09 May 2011

HSA delay - Volume Eleven: your turn

Dear ABSA member,

Clearly, ABSA is an organisation in search of a scapegoat. It's doing its best to pretend that it's not, but this is surely not the way you would act if there weren't blame to be cast for something going wrong.

At least our members get a chance to think for themselves about who that scapegoat should be. Jay Myers, Ian Turnbull and I called the EGM on 14 May to put the issue of protocol compliance in front of members. One aspect of the efforts to remove Jay Myers as a Director is that, fortunately, three dissenting Directors are enough to keep the option of such meetings open. If you vote to reduce that number to two, you can expect to spend another six months not hearing about how your organisation is being run. We had enough of that last year.

The whole sorry business of these EGMs is based on a series of deliberate lies. Foremost on our minds is why ABSA refuses to discuss the issues surrounding its own standards of compliance. As you may already know, PriceWaterhouseCoopers conducted its own review of ABSA's performance under the Assessor Accrediting Organisation protocol for the Green Loans Program, and found that ABSA had failed in 10 of its 26 obligations under the protocol. Chairman Michael Plunkett's insistence that these concerns were sorted out a year ago is blatantly false: it barely rated a passing mention in the minutes of Board meetings on 26 February 2010 and 18 June 2010, and the issue hasn't been touched since the report was released. ABSA needs to provide greater assurance, for its current and future members, that its accreditation has value for assessors, less because of the demise of Green Loans and moreover in light of the impending launch of our suggestion for a replacement.

Chief among the cheerleaders so far has been Director Peter Buckland, who has been frittering his opinions away, and his credibility with them, on the GLA Compensation Google Group. Peter has been confronting Jay for months, for reasons he has since admitted to be personal, and he has also conceded that he has violated the ABSA Board confidentiality agreement, as he thought it necessary to justify his views. While his account of the past six months reads as little more than a tirade, he has clearly chosen sycophancy for ABSA over the suffering of its members, and his persistent accusations that Jay particularly targets women with his attitude is an obvious attempt at character assassination. That said, I welcome his attempts to drag me into his character debate; I've been working on my John Wayne impression and there's a line in Rio Bravo I've been dying to try out.

Subsequently, ABSA Chairman Michael Plunkett has joined the fray with his own brand of distortion. Contrary to what he has written, it was Jay, Ian and myself who originally proposed mediation to resolve the Board's internal conflict, and the reason this has broken down is because the Board decided that our complaints aren't anywhere nearly as important as the ones against us. In addition, I have no idea where he's getting his member numbers from: there were over 6000 eligible voters at November's AGM and barely 1800 now, a number that will continue to drop unless we find something tangible to offer to HSAS assessors. His final assertion - that the results of the recent ABSA membership satisfaction survey cannot be discussed by the Board because of Jay's behaviour - is just as ridiculous; after two months, the results have not been made available to us in any form. (In fact, the questions never made it to me either.)

The worst offence - so far, at least - has been committed by former ABSA Chairman Wayne Floyd. Wayne sent an email around a few days ago seeking proxy votes for the two EGMs, but for the Friday meeting, he predetermined that members would vote to have Jay removed as a Director and filled in the form as such. It's not just the height of arrogance that he supposes that his opinion is relevant any more, since he resigned from the Board in February and did not even tell the Board why not. It could also be fairly argued that any proxy vote authorised using Wayne's form is improper and should not be counted, since you would have no option to specify a vote against the resolution. This is a flagrant violation of your rights as members, and Wayne knew it.

However, even this isn't the grossest deception in the current story.

The attempt to remove Jay as a Director is premised on the oft-repeated opinion that the Board is not functioning adequately. While the latter is true and obviously so, the causal link to the need to remove a Director is the biggest lie of all. In short, it is a smokescreen to conceal not only the dysfunction in the broader organisation but also the efforts to prevent the Board from delivering the direction or even the oversight that it is constituted to provide.

I am personally concerned that, despite the failures of Green Loans and our own shortcomings in our role as an Assessor-Accrediting Organisation, we likewise don't have a quality assurance plan for Habitat Partners, our own private-sector response to the failure of the Green Loans Program. In fact, ABSA is doing its utmost to distance itself from Habitat Partners altogether: it seems to have no rules in place for training or accreditation, none of the promotional material so far bears the ABSA logo, and the organisation rates only a passing mention on the Habitat Partners web site. Where is the assurance from ABSA that it can or will do a better job of protocol compliance, even when it is calling the shots? It's not a confident step, and it's particularly disappointing when the vacuum left by Green Loans gave us such an opportunity, and so many great suggestions about what not to do and what needed to be done better.

That said, that's only marginally more daunting than the prospect of finding out what's really going on. Even as a Director, I'm told I'm not really supposed to know what my own company is doing or how it is achieving its strategic objectives, when these are the very role of a company director. My aforementioned concerns about Habitat Partners have grown from members presenting me with what they have found out and asking me to fill in the many gaps in their understanding. (I know that sounds completely backwards, but that's how it really happened.) It should still come as something of a shock, though, to learn that ABSA never once notified me of Friday's general meeting and neglected to inform me of the efforts to remove one of our Directors at that time. I'm aware that many of you think this is just how ABSA does business, but it's not even remotely acceptable.

I suspect that ABSA maintains the Green-Loans-era attitude that if the Federal Government doesn't bother doing its job, then ABSA doesn't have to either. Similarly, I would suggest that ABSA is still happy to string members along, in the vain hope that the next program to come along will save the industry and suddenly make everything better. We can't afford to presume either of these luxuries any more. We have to want it, we have to build it, and we have to own it.

A wise friend of mine reminded me that doing the same thing repeatedly and getting different results is the very hallmark of insanity. Accordingly, if you witness someone refusing to accept that insanity is the only option, and thinking that those around him deserve better, you would not be any less insane if your only response were to punish him. Still, it's your choice to make as a member so make it count.

Yours sincerely,

Aaron Nielsen
ABSA Board of Directors

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