GECCU, the largest credit union in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, will host a meeting on Tuesday to explain to the general membership the decision of the board of directors to fire Rohan Stowe as CEO in June.
The meeting is said to be historic in that no other CEO of GECCU had every been removed in such a manner and in that the members have summoned the board of director to explain their decision.
“The strength of the by-laws and the powers of the membership — which is the highest-decision making body in the credit union — are being tested here,” one of the signatories of the letter that triggered the special meeting told iWitness News on Monday.
“This is a rare opportunity for the members to be fully engage and participate in a decision that could influence and impact the future of the credit union union since it involves the stewardship and management of the credit union going forward,” the signatory said.
“And also to demonstrate to the board of directors that even though they are elected to serve on behalf of the membership, the membership is still the highest decision-making body. So members should come out and let their voices, their opinions be heard and have their votes counted in whatever decision is made.”
In an Aug. 8, 2023 letter, some 80 members of GECCU, citing specific by-laws of the credit union and the Cooperative Societies Act, demanded that a special meeting of the members of the credit union be held within 21 days of receipt of the letter.
Linus Goodluck, the credit union’s secretary, has given notice of the meeting, which takes place at the Methodist Church Hall, Kingstown, at 4 p.m. on Tuesday
The notice said that the meeting is called to inform the general membership of the dismissal of the former chief executive officer from office.
According to documents obtained by iWitness News, Stowe was fired as the credit union’s CEO on June 26 — 20 days after the board of directors took a decision to terminate him after three years on the job.
In the letter demanding the special meeting, members noted that the 57th annual general meeting of the credit union, held on June 8 — two days after the decision was taken to fire Stowe — reported that the credit union performed credibly well over the last financial year and the CEO and staff were lauded for their performance.
Tuesday’s meeting will begin with prayer, followed by welcome by the credit union’s president, Michael Sayers.
The meeting will then ascertain a quorum, and once this is done, there will be the reading of the requisition signed by members.
The next agenda item is matters arising, followed by the adjournment.
“Please make it possible to attend,” Goodluck said in his notice.
In their letter, the GECCU members expressed “deep concern” over the “‘apparent abandonment or termination’” of Stowe’s services as CEO.
“We were quite surprised and shocked to learn, in the public domain, that Mr Stowe was no longer the CEO of GECCU,” the Aug. 8, 2023 letter said.
On June 26, a memo was circulated among staff of GECCU, saying that Stowe was no longer CEO, a post he took up on Oct. 1, 2020, replacing Lennox Bowman, who retired from the post after 21 years.
Stowe, an economist who worked at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) for over 15 years, before joining GECCU, did not return to the post after leaving for lunch and staff was not told whether he resigned or was fired.
However, iWitness News was able to confirm that he was fired on June 26, 2023, — reportedly after he refused to resign, as the board of directors had requested.
8 reasons given for Stowe’s dismissal
The dismissal letter, a copy of which has been obtained by iWitness News, gave eight reasons for the dismissal, and detailed the compensation that the former executive was to receive.
The letter, which was signed by Goodluck, said that the board made the decision to fire at their June 6, 2023 meeting.
The number one reason the board gave for firing the chief executive was:
“We consider there to be a mis-match (the word conflict is proposed) between your management style and the spirit and needs of GECCU as a member owned organisation.”
The letter alleged that there had been “a general failure to consistently carry out your duties as outlined in paragraphs 3 and 4 of the job description” and that there had been “repeated complaints from members that they have not been able to feel your presence in the management of the organisation”.
The board complained that “the work environment, staff cohesion and team spirit” had not been “enhanced nor maintained” during Stowe’s tenure, amid “internal and external lapses in communications, lack of responses to emails and phone calls from staff and members of the Board of Directors.
“These issues have given the impression that you are either unaware of or reluctant to address concerns which have affected staff morale, performance and health, and the overall well being of the organisation.”
The dismissal letter said that Sayers had not been “sufficiently and or consistently advised on pertinent and or relevant matters” as required and outlined in paragraph 19 of the CEO’s job description.
It said that representation of GECCU in its dealing with external bodies had been “inadequate” and Stowe “also appear[ed] to be reluctant to identify fully with GECCU and take advantage of the opportunities to enhance his knowledge of credit unionism.
“This is inclusive of interacting with key stakeholders as described in duties at paragraphs 28 & 29 of your job description. Overall, there is an apparent display of a lack of understanding of the culture of the Credit Union movement, and a reluctance to make the necessary adjustments.”
The board said there continued to be “a deficiency of the soft skills we are looking for” in the management of a member-based organisation like GECCU.
The letter raised the issue of the alleged issuance of a correspondence to the Financial Services Authority on GECCU’s behalf on May 31, 2023, which directors said “contradicted the explicit directives of the Board of Directors”.
The dismissal spoke about the affixing of e-signature of the president to that correspondence “without his prior knowledge and/or consent”.
Directors also cited the alleged “lack of regret and tone” of a letter Stowe allegedly addressed to the president and board of directors in response to their request for an explanation in reference to Stowe’s alleged actions as regards the correspondence and use of the e-signature.
The members, however, noted the plaudits given to the CEO and staff of the credit union at their June 8 annual meeting.
“Given that there was no allusion to any concerns regarding the post of the CEO then, you would appreciate the level of confusion when the Searchlight Newspaper reported on 30th June 2023 the caption, ‘The CEO of GECCU leaves office suddenly’,” the letter said, adding that the article reported that Stowe left office for lunch and did not return to work.
The GECCU members acknowledged that the general membership elected the board to act in the interest of the shareholders who are themselves the owners of the credit union, and by virtue of this, the board would make decisions accordingly.
The members, however, said, “we have found it quite disturbing that after five weeks, the board which was elected to act on members behalf have not provided any explanation to the owners of the Credit Union on what transpired or to allay any fears that may have been caused by the sensationalisation of the matter in the media and by extension the general public.
“We are therefore seeking to clarify whether there were irreconcilable differences between the BODs and the CEO. Furthermore, we would like to know whether there were matters of wrongdoing by the CEO whom you confidently charged in 2020, with the responsibility of managing the affairs of our Credit Union.”
Meanwhile, iWitness News has also obtained an eight-page letter written on March 28, 2023 in which one female staff member, who has since resigned her post, complained to the board of directors about “unethical, bullying and very highly unprofessional behaviour” by another female staff member in a supervisory position.
The staff members said she reported the matter to Stowe in March 2023 and he had advised that she take it to the board, since it involved his office and he did not have the authority to deal with it.
The junior staff member complained to the board of directors that the superior officer had shared with her “shocking details” allegedly about Stowe.
“… I could not understand why she would be saying such things that would defame his character,” the junior staffer wrote to directors, saying that she felt as though she was being spited after being appointed to act in a certain capacity at the credit union.
The former employee told iWitness News that the board of directors of the 50,000-member-strong credit union responded to her letter on May 16, saying that they would invite her to a meeting, but she has not received any such invitation.