Nigerian-Vincentian Eunice Dowers’ declaration of Christianity helped her to nail a job as secretary to the chief executive of Star Garage, despite her lack of experience, the company’s general manager has told her trial on 52 fraud charges.
At the trial, Joshua Da Silva, the company’s general manager, denied that he had no say in the hiring of the accused, and that his managing director, Bertille “Silky” Da Silva had ordered that the woman be hired.
Da Silva said that while he was concerned about Dowers being a Nigerian and holding a sensitive position in the company, he took comfort in her claim of Christianity and her marital status.
Dowers was a 25-year-old married woman when she sent an application to Star Garage and attended an interview in April 2018.
She would leave the job the following February after an altercation with a male co-worker.
The trial moved into its fourth day, on Tuesday, at the Serious Offences Court, with Da Silva being cross-examined by Dowers’ lawyer, Grant Connell.
Joshua told the court that Dowers’ job interview was not fast-tracked and had lasted about 40 minutes, as is the case with all other prospective employees.
Dowers is accused of theft, fraud, and, using without permission, a credit card belonging to Silky, 89.
Rose-Ann Richardson, with Karim Nelson, are the prosecutors.
The defence is suggesting that Silky and Dowers, 26, were in an intimate relationship and he gave her permission to use the card — a theory the businessman had denied.
The defence are also arguing that Joshua had abused the card and took advantage of an altercation last February, after which Dowers left the job, “to throw her under the bus”.
Joshua told the court that at the job interview, he read back Dowers’ written application to her.
He said he noted that she was married “and that’s a perk, she was Seventh-day Adventist, that’s one and she had a degree before in medicine”.
He said he verified that Dowers (née Armachi) was married to one Raffique Dowers but he didn’t see the marriage certificate.
The manager said he did not have a preference for employing Seventh-day Adventists, but he decided to employ Dowers in light of her Christianity claims.
“She was genuflecting, bowing to people, saying very nice things…” Joshua said, adding that Dowers came off as a very nice person.
“She came off as being a Christian. Full Christian, very full.”
Joshua said Silky had informed him that someone had come to look for a job and instructed him to interview her.
Asked if Dowers was authorised to work in St. Vincent and the Grenadines at the time, Joshua said, “I am not sure, sir.”
He then quickly said, “Yes.” and the lawyer told him to make up his mind.
Joshua maintained that Dowers was authorised to work in SVG, adding that while he did not see any specific document to his effect, Dowers was entitled to work in SVG, because she was married and was going through the naturalisation process.
Joshua said he asked Dowers where she was from and whether she had experience as a secretary and she said she did not.
He said he told Dowers what the job entailed and asked her if she thought she could handle it.
Joshua denied that Dowers used to defy his instructions.
“At times, she bluntly refused. ‘I am not your secretary, oh’. Go and ask Silky, oh’,” the lawyer said, repeating some of the things that he claimed Dowers would allegedly say to Joshua.
Joshua, however, denied that that was the case, telling the court that Dowers was very receptive to his instruction.
Dowers is alleged to have used a company card without permission. Joshua said that the credit card belongs to the company, with Silky as the benefactor.
The lawyer suggested it was brought to Joshua’s attention that Silky was allowing Dowers to use the credit card and he (Joshua) expressed concern, noting that Dowers is Nigerian.
Joshua said he expressed “official concern” when Dowers was hired that she was Nigerian “in a financial position”.
“It was not an overwhelming factor but it was actually a caution,” Joshua said.
He said he expressed concern to his brothers and Silky — all of whom are directors of the company.
“It was a miniature concern,” Joshua said, adding that with Dowers being “a Christian, holding this upright citizenship that she is”, he thought that she might have been different.
Joshua said that the fact that when she applied for work, Dowers was married and a Seventh-day Adventist would have “balanced out a lot of stuff”.
“If you weigh it this way, she being a married person at that age would say some sort of stability, and she being a Seventh-day Adventist, posing to be a Christian would show some kind of honesty, forthrightness — at that age,” he said.
The lawyer suggested that Silky had told Joshua that he can express as much concern as he likes but Dowers would be employed.
Joshua said that was never said and also denied the lawyer’s claim that the interview was “brisk and short” and that Silky told Dowers the job was hers.
Joshua said that it was not that his concerns about Dowers’ nationality had no effect on his managing director. “It was just a caution,” he told the court.
“So your managing director did not take your caution on board,” the lawyer said.
Joshua said he did.
“So from the beginning, you had no say
in her being at Star Garage?” Connell contended.
Joshua said that was not the case, adding that if he had opposed the managing director “and say ‘Get rid of her’, we would have gotten rid of her”.
“But how she came in … as a deceptive person in the organisation — you should ask she if she is Seventh-day Adventist now. She wearing all the jewellery and all the makeup, she ain’t–” Joshua said.
Connell, however, interrupted Joshua and told him he knows he doesn’t want to disrespect Dowers and he should just relax.
No record of ‘Wet’ sponsorship
As the cross examination continued, Joshua said he was familiar with Be Fit but has never taken part in their programme.
He said he was not aware of Dowers having taken part in the Be Fit movement programme or that Silky sent Dowers to Be Fit “to slim down, … for his eyes only”.
Joshua said none of the directors of Star Garage ever went to Be Fit and asked what that had to do with the case.
He further said he did not go to “Wet”, a party at Spring Garden in 2018, nor does he know if Silky went.
“That’s none of my business,” Joshua said.
