BIPA warrior wins double battle
Undoubtedly, she is a crusader for justice.
Many have come to know her as leading the fight for policyholders of CLICO International Life Insurance Limited and British American Insurance Company Limited (BAICO) to retrieve their monies from these ill-fated insurance companies.
Her battle for justice has been long (nine years) and exhausting. But few people are aware that in the midst of her fight to see justice done for her and over 30 000 policyholders, June Fowler found herself in another fight; she was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2015.
As she sat last week to share her trials and triumphs, this committed Christian believes she owes every ounce of her success firstly to God, and also the support of her husband, Robert; her children, Tracy and David; other family members; and friends.
If you see her today with a broader smile than usual, it’s because she is celebrating some victories. She is extremely happy that policyholders are finally getting the sums of monies owed to them in one form or another, and she is pleased to report that she is cancer-free.
Her shouts of “hallelujah” may not resound from any mountain top, but Fowler is definitely walking on cloud nine, even though, unlike thousands of policyholders, she stood to gain very little from her investments in CLICO and BAICO.
How did this all start for 62-year-old Fowler, who always preferred being in the background and away from the public’s eyes?
It was in December 2008 after much consultation that she decided to purchase a pension plan policy with CLICO.
She recalled, “Around this time you were hearing about trouble with CLICO in Trinidad and Tobago. However, after my agent convinced me that Barbados was not involved with, or affected by, the happenings in Trinidad, I decided to sign on the dotted line. I paid $5 000 upfront and began paying $200 per month with the agreement that I would also pay a lump sum of about $5 000 to $10 000 a year. I also had a salary deduction plan in place to ensure the monies would be debited to CLICO’s account.”
With word about CLICO being in trouble, Fowler stopped payments in 2010, after she had difficulty locating her agent.
Unfortunately, she also had a policy with BAICO, where she worked for seven and a half months.
Interestingly enough, Fowler originally had no intention to become a CLICO policyholder. In hindsight, she believes that God directed her to do so – if only to ensure she would take the lead in seeing justice served for policyholders – many of whom were at retirement age.
“It was January 2011. I got so angry that I sat at my desk and typed a letter to the editor at the Barbados Advocate and The NATION newspapers. I said, “I want my money back.”
“That was really the beginning of the fight to get my money back. Even though I had made just an $ 8 000 investment, I felt that was a lot of money.
“I remember someone saying I didn’t even have a lot of money in CLICO and yet, I was ‘making so much noise’, Fowler said, with one of her ever-present smiles.
She added, “I decided I was going to write letters every week until I got my money back. This was not without fear and trepidation, but I was encouraged by Luke, Chapter 18, verses 1-8, where it speaks about the widow and the unrighteous judge. This Scripture was the catalyst, in terms of my faith in God,” explained Fowler, who has 44 years’ experience in administration and corporate secretarial fields, working mainly in the international financial services sector.
After two letters appeared in The NATION, Fowler began receiving calls from other concerned policyholders.
Two such people, Michael Goodman and Maureen Stewart, decided to meet with her to see what could be done about the situation.
“We decided to invite policyholders to a meeting. We put our monies together and paid for a meeting room at Divi Southwinds.
“I remember a friend telling me if I was going to bring policyholders together, I should seek legal advice. She recommended that I speak with Hal Gollop. He told us if we wanted to be recognised we should set up a legal company. We went about trying to find another lawyer, and Tariq Khan was recommended.
“He told us what to do, and together the small team came up with the name Barbados Investors and Policyholders Alliance (BIPA),” Fowler explained.
When 82 policyholders turned up for the meeting, Fowler had hoped that someone would volunteer to take the lead in the fight. Instead, they chose her to do so.
“I was taken aback because I did not have a lot to lose; other people who did, some of them prominent people in society, just sat and said nothing,” Fowler disclosed.
“I was nervous. When I saw some of the people at that first meeting, I was like, “Woe is me”. Who am I to be leading this group of people?
“I remember going home and praying and, with my husband’s support, all I could think of were those policyholders and the fact that I would have to take on Government and all the players involved.
“Here I was being thrust in the forefront which I never liked because I am somewhat of an introvert,” Fowler admitted.
She added, “I knew it had to be God because this was something I would never do. It was outside my personality. I also had little experience in insurance. Looking back some time later, I realised my seven months working with BAICO gave me some exposure”.
In the end, businessmen Stanley McDonald and Peter Marshall became directors of BIPA, and Goodman agreed to handle public relations. Soon, other people and professionals came on board to offer their services.
“Every resource we needed was provided, with no charges. The only fees we paid were legal fees.”
And so for Fowler and her team, the next nine years would be spent advocating on behalf of policyholders, spending countless days in the Supreme Court, attending meetings, and working assiduously to ensure policyholders would recoup their hard-earned money. Fowler faced much scepticism.
“People were saying I was a member of the opposition, the then Barbados Labour Party (BLP) because I was fighting the government of the day, which happened to be the Democratic Labour Party (DLP). The truth is I fought from 2011 to 2019. It was not about politics. The fight was difficult. There were many court appearances but we made sure we were always present. There were also meetings with our lawyer – who was now Alair Shepherd QC – the Solicitor General, the judicial manager, attorneys at law et al, and so many hours away from work. Thankfully, I had a boss who was very understanding and supportive.
“One day, I asked God what to do if there was no end in sight, but I got confirmation from the Scriptures to keep going forward,” Fowler said.
In 2015, the stress became immense. Her weight skyrocketed due to poor eating, and her sleep life was affected. That was the same year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite the diagnosis, Fowler kept up appearances.
“I was not afraid of the cancer, but of the chemotherapy. I was also surprised by this cancer because none of my family members ever had cancer,” said Fowler, who celebrates her 40th wedding anniversary this year.
She underwent radiation treatment in Trinidad and chemotherapy treatment in Barbados.
“I was still able to work and go to meetings. I had no vomiting, nausea or problems eating,” the former Springer Memorial student stressed.
In fact, when she lost her hair due to “the chemo treatment”, Fowler was delighted to purchase a variety of wigs with which she made fashion statements.
“My attitude during my sickness was that God knew this was going to happen. I recognised when there is a path for you to walk no amount of prayer or anointing with oil will change it. I had to go through what I did. But in the midst of my journey God gave me the grace to endure.
“I saw my sickness as a project. Had it not been for the breast cancer diagnosis I would not have met the wonderful people I did on my journey”.
With more than 17 000 CLICO policyholders now heaving great sighs of relief, Fowler is thankful. Sadly, for her, not everyone made it.
“Seven members of BIPA died, and more than 300 policyholders died over the past ten years.
“The individual policyholders of BAICO had their policies transferred to Sagicor in 2018 and those with maturities and claims received their 100 per cent payments between 2018 and 2019.”
She added with much glee, “I believe BIPA has achieved its objectives. So although not all of us got back our monies in the way we had hoped, we are thankful to God for what we’re getting.
“I want to publicly give God thanks for keeping me in the fight. I am now about my bucket list. I want to travel more and spend time with my two grandchildren. I thank God for my family because, in the final analysis, it is all about family.”
With another smile lighting up her face, Fowler declared, “I can say like the Apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight. I have stayed the course”.
“I am happy that what the good God started in me in January 2011, He has now brought to completion.”