Board Matters

FACT: SWISS SUPPORT

Summary:

  • We are very disappointed that the Swiss Government is ending its support
  • Regrettable though it is, their withdrawal should not affect our School’s character or culture; in fact, we are making concerted efforts to strengthen Swiss character and culture at GSIS
  • GSIS’ name will not change
  • This Board made continual efforts through multiple avenues to engage and cooperate with the Swiss Consulate to avoid the Swiss departure; not once did the Swiss Consulate take the initiative to discuss their demands with the Board
  • This Board and future Boards will continue look for reengagement with the Swiss Government in the future

History

  1. For many years, the Swiss Government has supported GSIS by providing a subsidy for Swiss teachers employed at the school. Over the past three years, this subsidy amounted to an average of HK$833,000 per year (or [0.3]% of our total annual budget).  In return, a representative of the Swiss Consulate in Hong Kong attended Board meetings as an observer and students of Swiss nationality received a level of preference when applying to the school.
  2. After the AGM in March 2019, the Swiss Consulate sent a letter to the Board claiming that:
  3. the election of directors at the AGM was “a clear breach of the articles” because the German Fluency Constraint in Art. 47.2 had not been observed; and
  4. the then draft articles (approved by the Board under the chairmanship of Mrs. Jebsen) were “unacceptable” and, if adopted, could lead to a loss of funding and the loss of the brand “German Swiss”.

It also stated that the Swiss Government was considering taking up this issue with the Hong Kong Government, which the Swiss Consulate later confirmed it had.  The Swiss Consulate’s representative stopped attending Board meetings thereafter.  It should be noted that since 2017, the Swiss Government through its observer seat on the Board, did not offer any significant input to the drafting of the Articles.

On May 10, 2019, the Swiss Consul General sent a list of five demands, to be included in any draft of new Articles of the Association:

  1. A Member of the Swiss School Committee to be a voting Member on the Board
  2. A representative from the Consulate to have observer status on the Board
  3. The Swiss Government/Consulate to be consulted on changes to the Articles
  4. The number of members for whom any person can be a proxy at a general meeting to be limited to 5
  5. The position of Chairperson of the Board to be rotated regularly (e.g. every 2 years)

Demands under 2. and 3. were already included in our draft Amended Articles in June 2019.

  1. In a subsequent telephone call with the Swiss Consul General and in a meeting at the Swiss Consulate in June 2019, the Board informed the Swiss Consul that its demands could not be met because they (1) were grounded in a mistaken understanding of Hong Kong law and of the context and outcome of the March 2019 AGM; (2) would not gain the acceptance of 75% of our members; and (3) were in any case unreasonable because neither the German nor the Hong Kong governments, who are much bigger benefactors of GSIS, have such rights.
  2. During the phone call, the June meeting and in every subsequent interaction, the Swiss government made clear that it would not negotiate the five demands and that each and all five needed to be met if they were to continue to be involved with GSIS. This position was repeated by the Swiss Consul in various letters and at the EGMs of December 9, 2019 and March 17, 2020.
  3. During 2019 and into early 2020, the Board reached out to the Swiss government numerous times to discuss their demands and to try to explain the legal uncertainty surrounding the German Fluency Constraint in Art. 47.2. In contrast to our many attempts at outreach, at no time since the AGM in March 2019 has the Swiss Consulate asked for a meeting with the GSIS Association or suggested a discussion of their demands.  In fact, immediately prior to our meeting at the Swiss Consulate on June 20, 2019, the Consulate informed us categorically that it would not negotiate its five demands at the meeting.
  4. At the EGM on March 17 of this year, our members voted on the five Swiss demands. The Swiss Consulate was informed in advance of this EGM, which the Swiss Consul attended, and voiced no objection to its taking place either before or during the meeting.  Only 23% of our members voted in favor of the Swiss demands and 77% against. The Swiss Consulate then sent a letter to the GSIS Association announcing its intention to end its involvement with GSIS at the end of the current school year.
  5. In the interest of completeness, it should also be noted that a number of years ago, the Swiss government had complained to GSIS that there was not enough “Swissness” at the school, a complaint repeated by the Swiss Consul General in our meeting on June 20, 2019.

Rights to the Name “German Swiss International School”

  1. On various occasions, the Swiss Consulate has indicated that it could force GSIS to take “Swiss” out of its name. This is simply not true.  The GSIS Association owns the rights to the name “German Swiss International School”.  We have been advised categorically that we have full ownership rights to the name and that any legal action to make us change it will be without merit and fail.
  2. Some members have argued that, regardless of merit, the Swiss Government may still start legal action against GSIS for removal of “Swiss” from our name and that such action would be costly, even if we win in Court. We do not believe that the Swiss Government would waste tax payers’ money on spurious lawsuits.  The Swiss Consulate informed us recently that its department for intellectual property is looking into this issue, presumably to determine whether it has indeed such a case against GSIS.

In Conclusion

  1. The Board very much regrets that the Swiss Government is withdrawing from GSIS. We are even sadder because we believe that it is in part due to a misinterpretation of the events at the 2019 AGM that led to this decision.  For a full year have we tried to come to an understanding with the Swiss Government, but without making any progress.  In the end, we left the decision on the five demands to our members, who voted against accepting them.
  2. This Board has no objection to letting the members vote again on the Swiss demands. However, just as the Requisitionists have done, we would only propose such amendments to our Articles by a separate resolution.  The reason for this is that we do not believe that there is adequate support for the Swiss demands among our members and we do not want to risk other important amendments that need to be made to our Articles.
  3. GSIS has a 50-year history of Swiss heritage. Regardless of the involvement of the Swiss government in our school, GSIS will continue to cherish and live this heritage.  A Swiss task force has begun to look at ways to preserve and increase the Swiss content at GSIS.  We strongly believe that, even if the Swiss government does not want to contribute monetarily to our school, it should be proud to be associated with GSIS and its reputation as one of the very best schools in Hong Kong, Asia and the world.  We will continue to look for opportunities to reengage with the Swiss Government as we are confident future Boards will do too.