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Photo: TTFA president David John-Williams (right) smiles with fourth official Cecile Hinds before the First Citizens Bank Cup final between Defence Force and Ma Pau Stars at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 2 December 2016. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
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“[Wednesday] night was a massive defeat for the TTFA executive, which has provoked controversy for the last six months with its stance against the Central Football Association and the TTSL,” TTSL interim president Keith Look Loy told Wired868. “My take is it was a great victory for grassroots democracy in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Look Loy was in a bullish mode as the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s EGMs ended with good news for the Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) and Central Football Association (CFA) on Wednesday night at the National Cycling Velodrome in Balmain, Couva.

Whether the EGM represented a zero-sum game is open to debate though.

“I enjoy seeing people I know from around football—whether they are representing clubs or regional associations—having a chance to come and participate in decisions,” said one TTFA board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I never saw that before. In the days of Jack Warner as special advisor that meeting would have been done in five minutes!”

Instead, yesterday’s EGMs—one tabled by the CFA and the other by the TTFA’s Board of Directors—lasted for more than four hours and the latter motion had to be adjourned.

When current TTFA president David John-Williams began his term in late 2015, the meetings quickly became poorly attended and generally meek affairs.

On Wednesday, 35 from 47 potential delegates turned out and John-Williams certainly did not have it all his own way.

“The meeting was a democratically successful meeting,” said former Trinidad and Tobago Referees Association head Osmond Downer—a man not known to be easily satisfied.

The first matter of business was the Board’s agenda, which included issues of: the compliance of members; appointments to the Judicial Bodies and Audit and Compliance Committee; and the acceptance of 2016 audit report.

The 18-month grace period allowed for members to become compliant with the new constitution expired on 12 January 2017. It meant, strictly speaking, several members of the football body could have been legal struck off. Instead, the membership decided to grant a further amnesty until 30 September 2017—by which time they must present the TTFA general secretariat with, among other things, “a copy of its audited financial statements for the previous financial year.”

The TTSL clubs, in particular, are believed to be trailing in this regard.

As John-Williams reeled off the list of proposed members for the Judicial and Audit and Compliance bodies, there was the first hint of dissent. Veteran Footballers Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (VFFTT) president Selby Browne objected to the process of appointments.

“This is no way for this council to confirm any members to any board,” said Browne. “What I would have expected is a list circulated to all the delegates, giving names of all persons recommended and one paragraph on who they were, prior to any decision.”

Article 36 (d) of the constitution says the Board of Directions “shall propose the members of the judicial bodies and the Audit and Compliance Committee to the General Meeting.”

And Article 23 gives the general membership the authority to elect or dismiss members of any standing committee “upon the proposal of the Board of Directors.”

Did the wording of the constitution suggest that the general membership was just a rubber stamp for this particular matter?

Browne resisted that notion and had support from the floor. So the BoD relented and agreed to present the proposed members as suggested at a later date.

It was probably wise since one right that the general membership certainly does have is the right to vote for the removal of any Board member including the TTFA president.

The Board’s attempt to have its financial audit approved similarly hit a wall.

“The financial statements and auditor’s report were read out by an auditor,” said Downer. “There were no print outs available. One man read that this book was examined, etc but nothing was in front of members to look at. So it was decided that [the TTFA’s Audit Report] could not be considered.”

Once more, Browne led the challenge on the floor.

“We are quite grateful and thankful that you read it but this cannot be considered at this time,” said Browne, “because we have no Audit Report before us to accept. The board should have circulated report and that is what must be done.”

According to Article 27.3 of the constitution, the BoD was obliged to make all relevant financial documents available to members “at least 14 days before the date of the Annual General Meeting.”

There was no stipulation regarding financial documents for an EGM. But, once financial matters were up for discussion, surely the spirit of the constitution would suggest that the same protocol would follow.

Again, the Board bent to the will of its membership on the issue.

Next up was the EGM requested by the CFA, which asked for:

Removal and replacement of CFA representative on the Board of the TTFA as requested by the CFA;

Change status of the Super League Clubs with the establishment of the TTSL;

The application of the TTSL for full membership of the TTFA or for the enjoyment of equivalent status as the TT Pro League as a recognised body to organise its own games and competitions;

Changes in the TTFA constitution consequent upon changes made in (3) above: (Article 10.1b and 22.1b) Change from National Super League Clubs to Trinidad and Tobago Super League Clubs; (Article 33) To include one member representing the Trinidad and Tobago Super League [on the TTFA board]; To change the board of directors [from] 13 to 14 members; Elections of the TTSL representative to the board of directors of the TTFA.

On paper, they seemed straightforward requests. But the CFA and TTSL wish-list had been frustrated for roughly six months in the latter body’s case and over a year for the former.

Remarkably, the BoD repeatedly resisted the CFA’s request to change its representative to the board, Samuel Saunders. Wednesday was D-Day.

