Sun, May

Phillips: Arrogant, shifty John-Williams-led TTFA is steering T&T football to ruin.

“The [TTFA’s] handling of former coaches Stephen Hart and Randy Waldrum were nothing short of embarrassingly unprofessional and mean. [And the] TTFA leadership persists in acting in a manner that may very well push creditors to seek legal redress and have the TTFA placed in court-appointed administration.

“There simply seems to be no evidence of desire on the part of the current TTFA president and its board to pay debt unless creditors go through arduous litigation, win a judgment—at greater expense to the TTFA, I may add—and collect on said judgment.”

Former Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) general secretary Sheldon Phillips, who won a $.2 million High Court case against his former employers earlier this year, gives his view on the current direction of the local football body, headed by president David John-Williams:

The David John-Williams-led TTFA has failed in serving both Trinidad and Tobago football and its members in every way.

Before accepting the position of General Secretary of the TTFA, which I held from  2013 to 2015, I sought assurances from the former TTFA president, Raymond Tim Kee, to place three matters as high priority items:

Reformation of the TTFA Constitution

The coaching selection process of the senior men’s and women’s national team programmes.

Substantive effort to reduce TTFA debt.

An accord was reached, assurances were given, and my tenure as General Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation began on 9 May, 2013.

Upon my arrival at the TTFA office on Ana St in Woodbrook, Mr Tim Kee was waiting at the top of the stairs holding a large pile of manila folders which contained invoices, contracts, and correspondence connected to what would end up being over $35 million dollars in debt incurred by the organisation.

I knew the organisation was in debt but, until I reviewed the files, I did not know the actual breadth and depth of the problem. In a gallows humour moment after locating and verifying an additional set of claims, I told Tim Kee that for the next two years we will be acting more like a claims department than a football association.

All manner of service providers—large and small, corporate and sole trader enterprises—had legitimate claims for goods and services provided. Of even greater concern were unpaid invoices for coaches, players, and other service providers who had performed in the context of the TTFA’s national team programmes.

It was heartbreaking to see the evidence and even worse to hear the stories of dismissiveness and even hostility meted out by prior TTFA administrators to respectfully made inquiries about payment for services sought by the TTFA and professionally rendered.

Our commitment to reducing the debt was real and sincere. Among the over 100 claims, the largest and most visible was the one by 13 senior national team 2006 World Cup players who had won a High Court judgment against the TTFA for breach of contract; and, though the determination of damages by the Court had not yet been reached, all signs pointed to an award eclipsing $20 million.

These events had taken place before Tim Kee was elected president and I assumed the GS position.

I was convinced a debt-reduction strategy was indeed going to be a priority while attending a meeting held at CONCACAF offices between the then CONCACAF President and General Secretary, Jeffrey Webb and Enrique Sanz respectively, and Mr Tim Kee and myself. The question of how a recently discovered sum of US$1.5 million belonging to the TTFF should be used was posed by Webb to Tim Kee.

Having already discussed the matter prior to the meeting, Tim Kee and I looked at each other and he then turned to Webb and said  “We will use it to pay the players.'”

“All of it?” asked Webb.

“Every red penny,” Tim Kee replied, enunciating each syllable to ensure no chance of ambiguity.

Sharing these events is not an attempt to reminisce or offer self-praise but to present the fact that, while our debt to income ratio was 4:1, the earnest steps we took to address the debt saved the organisation from becoming ripe for creditors petitioning the court to wind up the TTFA.

It is not lost upon myself that the current administration has demonstrated an acute level of proficiency in tarnishing each of the three areas of greatest concern—constitution, senior team relevance, and debt management—I shared with Tim Kee and pledged to give priority care.

In the area of constitutional reform, the current administration was elected in a flawed and constitutionally illegal election. The vast majority of members were not in compliance with the new constitution nor were proper steps taken in the General Meeting to offer and pass a motion to waive the statutes, which outlined the steps for a properly assembled Annual General Meeting (AGM) and election.

As a result, the legitimacy of the current TTFA administration is as shifty and murky as the Pitch Lake.

In regard to the football product, from the very moment Williams assumed power, the gradual deterioration and string of poor results from each national team programme became apparent. Our youth national teams were losing by scores of 15-0 and 8-2 in tournaments and coaches responded by saying such abominations were “good experiences” for the players.

The Senior Men’s team’s leadership was undermined to the point where the players knew their coach was no longer the leader and authority of the team. The administration’s handling of former coaches Stephen Hart and Randy Waldrum was nothing short of embarrassingly unprofessional and mean.

However, it is the current administration’s overall approach to the debt that most clearly demonstrates a wanton disregard of the most basic duties of care and loyalty officers and directors of any company must uphold.

Based on reports from various creditors, Williams’ approach to legitimate financial obligations isn’t based on empathy but rather on frivolous defences, hostility, misrepresentation of facts, and overall disrespect towards other parties involved in disputes that can be easily and amicably settled.

