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—Benn looks to general membership of the public service credit union to intervene
…as Management Committee moves No-Confidence Motion against him
By Svetlana Marshall
The Management Committee of the Guyana Public Service Cooperative Credit Union (GPSCCU) has moved a ‘No-Confidence Motion’ against its Chairman, Trevor Benn, though it was under his slate that the 12-member Committee won the 2021 Elections by a landslide.
Faced with the No-Confidence Motion, Benn is now looking to the general membership to decide on the future leadership of the Public Service Credit Union as he fights off corruption. But even as he lobbies members, the Management Committee with the backing of the Chief Cooperative Development Officer (CCDO) (ag), Debbie Persaud, is moving full pace ahead to get him out of office.
In a letter addressed to the Secretary of GPSCCU’s Management Committee, Gillian Pollard, the CCDO not only acknowledged the motion purportedly passed on April 21, 2022, but in accordance with Regulations 22 of the Co-operative Societies Act Chapter 88:01, advised that the Management Committee can revoke the powers of the Chairman once there is a loss in confidence or mismanagement. Ten (10) members of the Management Committee reportedly voted in favor of the motion.
“As such, the Committee is advised to elect a new Chairman as soon as possible and to notify the department of same. Also, in the interim the Vice Chairman should perform the duties of the Chairman,” a section of the letter dated May 4, 2022 read.
It noted that though Benn is being removed as Chairman, he remains a member of the Management Committee.
It is unclear what allegations have been levied against Benn to result in the drastic move, however, in an interview with the Village Voice Newspaper, he submitted that the motion is null, void and of no effect because the correct procedures were not applied. According to Benn, he was unaware that the meeting was being convened and secondly, that a Motion of No-Confidence was part of the agenda. It was explained that formal notices featuring the credit union’s letterhead are dispatched via email to all Committee Members, however, this time around, notice of the specially convened meeting was dispatched in a WhatsApp Group – on an informal platform.
“I missed the request for this meeting but even if I had seen it, I could not countenance it because if you are calling an extraordinary or a special meeting, you must put in writing the notice…and state the reason for the meeting; that was not done,” Benn explained.
Further, he submitted that the Chief Cooperative Development Officer was wrong for sanctioning the motion without carrying out a proper investigation of the allegations against him. “I don’t know what the allegations against me are; no allegation was put to me for me to respond. But if you are going to do a Motion of No-Confidence, there must be a reason and I must be given an opportunity to respond, and the CCDO needed to ascertain that, that took place but from where I sit, she has not done so,” Benn told the Village Voice Newspaper.
Asked whether, he will challenge the decision legally, Benn, in response, said that he will consult with the general membership to decide the way forward.
“I am consulting with the members, as many as possible, and based on the feedback I get from those consultations, I will make a decision,” he said. It was also explained that the general membership of the credit union can request a special meeting to address this burning issue.
But while Benn said he is unaware of the ‘charges’ against him, he suspects that the motion was as a result of attempts by him to root out corruption from within the Management Committee. “They are uncomfortable with me because I have been putting checks on spending, and so they are annoyed. They feel like whenever they have an issue, they must come and we will solve it financially. We helped two or three of them in the early days and then we decided that enough is enough and so they are unhappy,” Benn explained.
According to Benn, much to his dissatisfaction, the Management Committee also voted to disallow an investigation into an alleged falsification of receipts for items and services procured for a birthday party for one of the Committee Members. Additionally, it is alleged that a number of Committee Members instructed staff of the Credit Division to submit their incomplete applications for mortgage to the Credit Committee and subsequently approved the applications themselves. “There is another case, in which we were procuring a plot of land and a Member came to me personally and say he is going to get $3M if we purchase the land from his friend. So I instructed the staff that, that property must not be a part of the properties we consider; so there is a number of issues,” he said.
It also alleged that a staff member had two loans approved for approximately $12M within a period of three months while members of the credit union are made to wait months for their applications to be reviewed.
