Friday, March 18, 2011

Some Observations on FICCO’s 56th General Assembly March 2011

This year’s overriding theme for another promised historic general assembly was “Blazing the Trail for One Coop, One Vision, and One Nation”. And indeed FICCO has been all that and more. But certain incidents leading up to the assembly date also promised to mark the event as another boisterous event. Chief among them were the now open enmity between certain members of the board resulting in reported shouting matches, laced with serious charges and countercharges; and the falling out of the credit union from the supported partylist, Ating Koop, culminating in the board’s resolution to break away completely from it in spite of the millions of pesos of credit union funds sunk into the effort. And this latter issue has splintered the board into two warring factions, making things look like we are witnessing fierce proponents in some private for-profit enterprise rather than in a credit union famed for its noble purposes of service and volunteerism. Thus, the date came with great anticipation for many members, especially those belonging to the main office.

This is a personal assessment of the whole affair, if only to tie together all the disparate parts. Only this time this will be less about the performance of the credit union which continues to score historic points, but more about the troublesome pressure points rocking the management level of the organization which have patently distracted the elected officers from their primary tasks of steering our huge ship in a singularly focused manner.

This is no technical analysis, or any serious treatise, but rather a randomly compiled narrative depicting how an observant layman member perceived the whole process and had then decided to reduce the experience into print.

To begin thus, this member observed the registration process with a general nod of approval. Attendance was very inspiring. Even with my early arrival of 15 minutes before 10am which was the scheduled start of registration, a sizable number of members of the main office were already in a bit of frenzy jockeying for positions in the many lines assigned. The actual assembly was scheduled for 12 noon but this member had decided to register early expecting an easy sailing and then just come back for the assembly itself. There were 3 lines for senior members bursting with grey-haired members eager to register and receive their package. The only damper was the realization that even for those clearly advanced in age crowding in lines was still in vogue. People still pushed with their bodies and blurred lines like there was a life-threatening emergency that they wanted to get out of in a hurry. Missing was the deference and orderliness that one expected from those more experienced in life.

Anyway, when my turn came it went fast and easy. With package in hand, I was out of there in a jiffy, drove out quickly to do some shopping, and then went through the material given at home. Now, the thick booklet that comprised as the main document of the package, loaded with all the financial statements and tons of critical information which compressed an entire year operation, ought to be given earlier so serious members get ample opportunities to pore over them, rather than cram during the harried time they can scarcely allocate after registration and before actual deliberations. Only a well-informed body can be expected to participate seriously in deliberations of this serious nature. And of course, a well-informed body makes for a more efficient and expeditious discharge of the many businesses attendant to an annual assembly.

Anyway, I was back inside the assembly site at past 12 noon half-expecting an assembly already underway. Thus quickened my pace to the cavernous auditorium to find an amply filled place, though the bleachers looked mostly vacant. But an assembly nowhere near being started. After a quick query from a staff member, I was told it could start any time. It eventually started before 2pm. Being on time has always been a problem with Filipinos and this event was no exception.

While the electric atmosphere commenced early during the readings of the various minutes of the previous assembly, the heat really elevated when the various resolutions were brought to the floor. Thus when the fireworks started was when one had fertile ground to mine for commentary.

And that was when the noise pollution was ramped up, where speakers using highly-sensitive microphones already turned up to full volume, bellowed with their speeches in very high decibels filling the entire place with what could be judged as like noise pollution. With impassioned speakers sounding like self-justified aggrieved parties, throwing both charges and ad hominems against their perceived tormentors. One was made to believe that there was a private confrontation between two factions, unmindful not only of their high calling as elected officers of a credit union but also of the fact that the general membership had little to do with the private wars being waged. Matters that would be better served if discussed and resolved privately, or within the confines of a smaller group like say in a board meeting.

And the irony in this was that recurrent mention was made of both democracy and representation. Justification was made for all this washing of dirty laundry in public as sterling signs of a democratic process and of representative democracy. But in my humble judgment it was neither democratic nor representative.

While granting that the democratic process can be messy and chaotic, the greater issue to remember is that while people can and will always disagree on issues, they need not be disagreeable in the process. We should always defer to ethical standards and show circumspection as a sign of respect to the subject of our tirades and especially to those ears that cannot help but to grudgingly listen to them being captive audience.

And it cannot be truly representative if discussions are hogged by a very select and small number of members and officers. But that was what happened, when turns at the microphones and the floor were exchanged only between the same people over and over again. It should be the task of the moderator to spread around the discussions to as many members as possible. That’s one way of assuring that brainstormed ideas are truly representative of the entire assemblage and not just of a small vocal group who cannot help themselves from speaking out at every occasion that turns up.

But in spite of all the bluster, this corner feels that certain issues which should have deserved more exposure were skirted and glossed over because maybe they did not advance the self interests of those concerned. I refer specifically to the attempted politicization of the organization as epitomized by the officers’ devoted attention to and avid encouragement of the partylist participation which ended in a most disappointing and expensive lesson for the credit union. Though a “timeline” was detailed in a newsletter that resulted in disbursements that totaled over 11 million pesos, this corner did not hear any more clarification from any of those board members who took great pains and efforts to push this agenda to the general membership, a general membership that looks to them for guidance, knowledge, and especially wisdom in the conduct of union affairs. Albeit the millions in losses, the preferred treatment had been that of silence from those directly involved. Where is the owning up and taking responsibility part for those who presented themselves as honorable and transparent guardians of union funds and affairs? I left during the waning moments of the assembly, which was past 5:30pm. Was this issue inserted during those moments? Like the typical late Friday afternoon press releases resorted to by scheming political administrations bent on going under the radar regarding some issues?

First of all, where is the wisdom in having the credit union engage actively in partisan politics, in a reality where politics is inherently judged to be corrupt and divisive? In a series of moves toward this end, one sensed that the union was not only designing itself in order to curry political favors, but to position itself to create a political base purportedly to serve its noble goals and interests. At the start, it was an endeavor that was deigned to fail, and fail it did.

Another misstep not given proper due was the recording of a paper loss of over four million pesos, all because some officers needed to declare income on the investment. And the solution rendered was to redeem the instrument while at the same time re-investing the same amount in the same instrument. Because it was not done on a timely manner, a paper loss ensued. But what was not even mentioned was whether the redemption process involved the payment of fees and commissions which is typical. Never mind the paper loss because it could be recovered by registering a paper gain when the performance of the investment improves.

What is sorely construed in all this is the apparent nonchalance by the parties concerned in owning up and taking responsibility for errant acts done in the discharge of positions of trust and of a fiduciary nature. Is it just invincible cluelessness or deliberate attempts at sweeping things under the rug?

An assembly that was scheduled to end at 5pm may have gone way past the time, and I could not tell since I could not muster enough free time to stay past 5:30pm. And I personally attribute this to a lack of good time management, a task primarily lodged on the moderator of the event. The moderator has to be proactive in making sure time is not wasted on endless discussions with no or scant bearing on the issues at hand, or on rambling speeches by those so inclined. Attention to political correctness or too much sensitivity on people’s feelings has to be curbed for far greater purposes. Like that precious manhours should never be wasted on loopy pursuits.