Images from FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s visit to Trinidad and Tobago as he meets with T&T's Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. Photos by Ash Allen and Nicholas Bhajan for TTFA Media.
Typography

On the heels of a disappointing showing last Tuesday by the Soca Warriors squad against Panama, former Minister of Sport Brent Sancho has lashed out over the current state of T&T football.

“During my time as a national player up until now, a fundamental theme for success in local football has been government interest, support and buy-in.

“Unfortunately, the current administration has offered none of these things, to the detriment of local football at the youth, semi-pro and professional levels. Government’s support for youth and community football leagues across the country is at an all-time low, at a time where crime is at an all-time high.

“Coincidence? I think not. With no initiatives to stimulate sport and youth activity in troubled communities, what do you expect?”

Sancho, a former national defender who played in he 2006 World Cup finals, echoed the concern of national coach, Dennis Lawrence, that the uncertainty over the future of the Pro League may have troubling repercussions for national teams.

He said, “The Pro League is literally on the verge of collapse with millions worth of prize money and promised subventions still being owed to clubs by the government. We have been given no assurances of whether these obligations will be paid. All the while the Ministry is rife with sexual scandals (see story below) and abuse of power while local football is on life support.”

Although a lack of funds has been cited by the Ministry as the reason for the decrease in financial support, Sancho, a former Minister of Sports rubbished this claim, saying: “It’s not that funds are scarce, they are just being misappropriated. Could you imagine that the Pro League is on the verge of financial collapse, yet the Ministry is building a $150 million stadium in Diego Martin. For whom? If there is no league then what is the point?”

Sancho, the owner of Central FC, a three-time championship winning club of the T&T Pro League, pointed out that professional football as an industry that employs over 300 people directly and hundreds more indirectly. No government should stand by and watch hundreds of people, most of which come from troubled communities, lose their livelihood. We have seen our national coach frustrated by having to select players who haven’t played a competitive game for over four months and are not even training full time. If the Pro League collapses we can basically kiss our chances of future World Cup qualification goodbye.”

RELATED NEWS

Sport Minister’s secretary gets $150,000 after dismissal.
By Carla Bridglal (Guardian).


Sex suit settled

Taxpayers, through the Ministry of Sport, have paid $150,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by a former personal secretary to the minister, Darryl Smith.

Sources close to the ministry told Sunday Newsday the woman had alleged sexual impropriety against her by a high-ranking member of the ministry.

She was subsequently terminated. After challenging the ministry’s decision in the Industrial Court, she was awarded $150,000. Sunday Newsday understands she was also asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

The minister is distancing himself from the matter. In a response to Sunday Newsday via What’s App, Smith said: “While (name called) was at one point in time my assistant, I was not a party to any trade dispute at the Industrial Court nor any settlement agreement. This would be easily confirmed by any official documents you may have in your possession. I, therefore, am unable to provide any comment with respect to matters where I was clearly not a party.”

In a document stamped January 26, 2017, the ministry said the total paid to the woman amounted to an estimated savings of $84,360.

The plaintiff, who was represented by the National Union of Government and Federated Workers, initially made a claim for $234,360 – the total sum of her initial 30-month contract, plus a $45,360 gratuity payment.

The plaintiff had started work in January 2016 and was terminated in April. She was paid “one month’s salary in lieu of notice” in May, documents show. Sunday Newsday was told she was terminated for non-performance, although she had never been given any prior notice of dissatisfaction by her employers.

On January 24, 2017, Judith Joseph, one of the attorneys at the Ministry of Sport, sought approval for a settlement order and non-disclosure agreement, hopefully concluding a trade dispute brought against the ministry by the former personal secretary to Smith.

The following day, the permanent secretary, Natasha Barrow, signed off on the request, and on January 26, cheque #553 in the amount of $150,000 was issued. It was collected by Joseph.

A non-disclosure agreement is a contract in which the parties involved agree not to disclose the information therein. It is confidential and protects any type of proprietary information or trade secrets.

Such agreements are also common in sexual harassment cases, especially in the private sector, said one attorney to whom Sunday Newsday spoke, usually to mask distorted power dynamics where high-ranking personalities may have tried to take advantage of subordinates.

In the public sector, because of transparency and accountability policies, they are generally unheard of, especially in cases to do with an employee’s termination.

Another attorney, Lyndon Leu of Leu, Khan-Leu and Company, who agreed to give his opinion on the record, said non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases in the private sector, and even in a state enterprise, aren’t unusual, especially if the information may be false, so as not to permanently tarnish reputations.

