Wed, Sep

DJW struggles to provide answers on Home of Football contracts and “sweetheart” i95.5FM deal.

Mysterious construction contracts without Board approval, national football coaches operating without oversight and a secret “sweetheart deal” with i95.5FM were among the controversial revelations yesterday as the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) held a marathon AGM at the Cycling Centre in Couva.

There were roughly 45 delegates and board members at one point yesterday for a memorable session that lasted over 11 hours, as participants rallied on coffee, water and one snack box—a sandwich, slice of cake, cookie and four grapes.

TTFA president David John-Williams was still in charge at the end, as no no confidence motion came from the floor. However, it was a bruising day for the businessman and W Connection owner, who was forced to make multiple concessions and was overruled on several occasions.

“What came out yesterday proved that lies were told to us,” Northern Football Association (NFA) president Anthony Harford told Wired868, “and there was a level of deceit and one-mannism in the football fraternity.

“Decisions claimed to be made by the Board were not made by the Board but were in fact made by one man.”

Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president Keith Look Loy seconded that assessment.

“Yesterday, the Emperor’s nakedness was revealed,” said Look Loy. “John-Williams’ lack of leadership, his mismanagement of the Association, and his usurpation of the authority of the TTFA Board was made transparently clear, time and again in issue after issue.

“The Board, members of which come from the bowels of football as its representatives, has conceded its authority to the one-mannism of John-Williams [and] allowed this open sore to fester. The TTFA ship is rudderless.”

Arguably, the most serious of John-Williams’ perceived transgressions lay in the approval and oversight of work done at the TTFA’s Home of Football project, which includes training grounds, players’ hotel and entertainment centre, located just outside of the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.

“It was evident that contracts were entered into, approaches were made to government for land, approaches were made to FIFA for funding,” said VFFOTT president Selby Browne, “with absolutely no approval from the Board.

“[John-Williams] said that he received gifts of a loan of tractors from Junior Sammy and gravel as a gift from National Quarries. But there was no approval for anything. He just went ahead and did all these things.”

John-Williams, who owns a construction company, allegedly informed the meeting that a committee that included his first vice-president Ewing Davis and TTFA employee Sharon O’ Brien oversaw the tender. That tender was then supposedly approved by the Board.

The problem for the TTFA President was that no other Board member could remember any meeting which gave that approval, while general secretary Justin Latapy-George could find no evidence of it, despite a search through his files.

“The total FIFA funding available for this project is US$2.25 million,” said Look Loy. “But instead of awarding one big contract, [John-Williams] broke the project into many small contracts of US$50,000 each.

“So he is acting like a contractor who is paying smaller contractors; and in that scenario, he could be giving money to anyone.”

Look Loy turned to John-Williams’ second vice-president Joanne Salazar and Board member Richard Quan Chan to vouch for the football president.

“I want to hear either one of you say the Board approved the contracts handed out to anybody,” said Look Loy.

Salazar and Quan Chan, according to several witnesses, remained silent. First vice-president Ewing Davis suggested that consensus was arrived at by “some” Board members via email; but that initially provoked laughter from the floor, was deemed unacceptable by members and eventually rejected.

“It is obvious that these things were never brought to any meeting,” Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) vice-president Osmond Downer told the meeting, proposing an immediate halt to all work.

Southern Football Association (SFA) representative Lennox “Bullet” Pilgrim suggested that a lengthy delay might affect the employment of the labourers and masons involved. And members agreed that the Board should move quickly to avoid such an outcome, once possible.

“I hereby move a motion that all work be stopped on the construction with immediate effect,” said Downer, “and that an emergency meeting of the Board be held post-haste to discuss the tenders and to agree to the people who are being awarded the contracts… And this must be reported in the next general meeting in 60 days.”

Downer, according to one source, was referred to as “The Motion Man” by members. One of the architects of the current TTFA Constitution, he often represented the floor and acted almost as a de facto chair—at one point, chiding the president for constantly interrupting speakers when they tried to contribute.

An example of Downer’s influence and John-Williams’ own diminishing power came when the football president ordered that the meeting be adjourned for lunch. Downer overruled him.

“Mr Chairman, you cannot adjourn this meeting,” said Downer, according to sources. “The meeting must adjourn itself. So I move that the meeting be adjourned for lunch…”

By then, there had already been the almost inevitable shouting match between Browne and John-Williams. Browne was recently appointed to the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) Board and he claimed that the TTFA president had been trying to use his position to make things difficult for the local football body.

“The chairman is going around saying that he has audio recordings of me, Selby Browne, telling the Prime Minister not to give any money to the TTFA,” said Browne. “That is a lie.”

“Yes!” John-Williams responded. “I have it.”

“You’re a liar!” Browne shot back. “You’re a pathological liar!”

Did John-Williams really have an audio recording of a conversation between Browne and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley?

The football president refused to produce the evidence to support his claim. But he did not retract it either. Browne, who said he had not spoken to Rowley since he joined the NLCB Board, accused the football president of a smear campaign and the exchange got so heated that Look Loy, on Downer’s prompting, rushed over for a quiet word with the delegate.

