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…says acting on complaints by GPUSU’s Patrick Yarde
After failing to get the courts to bar Trevor Benn from contesting the just concluded elections of the Guyana Public Service Cooperative Credit Union Limited of which he won the chairmanship, the Guyana Public Service has reportedly enjoined the government in the matter and the Cooperative Division of the administration has since taken steps to effect same.
The move comes even as Benn said he has been making sweeping changes to restore transparency at the organisation. Since being elected chairman he has paid dividends to members and launched a very ambitious housing and car mortgage scheme.
Acting Chief Coop and Development Officer, Debbie Persaud in a letter dated June 8, 2021 to Benn informed him that he is facing three charges of misconduct in public office. She said too that the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) whose members constitute the bulk of the credit union wrote the Attorney General, Anil Nandlall alleging a number of “serious irregularities against Benn.”
Among the alleged irregularities are: payment of the sums of $100M to the Audit and Supervision Fund, without the sums being properly appropriated and approved at an Annual General Meeting. Also the GPSU alleges that Benn declared and issued an interim dividend without authority given by a general membership meeting of AGM; failed to have to Coop Division properly account for the funds transferred to the Audit and Supervision Fund; inducted of some IMC members to the membership of the credit union and alleged irregularities at the AGM and elections of office holders.
“I am obliged to inform you that in Guyana’s 10th Follow up Report as published by the Caribbean Financial Action Taskforce one of the deficiencies noted was the CCDO’s failure to sanction entities under its supervision. The law had to be amended to address this deficiency to satisfy CFATF recommendation 26, which states that “competent authorities or financial supervisors should take the necessary legal or regulatory measures to prevent criminals or their associates from holding, or being the beneficial owner of a significant or controlling interest, or holding a management function in a financial institution.”
Persaud added: “In the circumstances and for the reasons outlined above, I am of the opinion that you are unfit to discharge your functions as chairman of the GPSCC or an officer thereof.” Been through his Lawyer, the Fraser and Housty Law firm rejected the accusations and challenged Persaud’s basis on calling on Mr Benn to show cause.
“We have been handed your letter of the 8″‘ June, 2021, received on the 9″- June, 2021 to Mr. Trevor Benn in his capacity as the Chairman of the Committee of Management of the Guyana Public Service Cooperative Credit Union Limited (the Credit Union). There is no cause for you to direct the Credit Union to dismiss Mr. Benn pursuant to the Regulation 56 of Cap. 88:01, or otherwise. Page 1 of 11 Summary of Grounds in Support A. Your actions are not based on relevant considerations: • The presumption of innocence exists in Mr. Benn’s favour,” the lawyer wrote.
They told Persaud that in circumstances such as these “you must carry out a thorough investigation. This has not been undertaken in the present case.” They argued that any opinion or decision reached must be supported by objective evidence. “There is no objective evidence to support the basis of your opinion. The pending proceedings mentioned in your Letter are not related to Mr. Benn’s actions in his capacity as Chairman.”
Further, the lawyer said recommendation 26 of the CFATF Regulations is not applicable to Mr. Benn, as it seeks to apply to criminals, of which he is not. “Your reasons for action are based on Irrelevant considerations: You appear to have formed an opinion on what has been described as allegations of “a number of serious irregularities”, however you have not engaged in any process of inquiry or investigation, which may have safeguarded your own processes,” the lawyer wrote in Benn’s defence.
Reiterating that the presumption of innocence exists in Mr. Benn’s favour; the lawyers told Persaud that her letter relates to pending charges. “There has been not finding of guilt on the part of Mr. Benn, any action to dismissing him while charges are pending. Generally, criminal offences outside employment should not be considered as automatic reasons for dismissal, much less pending allegations. Any decision in this regard is against the weight of case law and would be deemed unreasonable.” “The law provides that a person is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty. This is one of the most fundamental provisions that is inherent in every democratic constitution. There appears to be no objective test applied to inform the basis of your opinion. This is a requirement of any action or opinion of the type contemplated by you. In order for a belief to be reasonably held, it has been said that you must be able to show: (1) proof that they did actually hold the belief, (2) that they had reasonable grounds to support that belief; and that they had carried out as much investigation into the matter as was reasonable in the circumstances.’
However, notwithstanding the lawyers’ response on behalf of Benn, Persaud in her latest correspondence to him was adamant: “Your letter dated June, 2021…has been carefully and judiciously considered. Unfortunately, I am to inform you that based upon the relevant statutory provisions under the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act Cap 10:11 and the Co-operative Societies Act Cap 88:01, your letter fails to show cause or in any manner displace the statutory duties which devolve upon me to ensure compliance with the letter and spirit of the legislation. In this regard I re-direct your attention to the sections of the law to which reference is made in my previous letter. In the circumstances, you are hereby informed that I will undertake the course of action outlined in my previous letter.”
Meanwhile, adding her voice to the issue, Member of Parliament, Amanza Walton-Desir said it is clear that the CCDO is acting based on political instructions. “What is extremely disturbing is that senior functionaries of the GPSU appear to be aiding and abetting a clearly anti working-class regime in the undermining of what has now become a viable, vibrant financial institution which can bring significant assistance to public servants who generally would have difficulty qualifying for financing through the commercial banks,” the young MP posited.
She said based on her own research it appears that the new Management Committee headed by Mr. Benn has been able to make significant strides in turning around the fortunes of the GPSCCU and transforming it into a dynamic, responsive and profitable organisation. “It is beyond disgusting that the very persons who presided over the mismanagement of the GPSCCU are seeking to once again obtain control of the organisation and in the process are betraying the very public servants they are supposed to be representing. After two budgets public servants are yet to be given an increase. Public servants have to battle the continuous increase in the cost of living, they have to battle the fall out of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the devastating effects of the recent floods- all without any improvement in their wages and salaries. Certainly the GPSU should be focusing its energies on representing the interests of their hard working membership, rather than undermining an institution that is helping public servants. Public servants must realise that they have the power to demand better from their union leaders and must so do!” Walton-Desir said.
Benn had received the highest votes ever cast for an individual at the Credit Union’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) election on April 11, peaking at 1055. His team also swept up all the spots available receiving higher votes than their competitors. All members of the team also received higher votes than Benn’s main competitor, President of the GPSU Patrick Yarde who received 143 votes while Benn’s team members received between 467 – 905 votes. In an interview with the Village Voice News back in April Benn had said that he and his team are excited to continue on the positive improvements that have been ongoing at the Credit Union.
Though winning came like a landslide, it wasn’t without push back from Yarde and others. Mere days before the AGM Election, Yarde sent out a letter threatening that Benn either removes himself from the Credit Union or face legal action. Yarde pointed out to the media that cooperative laws state that someone who is convicted by the court should not be on the Committee of Management of the Credit Union. However, Benn, who is before the Court for charges of alleged misconduct in public office, has not been convicted. Benn told the Village Voice News: “I never took it seriously because I know that Mr. Yarde found himself in a difficult place. He realised that he was losing all of the support and that he wasn’t going to win, so he came up with that ploy. Mr. Yarde is fully aware of the rules of the organisation which says that the only way you can remove somebody is if they’re convicted. I am before the Court — the whole of Guyana knows that – and I’m defending that matter in court. So, it’s premature to even have that as a discussion leading up before the poling of the election.” There were also allegations of voting irregularities and contention with the online voting system for some in light of the pandemic. Benn, however, said that there were no major issues in the voting process save for a few miscalculations by tired tabulators. In these cases, votes were off in the single digit. Nevertheless, with a major gap between Benn and his team and the other competitors, though the corrections were made, it did not impact the outcome.