Public service credit union moving to court over ministry decision to take control

The ousted management of the Guyana Public Service Co-operative Credit Union (GPSCCU) will move to the courts to challenge the Ministry of Social Protection’s decision to take control of the organisation.

Last Friday, a team led by Chief Co-operatives Development Officer (CCDO) Perlina Gifth seized control of the GPSCCU from the Management Committee, saying that it had ignored previous urgings to abide by the law.

At the centre of the dispute is the legality of waivers issued to the credit union by Former PPP/C Minister of Labour Nanda Gopaul.

The waivers, which were granted from 2002 to 2013, absolved the GPSCCU from contributions to Co-operatives Audit and Supervision Fund. Instead, the union was empowered to utilize the sums for its “educational and developmental needs.”

At a press conference yesterday, Chairperson of the ousted GPSCCU Management Committee Patricia Went explained that the current Labour Department, led by Junior Social Protection Minister Keith Scott, has deemed the waivers unlawful since they were signed by the then CCDO, who was not authorised to grant any such waivers.

The current CCDO is requesting $49 million in retroactive payments to the fund for the years 2002 to 2013.

However, in a letter dated February 10th, 2017 Gopaul informed the ministry that during his tenure “acting in accordance with Section 55 of the Cooperatives Societies Act, I authorised these waivers [and]…in every instance the Chief Co-operatives Development Officer, on my instruction communicated the decision to the beneficiary.”

Section 55 grants the Minister the authority, by general and special order, to exempt any registered society from any provision of the Act.

Gopaul further noted that in July, 2013, GPSCCU was authorised to retain all subsequent appropriations for the Audit and Supervision Fund save and except for an annual payment of $500,000, which was to be remitted to the Guyana National Co-operatives Union Limited and to meet its costs for auditing, arbitration, inquiry and other inspections.

Despite these assurances Minister Scott, according to Went, has demanded that the union sign a revised financial statement, which makes it liable to government for $49 million.

She noted that at their last meeting, Scott stressed that he “would not start at zero” before she questioned how the ministry expects to charge fees for the years 2002 to 2010, when the financial statements for those years have already been audited and published, and dividends paid to credit union members.

The Ministry has refused to release the 2011, 2012 and 2013 audited accounts for the GPSCCU, without which an Annual General Meeting (AGM) cannot be held. It is the absence of these accounts which has prevented the credit union from paying dividends, Went explained.

Asked about the union’s next move, the chairperson noted that the management committee would have to discuss the matter. Sources have since confirmed to Stabroek News that one of those actions is a legal challenge, which is to be filed “soon.”

Additionally, Commit-tee member Dawn Gardener indicated that the credit union will no longer be dealing with Scott but has approached senior Social Protection Minister Amna Ally to have the matter resolved. She stressed that the committee is also prepared to appeal to President David Granger, if necessary.

Attempts to reach Scott and Gifth for comment on the Management Committee’s assertions were unsuccessful as their staff indicated that they were not in office.

In taking control of the GPSCCU last Friday, Gifth was supported by members of the Guyana National Cooperative Union Ltd, including Chairman Derrick Cummings, Director Francis Carryl and Security Consultant Johnny Mortley, while members of the Guyana Police Force and a private security service were on standby.

In a press statement issued that same day, the Ministry explained that its actions were “in conformity with” the provisions of the Co-operative Societies Act, which provides that the accounts of every credit union shall be audited at least once annually after which an AGM would be held to discuss important matters, including the determination and payment of dividends to members.

According to the statement, the Management Committee of the GPSCCU did not find it necessary and expedient to prudently conclude the audits and consequential business in the interest of the subscribing members.

It added that for more than two years the Ministry of Social Protection had engaged the Management Committee, which it advised to comply with the law, exhibit prudence and behave judiciously so that the concerns of thousands of public servants and other public sector employees could have been adequately addressed.

“Rather than adhering to the advice and promptings of the Ministry, the Credit Union Management remained adamant and numb to the members’ pleas while select members of the Management Committee continued to enjoy unjustified benefits at the expense of the members. The Ministry of Social Protection has decided that the time has come for a restoration of the dignity for which the Credit Union was previously known, hence the decisions of the CCDO,” it stated.

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