In a ministry, however, if public funds are used, this would be a matter of good governance, and something for the Auditor General to note. He added that it would not be wrong, per se, to use external counsel, but that would need to be authorised, likely by Cabinet, with the scope of the counsel outlined.

Leu also said it was rare to have non-disclosure agreements in the public sector because they usually relate to information that is not public in nature, but since the advent of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), there isn’t much in the public sector that isn’t considered public information.

Sunday Newsday requested all public documents pertaining to the case filed in the Industrial Court, but was informed via e-mail that after an investigation, “this particular matter… is exempt from under the FOIA.”

While $150,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the ministry’s nearly $280 million budget, at the very least the transaction seems improper because it’s public funds and so should be more transparent.

Sunday Newsday was also told that the high-ranking official had consulted the ministry’s legal team on advice on how to settle the matter privately, but many refused to entertain the possibility because they were uncomfortable with the circumstances. Outside counsel was therefore sought. When the decision had been made to settle the matter, staff at the ministry refused on the grounds of personal integrity to follow through with the request to sign off on it. Sunday Newsday was reliably informed that former acting permanent secretary at the ministry Ian Ramdahin had also, during his time, raised questions about why an external lawyer was settling a matter for the ministry, but nothing came of the query.

When Barrow joined the ministry, she was the one who ultimately approved the payment.

Contacted by Sunday Newsday to clarify the situation, she said she could not remember the circumstances.

“I can’t recall everything that came across my desk at that time,” she said.

Barrow was also the permanent secretary who approved the Sport Ministry’s luxury three-day weekend jaunt at the Magdalena Grande hotel in Tobago last May, which cost taxpayers approximately $90,000. She was moved from the ministry after news of that event broke.

Joseph, the ministry’s legal officer, who prepared the note requesting the cheque, did not respond to calls for comment.

Sunday Newsday also contacted Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, as the highest legal officer in government, for clarification on non-disclosure policies involving state agencies and public funds, specifically the $150,000 payment barred from scrutiny because of the non-disclosure agreement.

Al-Rawi said this would require an understanding of the matter and the particulars, and said, “I am not familiar with the matter and therefore can’t speculate.”

On Friday during parliamentary questions, Opposition MP Barry Padarath asked if the Minister of Sport (in this case, acting minister Nyan Gadsby-Dolly) could say whether a former personal secretary to the minister had brought industrial action for wrongful dismissal on the grounds of sexual harassment by a high-ranking official. His question was disallowed by Deputy Speaker Esmond Forde.

PM sends Smith off field.
By Gail Alexander (Guardian).


Demoted one day, fired the next

From Minister to junior minister on Monday—then out of Government completely, by yesterday.

That’s the story of Darryl Smith after Prime Minister Keith Rowley yesterday received “new information” about the Sports Ministry settlement issue which shot Smith into headlines recently.

Rowley who removed Smith from the Sports Ministry on Monday after such headlines had demoted him to a minister in the Housing/Urban Development Ministry. But yesterday the Prime Minister revoked the Housing appointment—shunting Smith out of Government entirely.

A statement from the Prime Minister’s office at 2.56 pm yesterday announced the developments after Rowley met with Smith and Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, during which “new information came to the attention of the Prime Minister,” the statement added.

Rowley has appointed an all-female three member team to “thoroughly review the circumstances surrounding the dismissal and payment of compensation” to Smith’s former personal assistant Carrie Ann Moreau by the Sport Ministry—part of the issue which placed Smith in the spotlight.

The team, chaired by former Permanent Secretary and Human Resource expert Jackie Wilson, includes Folade Mutota of WINAD and attorney Elaine Greene. They’re expected to report to the Prime Minister in two weeks.

The PM’s office also stated: “It’s anticipated that all parties involved in any non-disclosure arrangement in this matter will lift such impediment to allow the fullest examination of the facts for the benefit of the public.”

The rapid-fire series of events up to yesterday followed last Sunday’s revelation of a witness statement by former Sports Ministry employee Moreau and alleged “unwanted attention” from Smith. The Ministry reportedly undertook a $150,000 settlement to her following a wrongful dismissal—improper procedure—claim.

Rowley’s subsequent shift of Smith from Sports to Housing on Monday immediately raised a firestorm of criticism concerning his decision to retain Smith in Government. The Opposition and other groups said Rowley should have fired Smith outright.