“Listen Selby, if you don’t calm down you will give him a reason to adjourn the meeting on a point of disorder,” Look Loy whispered to Browne, who relented.

The room was buzzing again when John-Williams admitted that the TTFA had a sole trader agreement with i95.5FM in which the football body not only pays the radio station to cover matches but also covers airfare and hotel accommodation and, on at least one occasion, even paid broadcast fees for reporter Andre Baptiste and his colleague.

i95.5FM has regularly provided favourable reviews of the local football body while Baptiste was severely critical of former coach Stephen Hart in the immediate build-up to his dismissal by the John-Williams-led Board.

“Broadcast rights are a source of revenue,” said Browne. “People pay you for this. So why are we paying Andre Baptiste?”

“This has to be the first time in the history of mankind that [the TTFA] is paying a radio station to cover our football,” said Harford, who has extensive experience in radio and television.

John-Williams was asked to produce a copy of the contract with i95.5FM, reveal the figure paid to the radio station and the tender process and prove that the “sweetheart deal” had Board approval. Again, he could not.

Downer successfully moved a motion that the information be brought to members at an extraordinary general meeting in 60 days.

Look Loy also probed the operations of the technical committee, which was headed by recently retired Pro League chairman Sam Phillip.

“We found out yesterday that there is no functioning technical committee,” said Harford.

“There have been no reviews submitted of coaching personnel or our tournament performances,” said Look Loy. “John-Williams claimed he had a report for the [CONCACAF Women’] National Under-20 tournament but nobody had seen it. None of the coaches were being appraised.

“[…] So now we realise that our problems go well beyond player development. We need to look at root-and-branch changes in our technical staff.

“[…] So we asked to see letters of commitment and contracts for all of our coaches.”

After some discussion by the floor, it was agreed that a newly constituted technical committee would review the performance of all technical staffs, establish a national technical plan, analyse the domestic elite competition structure from the regional zones through to the TTSL and TT Pro League and look at the relationship between the TTSL and TTPL and review TTFA distribution of FIFA funds to members and apply criteria to same.

The dominance of W Connection coaches under the multi-million-dollar NLCB programme was another sore point.

“In seven years, Connection has won nothing at youth level but they have all the jobs,” Look Loy told the gathering, “and Jabloteh are scooping up trophies but they have nothing.”

“But look at how many players Defence Force has on the senior team,” John-Williams retorted, “and they ent win nothing. So how come people not complaining about that?”

“Because you are president of Connection,” Look Loy shot back. “Perception is reality.”

How much were those coaches earning anyway? The TTFA’s biggest line item on its financial statement was TT$15 million for “professional fees.” The floor demanded specifics.

John-Williams refused to provide details.

“I can’t do that,” said the TTFA president. “That is people’s private money.”

“It is not what you want,” Browne shot back. “The membership is directing you to do so!”

Central Football Association (CFA) general secretary Clynt Taylor pointed out that, at his credit union, shareholders were entitled to information on all salaries. Why should football be different?

“Is we who are paying them, not you,” said Look Loy. “It is our football money and we need to know what they are making.”

The matter went to a vote and, again, John-Williams lost. In 60 days, the TTFA Board must provide detailed financial information at an extraordinary general meeting.

“I, on a personal level, have some reservation about people’s salaries [being shared in the general meeting],” said Harford. “But people voted for that information to be released […] so David has no choice now but to comply.”

Without such information at hand, for the sixth time, the members did not pass the 2016 financial statement.

There are impending changes at board level too. Second vice-president Allan Warner lost his place on the board after missing more than four successive meetings while, owing to potential conflicts of interest, Wayne Cunningham and Sharon O’Brien were both ordered to choose between employment at the TTFA and board places.

“They have been told that they must relinquish their posts as Board members or their employment [with the TTFA],” said Harford. “You can’t be Justin’s boss on some days and he is your boss on other days; that is crap.”

As the sun set, the AGM haemorrhaged delegates and, by the end, only roughly a third of the members who had started the meeting remained. Downer, who took pain killers in the morning for an old spinal injury, was among them.

“I have got to thank Osmond Downer for his commitment and tenacity yesterday,” said Look Loy. “He showed more stamina than people half his age.”

John-Williams had survived too. Despite the discontent voiced by several members, there was no formal move to replace him at the helm of the local football body.

“I think by the end of the evening, people felt ‘let us see if there is any improvement’ since they know that we are watching them now,” said Harford. “But it is still an option that people are holding.

“[…] David is enthusiastic about the football but [some of his flaws are not] good for the football. For instance, he is not a good listener… He doesn’t like to listen, he likes to speak and that is a major flaw for a chairman.”

Despite grumbles about the length of the meeting, many felt significant progress had been made.

“It was a great day for democracy and the constitutional authority of the membership,” said Look Loy, “which passed a series of key resolutions that, once implemented seriously, could put our football on an even keel and give it direction.”

Harford agreed.

“I think they understand now,” he said, “that they are dealing with people who are not going to sit back and accept whatever they tell us.”