Several employees of one of the country’s well-known credit unions, Venture Credit Union Cooperative Society Limited, are expressing concern about some of its financial transactions.
According to credit union sources, who spoke to the T&T Guardian over several weeks, there is at least one company whose owner is related to a senior VCU executive that was allegedly paid more than $50,000 to provide services. However, they allege the provision of this service represents a conflict of interest.
The sources claim the sister of VCU president Hayden Ferreira, Janice Ferreira, received payments for the provision of fruit baskets and flowers, while they also allege a company owned by the son of acting CEO Roxanne Solomon, PrintsTT, received preferential treatment during a vendor bidding process.
Both Ferreira and Solomon have denied any wrongdoing, saying all transactions were subject to the independent approval of the company’s procurement office. They also claimed they had no direct involvement in deciding which company was awarded service contracts.
VCU’s bye-laws do not speak to the issue of relatives of members or executives being able to act as contractors or vendors.
The T&T Guardian obtained documents showing numerous transactions were conducted between Janice Ferreira’s company - Jan’s Flowers - and VCU between November 2021 and July 2022. According to the documents, Jan’s Flowers received at least $50,000 for services provided during that period.
When contacted, VCU president Hayden Ferreira confirmed his sister is the owner of Jan’s Flowers. However, he said he never awarded any contracts as VCU president.
“The board is not an operating entity. The board is much more of a strategic entity. The operations of the company run very differently, so if you were interested in any operational aspect - and what you are talking about is certainly a very operational aspect of any company - the matter of contracts is not something that the board gets involved with at all in any company. The board deals with policy mandates; policies that relate to procurement and so forth, and Venture does have a procurement policy,” the board member said.
“Procurement of certain items, in terms of the contract and so on, particularly above certain values, we get multiple quotes…We have standard policies for these things and the board doesn’t get involved in that at all, and neither does the president. I could tell you for this president, that doesn’t happen at all. I’m only interested in following the approved policies.”
However, Guardian Media obtained several company emails seemingly showing some level of alleged involvement by Ferreira, at an approval level, in his sister’s business transactions with VCU.
On November 7, 2022, VCU’s Senior Executive Assistant Terry Ann Wall wrote an email to Ferreira seeking approval to prepare a birthday fruit basket for an employee at a cost of $300. Later that day, Ferreira responded, saying: “Approved as requested.” There were similar approvals granted by Ferreira for purchases on September 13, 15 and February 23.
According to Jan’s Flowers receipts obtained by the T&T Guardian, all the transactions were approved by VCU’s procurement office.
Meanwhile, leaked company emails also suggest alleged involvement by acting CEO Roxanne Solomon in the vendor selection process for printing services.
An unnamed employee, in an email, suggested Solomon attempted to put forward her son’s company, PrintsTT, as a vendor.
In a second email, dated March 25, 2021, the unnamed employee wrote a formal complaint to management that the acting CEO telephoned, requesting that the employee collect a quote from PrintsTT. The employee noted the company’s procurement policy which requires a declaration of interest to be made to the Procurement Officer. Pointing out that no such declaration had been made up to that point, the employee noted that there could be a possibility of a conflict of interest. The employee submitted the concern for information and advice for the company’ superiors.
In an email exchange with the T&T Guardian, Solomon confirmed the PrintsTT owner was her son. However, she said the submission provided to the T&T Guardian by sources was unethical, mischievous and a poor attempt to sully her name.
“The owner of PrintsTT is my son, which is a well-known fact in Venture. Everybody knows that my son owns a printery and a fast-food place in St James. His contact was given to the former marketing manager to consider as a potential vendor long before I was appointed CEO. He is no longer with us. My connection in the matter was also declared when the reference was referred,” Solomon said in an email.
“PrintsTT was not approved as a vendor, nor any contracts awarded. The documents that you have forwarded, in particular, the Requisition of the purchase were not approved by myself, nor any serious consideration was given to the quote. Please note that one of the fundamental processes we do have is that Procurement seeks all the quotes. The job quoted on the requisition was awarded to another vendor. I just checked with Marketing and they have confirmed that no contracts were ever awarded to PrintsTT.”
Solomon was also asked about the hiring of Jan’s Flowers. She said the procurement process for the selection of Jan’s Flowers was well documented.
“The owner is a relative of a board member and this was fully declared…The procurement process is handled independently by Procurement and all declarations are duly made. All businesses can tender/submit quotes etc and they do, inclusive of businesses owned by relatives of our team and even of our Membership,” Solomon said.
“We have high standards of accountability and responsibility and the claims that were forwarded are without substance, frivolous, and vexatious. We also note that we have an active Internal Audit department that oversees all these processes for integrity.”