Saunders, an attorney, initially refused to recuse himself from the meeting to decide his own fate and insisted he be allowed to address the general membership on the matter.

The members—again led by Browne—insisted Saunders leave immediately and without a word.

Eventually, John-Williams asked Saunders to listen to the people and recuse himself and the membership supported CFA who were allowed to immediately replace him with James Toussaint.

“I still don’t understand why Mr Saunders put himself through all that humiliation,” said CFA general secretary Clynt Taylor. “He attempted to make a pitch for him but when members found out he was there, they were very upset and asked him to recuse himself. He kept saying he want to talk and members kept insisting he had to go and were shouting back ‘we don’t want to hear you’.

“In the end, I felt bad for him.”

Downer suggested that the John-Williams-led Board had misinterpreted the rulebook in what should have been a simple matter.

“I asked the question: Did the CFA change its representative to the board of the TTFA according to its constitution?” said Downer. “You see quite a few people were confusing the issue because [they were applying] the TTFA’s constitution. It is a very complicated thing for the TTFA to change a board member. But according to the CFA constitution, that decision can be made by a simple majority of its board and ratified by the general meeting…”

Once more, the membership spoke; and Saunders was out.

The TTSL’s proposals were swept through in similar fashion. All but one.

Once the fledgling body was formally recognised in the constitution and assured of a seat on the TTFA Board, the TTSL’s representatives recommended Look Loy—who was not on the island and absent from the meeting—be immediately installed as the local football body’s 14th Board member.

John-Williams objected on the grounds that Look Loy was recommended by an interim board, which ought to now give way to a formal body before it could make such a decisions. And, on this occasion, the TTFA president was successful.

“Now that they are duly consisted, they can call general meeting and elect officers and members to the board,” said Downer, who described John-Williams’ point as valid. “So the meeting decided unanimously that the admission of their representative be postponed to the next extraordinary general meeting.”

Within 24 hours, Look Loy revealed that the TTSL had already set a date for their formal elections.

“We are in the process right now of calling an election for the ninth of August,” Look Loy told Wired868. “The interim board had asked for me to represent the TTSL but John-Williams argued that an interim board cannot take such a decision. So we said fine, we are going to have an election… We are in the process of alerting people right now.”

Look Loy described the EGM as a victory for the “grassroots” against the power-brokers.

“They argued against Saunders being removed [and] John-Williams lost the fight,” he said. “And they argued against the TTSL being given representation on the Board and the members pushed them back and won the day. It was a great day for football democracy and common sense prevailed.”

Taylor offered a more downbeat verdict.

“It was a relief for the CFA that we can hopefully get someone who is willing to work with us [on the TTFA Board] but I find the whole process very sad,” said the CFA general secretary. “It was really anticlimactic. We could have put a lot of this effort into progressing football as opposed to moving one individual.

“The amount of animosity and effort spent fighting this was really sad.”

By all indications, the general membership is just getting started though. Before the end of the EGM, Browne presented a list of 42 questions on an array of issues to TTFA general secretary Justin Latapy-George and all the members present.

Among Browne’s queries were: Identify the accounts that have received monies from FIFA, UEFA, CONCACAF and CFU from December 2015 to date; list the signatories to the active accounts; list the source of funding, names and amounts for the TTFA Women’s Football Programme; explain the rationale behind the meeting the TTFA hosted at the Marriott, Port of Spain, in 2016 for CFU member association executives; and explain the TTFA’s claim of a rental or leasing fee for the Hasely Crawford Stadium in a statement to the courts of Trinidad and Tobago.

The last question related to an affidavit submitted in the local High Court on 2 May 2017 by attorney Dayadai Harripaul on behalf of the TTFA, which claimed that the football body had paid TT$944,021 in rent.

In truth, the football body moved to the Hasely Crawford Stadium under John-Williams’ predecessor, Raymond Tim Kee, for rent free lodging.

One TTFA insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the John-Williams-led body is now allegedly claiming that Harripaul’s affidavit was filed without the written  consent of any Board member.

It is a remarkable assertion that should make for an interesting exchange when the issue returns to the High Court on 26 July 2017.

Browne gave the TTFA one week to respond in writing on that issue and a few dozen more to boot. Neither John-Williams, Latapy-George or the Board have committed to that proposed timeline or even to provide the information in the first place.

John-Williams, according to one member, allegedly questioned whether Browne had the authority to make such demands of the Board. However, according to Article 12.1 (d), the TTFA’s members have the right “to be informed of the affairs of TTFA through the official bodies of TTFA.”

“The meetings demonstrated a need for all members of the TTFA—including the members of the Board of Directors and officers—to properly familiarise themselves with the TTFA constitution,” said Browne. “In so doing, meetings will be far more productive and of the desired quality of an AGM or EGM…

“We demand answers to those questions [sent to Latapy-George] which will give a full picture of the administration of football and the TTFA from December 2015 to date.”

By all accounts, the TTFA’s meetings are getting livelier by the minute.