Some Barbadian shareholders in One Caribbean Media (OCM) are upset that the media group, which owns the Nation Newspaper and Starcom Network, may have dashed their hopes of participating in the annual shareholders meeting.
OCM recently announced that it would, for the first time, host its shareholders’ annual general meeting in a totally virtual environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual meeting would have allowed many Barbadian shareholders including current and former employees a chance to participate without having to spend on airfare to travel to Port-of-Spain in order to participate.
But OCM announced last weekend in a notice that it would no longer hold the virtual meeting but would revert to a regular in-person meeting. The media company told shareholders it would call the meeting as planned for June 18 but then it would immediately adjourn the meeting without conducting any business.
No new date has been set for the soon to be adjourned AGM. Among other things, the AGM was set to approve the 2019 financial statement, reappoint the auditor, approve the election of the Nation’s acting chief executive officer Noel Wood to the Board of Directors, and allow for the re-election of Dr Grenville Phillips Sr. to the board for a specific term because he has reached the age of 75.
“I was really looking forward to attending the virtual meeting. It would have been the first time I would get a chance to do so, after purchasing shares in the company a couple years ago. Normally, only the well-to-do shareholders who have the money and the time could fly to Trinidad to attend the meetings. Since the Nation was taken over by the Trinidadians, none of the meetings for shareholders are held in Barbados,” a shareholder who had original Nation shares converted to OCM shares after the new company formed, told Barbados TODAY.
Some local longstanding shareholders said the move was particularly upsetting because, for the first time, OCM has not declared a final dividend.
“A lot of companies are going through difficulties because of COVID-19 too but they still declared even a small dividend to keep their shareholders happy and confident in the company. On top of that, the investor said senior Nation staff who would get a lump-sum payment on their Employee Share Option Plan will also lose out,” the shareholder added.
Trinidad and Tobago continues to maintain a strict lockdown of the country to even its own citizens who are outside the republic, while Barbados has not yet resumed regularly scheduled international flights.
OCM’s company secretary Karlene Ng Tang informed shareholders in the notice that the directors were advised “by shareholders in certain overseas jurisdictions that in the current environment, access to the technology to read the report on the web may pose a problem.”
But the disgruntled Barbadian shareholders complained that this explanation made no sense as the virtual meeting would have allowed for much greater shareholder participation than an actual in-person meeting.
“The annual reports for OCM and all the major companies in Barbados and the Caribbean are found on their websites and have been available for many years in that format so the board needs to come again,” the shareholder contended.
The Board also informed shareholders that the time between receipt of the AGM notice and time to return proxy forms “may prove challenging”.
But the shareholder said the time-frame was no different from other years. According to the investor: “In fact, some years, by the time the annual report was posted to you with the proxy forms to vote, the deadline was almost gone. They really need to look again at what they are doing to the small Bajan shareholders.”
The three Barbadians who currently sit on the OCM Board are Dr Grenville Phillips Sr., Peter Symmonds, and Renee Kowlessar, the daughter of late chairman and Nation founder Sir Fred Gollop.
OCM’s share ownership is split 40 per cent by Barbadians and 59 per cent held by Trinidadian interests. Its shares last traded at $2.70 per share on the Barbados Stock Exchange.
The largest single shareholder in OCM is the National Investment Fund Holding Company Ltd (NIF) which owns 15.2 million shares. The next single biggest shareholder is Barbados-based Rebyn Limited which owns 5.8 million shares.
NIF is owned solely by the Trinidadian government and was incorporated in May 2018 to hold and monetise assets transferred to it from CLICO and Clico Investment Bank. The former CLICO assets included significant share ownership in Republic Financial Holdings Limited, OCM, West Indian Tobacco Company Limited, Angostura Holdings Limited, and Trinidad Generation Unlimited.