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SEC head fights move to revoke appointment

Friday, November 26, 2010
Deborah Thomas-Felix

Lawyers for chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Deborah Thomas-Felix, have written to President George Maxwell Richards, warning him of possible “public embarrassment” if he takes a certain course of action regarding her tenure with the commission.

In a letter dated November 24, attorney Clive Phelps referred to Section 11 of the Securities Industries Act 1995, which states the circumstances in Thomas-Felix’s appointment as chairman of the commission may be revoked. Thomas and the other commissioners may resign by notice in writing to the President. In addition, the appointment of the chairman may be revoked if she becomes “a person of unsound mind”; is absent from three consecutive meetings of the commission without permission of the minister or reasonable cause; is guilty of misconduct in relation to her duties as commissioner; is sentenced to imprisonment, or is convicted of an offence involving dishonesty.

The commissioner may also be removed from office if she is declared bankrupt; is disqualified or suspended from practising her profession; or is unable to perform her duties due to ill health or any other reason. Phelps pointed out that in the case of his client, “none of the above circumstances has arisen.” He wrote: “We are to inform you that our client is taking advice from Queen’s Counsel as to whether a breach of Section 11 as it applies to our client constitutes misbehaviour in public office by the relevant minister.” Sources said that Finance Minister Winston Dookeran is intent on replacing Thomas-Felix with attorney Fyard Hosein, SC, who served previously as a commissioner of the SEC. The move to replace Thomas-Felix comes days after the Guardian reported exclusively that Dookeran was attempting to replace several of the members of the board of the Central Bank in a move that attorneys said was “illegal and injurious to the independence of the bank.”

Thomas-Felix, an attorney-at-law, was appointed chairman of the commission for an initial three-year term with effect from November 30, 2009. She is the third chairman and the first female to be appointed to this position since the commission’s inception in 1997. Thomas-Felix, a former deputy chief magistrate, is a Hubert Humphrey Fellow who holds a master’s degree in international legal studies. She was a judge of the Industrial Court of Trinidad and Tobago, but resigned to go into private practice.She and a T&T delegation are presently in Jamaica attending a regional meeting of the Caribbean Group of Security Regulators where T&T is handing over that function to Jamaica.

Commission’s work hampered

The Government’s ability to float bonds to address the additional funding requirements created by the Clico and contractors matters is being seriously hampered by the fact that the commission no longer has a quorum. In yesterday’s Business Guardian, Scotiabank managing director Richard Young complained that the lack of a board at the SEC was also seriously affecting the ability of market actors to register products or approve transactions. “New products have to be registered, people want to get licensed and the big capital deals have to be vetted and approved by the SEC, but they cannot do it.”
On the SEC’s Web site, three commissioners are named: Deborah Thomas-Felix, attorney-at-law Marsha King and Vishnu Dhanpaul, a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance.

The Guardian understands that Dhanpaul resigned from the board last month in order to take up a two-year position at the World Bank as a counsellor in the office of the executive director responsible for a number of Western Hemisphere countries. This leaves the board of the SEC with only two commissioners, which is short of the required quorum to conduct the business of the SEC. Section 15 (5) of the Securities Industry Act states: “The quorum at every meeting of the commission shall be three.” The Act also requires the Commission to meet “at least once in every two months.” The Government has so far failed to fill two vacancies caused by the expiration of the three-year terms of two commissioners: financial consultant Francis Lewis’s term ended in April and the term of Dr Shelton Nichols, the deputy Governor of the Central Bank ended in July.


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