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President of the Caribbean Development Bank, Hyginus “Gene” Leon. (Photo: Facebook/CDB)
President of the Caribbean Development Bank, Hyginus “Gene” Leon. (Photo: Facebook/CDB)

By Peter Richards

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — Leaders of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have expressed their “utter disappointment and shock” at the treatment being meted out to the embattled President of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Hyginus “Gene” Leon, who has been sent on administrative leave until April this year.

The leaders of the sub-regional grouping met virtually on Friday night to discuss the situation that involves “an ongoing administrative process” as announced by the region’s premier financial institution earlier this week.

“They (OECS leaders) had a meeting last night on that issue,” informed sources told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC), adding “and they expressed concern about it.

“They expressed concern at the treatment of the president. That’s all that was decided and they will meet further for more discussions. But they expressed grave concern as to the reputation of the bank and the treatment of the highest ranking official.

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“They expressed their utter disappointment and shock at the treatment of the president without even the knowledge of the governors,” the sources told CMC, adding that not all the sub-regional leaders were present on Friday.

“Some of the OECS leaders have joined the fray,” the sources said, noting that among the leaders not present was the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is in Uganda attending the Third South Summit of the Group of 77 and China that that ends in Kampala on Jan. 22.

Earlier this week, well-placed sources told the CMC that Leon’s computer and tablet were seized and that questions had been raised as to how the board of directors could have taken a decision against the bank’s president “without the knowledge of the board of Governors.

“The President is the highest ranking official in the bank appointed by the Board of Governors and the board has not been made aware of the situation at the bank,” the sources told the CMC, adding “the question is how is this possible for a lower body which is the board of directors to send the highest member of the bank without informing the Board of Governors”.

Another source told CMC on Saturday “it is a fact, the leaders on Friday night were very, very disturbed at the action of the directors.

“In fact, it is three directors … a sub-committee,” the source told CMC, without indicating who are the members of that sub-committee.

According to website of the CDB, the board of directors is responsible for the general policy and direction of the operations of CDB.

“The Board takes decisions concerning loans, guarantees and other investments by CDB, borrowing programmes, technical assistance and other operations of the Bank. It also approves the administrative budget of the Bank and submits accounts for each financial year for approval by the Board of Governors.

“It appoints the Oversight and Assurance Committee, consisting of five of its members, for a term of two years with the option to renew for a further two years. The Board comprises 14 Directors who represent the regional members of CDB and five who represent the Non-Regional members.”

Leon is the sixth president of the regional development finance institution.  He was elected at a special meeting of the CDB Board of Governors held on January 19, 2021 for a five-year term, and assumed office on May 4, 2021.

The highly regarded St. Lucian-born economist heads a team of more than 200 employees headquartered in Bridgetown, and came to the assignment with 35 years of experience in economics, financial policy development and executive management, more than 20 of which were spent working with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF).  He had succeeded the Jamaican-born Warren Smith who retired in 2021 after serving as president for 10 years.

Last Saturday, Leon was in Guyana holding talks with the CARICOM chairman, Guyana’s President Irfaan Ali and CARICOM Secretary General Dr Carla Barnett.

Meanwhile, the CDB announced late Friday that Leon would not now be part of the bank’s official team when they meet the regional media on February 20 for its annual news conference.

The news conference was originally scheduled for January 24 and Leon was among four officials who would have been outlining the plans for the financial institution for 2024.

But in its latest advisory, the CDB said the officials will be its Vice-President Operations,  Isaac Solomon; Director, Economics Department, Ian Durant, and Director, Projects Department Therese Turner Jones.

The Barbados-headquartered financial institution earlier this week said, in response to enquiries about whether the St Lucia-born economist and other bank officials had been sent on leave, that the “Caribbean Development Bank acknowledges an ongoing administrative process involving the President. The Bank will not be making any further comments on this internal matter at this time.”