(Full disclosure, I have a current matter pending in the Industrial Court against the TTFA and won a High Court decision earlier this year to recover money lent to the TTFA that Williams refused to pay back). 

Instead of humbling themselves and acknowledging claims from people who have shown great patience, the TTFA faces the very real threat of a creditor-led wind-up effort and its officers, directors, and members face the possibility of personal liability.

Here is what may very well happen. The Companies Act of Trinidad and Tobago (81:01) presents various circumstances where a company may be wound up should the Court find reason that the organisation is insolvent and unable to properly meet its obligations:

Winding Up By The Court

Section 355. A company may be wound up by the Court if— 

(a) the company has by special resolution resolved that the company be wound up by the Court; 

(b) the company does not commence its business within a year from its incorporation, or suspends its business for a whole year; 

(c) the company is unable to pay its debts;

Liability of Members 

Section 349. 

(1) Subject to this section, in the event of a company being wound up every present or past member is liable to contribute to the assets of the company to an amount sufficient for payment of its debts and liabilities, and the costs, charges and expenses of among themselves.

Liability of Directors and Officers

In re CLICO Investment Bank – in Compulsory Liquidation. In re The Companies Act, Chap. 81:01

In the above-cited hearing decision, the Court considered and subsequently denied a defence motion to prohibit the liquidator’s use of company shares from another company owned by the defendant for the purposes of satisfying creditors of CLICO in which the defendant was a director.

The Court surmised the liquidator was well within his rights to apply the value of the shares so long as doing so represented an element of fairness in the carrying out of the liquidator’s duty to the creditors.

Based on the cases I have reviewed and the statute itself, the powers given to the Court to protect the interest of creditors under the Companies Act are vast and the Court as well as its representatives is free to consider a number of variables to determine whether a petition for wind up and the ensuing actions will be granted or denied.

In short, the TTFA and its actions, attitude, and overall disposition toward creditors can be considered. Any steps taken by an organisation targeted for wind up or even its failure to take basic steps to mitigate damage to the organisation can be considered by the court and its appointed representatives.

In my view, Williams and his board have greatly diminished any objective claim of taking serious steps to manage the organisation’s debts.

No organisation can operate properly when it is undercapitalised and saddled with debt. However, based upon their own 2016 audit statement, the TTFA paid over TT$15 million in professional fees. So, while capital does not seem to be as severe an issue as it was during my tenure, it would be reasonable for the Court to review the purpose of the professional fees and ask why couldn’t a portion of the increased revenue be used to address debt.

Additionally, the court can seek minutes of Board meetings and General Council meetings to review how much time and discussion was dedicated to addressing the organisation’s debt.

From a structural standpoint, it can be argued that the inactivity of the Finance Committee—the official entity responsible for recommending fiscal policy for an organisation—is another illustration of the organisation’s negligent and apathetic approach to debt management.

In this era of “wrong and strong,” TTFA leadership persists in acting in a manner that may very well push creditors to seek legal redress and have the TTFA placed in court-appointed administration. There simply seems to be no evidence of desire on the part of the current TTFA president and its board to pay debt unless creditors go through arduous litigation, win a judgment—at greater expense to the TTFA, I may add—and collect on said judgment.

This is not a prudent or honourable manner of stewardship of the game; in fact, it marks a further deterioration in the relevance of the sport and general goodwill towards it.

Should TTFA members further entrust to Mr Williams and the Board of Directors the levers of policy making on their behalf, such an indulgence could be reasonably judged as negligent and hasten an existential threat to the organisation and perhaps place members as well as TTFA officials and directors themselves within the line of legal liability.

The TTFA Constitution provides that the TTFA is a member-centered organisation. It is neither owned by the president nor controlled by the Board. As Article 12 of the TTFA Constitution, Members can insist upon being informed of the affairs of the TTFA. Members also have the ability to remove officers and directors who are not performing in the best interests of the organisation should members choose such a route.

If TTFA members are unable to convince current TTFA leadership to properly and earnestly address the organisation’s debts, it is obliged to remove the current leadership—if not for the best interests of the game in Trinidad and Tobago, then to protect themselves in the event of a company wind up and liquidation.

In closing, it important to note that football does not begin or end with the TTFA leadership. Though the TTFA leadership and their sycophants may attempt to convince the public they are indispensable, the truth is the game will go on without them.

Leagues and clubs will still operate, coaches will still pass along their knowledge and ply their trade, and the general business of football will still continue should the TTFA find itself freed from the grasp of its current leadership—whether through member action or through Court involvement.

However, it is preferable that the creditors work with the TTFA and its members to create a debt restructure plan that would make the TTFA a better and stronger organisation led by an administration that embraces transparency and based on sound business acumen.

And one that understands it must use its power to properly serve the players, coaches, referees, administrators and fans in order for Trinidad and Tobago football to reach its maximum potential at all levels of play and for us to present ourselves well on the global stage.