Thursday 28th April 2005

 

Ex-Caroni boss heads ECA

Rambharat tackles free trade

 
 
 
 
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Clarence RambHarat, new chairman of the Employer’s Consultative Association, right, Dr Karl Slaikeu, CEO of CHORDA Conflict Management Inc (Austin, Texas) and President of the Senate Dr Linda BaBoolal pose for a photo during the opening ceremony of the ECA’s two-day convention on Conflict Resolution across the Caribbean which was held at the Hilton Trinidad on April 21.

Photo: Shirley Bahadur

BY ASHA JAVEED

“This is the man you need to talk to. He’s the one who’s in charge for the next year,” said the outgoing Employers’ Consultative Association’s chairman Dane Darbasie at its AGM two weeks ago when he introduced Clarence Rambharat.

The same height as Darbasie, Rambharat lacked the boyish enthusiasm of his predecessor.

However, the clean-shaven, well-dressed, spectacled man has an authoritative air which commanded respect. He doled out courtesy handshakes as people lined up to meet him after the AGM was over.

When introduced, he dismissed the question of whether he had time, explaining that apart from his duties at the ECA, he did not have a job.

Not a problem, he believes.

With ten years experience as a corporate lawyer, Rambharat is more than employable.

His tenure as CEO at the now defunct Caroni (1975) Ltd and his involvement in the transformation of Rum Distillers Ltd and the Sugar Manufacturing Company Ltd tips the scale in his favour.

With ECA members talking about industrial issues and the Hilton staff clearing away the breakfast dishes, Rambharat said he had just returned from a six-month stint at the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery (CRNM).

The Barbados-based CRNM was established to develop a cohesive and effective framework for the co-ordination and management of the region’s negotiating resources and expertise.

Rambharat explained that the opportunity afforded him an insight into trade negotiations which are a complex exercise.

“None of my previous knowledge could have helped me. There was no sugar factory to operate and you didn’t have to deal with HR,” he pointed out.

His understanding of the mechanics of the CRNM came when the European Union decided to reduce the price of sugar to the ACP countries where he was able to assist in developing a position with respect to the price of sugar.

The experience was invaluable and it gave him some insight into where he would like to take the ECA.

Rambharat said he’d served as chairman designate of the ECA for the past year and when his chairmanship was due, he came back to lead the ECA.

At 35, he’s the ECA’s youngest chairman but he’s quick to point out that it is the year in which the International Labour Organisation is focused on youth and development.

“I see my chairmanship as an opportunity for more and more young professionals in Trinidad to become more involved in advocacy, to become more involved in voicing a professional opinion on all the issues arising in the society,” he said.

He hopes to continue the work set by his predecessors Gerard Pinard and Darbasie. He also wants to get the ECA more involved in the CSME and FTAA processes.

“One of the mandates I gave myself was to determine to what extent we could communicate the FTAA and the CSME better to the people of T&T,” he explained.

“We will focus on the global trading arrangements and become more advocates for these two main issues and be more proactive in supporting some of the positions taken by the Manufacturers Association and the Chamber.”

Sugar history

While at Caroni he faced criticism for “having come through the back door” with no ties to the industry. His connection to the industry, though, came when he was 10 years old.

He had early memories of the sugar industry which he admitted always held a fascination for him.

It was grounded in Rio Claro, the agricultural area in which he grew up, nurtured by the fields. He would pass the Ste Madeleine factory on his way to school—Presentation College, San Fernando.

He remembered going for long drives with his family and would stare at the roads flanked by the tall green stems.

“There is always this fascination to understand the industry. When I observed the white houses and bungalows, it would conjure images of people riding in horses. And then there were always the stories you’d hear people tell,” he recalled.

His interest faded when he focused on his studies with the intention of becoming a criminal lawyer. He shifted to study corporate law in his final year.

It was at the firm Ashmead Ali & Company when he worked on an industrial relations matter for Caroni that he came into direct contact with the industry. He was later asked to be the company’s corporate secretary.

“I became involved in every aspect of Caroni. I was chairman of the Tenders Committee which basically managed all the purchasing of behalf of the company. And I was involved in every restructuring initiative of the company and when the Government changed in that period I was seen as the natural person to provide leadership,” he said.

Rambharat said there were several reports beginning from the Spence Report in 1978 to the Dookeran Report during the NAR administration, the Tri-partite Report chaired by former chairman Kusha Haracksingh and the Transformation Imperative Plan, which all advocated changes in the industry.

“There were a lot of people who felt like it would not happen. From my professional point of view, the time had come for the industry to be restructured and my involvement was going to be in the best interest of all stakeholders. Once I adopted that position you had to build a team of like-minded people,” he explained.

While necessary, it wasn’t a change without struggle.

“There were difficulties mainly because you were re-ordering the way people lived their lives. Naturally, there were adversarial positions,” he said.

He remembered people believing, even while plans were unfolding, that some intervention would take place.

“I think it is one of the finest examples of the Government being able to create, advocate and implement a policy decision whether or not you agreed with it. We never missed a single deadline.

“Every single date that was fixed was met. We said we would issue letters on February 2003 and we did. We said workers would go home on August 2and we did it. We said workers were going to get their cheques on August 2 and we did. We said workers would get retraining and they got that. It took one and a half years for it to sink in,” he boasted.

This he did while completing his MBA at the Institute of Business. His thesis was based on the sugar industry and its implications for globalisation.

Rambharat said, “I myself find it difficult to contemplate how something so difficult to contemplate, something that seemed so impossible for many years took place without the violence and the bloodshed and the acrimony that people said would take place.”

 

 

 

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