is the most lasting and widely practised. The fervour of the movement died after the assassination of one of its prime movers, Dr Walter Rodney.

When it therefore came to the formulation of the 1972-76  Development  Plan, the two most difficult chapters to be drafted were regional development and education and social development. Clarence saw regional development as the instrument for efficient production and the distribution of goods and services to the people. Education and social development was intended to devise systems and structures for harmonious and civilized behaviour and to introduce a national ethos. In spite of the fact that those objectives were advanced by two farsighted politicians, Dr Ken King and Shirley Field-Ridley, a former Minister of Education and Social Development who thought outside of the box, the plan did not achieve several of its goals and objectives because of the political concerns of some of the intellectually barren politicians who thought that regionalism would have led to the loss of central government and political control.

Clarence travelled the length and breath of Guyana, from Matthews Ridge to Skeldon and from Georgetown to Lethem explaining the benefits of the goals and objectives of the plan to the various communities. Even though regionalism was intended to replace the colonial system of district commissioners, Clarence always referred to the “village fathers” who kept the trenches, drains and alleyways cleared and opened the kokers on time to prevent or minimize flooding.

Professionally and in his personal life, he was a paradox and an enigma. He believed in change and modernization, and at the same time wanted to keep some of the old systems. In his personal life, he was quiet and somewhat reserved, and even though his body language was mainly through a smile or a characteristic chuckle, in the company of close friends he laughed heartily. He was an extreme workaholic for whom a day of 24 hours was too short. He sacrificed his life and health to long working hours, with hardly any relaxation even in attending the Friday afternoon ‘Leicester Lime’ at the offices of George Henry and Associates. He initiated the development and modernization of the computer system from mainframes to personal computers (PCs) at the Bank of Guyana and in the public service – a development which was spearheaded by Mike Griffith. He did not claim the benefits of his office to which he was entitled, and drove the same motor car throughout his career at the central bank and the State Planning Commission.

He suffered at the hands of both the PNC and the PPP, mainly because of his strong commitment to principles, and his forceful manner of articulation which was wrongly interpreted by the political leaders as one of control over them. He was discouraged by Burnham because of his attempt to put through a package of IMF proposals which included an increase in the price of sugar which Burnham described as a “prescription for riots” and therefore unacceptable.

After the confrontation with Burnham, I commented to him that he was led up the garden wall since officials invited to Cabinet meetings should only speak when called upon as advisers and not as primary presenters, which is the responsibility of the Cabinet Minister. In the end, he was told that he was there to advise not to control.

Cheddi Jagan felt the same way when he was advised by Clarence as Alternate Executive Director of the Inter-American Development Bank. When Clarence’s term as Alternate Director expired he was not nominated by the Jagan administration as Executive Director.

Clarence had political ambitions, but he might have suffered the fate of such innocent and outspoken politicians as Martin Carter, Eusi Kwayana, Ken King, Stanley Moore, and Joe Tyndall. His innocence did not however provide him with the judicious balance between realism and ambition or dreams. He did not realize that politics is a rough game.

My last conversation with Clarence was in February 2010, when I suggested to him that we get together to write his memoirs. He said, however, that his medical treatment left him too weak to undertake such a task. Consequently, yet another outstanding West Indian has passed away without leaving to posterity his inner soul: his love, his peace, his philosophy, and what made him tick. My own impression is that he was a Gandhist, a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, whose work and experiences particularly in South Africa he studied, and  who believed in the simplicity of life while fighting vehemently for social and economic changes, the alleviation of poverty, and the eradication of political oppression.

Clarence was no angel and like any other human being was subject to the flaws of human frailties. He was never the same person after the death in 1999 of his charismatic wife and educator, Patty, whom he left to manage the household while he pursued his professional career. He was a devoted father and after the death of his wife played the role of a single parent.

When all is said and done, he contributed tremendously to the development of Guyana and to humanity in the Caribbean, England, and the USA where he lived. My deepest condolences to his children Sharan, Malcolm, and Garett.

Yours faithfully,
A Donald Augustin
Former  Secretary to the Treasury


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