Bank probes Ekra’s appointment

An extraordinary general meeting held in Ghana on April 1 resolved to hire a consultant to ascertain whether his appointment followed proper procedures according the bank’s charter, a process that should put the issue to rest within the next few weeks. In an interview this week Afreximbank chairman Herbert Murerwa said the bank was keen to put the issue to rest so that more energy would be directed towards the bank’s core business. “We are doing everything we can to ensure that this issue is resolved once and for all. “The purpose of the meeting was to endorse the framework for an independent review of the legal validity of the appointment of J-L Ekra as president of Afreximbank,” he said. Murerwa, who is also Zimbabwe’s Minister of Finance, led a team to Accra comprised of Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, who is also a board member, RBZ legal advisor S. Maguranyanga, and Ministry of Finance economist Jonah Mushayi. Zimbabwe is a Class “A” shareholder in the bank, among 36 other African governments and central banks. This group of shareholders holds 67 percent of the total voting powers in the bank. Other countries fall in either Class “B” or Class “C”. The controversy surrounding Ekra’s appointment came to the fore after Egypt, Tunisia and Guinea expressed their displeasure at the recruitment process which they insisted violated the bank’s charter. The three have said they will not recognise Ekra’s appointment. This stance resulted in Egypt’s withdrawal of Ekra’s visa to that country. Afreximbank is headquartered in Egypt, from which Ekra is supposed to run the continental bank’s affairs, but he has been forced to operate from a branch office in Nigeria since being booted out of the North African country. It all started in December 2003 when the bank’s board set out to find a successor for inaugural president Christopher Edordu whose term expired in 2004. A United Kingdom-based human resources consulting firm, Alexander Hughes, was hired as advisers to the board. A selection committee was subsequently appointed and advertisements placed in an international journal. A shortlist of the aspiring candidates was drawn up and interviews conducted. The three leading candidates were shortlisted, and Ekra, who hails from Cote d’Ivoire, emerged with a score of 77,1 followed by Ahmed El Bardai from Egypt with 70,7 and Arnold Ekpe from Nigeria with a score of 70,4. The appointment was to be made at Afreximbank’s 11th annual general meeting in August 2004 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, but no decision was reached as Egyptian shareholders argued that the president should be elected from the three final candidates. The problem arose from the interpretation of Article 25 of the bank’s charter, with some shareholders arguing that the post of president was appointive while others insisted it was elective. The two contending views could not be reconciled and the meeting was adjourned and reconvened in Abuja, Nigeria, in January last year. The meeting sought to find the best way to resolve the impasse as well as seek legal opinion,but representatives from Egypt, the Central Bank of Tunisia and the Ministry of Finance of Guinea, staged a walkout. The remaining shareholders then proceeded with the meeting and unanimously appointed Ekra president of the bank. Egypt then withdrew Ekra’s visa in March and put pressure on ADB borrowers to stop paying back their loans. As a result of the controversy surrounding the presidency, some shareholders boycotted Afreximbank’s 12th General Meeting and board meetings held in Harare last December. One of three consulting firms ‘ Mckinsey, Clifford Chance (Amsterdam), Mervyn King and First Boston ‘ will be appointed to audit the process and express an opinion as to whether Ekra’s appointment was in conformity with the charter. The firm will also review the bank’s charter and give an opinion as to whether the post of president of the bank is appointive or elective. Furthermore, a review of corporate governance policies and procedures of Afreximbank will be done, including the rules in relation to the appointment or election of a president to make recommendations on how the bank can avoid similar controversies in future.

April 2006
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