By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A furious legal battle is brewing over allegations of “voting irregularities” in the election of Bahamas Institute of Chartered Accountants (BICA) council members, Tribune Business can reveal.
Reece Chipman, SMS Consultants’ principal and a BICA council member, confirmed yesterday to this newspaper that he had initiated litigation against the Institute over allegations he had been responsible for tampering with proxy election ballots.
Mr Chipman denied the claims against him, which resulted in BICA’s June 30 annual general meeting (AGM) being suspended before council members could be elected for next year.
The elections are now due to be held next week Tuesday, September 8, and Mr Chipman told Tribune Business he had “never seen the likes of this in my eight years as part of BICA”.
He was speaking after multiple accounting industry sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Tribune Business that Mr Chipman was taking legal action against BICA for defamation of character and how the June 30 AGM was conducted.
These sources suggested the controversy had its source in divisions between Mr Chipman and others on one side, and current BICA president Darnell Osborne and her group, over who should succeed her in the Institute’s most senior post.
Tribune Business was told that Mr Chipman and his group had wanted Jasmine Davis to be re-elected as BICA president, in the belief this would have helped her become vice-president of the regional accounting body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of the Caribbean (ICAC).
Ms Davis was subsequently elected to that post, rendering this issue moot, but sources suggested that Mrs Osborne and her group were keen for Gowon Bowe, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC) chairman, to succeed her as president.
Contacted by this newspaper, Mr Chipman said: “I don’t know it is a battle. I just think some of the processes...... some things could have been done differently. I think it was just the process that was the issue.”
He then confirmed that the matter was in litigation, and said he was unable to deny Tribune Business’s information about what had occurred.
“I cannot say you’re incorrect,” he responded. “I cannot deny the information. The only thing I can say is that the matter is a litigious matter, and at this time I have to reserve comment.
“In the eight years I’ve been part of BICA, I’ve never seen the likes of this. It’s different; it’s very different. After the AGM, I may speak.”
Tribune Business attempted to contact Mrs Osborne for comment, but after she answered her mobile the call was dropped and this newspaper was unable to reconnect with her. Messages left subsequently on her cell phone, and previously at her office, were not returned before press time.
However, an August 17, 2015, letter sent by Mrs Osborne to BICA members details the concerns over the June 30 AGM and issues with the council member election.
It also reveals that the BICA Council, the highest decision-making body within the Institute, “terminated the employment” of its chief executive, Shavardo Thompson, on July 15, 2015.
No reason for this was given by Mrs Osborne, and there is nothing to suggest it was connected to the election “irregularities” or that Mr Thompson has done anything wrong.
BICA’s secretariat, though, is being run by members of the Bahamas Institute of Financial Services (BIFS) on a temporary basis.
The Institute is the self-regulatory body for the Bahamian accounting profession, and the voting “irregularities” claims present a potential threat to both its reputation and that of the industry generally.
Referring to the AGM, Mrs Osborne wrote: “All agenda items were addressed with the exception of the election of Council members for the ensuing year.
“Due to irregularities highlighted by election scrutineers in their report read at the AGM, a motion was made on the floor and carried to suspend the meeting and resume on a new date to be determined by BICA’s Council.”
The BICA president added: “The Scrutineers Report identified serious alleged breaches by a Council member(s) and others. Based on the scrutineers’ report, the proxy process was breached.
“These breaches included removal of proxies from sealed envelopes; destruction of proxy logs; altering of the membership listing and submission of fraudulent proxies with forged signatures.
“Due to the gravity of this situation and the implications for the Institute’s reputation, the Scrutineers’ Report along with the affidavit prepared will be sent to the Investigations and Ethics Committee, and all members involved in the perpetration of these alleged breaches will be subject to BICA’s disciplinary process, as outlined and clearly defined in the Public Accountants Act 1991 and regulations.”
Tribune Business sources said Mr Chipman had been “devastated” by the allegations, which were made against him at the June 30 AGM in front of his peers.
“He seemed to be a crushed person, and I understand why, because they attacked his integrity,” one accountant, who attended the AGM and saw Mr Chipman recently, told this newspaper.
They added that Mr Chipman had not been given an opportunity to defend himself at the AGM, as the meeting was suspended just as he “grabbed the microphone” following the reading of the scrutineers’ report buy election committee chair, Edgar Moxey.
Philip Galanis, HLB Galanis’s managing partner, moved for the June 30 AGM to be suspended so that the issues raised in the scrutineers’ report could be properly investigated and determined.
Tribune Business understands that the BICA Council then subsequently sought a legal opinion from Alfred Sears QC on how it should proceed. This resulted in next Tuesday’s meeting to deal specifically with elections, and the issuing of new proxy voting forms.
Mr Bowe, who is also BICA’s second vice-president, told Tribune Business that he was aware of “the rumours and conjecture flying around” over claims there were moves afoot to have him elected president.
He emphasised, though, that BICA members elected the council members, who in turn would decide who held the executive positions.
And Mr Bowe said the new Public Accountants Act passed by Parliament after the June 30 AGM had “modernised the process” of elections.
He added the new law mandated that elections beheld every two years instead of one; that there was a rotation of council members to ensure continuity, with all posts not up for election at the same time; and a nominations committee would be appointed to evaluate president and president-elect candidates.
As for Mr Chipman’s legal action, Mr Bowe said: “That is a matter that is being dealt with by the attorneys in terms of what transpired at the last meeting.
“At this point in time, there certainly hasn’t been any matters that have hit the court in that regard. As far as I’m aware, no matter is before the Supreme Court or Magistrate’s Court.”