The RIBA has sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to presidential candidate Elsie Owusu intended to prevent her making ’damaging public statements’ about the institute
The letter to Owusu – one of three contenders vying to become president alongside Phil Allsopp and Alan Jones – came after she publicly criticised the salary of RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance at a husting in Leeds last week. It has also emerged that the institute had recently reported Owusu to the Charity Commission, the charity regulator, over potentially reputation-damaging statements made by Owusu in the media in April.
According to the institute’s latest letter, Owusu’s claim that Vallance was being paid six times the average architect’s salary amounted to ‘a flagrant breach of confidentiality, [was] unsubstantiated and [was] damaging to RIBA’.
It is known that Vallance is paid at least £180,000 a year (see AJ 20.09.16).
In the letter from the RIBA’s honorary secretary Kerr Robertson dated 29 June, the institute cites other instances where it feels Owusu’s ‘serious and repeated’ criticism has affected the RIBA’s ’reputation and standing’.
These include an article in The Times on 17 April, in which she claimed the RIBA was ‘institutionally racist’, and other press leaks which the organisation said it had ‘cause to believe’ Owusu had been involved in.
The letter, which Owusu has posted on Twitter, states that the architect had breached campaign and hustings guidelines and goes on to say: ‘These public statements are very damaging to RIBA’s reputation. This is all the more serious as you are a trustee of RIBA, owing fiduciary duty of care to the organisation whose interests you are expected to preserve and promote.
‘As Honorary Secretary, it is my role to preserve the governance and charitable function of RIBA. Your recent media activity is promoting your personal interests, running for Presidency of the RIBA, over and in breach of the duty of care and fiduciary standards of service you owe the organisation.’
The AJ has also discovered that Owusu had already been reported by the RIBA to the Charity Commission over her media statements about ’institutional racism’.
A spokesperson for the commission said: ’We can confirm that the RIBA has submitted a serious incident report to the commission relating to concerns of potential reputational damage to the charity. We are currently assessing information provided to establish whether regulatory action will be required.’
Explaining its decision to contact the Charity Commission, an RIBA spokesperson said: ’As a charity, the RIBA is required to report any serious incident to the Charity Commission. As defined by the commission, a serious incident includes significant risks to a charity’s reputation.
’Trustees hold the ultimate responsibility for ensuring the charity makes a report, and does so in a timely manner. RIBA trustees provided a report to the Charity Commission in April 2018, outlining the reputational risks of unsubstantiated and misleading comments published in media coverage. The RIBA responded to the media coverage, correcting inaccuracies.
‘We will not be commenting on this matter further.’
Setting out the reasons why the institute sent its ’cease and desist’ letter to Owusu last week, a spokesperson said: ’This is not ‘gagging’, it is standard charity governance and a requirement of the regulator.
This is not ‘gagging’, it is standard charity governance
’As outlined by the Charity Commission, trustees - RIBA Council members - have a duty to act in the best interests of the charity at all times, working collegiately with other trustees and the chief executive. Should a trustee be seen to act in a manner that is not in the best interests of the organisation, or put their own personal interests above of or in breach of their role as trustee, fellow trustees are required to address this. The presidential candidates were advised at the start of the election that they are required to conduct themselves in accordance with requirements of trustees for the duration of the campaign.
They added: ’The RIBA promotes and welcomes debate among members. Our presidential hustings event this evening will be live-streamed and we encourage members to attend or watch on YouTube.’
Owusu has been approached for comment.
The final hustings will take place tonight (2 July) at 76 Portland Place. London.
Comment by former RIBA president Jack Pringle
While I don’t care for Owusu’s campaigning about Vallance’s salary I do deplore the gagging measures I hear of from the RIBA against Owusu.
Free speech is not always palatable but is to be defended.
More pertinently, current presidential candidates might consider whether the RIBA’s past officers and elected members have questions to answer about their financial stewardship of the Institute. When I left office 10 years ago we had a first-class Conran-designed restaurant for members and their guests – and millions in the bank. Now, it seems, we have a financial crisis so large we have to sell off some of the ‘family silver’; there is a desultory café for members and their guests and a rather smart canteen exclusively for staff.
@RIBA #President-Elect gig: fab gig in #Newcastle. “Frightener” on @Alan_Vallance salary-by Hon Sec Kerr Robertson despite great work 4 @RIAS. Quoted & fully agree @Prof_mikestacey 9/9/2017 #architects “need to reform @RIBA so it is fit for 21st Century...”. #lovearchitecture! pic.twitter.com/IhKcLQQNZZ— Elsie Owusu OBE (@elsie_owusu) June 30, 2018