A handful of members of the Guyana Public Service Cooperative Credit Union yesterday staged a protest against the union’s board for non-payment of dividends, which is the result of the union’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) not being held in years.
The protestors, who met outside of the union’s office on Hadfield Street after midday yesterday, called on the Ministry of Social Protection to address the matter as they alleged that funds were being misused.
While the protestors stated that the AGM has not been called in five years, Trevor Benn, Secretary/Manager of the credit union, confirmed to Stabroek News yesterday that it has indeed not been held but he could not verify whether it was as long as the time being claimed.
Benn said that the delay was because of “differences of opinion” between the credit union and the Co-op Department of the Ministry of Social Protection. He stated that the accounts have already been audited, but the union is currently in discussions with the ministry.
Stabroek News reported last September that the credit union was accusing Junior Minister Keith Scott of “financial bullyism” after he requested that the union pay over $49 million in retroactive contributions to the Audit and Supervision fund for the years 2002 to 2013.
The credit union held that it had been granted a waiver by former Minister of Labour Nanda Gopaul.
The union, in a statement, had said that Scott was obstructing the release of the 2011 to 2013 audit reports, therefore, blocking the holding of the AGM, and as a result, the payment of dividends to members. It was also stated that the ministry refused to audit the 2014 to 2016 records.
Stabroek News was unable to reach Minister Scott yesterday for a comment on the matter.
While the union has stated that the talks with the Ministry of Social Protection have been the cause of the delay of the meeting, the protestors called for the ministry to hold the union accountable.
“As members we need an account of the monies that we are putting into that credit union…we are concerned that our savings are being mismanaged… and so that is why we want to highlight to the other members—there are thousands of other members in this credit union, we need to highlight that to them, we need it to be highlighted to the general public and we’re calling on them to come out and to demand an account of their monies,” protestor Karen Van Sluytman stated.
“They’re placing the blame on the Ministry of Social Protection but they have to comply with the rules of the cooperative and pay into the supervisory fund the monies that they’re owing to the fund…we’re calling on the ministry, too, to intervene and to demand and to ensure that they hold the meeting. We cannot have the members just holding and lying around until this management committee chooses to have an AGM…We make sacrifices to have our monies sent across as our savings every month and now when you’re waiting to have your AGM to have an account and to have your dividends nobody is doing anything or saying anything,” Van Sluytman added.
Van Sluytman said that the matter had been brought to the attention of the Co-op Department of the Ministry of Social Protection.
Audrey Kellman, an employee of the Ministry of Social Protection, also came out to protest. The woman related that she pays $31,500 monthly toward the credit union, while noting that she makes sacrifices in order to do so.
“I’m calling on the Ministry of Social Protection to intervene in this matter and if not, I plan to go on 100 days hunger strike and die! Let them have the money, let the management committee take the money,” Kellman strongly stated.
“We’re calling on Minister Keith Scott to intervene on our behalf. We cannot have a few people hijacking our monies and think they’re above the law. They have to follow due process and follow the rules, because when we come for our loans we have to follow the rules and get 10 signatures to get $200, 000,” Michelle Layne, of the Bureau of Statistics, added.
The credit union last year claimed that Gopaul agreed and instructed that a waiver be granted on its obligations under Section 55 of the Cooperative Societies Act, which requires that cooperatives pay to the Audit and Supervision Fund a maximum of either 10% on Net Annual Profits or 1% of the working capital of the registered society and that this sum be used for the benefit of the contributing union.
The credit union said since the money was never used for its intended purpose, it had requested and was granted a waiver. The date of this grant has not been provided.
It also said that in a letter, dated June 14th, 2016, Scott acknowledged the existing agreement. In that letter, Scott wrote that a $500,000 donation by the union to the Guyana National Co-operative Credit Union was positively considered since “your credit union was not required to contribute to the Audit and Supervision fund from surplus accrued.”
This acknowledgment was followed by a request for a further donation of $2 million, which had since been provided.
However, in a public statement, Scott referred to the arrangement as “a certain unfair advantage which had prevailed in the past, and which had been developed under suspicious circumstances.”