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Luke Browne.
Luke Browne.

When economist Luke Browne wrote and submitted to three newspapers in January a letter questioning the financial health and management of the Building & Loan Association (BLA), did he imagine that it would have led to the near meltdown of the 72-year-old building society?

That’s one of the questions we put to him Thursday night on the sidelines of the BLA’s first “annual” general meeting in two years.

“Well, I thought that there would be some changes to the association. I was prepared for an on-going discussion, a long-term discussion because I thought the problems were serious so this (the general meeting) is a natural product of this (a long-term discussion) and it is one that was foreseen as well,” he told I-Witness News.

The Vincentians newspaper published Browne letter on Jan. 18, and, in the two weeks following the publication, EC$9 million was withdrawn from the BLA, triggering the Financial Services Authority to step in to avert what they say was imminent collapse.

“You know one of the complaints was the lack of an annual general meeting. We have an annual general meeting. I thought there would have been changes; I thought people would be asked to be more accountable. We are probably going to have to make some difficult decisions to make sure everything gets on a good track,” Browne further told I-Witness News.

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Browne, who is tipped to become a senator for the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) this month, is an economist who was working on pension reform when he wrote the letter.

Many have questioned his intentions in writing the letter, with some saying it was personal, even as others say it was a strategic move to justify morally, notwithstanding their legal authority, the decision of the FSA to intervene. Others have hailed him a hero, saying his actions might have averted the collapse of the BLA.

At the seven-hour meeting on Thursday, Browne, who wore a black suit and a white shirt, sat quietly at the back and at times, like many others, seemed to be dozing off.

He said the members of the BLA and the FSA “just have to be prepared to work together.

“The FSA has their ideas, I think they would also appreciate the need to listen to ideas which come from the floor in sessions such as these. I think once there is the right mix and respect on both sides that something workable can be done.”

Some persons at the meeting accused the FSA of not listening to the suggestion of BLA members.

Browne said the meeting “has had its ups and downs.

“I think there is need for some ideas to be revised. I think some legitimate concerns were raised from the floor; we have to understand the difficult situation the institution faces and that would require the FSA to use some of their prerogative that is given by the authority vested in them by the legislation,” Browne said.

“We are meandering forward somewhat, we just have to stick to it and hopes everything works out for good,” he further told I-Witness News.