He further said he was not aware that Star Garage was a sponsor of the event.
“No. It didn’t show up on our record. No. I don’t know about that,” Joshua said.
Connell said that he had earlier suggested that Silky is “cheap” and Joshua said he is “frugal”
“I want to suggest to you that the Nigerian who went to Be Fit is who suggested to Silky … and because she was going there, Star Garage part-sponsored Wet.” said Connell.
The lawyer asked the witness to make up his mind as to whether he knows nothing about Star Garage sponsoring the event.
“It never showed up on our record anything with Wet, if you look at any receipt for our company,” Joshua said.
Beating, abandoning job, receipt
Joshua told the court that he is aware that an employee at Star Garage beat Dowers.
He denied that Silky had asked him to deal with the matter and he refused because he had an issue with Dowers.
The manager said he would say that Dowers walked off the job and that he was aware that she went to the police.
He, however, said he never told her that if she went to the police she would make Star Garage look bad, nor did he call her and ask her to return to work.
He said that after the incident, Dowers returned to Star Garage because she had left all her personal items at her desk.
The manager, however, said he did not call her and remind her of that.
Dowers stayed away from the job for more than two days, Joshua said, but also said he could not recall for how long.
He said that after not turning up to work for three consecutive days, without excuse, one could legally be considered as having abandoned a job.
“She abandoned the job, yeah?” the lawyer asked.
Joshua said he could say so.
The lawyer asked if he wrote Dowers pointing this out and firing her.
Joshua said he didn’t.
The lawyer suggested that Joshua could not have fired Dowers because Silky said he was going to look for her.
Joshua denied that this was the case.
He said that while he cannot remember the date, Dowers did return to the company later that month and met with Silky in his office.
Joshua said he not present when Silky signed and issued a receipt to Dowers, as the lawyer suggested.
Shown a receipt, Joshua scoffed. He said the date on it was Feb. 15 and that the signature was Silky’s.
The content of the receipt was not revealed to the court nor was the receipt tendered in evidence.
Joshua said that when Dowers returned to the company on Feb. 15, he didn’t give her a warning.
He said he saw her in the office with Silky but he had to leave the premises at the same time.
“You saw her in the office but you were told you couldn’t come in,” Connell said.
Joshua said that was not the case, adding that Silky’s office is a glass structure and he could see in.
The lawyer suggested that Joshua had knocked and Silky told him he couldn’t come in.
“Silky never did me any of that, ever,” Joshua said.
Silky promises Dowers ‘some extra money’
Joshua said he had warned Silky in October 2018 to always be “cognitive” with his credit card around Dowers.
The manager told the court that the company’s customs broker would have an idea of the company’s operations but would not be entrenched, as the lawyer suggested.
He, however, said he never expressed any concerns about a Nigerian being entrenched in the business of Star Garage.
“You never had any choice, Mr. Joshua Da Silva,” the lawyer said, adding that he could not challenge Silky.
Joshua, however, said he has challenged Silky more than once, but for the customs broker position, Dowers had “volunteered because she knew her purpose as to why she volunteered”.
The lawyer suggested that Joshua knows why he did not challenge Dowers’ appointment as a customs broker “because you moved her from being right under Silky Da Silva where she would monitor the activity of the credit card”.
Joshua said monitoring the credit card was not Dowers’ job as she was not an accountant.
“She is not allowed to see our company’s statements. She is a junior employee in the company. She is not a director,” Joshua said.
But Connell told him that company statements and credit card statements are not the same thing and Joshua said that credit card statements are company statements, and not Silky’s.
Connell asked Joshua if he would be happy if someone from Nigeria were elevated in the company after just three or four months.
“If she was worth to be elevated like that, it would make me happy, but the worth wasn’t there,” Joshua said.
He said Dowers’ move from secretary to customs broker was not a promotion but “a horizontal shift in operation” and she received the same salary.
The manager said Dowers received the same salary because she was at the same level.
“Because of what she did in the corporation, Mr. Da Silva (Silky) would have actually promised her some extra money,” Joshua said.
He, however, said he was not privy to how and when the promise was made.
“You are not privy to that. You don’t even know if Mr. Da Silva was paying her in cash or kind,” the lawyer suggested, adding that Joshua did not know how much his uncle “gave the lady from Nigeria”.
“Imagine that? The manager of Star Garage does not know how much the managing director promised the young lady.”
Joshua again said he did not know and Connell said there are some things “that just get you vex, eh. That is one”.
“So yuh had the Nigerian in yuh craw… So you saw the opportunity when she tried to embarrass the company by going to the police to throw her under the bus and made a report that she thief all these things.”
Joshua, however, denied this was the case.
At another point in the cross examination, Joshua told the court that Dowers had said that one should never leave a credit card around a Nigerian, even if they are a family member.
“She made it and she laughed and she walked out my office.”
Joshua said he did not see it as crucial evidence and did not put in his statement to the police because Dowers had made the remark as a joke.
He further denied that he was making that up then and there, as the lawyer claimed.
Connell asked Joshua why, as the man who hires and fires, amidst his concerns about Dowers being Nigerian and being around financial instruments, he didn’t dismiss Dowers.
Joshua said he was constrained by the labour code.
He said that while, according to the law, an employer can use his discretion and consider a person who has not turned up to work for two or more days, without excuse, as having abandoned the job, he “had to consult with above”.
He said another consideration about firing Dowers at that time was that they would have had to hire a customs broker with little or no experience.
The trial continues on Feb. 17.