Therese Turner-Jones becomes Caribbean regional head of the IDB

BY KEITH COLLISTER

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

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At the end of last week, on april 16th, Inter-American Development Bank (idb) country representative for jamaica, therese turner-jones, became the first caribbean woman and only the second caribbean person to become general manager of the idb’s caribbean country department.


As general manager of the Caribbean Department, she oversees the bank’s operations in Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, The Bahamas, and Trinidad and Tobago, and is responsible for the IDB’s relationship with the Caribbean Development Bank, through which assistance is provided to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).


While serving as the new general manager for the IDB’s Caribbean Country Department, she will nevertheless also continue to carry out the functions of country representative for Jamaica.


Perhaps just as important (to Jamaica at least), Turner-Jones, a national of The Bahamas, will continue to be based in Jamaica, rather than Washington (as was the previous practice for this very high-level position), due to the IDB’s policy to get closer to their customers.


Fresh from a successful IDB Annual Meeting of the Board of Governors in The Bahamas the week before last, and following her attendance at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) spring meetings, Turner-Jones kindly agreed to give an exclusive first interview last Friday to the
Jamaica Observer on her recent promotion.




A HUGE DEAL


Turner-Jones started by noting that the IDB-IIC Inter-American Investment Cooperation Annual Meeting in Nassau, held at The Bahamas Convention Centre in The Bahamas, was "a huge deal", as it was one of the few times that the IDB-IIC Annual Meeting had taken place in the Caribbean. In fact, it was the first such meeting to be held in the Caribbean since the 1979 Annual Meeting in Jamaica .


The Japanese Government took a notably high profile at the IDB’s annual meeting in The Bahamas, which seems to reflect a more active re-engagement strategy with the Latin America and Caribbean region, following that of the other Asian giant, China.


This year’s meeting in Nassau also registered the major outcome of Japan’s Government committing to a US$3-billion quality infrastructure and energy fund for Latin America and the Caribbean through 2021.


In addition, Japan became the first OECD country to recognise middle-income countries as recipients for concessional financing. They even included high-income Caribbean countries, such as The Bahamas and Antigua, based on a vulnerability index developed by the IDB, meaning a measure of the region’s extremely high vulnerability to exogenous shocks. At the same conference, Turner-Jones also gave a "Ted Talk" on improving access to capital for the region’s private sector.


At the same event, the IDB’s new Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC) was rolled out. Going forward, all of the IDB’s private sector lending is now under the one IIC "roof", and its new head, James Scrvben, will be coming to Jamaica in less than two weeks’ time. The same conference also launched the replenishment of the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), the IDB’s innovative grant fund, which also has a new director, Brigit Helms. The MIF has assisted in quite a number of Jamaica projects over the years.


Turner-Jones also used the interview to announce that the IDB was bringing famous financial journalist and author Adrian Wooldridge, management editor and writer of the Economist magazine’s extremely influential Schumpeter column (named after the famous economist Joseph Schumpeter), to Jamaica on May 2nd to mark the occasion of the launch ceremony of their new brand identity.


In his role as a global thought leader, Wooldridge will make the keynote speech on the topic "The 4th revolution – the Global Race to reinvent the state", which should be very relevant to Jamaica’s long-awaited public sector transformation.




HISTORY WITH JAMAICA AND THE CARIBBEAN


Turner-Jones has a long history with Jamaica, as well as being married to a Jamaican, Dennis Jones – formerly of the Bank of England and IMF economist.


After starting her career in the research department of the Central Bank of the Bahamas, Turner-Jones moved to the IMF’s Western Hemisphere Department. Her first mission was to St Lucia, but she was quickly moved to work on Jamaica’s last extended fund facility (EFF) in 1993, which ended in 1996.