Contacted about yesterday’s meeting with the Prime Minister and Smith, Minister Robinson-Regis told T&T Guardian she had been asked by Rowley to probe the process used for settlement of Moreau’s claim.

She said based on her investigations, she had submitted the information she had gleaned, to the Prime Minister, and following that, he had acted on Monday.

“But then further information came to light and the Prime Minister has now acted in the way he did (revoking Smith’s appoinment),” she added.

Robinson- Regis declined to detail the new information—whether it was something she had further unearthed or if it was something Smith revealed, admitted to or confirmed during yesterday’s meeting.

Robinson-Regis said: “The Prime Minister had additional information and he made his decision (yesterday). She discounted claims that public outrage was the reason for firing of Smith.

She added: “When we govern, it’s not just for is. If the public doesn’t accept an action we have undertaken and the Government responds, then that’s what good governance is all about. But that’s not the basis on which the Prime Minister acted (today). New additional information came to light, was brought to the PM’s attention and he acted.”

Other sources were unable to confirm if the dismissal involved the fact that the Urban Development Company Ltd falls under the Housing Ministry to which Smith was shifted - and Moreau works at Udecott.

Officials of the latter confirmed she’s been there under a year.

Sources said despite the appointment of the team to examine the Sports Ministry issue, the Prime Minister’s decision on Smith is a “completed action.”

They said the removal of the non-disclosure agreement would be up to the parties involved - Sports Ministry and Moreau. She didn’t reply to calls on whether she’ll agree to have the agreement dropped.

PNM Women’s League applauds PM

PNM party officials acknowledged the retention of Darryl Smith in Housing on Monday had sparked a range of social media backlash and negative comments on call-in programmes.

While PNM’s Women’s League chairman Robinson-Regis, via statement applauded Rowley’s decision on Smith “for his careful, deliberate and timely handling of this very sensitive issue,” she said the League is simultaneously saddened at the turn of events and impact on the community.

“The League, by its very composition, is extremely cognisant of the impact of sexual harassment on victims, their families and even work colleagues. We are also very mindful as well of how mere allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace have been used in the past to destroy public officials, and equally, how public officials too have betrayed the trust reposed in them by many.”

Supporting introduction of a national policy on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, she said, the League will ensure such a draft policy is presented at PNM’s next General Council.

Chairman of PNM’s Diego Martin Central executive Lynette Ward initially said the executive supported their MP Smith but had no comment on Rowley’s decision. She then said “No comment on anything.”

Vice-chairman Gordon Paul said the executive is due to meet and expected the issue would be discussed. On his own personal view, Paul said the situation hasn’t been a good thing.

“I’m always willing to get all the facts before coming to a decision and all I knew was what I read last Sunday and didn’t know if it was all factual. Apparently, the Prime Minister got further information (yesterday) and made a decision.”

From Friday’s House of Representatives session, Smith - already on Government’s backbench - joins PNM’s D’Abadie/O’Meara MP Ancil Antoine as a former minister. Antoine was removed from Public Utilities last year.

And with yesterday’s revocation after a day, Smith has broken Marlene McDonald’s record for the shortest-lived Ministerial appointment when she was hired and fired between June 30 and July 2, 2017.

PUBLIC HAS RIGHT TO REASON—KAMLA

In response to the firing, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called for the Prime Minister to disclose the information he acted on to the country.

“The Prime Minister’s action raises more questions than are answered. What’s the “new information” he received which changed his mind on Darryl Smith? What could be worse than what was already reported in the media? In the circumstances, such ‘new information’ cannot be withheld.”

“In the interest of transparency and accountability, we call on the Prime Minister to immediately to release this ‘new information’ - and explain why, in spite of the information appearing in the media, he failed to take action against Smith as he should have done immediately. “

She added, “The entire sordid business remains shrouded in mystery, yet another ‘Committee’ has been appointed to investigate. Investigate what, exactly, Dr Rowley? He cannot claim that he didn’t know (Monday) morning that an investigation was done, the parties agreed and monies were paid.”

Reliable sources yesterday distanced the Attorney General’s Ministry from the Sports Ministry settlement. They said because there was no admission of liability, it was not uncommon to have the non-disclosure aspect.

On Opposition accusations the AG’s Ministry “brokered” it, they said the matter concerned wrongful procedure, was against the Ministry and Chief Personnel Officer and was handled by Sports. They added the AG recently answered questions on it in Parliament since they had been posed to then Sports Minister Darryl Smith and he was absent.