A former president of GECCU says he was “astounded” to hear that Rohan Stowe was dismissed as CEO of the credit union principally over the alleged unauthorised use of the president’s e-signature.
“As a former president, my e-signature was used on the financial statements of GECCU. I did not sign each page. As a former chairman of the nomination’s committee, my e-signature was used as a correspondent to the FSA (Financial Services Authority),” Harold Lewis told a special meeting of GECCU members on Tuesday.
“Was I aware of it that my e-signature was used? No! But the point is, it is the practice…” Lewis said as the remainder of his comments were drowned out by members’ reaction.
Members of GECCU triggered the meeting in keeping with the credit union’s by-laws and demanded that the board of directors explain why Stowe was fired.
Stowe, who spent three years on the job, was dismissed on June 26, but the board made the decision to fire him on June 6, two days before they praised him and his staff during the 57th annual general meeting over the previous year.
Stowe was fired although the credit union made profits of EC$3 million and EC$3.6 million in 2022 and 2021, respectively.
This compared to EC$2.8 million and EC$2.9 million in profits by the state-owned Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, EC$1.2 million and EC$1.9 million at Teachers’ Credit Union and a loss of EC$724,620 and a profit of EC$1.7 million at KCCU in 2022 and 2021, respectively.
Lewis also asked the board whether there was any performance appraisal during Stowe’s tenure.
He asked the board what the outcome was, if appraisals were conducted and to say why none were conducted, if that was the case.
Sayers said he could not speak to what happened when Lewis was president, but under his presidency it was not the practice to use the president’s e-signature without his authorisation.
“There was no written performance appraisal but he was appraised verbally,” Sayers further said to laughter.
During Tuesday’s meeting, another member of the credit union, interrogated the alleged unauthorised use of Sayers’ electronic signature, saying that it “appears to be a serious breach.
“The question is what procedures or control measures are in place to ensure that no CEO, past or present, or the acting one sitting at the table, … doesn’t use the electronic signature of the president.”
President’s e-signature ‘inadvertently placed’ on his report
The member noted that the procedure might not be a letter or form but a “mode of operation”.
The member further asked who is the custodian of the president’s electronic signature.
“If that is not protected, even the acting CEO can use it without permission. And when you answer that, I would want to know if the CEO violated that.”
Sayers said that his electronic signature was never given to GECCU.
“It was inadvertently placed, when I did the speech to the AGM, on a letter that was sent to the CEO and it was then taken from that document and placed on the correspondent that was sent to the Financial Services Authority, which is the government body.”
The GECCU president said the reason there was no protocol in place for the use of his e-signature “is because it was never given for use by the organisation for any reason, way or form”.
Sayers said that “in all formal correspondences”, he would personally go to the credit union, read whatever correspondence was written, make whatever adjustment he thought necessary “then physically sign that document.
“And that has been the procedure and policy that I have done throughout my entire tenure.”
He said he had since requested that “that document and any other document be removed so it (e-signature) is not there in electronic form at GECCU for use by anyone at any point in time”.
But the member noted that Sayers had said that his signature was “inadvertently” attached to the document.
“We are human beings. So therein lies the crux of the internal control lapse. Inadvertently, your signature was there so anybody could have used it.”
Sayers, however, countered by noting that each member of GECCU has an e-signature on file to cross-check the signature used during transactions.
“Does it, therefore, mean that someone has the authority to use your signature?”
But one member told the board that even if Sayers’ e-signature was used without authorisation, members should be told if it was the culture at GECCU.
“The way that you presented yourself as a board, it does not convince me of any sort of innocence on the matter,” the member said.
“And also, any statement if it was a clear case of wrong doing could have been made clear a month ago or when the matter arose,” the member further stated and suggested “an investigation into the organisation and clean up what is going on”.
Another member asked whether the use of the e-signature was the offending action or the substance of the document signed.
One member told the meeting that there seems to have been some serious HR issues that were not addressed, and this left her to wonder if the credit union has an human resource department.
“Because if we have an HR department, a lot of these issues … would have been found out” before the summary dismissal, the member told the meeting.
“If they were doing what they are supposed to, they would have had warnings and discussions – letters,” she said.
The member further noted that Sayers had said there were no hard feelings towards Stowe and the dismissal was not personal.
“.. that is all well and proper. But what they are looking for is accountability and transparency. Had those been adhered to, we would not have been in this state where we are left to wonder if something shady is going on.”
She said that had she been a manager she would have dealt with the issue in a way other than the board had done.
“Never in all my years of service, I have served in the highest level, I have never seen that…” the member said.
Meanwhile, Joel Poyer noted to the meeting that he had been a long-serving member of GECCU’s supervisory committee, which he described as “the watchdog of the organisation”.
Poyer opined that there was “a serious lapse” and that the supervisory committee could have been part of the meeting, adding that an all-committee meeting could have been held to discuss the issue.
“It seems like this decision was hurriedly made as to get rid of the CEO,” Poyer said.
He noted that the decision to dismiss Stowe was made on June 6, the AGM was held on June 8, and he was dismissed on June 26.
“That is what prompted me about the disrespect of us as owners of this organisation,” Poyer said.
“We are all owners and I am wondering why is it, at the AGM, if there was an impasse, you didn’t have to say what it was, you could have come to the membership and said there is a situation and further down the road we will have discussion on this matter. It was not done.”
And, Desmond Pompey said that the alleged unauthorised use of the signature, as outlined by the president, was unacceptable.
He, however, said that the other reasons given by the board suggested that there was “a serious lapse in judgement” on the part of the board regarding the CEO’s suitability for the organisation.
Pompey, however, said he attended the June 8 annual meeting “and we, for want of a better term, glorified the CEO and we had these issues”.
He asked how early the board recognised those issues and whether they took steps to correct them before reaching the stage of final termination.
“If I may say, I want to state clearly that there was no grudges or hardships or hard feelings, I should say, amongst the directors. Decisions that we made were made collectively based on information some of which we cannot put in one document, some of which we cannot divulge. You have to be very careful when it comes to people’s personal information. And you have to understand that we have to appreciate that as members.”
He said that the “nitty-gritty details” might take the entire night “and lead us down some roads that may potentially create other issues not just for the organisation but also for Stowe”.
Sayers said there were discussions with Stowe “with regards to these matters” over the entire three-year term that he served as CEO.
Sayers was not the president of GECCU during Stowe’s entire tenure.