She has served in other key positions in the IMF, leading missions to Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and several Eastern Caribbean countries. She also headed the IMF’s technical assistance centre in Barbados for three years before returning to the Western Hemisphere Department, where, in addition to working on Barbados and Guyana, she also served as senior advisor to the executive director for Canada, Ireland, and the Caribbean. She actually worked as deputy for the then mission chief for Jamaica, Trevor Alleyne, himself a Jamaican. While not working directly on Jamaica at that time, she nevertheless followed Jamaica closely.


She started her career with the IDB as country representative in Jamaica due to the signing of the new EFF on May 1, 2013. Commenting on the most recent IMF programme, she observes, "I have a lot of respect for what the authorities went through when negotiating the IMF agreement for Jamaica. The environment in Washington was extremely difficult due to the stalled SBA [stand-by arrangement]."


She adds, "For the IDB, it has been very rewarding working with Jamaica. We have been very active in tax reform, budget support, the PATH (Programme of Advancement Through Health & Education) programme, education, the water sector, and the Crime Security and Justice Programme (CJSP) — the latter in conjunction with our Canadian and UK partners. We finally got some of the fruits of our labour in improving competitiveness, as shown in the improvements in the World Bank’s Doing Business survey."


Other key areas mentioned by her included the MIF’s participation in the venture capital programme of the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), as well as their creation of an equity ecosystem through a partnership with the Jamaica Stock Exchange, and the IDB’s support of the DBJ’s improving small business access to credit initiative.


The IDB is also important to the private sector, having contributed to the financing of the recently opened Marriott Courtyard in Kingston, for example.


Turner-Jones is passionate about the region’s macroeconomic challenges – "too much debt, too little growth"– and the key issue of how to get our economies "up and running" through greater integration into the world economy.


One of her key concerns is the region’s so-called "sclerosis", as outlined in a paper by the IDB’s regional economist Inder Ruprah. Her big questions include: "Why is the region performing so badly on growth, with its average rate of growth well below countries of a comparable size?" and "What is the nexus between the policymakers and the rest of the society that has prevented faster growth?"


The IDB’s regional efforts include a partnership with the US Government to diversify the region’s energy mix by helping introduce LNG to the Caribbean as a way of improving competitiveness, and encouraging renewables (diversification from fossil fuels) through projects such as its geothermal "partnership" with the Caribbean Development Bank.


Another area of the IDB’s regional focus is crime and violence, which appears high up the ranking of concerns in every enterprise survey throughout the region, Turner-Jones noted. Of particular concern to her is the very disturbing research on the amount of violence being perpetrated against women and children in the region, where the acceptance of violence is very high. As she notes, "You can’t have a productive, happy workforce if people have dysfunctional families."




VISION FOR THE REGION


Turner-Jones’ vision for IDB in the region is one of "striving to improve lives in the Caribbean by creating vibrant economies where people are safe, productive, and happy".


She strongly believes in deepening relations with the IDB’s regional clients, as "we want to be the regions trusted advisor", she said, adding that it is the interactions with countries, both financial and intellectual, that are at the heart of the IDB’s work.


She observes: "We have been working in Jamaica for 45 years, but until recently there wasn’t a lot of research work done in the Caribbean compared with Latin America." However, in the last five years, the amount of work on the region has accelerated, she noted. For example, under her predecessor, Gerard Johnson, the IDB hired a regional economic advisor and the regional quarterly economic bulletin was started. She adds, "Whilst the IDB always did research on the region, he helped to create much greater transparency by encouraging the publication of research that would otherwise have remained inside the organisation if it was done at all."


Turner-Jones has long had an international outlook and got her later secondary schooling at the United World Colleges (Lester Pearson College), an international school based in Canada, with other centres around the world.


Her first degree was from the University of Toronto, and she holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.


Although protesting, "This interview is not about me", Turner-Jones admitted to having many interests outside of work, including women’s development, meditation and tennis.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, "family is the most important thing" to Turner -Jones, and she wishes she had more time to spend with them (she has a 12-year-old daughter). Her favourite places in Jamaica are our hills and mountains, such as Strawberry Hill.

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