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HomeBanking/FinanceSt. Lucia PM blames “conspiracy” for removal of CDB president

St. Lucia PM blames “conspiracy” for removal of CDB president

By Peter Richards

CASTRIES, St. Lucia, May 8, CMC – Prime Minister Phillip J Pierre has blamed a “conspiracy” for the removal of Dr. Hyginus “Gene “ Leon as president of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), who tendered his resignation earlier this month after being sent on administrative leave in January.

“I want to put on record St. Lucia’s full support for the work that Gene Leon did at the Caribbean Development Bank and to regret that a conspiracy, and I make no bones about it and this is not personal to anybody, to any function to the bank, a conspiracy is what caused  Gene Leon to resign,” Pierre said in a six-minute statement to the St. Lucia Parliament during a debate on a financial issue.

“We must stop treating our people like that based on conditions or based on circumstances that are foreign to us Mr. Speaker. What that means is anybody, any three people on the board can walk into an office, the precedent has been set to let the president go home.

“This is wrong. I said it was wrong from the beginning and I am happy that the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Dr. Ralph Gonsalves) has out on paper that it is wrong. My position from the start, but I was outvoted and it reached where it reached Mr. Speaker,” Pierre told legislators.

“But I hope we do not lose Gene Leon. We don’t lose that talent, we don’t lose that expertise, Mr. Speaker, the capacity of Gene Leon. So I wish him well, Mr. Speaker and I hope that the error of the son of Choiseul (southwest of the capital)  doesn’t happen again to any other person who happens to find himself at the head of an institution where the big fish has more say than the small fish,” Pierre told legislators.

Gonsalves had said “unsuccessful attempts” had been made to impugn the character of  Leon, whom he described as “ a distinguished son of our Caribbean civilization from St. Lucia”.

Last month, lawyers representing Leon, gave the CDB until May 4 “to negotiate an amicable separation” indicating also that their correspondence should be viewed “as our client’s pre-action protocol letter” regarding the entire situation.

In the three-page letter, dated April 21, and headlined “Re. Dr. Hyginus  “Gene” Leon, Resignation and Constructive Dismissal,  the St. Lucia-based law firm, Fosters,   said it would be moving to the courts in Barbados “or any other jurisdiction more appropriate, to enforce our client’s legal and constitutional rights”.

Gonsalves asked then what are the next steps in “addressing this debacle”  saying “It certainly does not suit the bank to have its folly forensically examined in excruciating detail in the robust legal system in Barbados or elsewhere.

”I do not have to read and spell for the Governors of the Bank; The former president, Mr. Leon, has been injured, and as he has suffered loss and damage, certain things flow inexorably from all this. The Bank ought to address this with the same urgency with which it acted at the start of this awful saga, and the Bank ought to act with a large generosity of spirit,” Gonsalves said.

He said for him “Gene Leon’s integrity remains intact, though unsuccessful attempts were made to have it impugned. He comes out of this sordid matter without blemish or wrongdoing attached to him. This distinguished son of our Caribbean civilization ought not to be lynched, metaphorically, any further”.

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

The CDB has remained mum on the circumstances surrounding the decision to send the 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”.

In his off-the-cuff statement to Parliament, Prime Minister Pierre said “When you are a small island the goal post is shifted for you all the time….so that we can remain in a state of complete submissions Mr. Speaker to more powerful powers.

“Gene Leon was removed from his job by three people on a whistleblower accusation. The governors were not informed that that was going to happen. This is the president of a bank…three people walked into his office and told him to give up his laptop and give up his telephone because there is a whistle-blower complaint about him”.

Pierre said that St. Lucia was not one of the three countries, but he did not name them either, saying “We need to respect our institutions, but we also need to respect the personnel in our institutions.

“So I did not go public at the time because I thought that good sense would prevail and three people couldn’t cause the president of the bank, a man of the caliber and status of Gene Leon to lose his job”.

Pierre said that he is a supporter of the region’s premier financial institution “but some of the rules that are implemented in that bank need to change.

“There is nowhere in the world that thee people without consulting the governors ask the president of a bank to go home and these rules must be looked into,” Pierre said, adding “so we have lost Gene Leon  (who) did not wait for the outcome of the investigation, he left, he resigned Mr. Speaker”.

Pierre said that the investigation into the president was done by a foreign firm and “the lawyers that were used to prosecute him were foreign.

“The bank did not find it fit to use any regional lawyers Mr. Speaker and when I caused a resolution at the board of governors to get a second opinion on the first opinion of these foreign lawyers, I was outvoted”.

Pierre described Leon as an “economist of global repute (who) worked for the IMF in Nigeria, worked for the IMF in Jamaica and he came to the bank with a vision and a mission. We have lost him Mr. Speaker…for no serious reason.

“And that is why I asked the board of governors to review the opinion from the American firm that said that the action of the whistleblower and the OCC was correct,” Pierre said, adding “I was outvoted”.

In his five-page letter sent to the chairman of the CDB Board of Governors, Ahmed Hussen, who is also  Canada’s Minister of International Development, Gonsalves wrote that the people of the Caribbean “may rightly demand to know why an American firm, and not one of the inestimable value from the Caribbean, was chosen to investigate “Gene Leon.

“And what is the paternity and history of this firm? I am sure that the people of our region may wish to know, too, how much has the Bank paid for the investigation of and report on “Gene Leon,” Gonsalves said, urging all stakeholders “let us bring it all to an end…”.

Prime Minister Phillip J Pierre speaking in parliament-