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Now that acting Chief Justice, Roxanne George-Wiltshire S.C. dismissed the decision of acting Chief Cooperatives Development Officer (CCDO), Debbie Persaud, to direct the Guyana Public Service Co-operative Credit Union Limited (GPSCCU) to dismiss Trevor Benn as its Chairman, and also granted an order prohibiting the acting CCDO from proceeding to require the Credit Union to dismiss Benn as its Chairman, Village Voice sat down with him for an in-depth conversation.
Benn’s meteoric rise to prominence as Chairman was due to GPSCCU’s implementation of services that broke with tradition, venturing into areas not gone before or within recent times, the scale to which members were provided opportunities, and the rebranding of the Union. This created attention not only within credit union circles but among working-class folks and ordinary citizens who continue to face challenges in acquiring loans from commercial banks for housing, motor vehicles, etc.
GPSCCU was seen as a model to emulate, and there was a reawakening of interest in a sector of the economy that has been removed from national prominence it enjoyed during the Forbes Burnham government. Guyana has a tri-sectoral economy, i.e., government, business and cooperatives, with credit unions being part of the latter. Events around last year April started to cast shadows that all was not well within the GPSCCU.
In 2018 Benn was appointed Chair of the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Credit Union. In April 2021, at the Annual General Meeting (AGM), he was elected Chair with the highest number of votes anyone has ever received in the history of the Credit Union. The Chair is the leader of and presides over the management committee. From 2018 to 2021 under Benn’s leadership the GPSCCU realised the undermentioned:-
1) Improvement in the management of the Credit Union by way of introduction of clearly defined organisation chart and job descriptions/job specifications for all categories of staff;
2) Completed ten (10) years of audits from 2011 to 2020. The 2021 audit is currently underway;
3) Transformed Management Committee Meeting to Paperless.
Benn said going paperless was an effort at cost saving in reproducing minutes and other documents for the twelve members (12) of the management committee and management team. “The Credit Union reduced this expenditure by providing each member with a laptop and having all documents circulated and reviewed online.”
Wages/salary and working conditions for GPSCCU staff
4) Signed two Collective Labour Agreements (CLA) with the Clerical and Commercial Workers Union (CCWU), in 2019 and 2022. The previous CLA was signed in 1975;
5) Increased staff salaries by over 150% in three years;
6) Established medical, insurance and pension plan staff;
7) Introduced paternity leave, with effect from 2018;
8) Conducted first AGM in April 2021 after a ten-year hiatus (2011).
9) Paid interim dividends in 2018 and final dividends in 2021 for the period 2011 to 2020;
10) Introduced online payments. Cheque payments reduced to a minimum. Almost all payments are now wired to the recipient’s account. This has contributed to a reduced number of cheque books being procured annually and a reduction in the time taken to get payments out of the system;
11) Refurbished the office facilities to better accommodate members and staff;
12) Increased the number of bursary recipients from 10 to 50+ students over the past four (4) years;
13) Reduced wait time from three weeks to same day for most loan products;
External Financial Obligations
14) Paid in excess of $100M (one hundred million dollars) to the Audit and Supervisory Fund;
15) Introduced Vehicles Loan and Mortgages, now available to all members. vehicle up to a maximum amount of $5M and mortgages up to $15M;
16) Introduced loans to members with small businesses that require startup or seed funding. Any member with a business or even a business idea that has an unencumbered collateral can apply for a loan to help get started or to improve the business;
17) Established a new Sub-Office in Region #2 in 2019;
18) Appoint nine (9) Regional Representatives for Administrative Regions #1, 2,3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10;
19) Purchase a parcel of land for the construction of a new Corporate Headquarters.
20) Registered profits every year since 2018, $95M (ninety-five million dollars) in 2020;
21) Discovered approximately $105M (one hundred and five million dollars) in unaccounted funds via external audits for the years 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017;
The chairman said he is proud of his and team’s efforts as restructuring the organisation to reflect its core functions as a financial institution and deliver efficient and effective customer service to its members. But in May 2021 this ambitious focus was rocked at its core.
Less than a month after Benn was elected Chair for the Committee of Management (CoM), following the AGM in April 2021, and less than one month after Persaud became acting CCDO, she sent him a letter. In that letter Benn was asked to show cause why Persaud should not direct the CoM to remove him as Chair.
This matter was taken to court in May 2021, by the GPSCCU. At the time all twelve (12) members of the CoM voted to support the court action. Consequently, the Credit Union secured an injunction prohibiting the acting CCDO from taking any further action. In the action, the Credit Union sought several prerogative writs, i.e., an order of certiorari quashing the decision of the acting CCDO; and an order of prohibition, prohibiting the acting CCDO from proceeding to undertake to direct the Credit Union to dismiss Benn as Chairman of the Committee.
Written submissions to the acting Chief Justice were made by the Attorney General Chambers, representing the acting CCDO, and external counsel for the Credit Union, who listened to oral arguments from both sides and rendered her decisions on the matter.
In rendering judgement, the Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire said the acting CCDO came to her decision in breach of the rule of natural justice and without conducting a full and proper investigation of the circumstances. The court also noted that reference to criminal charges Benn is currently facing tends to suggest that the acting CCDO concluded he, in his role as Chair, was a criminal. Attorney-at-law Roysdale Forde S.C. is Benn’s lawyer.
Time will tell whether Chairman Trevor Benn will be allowed, with the support of the members, to lead the Credit Union in a progressive direction or be met with another challenge. Village Voice will be there to keep our readers informed.