Finance’s finest


BY NADINE WILSON All Woman writer

Monday, July 07, 2014

Print this page Email A Friend!

THEY work long hours, crunching numbers and safeguarding the country's coffers while balancing their personal lives. But when you ask the leading ladies at the Ministry of Finance and Planning how they do it, they will tell you that someone has to get the job done.

This week four of them share their stories of the joys and challenges involved in guaranteeing Jamaica's financial security.

Major Johanna Lewin (principal director for the Revenue Protection Division)

No one likes the enforcer and this is a fact Major Lewin fully understands. Her days are spent investigating potential tax evaders and identifying loopholes that make it easy for them to beat the system.

"We are not just here to arrest and charge people, but we are also here to help them to build strong, robust systems that allow them to carry out their mandate," said Major Lewin.

Her goal was to become an airline mechanic, but instead she found herself in one security position after another. She joined the Jamaica Defence Force in 1977 as an officer cadet and stayed there for 13 years.

"Actually I had gone there earlier in 1976 indicating a desire to join the JDF and they laughed me to scorn and then when I went back to sixth form, I saw where they had started recruiting. So as soon as I was done, I went and I joined," she recalled.

She has also spent 11 years in private security and a couple of years at the Ministry of National Security. Her military experience has no doubt contributed to her personality as a no-nonsense individual who carries out her job without fear, but even she admits that, "it is a tough job".

"You have to make hard decisions. In this harsh environment, you take away people's assets, you enter their homes or their private spaces. So you have to be firm; you have to know what you are doing because you don't want to violate people's right and privacy," she said.

"I am firm and I am strong and I have strength in my convictions and I know what I think is right, and what is good is that the military prepares you for almost anything. The training is rigorous, the standards that you are expected to uphold are very high," she pointed out.

The mother of two also has a jovial personality that easily diffuses tension and inspires confidence. Like mothers all over, she is proud of her children who, she says, support her in her endeavours.

The scarcity of resources contributes to Major Lewin's job being that much more difficult, but she says she has a dedicated staff who help her to get the work done. That, plus her motivation to make her contribution to society, helps to push her towards her goals of reducing fraud and corruption.

"It's not easy, but I get rejuvenated whenever we are successful," she said.

Ann Rhoden (deputy financial secretary for the Public Enterprises Division)

"I can still remember the day I walked into the Ministry of Finance, young and starry-eyed and full of confidence. I came in here as a financial analyst in the Public Enterprises Division and I have been here ever since," said Ann Rhoden.

Twenty-seven years later, Rhoden is still very confident in her capabilities which have been put to the test under successive administrations. Instead of the 21 self-financing public bodies the division was responsible for when she first joined, there are now 80. Her division is primarily responsible for monitoring the performance of these public entities to ensure that their financial performance and budgets are on target.

"One challenge would be at times not having adequate resources to monitor effectively. You know what you need to do, but because you are so few in numbers, you are not able to do all that you have to do," said Rhoden who has been the deputy financial secretary of the division for the past 10 years.

They say the pay for hard work is more work, and so recently the division was also given responsibility for monitoring the corporate governance portfolio.

"It is challenging, it is rewarding, it is frustrating at times," said Rhoden of her job. "But you do feel a sense of achievement when you know you push through some difficult circumstances and you manage to change some behaviour. You manage to develop a policy that went so far as to be accepted by the Cabinet to develop legislation, which the entire country would accept through our Parliament," she said.

Rhoden explained that there is never a dull moment when it comes to her job, although the staff finds it difficult to get boards to change their behaviour and recognise their responsibilities.

"One thing that pushes us forward is that all of Jamaica is behind us, supporting us with the need for change and so even though there is some resistance, you are buoyed by the fact that there is some support for what you are doing."

Lorris Jarrett (deputy financial secretary for the Public Expenditure Division)

The annual budget presentation is not something Jamaicans look forward to, because it often means more taxes. But this fact only makes Lorris Jarrett's job that much harder, since she is among those tasked with ensuring that there is enough money to finance the governance of the country and to put a dent in the national debt. She is also responsible for ensuring that the resources allocated to the various ministries and departments are aligned with the Government's priorities.

Often, the needs of the ministries far outweigh what the Government is able to give, and as a result, she pointed out that, "It requires negotiations and discussions".

Jarrett had initially joined the finance ministry in 1985 as a budget analyst. After spending hours working on the budget each year, she finds that her team has to go back and crunch the numbers due to public outcry. The reversal of a proposal to tax bank withdrawals earlier this year was one such example. As is often the case, Jarrett was behind the scenes assessing the alternatives.

"The first reaction is, 'there goes the revenue that is to fund whatever', but the thing is that we have to be responsive. We have to listen to the response of persons to Government policy, and that is exactly what the Government did; they listened, they learned and they responded.

"The fact is that without the revenues from that source coming in, there would have been a gap in the budget and so an alternative had to be found to compensate for all the challenges in that policy," she said.

Jarrett does not understand what it means to have a nine-to-five job and she probably never will, given the Government's focus on achieving the fiscal terms established by the International Monetary Fund.

"I work 12 to 14 hours per day and there are peaks and troughs," she said.

Fortunately for her, her three children are now adults and do not depend on her so much these days. Her eldest is completing a master's degree, her second child is a medical doctor, and the third is preparing to do law in Barbados.

"I remember the years when I had to juggle picking up the children, dropping them off, and the demands of the job," she said.

Quiet time is a luxury for Jarrett, but she finds that going to church on Sundays helps her to relax.

Bridgette Wilks (divisional director for the Financial Regulations Division)

As an economist, Bridgette Wilks is primarily focused on ensuring the implementation of the regulatory framework for the various financial services in the country.

She started her stint at the finance ministry in the 1990s in the middle of the country's financial sector meltdown, and so she fully understands the importance of her job in helping to guarantee financial stability.

"It has been very interesting," she said of her job. "But the best reward in working in the Government services is to see how your work changes and transcends to national importance."

During the 1990s financial meltdown, her division worked assiduously at developing the supervisory framework for the Financial Services Commission. She is also now responsible for public sector pension reform.

"In undertaking the work that I do, the major challenge is retaining staff, because as you can understand, most of the persons I recruit to work are usually in the area of economics and the area that I work in, the policy translates into law. So you have these youngsters, but they don't have the patience, because changing the policy into law is very difficult," she said.

Wilks started working in the public sector in 1975 as an employee at the Department of Statistics.

"I have not regretted working in the public sector at all, and especially at the Ministry of Finance," she said.

"The work is very, very challenging as you can imagine, but to me it's very rewarding and I don't think you can get that in the private sector," she added.

Although the mother of three loves her job, she is still looking forward to retirement and the prospects of spending more time with her grandson and engaging more in social activities.




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed:

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email:

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon