Members of the GECCU, the largest credit union in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on Tuesday ensured that their board of directors disclosed the reasons for firing the former CEO, Rohan Stowe, in June.
Stowe was fired on June 26 — 20 days after the board decided to sack him.
In 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.
The members triggered a special meeting of the credit union to demand answers from directors, some of whom were reluctant to disclose the reasons for Stowe’s dismissal, after three years on the job.
In fact, president of GECCU, Michael Sayers, in giving the reason for the dismissal, claimed that he was reading from an iWitness News article that reported on the sacking.
However, while the iWitness News article accurately reported on the reasons the board gave Stowe for firing him, Sayers was not reading verbatim from the iWitness News article nor the letter of dismissal, when a member asked him what he was reading from.
“We have heard it stated several times this evening that the letter is already in the public domain and the newspaper has given eight reasons for the termination of the former CEO,” Sayers said, adding that he would go through the eight reasons.
A member asked Sayers to state which paper you are referring to.
“It is an iWitness News article,” Sayers said. “We have already established that the letter is in the public domain.”
Another member asked him whether what he was reading from was the letter that the board had sent to the CEO.
Sayers said that the facts of both documents “seem to be the same”.
“Then it’s the board letter of dismissal that you sent to the CEO?” the member asked.
“That is what we are saying,” Sayers said. He then went on to read verbatim from the letter of dismissal.
The board was held to account after the meeting voted that Sayers should not chair the proceedings in light of the fact that the board was being called upon to answer for its actions.
The meeting elected Harvey Farrell as chair of the proceedings.
‘this is not those institutions’
During the interaction before the microphone was passed to Sayers, Philmore Isaacs, a board member, made it clear that he would not be party to any disclosure of the reason for the CEO’s dismissal.
“… Now, I ask myself the question, a sister organisation relieved itself of its chief executive officer. Did they come to the public and say why? Did they go to their members and say why? Many of you are members of that cooperative,” Isaacs said.
However, Nekeisha Williams told the meeting that from the time members walked into the meeting, “it seems that everything possible is being done to deter the finality of this meeting”.
She said these included questions of who should chair the meeting, what documents should be disclosed and what should be said.
Williams said that the meeting had heard that Stowe was fired and did not abandon the post.
“Now, we want to know why so we can go where we are going and continue with our lives,” Williams said.
“Yes, there are many persons who belong to the other institution but this is not those institutions. So why are we continuing to just debate unnecessarily about things that make absolutely no sense and have no relevance in this meeting. Please, let us move forward.”
Maria Caine, another member, told the meeting that a case should be presented so members could judge “whether the situation is good or bad or what”.
Caine reasoned that the board was not presenting its case.
“So, obviously, there is an issue. You called the meeting; we want to have the case presented so the audience can judge whether it is wrong or right or something like that. And, from what I am seeing, I don’t think that you guys have done anything good that is positive to your case, really.”
At this point, Issacs told the meeting that he would like it to be recorded that he would not be party to the disclosure of information regarding the dismissal of the CEO.
“… therefore, there could be no legal action against Philmore Isaacs. The president may present,” Issacs said.
But Julian Small, an industrial relations expert, pressed on, saying he would like to know the reason why the CEO was terminated because he wanted to look at it in the context of the Protection of Employment Act.
Small told the meeting that he wanted to know if Stowe was dismissed for cause or summarily dismissed “and whether or not the dismissal letter is in violation of the Protection of Employment Act.
“That’s all I want to know so I can address it,” Small said.
‘that is not for this forum’
Cecil Ryan, a social commentator and former GECCU board member, suggested that the matter “could be dealt with on a private basis and not in a public forum as this one”.
This was Ryan’s position although the members of the credit union triggered the special meeting in keeping with the by-laws of GECCU and the Co-operative Societies’ Act.
“In terms of whether or not Mr. Small wants to determine whether the matter obeys the Protection of Employment Act, that is not for this forum.”
He said he used to be a board member of GECCU and used to have to sign, by law, the confidentiality policy.
Ryan said that once board members sign that policy, they are individually and severally responsible for information leaving the board and any committee of the credit union.
“And more than that, Brother Chair, you would really want those issues to be aired in a public forum when before you get home it is on Facebook? Really?” Ryan said.
But Farrell said that whether or not they want to discuss the matter as members and owners of GECCU in the forum, the fact is that the information is already in the public domain.
‘someone is drafting a motion in their mind’
In earlier comments, Philbert “P John” John told the meeting that he had with him a copy of the last AGM report.
“… and going through it, every reference, direct or indirect, made to the chief executive officer was absolutely positive. A few days after the AGM, which went very well, the press reported that the CEO demitted office,” John said.
He said members were not sure whether Stowe was terminated or he abandoned the position.
“And, the members, demonstrating concern, called for this meeting to get an explanation from the board. It may be a good explanation, it may be accepted, it may not be.
“And, it is really disheartening to hear the position taken by Bro. Isaacs and I hope that is not reflected by members of the board. Somewhere in the back, somewhere behind there, someone is drafting a motion in their mind for the entire board to demit office,” John said to cheers.
“The board may have valid reasons, valid grounds on which they sought the termination of the CEO and all we are asking the board to do is just simply share it and we can move forward.”
John asked whether Stowe was invited to the meeting “so that he can give his side of the story”.
Farrell said he was taking it that just as any member Stowe could attend.
“You don’t have to get a special invitation,” the chairman said.
Sonia Israel, another member, told the meeting that it appeared that they are going around in circles.
She said it occurred to her “that maybe the board is making life a little difficult for itself.”
Israel noted that the board knew what the meeting was about and should have crafted a response that would answer the petitioners’ questions.
“And if nobody is going to answer the petitioners, we might as well terminate the meeting because we seem to be going around in circles… We have gone past the stage where we say the letter is to be projected and read. We have gone past that. that is not going to happen. We understand the reasoning behind that.”
She said that if this is not done, the issue will go on beyond the meeting.
Cecil “Pa” Jack, a retired educator, offered to assist the board.
“Each member could at least give one reason as to why he was terminated,” Jack said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, one member suggested that there be a resolution of a stern reprimand of the board for the manner in which it had dismissed Stowe.
However, this was not put to a vote.