Joseph Remy

FORMIDABLE REPUTATION: Joseph Remy speaks with the Sunday Express last week at COPOS Credit Union, Port of Spain.

—Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

Newly-appointed president of the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions (CCCU) Joseph Remy, is keeping an eye on the first bidder for National Petroleum gas stations.

During the 2020/2021 budget presentation on October 5, Finance Minister Colm Imbert announced that gas stations will be divested and fuel prices liberalised at the pumps.

In an interview with the Sunday Express on Thursday, October 15, at COPOS Credit Union on Pembroke Street, Port of Spain, Remy, 62, said: “I am looking to see who will buy the first gas station at about $10 million minimum. It’s a good investment. But they have to ensure a steady fuel supply at reasonable prices. We want a win-win for everyone.”

Remy’s appointment has come as the credit union movement celebrates Credit Union Month in October. He-succeeds Jamaica’s Winston Fletcher. The new vice-president is Belize’s Leopoldo Romero while the chief executive officer (CEO) is Andre Goindoo.

Gasparillo-born Remy has built a formidable reputation as a well respected trade unionist who eventually emerged as president of Communication Workers Union (CWU).

Remy is adamant credit unions will not fall under the remit of the Central Bank since they (credit unions) are “not profit-driven, but exist to serve the people”. Remy is also prepared to morph into a militant role should politicians toy with the idea of decertification of trade unions.

Passion for credit unions, trade unionism 

Reflecting on the genesis of credit unions, Remy said: “On my first day of work at Telephone Workers’ Credit Union (TWCU), they brought two forms for me—a union form and a credit union form. Since then, my fascination and devotion to both socially conscious organisations began. I have been involved in credit unions since 1977. It’s a wealth of experience.

“It’s a humbling feeling to be responsible for credit unions in 17 countries. It’s a signal day for Trinidad and Tobago, the credit union movement and the Caribbean. Credit Unions provide a great service for people on the fringes, and helps to lift them out of poverty and indigence. It helps to improve their standard of living socially, economically and financially.”

Contemplating the journey ahead, Remy said: “Jamaica and T&T are two of the countries with the largest numbers of credit union members. I hope to bring a high level of objectivity, and inspire board members to be able to serve their countries’ competently. In terms of regional integration, the credit union movement is second only to West Indies Cricket.”

Fellow board members include Aaron Moses (Grenada), Lennox Bowman (St Vincent/treasurer), Carol Fraser (Guyana/secretary) and Hally Haynes (Barbados/director).

Not under Central Bank

Finance Minister Colm Imbert has indicated there’s a proposal for credit unions to be regularised under the Central Bank. To date, Remy has been in discussions with former public utilities minister Robert LeHunte. They have written Minister of Youth Development and National Services Fitzgerald Hinds for a meeting.

Asked about the proposal for credit union regularisation, Remy said: “It means it’s security for an integral support mechanism for the grassroots and working class. It’s a cradle for all sectors of the society. It’s a gem that has not been explored. We would have had discussions on regularisation with the Government, and with former minister (LeHunte). We had arrived at an agreement for credit unions to be regulated by an independent body.

“It’s not going to be under the Central Bank. A credit union is a financial institution with a social conscience. Profit is not our reason for existence but service to the people.”

Remy said the focus was on developing sustainability among credit unions.

“We want to be regularised in our image and likeness. Some of the fundamental elements of the credit unions would be lost if we are regularised under the Central Bank modus operandi,” said Remy.

Customers can depend upon “character” loans, he said.

“We don’t just lend on collateral, but on projection. If you have $10,000 you can borrow another $20,000 tranche because you are deemed credit-worthy. You can borrow soft loans of $1,000 for an emergency dental appointment. We are easily accommodating with a range of loans for vehicle, home and education,” he added.

Remy knows education is a passport out of poverty, saying: “We place huge emphasis on education. They have given scholarships to CSEC and CAPE pupils. We have to ensure they develop thrift, proper money management skills and financial literacy. Five per cent of the surplus from credit unions goes towards education.” Asked if there was a risk credit unions would become more like commercial banks, Remy said: “We won’t. Under our watch, we will not be an appendage to the commercial banks. We will remain an alternative to the commercial banks.

“We will retain our ownership to the poor and downtrodden and the fundamental principles upon which we were founded. We try to ensure the credit unions hold on to its focus on working and middle class people. We are in support of traditional Yoruba based sous sous, and not pyramid schemes

Beneficiary benefits 

Remy said the “low hanging fruit” has to be tackled.

“We would have written (Minister) Hinds. Trinidad is one of the few remaining countries where there is still a cap on what you can access.

If I am a member of the credit union and I pass on, my beneficiary can’t access a sum of about $100,000. If I pass away, you can access $5,000 and then $50,000. You can’t get the full estate,” he said.

Remy is also cognisant credit unions have to adapt to technology amid the onslaught of Covid-19. “We have to adapt to allow people to access the credit unions online. Some unscrupulous employers are using Covid-19 as an excuse to send home employees. Every time there is a crisis we tend to socialise the process. Whenever there is a boom, we privatise. I don’t think 2020 Budget is too much in favour of the working class,” said Remy.

Showing solidarity with trade unions, Remy said: “I would be ready for war if there is any threat of decertification. It’s a brutal and blatant attack on democracy.”

About Joseph Remy 

Joseph Remy’s “excellent” parents were the late Johnson and Veronica Remy. They taught Remy and his seven siblings lessons about sacrifice over instant gratification.

“I remember one August vacation having to eat yams since my dad was working at Texaco for a meagre salary,” said Remy.

Remy is married to Cathy Ann Isaac, and has two adult children, Keith and Sinead.

Remy’s first job was as a trainee technician at Telco, and he was sent to the Telecom Training Institute at John Donaldson Institute, Wrightson Road, Port of Spain, to study telephoning and telegraphing.

Here are important dates:

1991—Remy started a joint job evaluation project when Telco and Textel merged to form Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT)

1994—He was re-classified as job analyst at TSTT

2003 to 2006—Earned a Certificate in Human Resources from the Society for Human Resource Management in America

1977—An ardent cricketer at the Youth Tournament in St Vincent and the Grenadines, where he played against greats like Malcom Marshall and Winston Davis.

Remy still lives in Gasparillo where he started a foundation to help young people. He’s proud of local cultural groups Dil-e-Nadan and the Gasparillo Tassa Boys.

CWU accomplishments

TSTT—Achieved ten per cent increase for three years;

Completion of job evaluation at TSTT

Built CWU into a household name; and

Compiled CWU history into Dare To Struggle by historian Teddy Belgrave

Memorable trade union milestones

Consolidated Telephones Credit Union Board member since 1990s

Secretary—Credit Union League

7th year—President of the Co-operative Credit Union League;

Third three-year term

Assumed governance in 1990.

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