CDB to Pay Tribute to William Demas

The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) will tomorrow (May 17) pay tribute to late former President and one of the region’s most distinguished sons, William Gilbert Demas.

At a lecture in his honour, during the staging of the 46th annual meeting of the CDB’s Board of Governors, now underway in Montego Bay, Mr. Demas’ role in the development of the region in the field of economics will be recognised.

The lecture will be delivered by World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy, Climate Change Group, Rachel Kyte.

Hailed as an outstanding scholar and devout public servant, Mr. Demas has made a lasting impact on the region through his research and ideas.

Mr. Demas, who passed away in November 1998, was particularly concerned with preserving and enhancing Caribbean sovereignty. His thoughts and interests in the field of economics focused on small size and how this impacts economic and social development.

His ideas influenced many of the region’s economists, among them is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the PetroCaribe Development Fund, Dr. Wesley Hughes.

The Jamaican says Mr. Demas was a “great economist, and passionate public servant, who devoted his entire life and work to the region”.

He tells JIS News that he got acquainted with Mr. Demas’ body of work while he was a student of the University of the West Indies (UWI). Dr. Hughes says he read Mr. Demas’ many publications and listened to him at conferences and presentations.

“He was a very well-grounded economist…he was a development specialist focusing on development theory, particularly focused on the problems of small States – their size, their openness and the fact that they were quite vulnerable,” he says.

Dr. Hughes says he was impressed with Mr. Demas’ work on the role of the State, development planning and issues to do with Caribbean integration.

“He was a great influencer in terms of his ideas generally across the region. He was quintessentially a Caribbean man in the sense that he focused a great deal of his time and effort in trying to get the region to co-operate and to co-ordinate activities that would build the region as a whole,” he says.

On a personal level, Dr. Hughes tells JIS News that “in a sense, I could almost see my life mirroring his trajectory. He was never interested in personal aggrandisement. He was someone who placed country above self…he devoted his entire life to public service.”

“He was a model for a lot of us who came out of the 1970s /1980s to model our lives on as someone with great integrity, great capacity for work, great dedication to public service and as such, he was a great role model for many of us,” he says.

Echoing the sentiments of Dr. Hughes, Professorial Fellow at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Mark Figueroa, tells JIS News that he too was first exposed to the work of Mr. Demas while a student of economics at that institution in the 1970s.

Professor Figueroa shares that the book, The Economics of Development in Small Countries: With Special Reference to the Caribbean was his first introduction to Mr. Demas’ work and that “this book was very influential in the framing debates regarding Caribbean economic development in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Professor Figueroa says that Mr. Demas was widely admired for “his attempts to understand how the Caribbean could be developed (by) conceptualising Caribbean States as small economies and looking at the importance of how integration of the Caribbean economies might overcome challenges which related to small size”.

Mr. Demas, who was born on November 14, 1929 in Trinidad and Tobago, served as the second President of the CDB as well as held posts in major regional institutions aimed at promoting integration through economic and social development.

During 1955 to 1957, Mr. Demas was a Research Fellow in Economics at Queen’s House Oxford. He was Adviser to the West Indies Trade Commissioner in London on Trade Policy from 1957 to 1958.

From January 1959 to January 1970, he worked as an Economist in the Civil Service of Trinidad and Tobago, attaining the posts of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Planning and Development and subsequently, Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister.

In 1964, he was Research Fellow at the Centre for Developing Area Studies, McGill University, Montreal, Canada. From 1966 to 1967, he became Visiting Associate Professor of Economics at that university. From January 1970 to August 1974, he was Secretary-General of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) Secretariat which was transformed into the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat in 1973.

On September 1, 1974, Mr. Demas was elected to the presidency of the CDB. He served for three terms until 1988. He returned to the public service of Trinidad and Tobago as Governor of the Central Bank after leaving the presidency.

In recognition of his distinguished service to the region, Mr. Demas received a number of honours, including the Hummingbird Gold Medal from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, the Trinity Cross, Trinidad and Tobago’s highest national award, the Cacique Crown of Honour from the Government of Guyana, the Companion of Honour from the Government of Barbados, the Order of San Carlos from the Government of Colombia, and an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of the West Indies and by the University of Warwick, England.

The CDB is a regional financial institution, which was established by an agreement signed on October 18, 1969, in Kingston, Jamaica, and entered into force on January 26, 1970.

The bank’s purpose is to contribute to the harmonious economic growth and development of the member states and promote economic co-operation and integration among them, having special regard to the needs of the less developed countries.

The permanent headquarters of the bank is located at Wildey, St. Michael, Barbados.