Judge dismisses management’s challenge to takeover of public service credit union

The Guyana Public Service Cooperative Credit Union headquarters

Justice Navindra Singh yesterday dismissed the applications made by Chairperson of the Guyana Public Service Cooperative Credit Union (GPSCCU) Management Committee Patricia Went, who challenged the Social Protection Ministry’s decision to seize control of the credit union.

Went had filed a fixed date application and a Notice of Application for Interlocutory Relief on June 12th.

Solicitor General Kim Kyte-Thomas, in a statement, explained that the applications had sought to challenge and set aside the decision made by Chief-Cooperatives Development Officer/Commissioner (CCDO) Perlina Gifth of the Ministry of Social Protection, who assumed control of the union and replaced it with an Interim Management Committee. However, they were dismissed on the grounds that she failed to follow the statutory mode of appeal.

The statement related that Justice Singh ruled that being deprived of a hearing was no grounds to abandon the legal route of appeal and that any challenge to Gifth’s decision should have followed the regulations provided in the Cooperative Societies Act. “The authorities do not demonstrate that if an aggrieved person is not given a hearing that person can as of right abandon the statutorily defined right of appeal provided. In fact, it stands to reason that, if indeed, the Applicant was of the firm belief that the Committee of Management’s right to be heard was breached then the appeal process laid out in the Co-operative Societies Act seems to be the next logical step to challenge the decision by the CCDO, provided, of course, that a majority of the members of the Committee of Management were desirous of challenging that decision,” Justice Singh was quoted as saying.

“Further, since the principles of Natural Justice supplement the law, it is possible that in the formulation of a particular Statute and in certain situations, for those principles to be excluded,” he added.

The Attorney General’s Chambers were represented by Deputy Solicitor General Deborah Kumar and Assistant Solicitor General Beverley Bishop-Cheddie.

The release said that the Attorney General had argued that Went should have followed the procedure set out in regulation 56(3) of the Cooperative Societies Act by filing an appeal to the Minister within 21 days of Gifth’s decision and should have exhausted all remedies before making an application to the High Court.

As for the committee not being provided with an explanation for the takeover, making the move a deprivation of “natural justice,” the Attorney General argued that the Act did not state that reasons ought to be provided and noted that the CCDO’s decision to exercise control was a lawful one.

It was further posited that instead of filing for declarations and injunctions, Went should have applied for a judicial review of the decision.

Attorney Nigel Hughes, representing the members of the interim committee, had put forward that none of the declarations sought were against his client, and as such, the fixed date application should be dismissed.

The statement said that the court found that there was no stated claim against the members of the interim committee.

The fixed date application as well as the Notice of Application for Interlocutory relief were dismissed, and costs awarded to the State and the members of the interim committee in the sum of $150,000.

The Interim Management Committee was recently reinstated after a brief suspension, brought on by an Interim Order granted by Justice Gino Persaud to stay Gifth’s decision to assume control of the union’s affairs.

The order had been granted upon the reading of an application made without notice on June 14th, with supporting affidavit by GPSCCU Secretary/ Manager Trevor Benn.

The order was expected to be in place until July 3rd, when attorney Roysdale Forde was expected to file skeleton arguments on Benn’s behalf, while July 6th had been set for the hearing of a fixed date application to prevent Gifth or anyone else from acting on the decision previously communicated.

However, Gifth had filed an application at the High Court asking that the Interim Order be discharged on the grounds that there was material non-disclosure and misrepresentation by Benn to obtain the order.

It was also stated in Gifth’s application that Benn had no authority to file an application in the High Court since he failed to show that he was duly authorized by at least one third of the members of the GPSSCU and that there had been an abuse of the process of the High Court.

Stabroek News understands that Benn had filed an application in respect of the same matter for essentially the same reliefs in two different courts albeit under different jurisdictions.

On May 25th, a team led by Gifth seized control of the GPSCCU from the Management Committee, which was led by Went, saying that it had ignored previous urgings to abide by the law.

In a press statement on the decision, the Ministry of Social Protection had 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 Annual General Meeting would be held to discuss important matters, including the determination and payment of dividends to members.

According to the statement, 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 but to no avail.

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