CDB President resigns with “immediate effect”

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Dr Hyginus ‘Gene’ Leon

President of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr Hyginus ‘Gene’ Leon, has resigned with “immediate effect” from the regional financial institution.

According to a three-page letter sent to the bank by his St Lucia-based lawyers, Leon is of the opinion that “he will never be treated fairly” after being sent on administrative leave in January.

“It is also evident that the bank has lost all trust and confidence in our client by the failure of the Board of Governors to prevent the continued violations of its Charter, policies, rules and regulations with regard to its elected President.

“Our client has therefore made the extremely difficult decision to resign his elected position of the President of the Bank with immediate effect.”

The lawyers have given the regional financial institution 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 letter dated April 21, a copy of which has been obtained by the Caribbean Media Corporation, Leon’s lawyers said they would be moving to the courts in Barbados “or any other jurisdiction more appropriate, to enforce our client’s legal and constitutional rights.”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 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 news conference by the bank in February that “there is an internal administrative process involving the president.”

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.”

In their letter, Leon’s lawyers wrote that “On the 16th of April 2024, 40 hours after our client’s leave expired, our client received a letter of notification of leave extension signed by the chairman of the OAC, but stating that it was from the Board of Directors of the Bank (currently carrying out the functions of the OAC with respect to the investigation…)“We are uncertain at this stage of the significance of this as the OAC is not the Board of Directors and the Board of Directors is not the OAC. The meeting on the 16th of April 2024, was another breach of the bank’s by-laws, the Charter and its policies,” the lawyers wrote.

In their letter, the lawyers noted that the Board of Governors has “never responded” to them regarding “our letters of complaint about the manner in which the investigation has been initiated and allowed to continue.

“Our many letters consistently complained that the bank has breached and is in violation of its own charter, laws, rules, regulations, and policies as regards the conduct of an investigation pertaining to the elected president.”

They wrote that central to the complaint is that their client “has only been informed of the general, barebones nature of the wide complaints levelled against him.

“These complaints continue to be bare, nonspecific, allegations without condescending to any particulars of the circumstances of the complaints including but not limited to dates, subjects, places or references to the evidence to support the grave and serious allegations made against our client.”

The lawyers wrote that the initiation of the investigations “was and continues to be in violation of Annex 10 of the ICA Procedures for Special Investigations, the Code of Conduct for Directors, and Uniform Principles and Guidelines for investigations and many other policies of the Bank and its Charter”.

The lawyers said, in their view, the conduct of the investigation has been “unconventional, does not follow due process, and does not adhere to the best practices reflected in the more established multilateral development banks.

“All of these complaints have been meticulously set out in our previous letters,” they said, adding “we are therefore of the opinion that the grave procedural irregularities fatally taint the initiation and continuation of the investigation, rendering it null and void ab initio.”

The lawyers said that Leon’s “wrongful suspension” ended on April 14 this year and that he endeavoured to return to work the following day “despite the embarrassment of his forced and unlawful leave and the humiliation of not having received any communication prior to the expiration of leave.”

They said Leon also wrote the Director of Human Resources to have his access to the bank restored and to have returned to him, his laptop, Ipad and Iphone “so that he could carry out his duties as President.

“We also sent a letter to the Board of Governors suggesting an orderly process for our client’s return to work, consequent on the termination of the ‘forced’ leave and wrongful suspension imposed on him.

“Our client received an email after the end of the working day from the Director, Human Resources, stating that he had no authority to so act, to restore our client’s access to the Bank, and the return of his devices.”

The lawyers said given the publicity “surrounding the President’s suspension for unethical conduct and the severe reputation damage so far to our client, the non-communicated, abrupt extension of leave is clearly a less than stellar commitment by the Bank to its adherence to integrity and transparency.”

The lawyers also made reference of a letter they received from Washington-based law firm, Arnold & Porter, indicating that the Board of Directors was convening a meeting on April 16 to determine whether to extend Leon’s paid administrative leave “pending the conclusion of the investigation.”

Leon is the sixth president of the regional financial institution.

He was elected at a special meeting of the CDB Board of Governors held on January 19, 2021, for a five-year term, and assumed office on May 4, 2021.

Leon headed 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.

He succeeded Jamaica-born Dr Warren Smith who retired in 2021 after serving as president for 10 years. (CMC)