By Neville Cenac
HE having been so significant a part of it, the world that knew Sir Dwight Venner could not but have stood still on hearing how suddenly the breath left his body. I was as saddened as anyone was bound to be, who had known him well, and for as long as fifty-five years.
My remembrance of him goes back to 1961 when his father, Noel Venner of St. Vincent was our Secretary of Finance, my brother, Winston, Attorney-General, and I, General Secretary of the Civil Service Association. The young Dwight, seven years my junior, was then 15, and a student of St. Mary’s College. From then, and for as long as my brother lived, he always called him, “Uncle Winston”. Often, and up till he was ripe for University, I saw him walking across the Government Car Park on his way to meet his father, Noel, whose office was above the Audit Department, my first place of work. As regular and on time as the sun was he, and always alone. A model of a youth he might have appeared to all. So, to me, it was.
Induced by the pain of his passing, I am called upon, therefore, to say that Saint Lucia has as great a claim to Sir Dwight as the island, St. Vincent, that bore him; if only for the following reasons:
(i) he was educated here, at St. Mary’s College;
(ii) he married into the St. Rose family, admired by us all for their distinguished service of commitment in the medical field; and because,
(iii) it was Saint Lucia that gave him the golden opportunity to soar in his profession, and be seen as one of the brilliant stars in the sky of economics, dominated by our Sir Arthur Lewis.
Of that, much is to be said, which is not known and has to be said.
The 1979 to 1981 Leadership Struggle in Saint Lucia which placed the Prime Ministership on my brother, Winston’s lap in May, 1981, had this beneficial effect: it opened the way for the emergence of that gem of the University of the West Indies, where he was a Research Fellow, to convert book learning into loaves and fishes to feed multitudes.
At the time of his acceptance as Prime Minister, two important vacancies needed to be filled:
(i) Director of Finance; and
(ii) Managing Director of the newly formed Development Bank.
I recommended George Theophilus as being eminently qualified to hold any of the two posts since he had worked in the Ministry of Finance, was then Deputy Director of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (E.C.C.B), and had been a Vice-President of the Civil Service Association while I was the General Secretary, and had found him to be an exceptionally good thinker, and a no nonsense person.
As both offices seemed tailor made for both Theophilus and Venner, the appointments were effectuated quickly, much to the delight of the entire Cabinet.
So admirably did Mr. Venner (as he then was) perform as Director of Finance, that 8 years after, in 1989 he was unanimously embraced as Governor of the E.C.C.B. In that position, no one has, up till his retirement in 2015 (a period of 26 years), found a single fault with his work, even in the worst of times.
While Mr. Venner was Director of Finance, I happened to have been the Leader of the Opposition and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. As Chairman, it was my duty to keep a close watch on the running of his department. There are two things in particular, which, in my estimation, elevated him far higher than any other man in public office:
(i) his intellectual honesty; and
(ii) his foresight in creating systems that work well.
That honesty was demonstrated in plain and unambiguous language when, as Director of Finance, Mr. Venner, in reply to a query, admitted to the Director of Audit, Mr. Aichinson, a Canadian, “We did not know what we were doing.”
The Director of Audit’s query was based on a request by me that the 1982 Foreign Exchange Export Tax be investigated, a tax I had as Leader of the Opposition opposed, continuously, since its inception, and which was eventually abolished.
It was that type of pure honesty, (so rare among the powerful, and men of learning), that endeared him to ministers, colleagues and all, and gives me a special je ne sais quoi to eulogise him on this sudden passing.
For purposes of the record, I wish to place to his credit the introduction of, “The Cash Flow” System. By that, only the dollar earned yesterday was spent the next day, and, no more: “Prudent management of the Public purse”, became a common phrase and a curative medicine for mounting overdrafts, debts etc. It was a motto.
Though the bouquet for finding Dwight goes to my brother, Winston, no one was more proud of him that Saint Lucia’s most revered politician, Prime Minister and Statesman, Sir John Compton. In fact, in embracing Dwight on his resumption of the Prime Ministership in 1982, John Compton found him to be the Labour Party’s best work. “You all gave me Venner”, he is reported to have said.
I can do no more now than to ask that what I have just written be taken as a mark of the depth of grief felt by my family, and me, and by my brother’s wife, Flora, who had the greatest respect for his mother, one so quiet and gentle, a replica of his own wife, Linda.
I ask that we all pray for Sir Dwight, for “it’s a holy and wholesome thought”.