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Hyginus “Gene” Leon has resigned as president of the Caribbean Development Bank. (File photo)
Hyginus “Gene” Leon has resigned as president of the Caribbean Development Bank. (File photo)

By Peter Richards

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — Former Montserrat premier Reuben Meade, Monday said he found it “rather interesting” that subordinate body within the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) had been able to send the president of the financial institution on administrative leave.

“It is like the tail wagging the dog. As a matter of fact it is like fleas controlling the dog,” said Meade, who before his stint as the premier between 2010-14, served as an economist with the CDB.

In January, it was disclosed that Hyginus “Gene” Leon, had been sent on administrative leave until April this year, as “an ongoing administrative process” continues at the region’s premier financial institution.

The CDB has remained mum on the circumstances surrounding the decision to send the St. Lucian-born economist on administrative leave, with the acting president Isaac Solomon, confirming at a bank news conference in February that “there is an internal administrative process involving the president.

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“The bank is extremely focused on preserving the independence, confidentiality and integrity of the process and as you can well appreciate in order for us to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the process, we are unable to provide any other details at this time,” Solomon said then.

In February, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who was attending the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit in Guyana, said concerns had been raised about the method used to send  Leon on administrative leave.

“… at some point we will have to address the issue of the procedures and the fact that subordinates within an institution can literally take disciplinary action against their superior without even consulting with the directors or the governors of the bank”.

Meade, speaking on a programme on Radio Anguilla on Monday, told listeners that there is no authority “below that of the board of governors who can determine the employment of the president.

“So whatever the staff rules are, the staff rules do not apply to the president of the bank. The president reports directly to the board of governors. So I find it rather interesting that a subordinate body within the bank can indeed send the president on leave.”

Meade said what is surprising is that the CDB governors and “especially the borrowing members, who are the English-speaking Caribbean, have not lent their voice in any support or ask for an explanation.

“Now let’s say that through their whistle blower policy within the bank that they realise that the president was doing something contrary then that should have gone to the board of directors, who in turn should have informed the governors.

“So when the governors are asking what is it that the president has done wrong … and they are saying butt out of this, it is of no concern of yours, then clearly something is wrong,” Meade said, adding “and this is one of the reasons I am calling on the governors, especially the Caribbean governors and they must take a lead in this thing, and call an emergency meeting of the board of governors.”

Meade said that the meeting could be done virtually in order “to get to the bottom of this,  because for an A-1 institution like the Caribbean Development Bank, the recent developments would have caused significant reputational damage to the bank and that must be a concern to all of us”.

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

Leon 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 succeeded Jamaican-born Warren Smith who retired in 2021 after serving as president for 10 years.

Meade told radio listeners that while he did not “want to touch on the reputational damage“ to the CDB president, “I would suspect that his lawyers will be dealing with that from a legal standpoint.

“Because the bank can find itself open to a serious lawsuit in terms of his own reputational damage”.

Informed sources told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the leaders of the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) grouping had written, through their chairman,Terrence Drew, prime minister of St. Kitts-Nevis, a letter to the current chairman of the Board of Governors, Ahmed Hussen, the Canadian Minister of International Development on Jan. 22, 2024, on the issue.

The sources said that the OECS leaders basically raised issues and concerns following the actions taken by the Oversight and Assurance Committee (OAC) of the Board of Directors; noting specifically that the OAC was an advisory committee of the board, according to section 2 of the OAC Revised Terms of Reference.

The OECS leaders also pointed out in their letter that section 12, subsections 12.01 and 12.02 (referencing the Code of Conduct of the Board of Directors)  in fact limits the role of the OAC to making recommendations to the Board of Directors.

The OECS leaders are reported to have requested an urgent close door meeting of the board of governors to, among other things, “prevent further haemorrhaging of the reputations of the Bank and the individuals involved”.

But the sources said that the letter was met with a terse response not from the Canadian finance minister, but  from a Washington DC law firm —  Arnold and Porter — on Feb. 1, 2024.

The bank’s US lawyers wrote in part “this is an internal bank matter and is not within the jurisdiction of the OECS Commission. Therefore, to maintain the integrity and confidentiality of the investigation, we recommend you (OECS Heads)  cease from commenting on this matter publicly and from contacting the Board of Governors regarding the Investigations.”

Meade told Radio Anguilla that the issue at hand is whether Drew wrote to the CDB chairman as the head of government or as a governor.

“I am no legal expert, but I think he should have written to the chairman on behalf of the governors from the OECS state rather than as a prime minister of the OECS states. There is a subtle difference between the two,” Meade said.

“So I think the need now is to go back to the chair indicating that we the governors of the Caribbean Development Bank, and you name the governors, hereby request  X, Y and Z”.

Meade said that a letter coming from a law firm out of Washington “is utterly disrespectful of the positions of prime ministers of the region. It is utterly disrespectful and I think Dr. Drew needs to get back to the chairman of the board of governors and list the names of the governors, not as members of the OECS, we the governors, X,Y, and Z hereby request the meeting”.

Meade said that while he would not want to identify any particlar Caribbean leader, given that all of them are governors of the bank, “I expect that the President of Guyana, who is the current chair of CARICOM should in fact be sending a letter on behalf of the governors of the CARICOM countries to the chairman of the board of governors indicating we want to have an urgent meeting and we are calling on you to have this meeting.

“And furthermore, they know who the various governors are from the UK, from the other non borrowing states, they should also pen that letter or copy that letter to them requesting an urgent meeting with them to deal with that matter,” Meade told radio listeners.