INSTALLATION OF A CEO
Corruption aside, Benn said the Management Committee, by a majority, voted to exclude funding for the establishment of an ATM system and the construction of a new headquarters for the Credit Union from the 2022 Budget, though those projects were long agreed upon by the Interim Management Committee established back in 2018.
To compound the situation, he said the Management Committee, by a majority, also voted to appoint Adeola Griffith as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), though it was under her stewardship as Senior Finance Officer, approximately $100M was unaccounted for under the Patrick Yarde Management Committee.
The GPSCCU Chairman explained that while it was always the decision of the Management Committee to appoint a CEO, the process ought to have been transparent and ought to have included a representative of the Banking Sector. But the Management Committee again voted to not to have such a representative present.
The position was advertised internally early this year, and five persons applied: Christopher Thompson, Judah Louisy, Leslyn Noble, Adeola Griffith and Paul Clarke. Based on a correspondence issued to Benn on March 31, 2022, the interview panel included Arthur Gibbs, Chairman of the Admin and Human Resource Committee; Ruth Howard, Saskia Eastman, Karen Corbin – all of whom are Board Members – and Dana Nestor, a Manager of the Credit Union League.
“The panel concluded that there was one (1) candidate that clearly displayed the qualities in which this organization would require to take it forward in the future in achieving its goals. With that being said. The panel is hereby recommending Ms. Adeola Griffith to take up the position of CEO with effect from May 3, 2022,” the correspondence stated.
Benn said upon reviewing the one page document recommending Griffith, he requested that the interviewing notes be made available to the entire Management Committee and for the recommendation and the procedure to be discussed thoroughly while taking into consideration other critical documents.
He said it was important to get it right, since this would be the first time the credit union would have a CEO, however, the Committee disagreed, and declined to supply the interviewing notes.
Benn said of concern was the fact that the Human Resource staff were excluded from the hiring process, and as such Griffith’s past performance was not taken into consideration.
“Why it was important to ensure that we had a thorough process done is because this individual, who they are recommending, was a staff under the previous Management Committee and who was currently up to last week, a staff below management because we had to bring in people to clean up the work that she did,” he said.
Benn added: “As you may recall, in our most recent audit report, over $100M was unaccounted for, and she was the Senior Finance Officer when this happened. In addition to that for many years, the bank statements were not reconciled, this is one of the problems we had with the audits, and that was her responsibility as well. Couple with that we had disciplinary issues with the individual.”
It was noted that Griffith’s Manager had also applied for the position but was denied though it was he who cleaned up the “financial mess” that left when the Patrick Yarde Management Committee was replaced by an IMC.
Despite Benn’s concern, the Management Committee, in his absence, voted to hire Griffith. A subsequent request by the Vice Chairman Patrick Mentore for the decision to be reviewed was also turned down.
Benn said based on the recent events, the future of credit union is uncertain.
“Well, the way we are progressing, I have doubts about whether we will be able to maintain the momentum that was created over the last four years. Under the current Management Committee, I have great doubts, and the members would have to make a decision about how they want to proceed,” he said.
REMARKABLE TRACK RECORD
Before being elected Chairman of the GPSCCU Management Committee in 2021, Benn was Chairman of an IMC, which replaced the Patrick Yarde Management Committee in 2018 due to mismanagement.
Yarde and his Committee, among other things, had failed to hold Annual General Meetings for approximately eight years, and the credit union’s finances were also not audited, as such dividends were not paid for an extensive period.
Since 2018, the finances have been audited. In fact, the audits were brought up to date, and in 2021, an AGM was held and Benn elected Chairman. The 2021 audit is currently going, and upon completion, AGM will be held.
In 2021, the Management Committee under Benn’s leadership, provided approximately $1B in housing and car loans to hundreds of members, thereby creating history.“So we introduce for the first time last year mortgages and vehicle loans; so any qualified member can now get a vehicle loan to the tune of $5M or they can get a mortgage to the tune of $15M; this is all new never happened before,” he explained.
Just last month, GPSCCU signed an agreement with the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU) to offer staff 5%, 10% and 15% increases on their salaries, along with paternity leave and other benefits. The agreement also caters for a 15% across-the-board increase for the year 2023.