After the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association's accounts were recently frozen by former employee Kendall Walkes, who served as technical director from 2014 to 2016, many questions were left unanswered surrounding the development which effectively paralysed the organisation financially, as it directly affects the frontline stakeholders of the sport, among them the administration, player and technical staff.
One of the key questions being asked by some members of the TTFA board directors, led by president William Wallace, is why the body didn't appeal the judgement?
Today, Guardian Media Sports investigates the circumstances which led to the difficult situation in which the Wallace-led TTFA has now found itself and which could eventually lead to FIFA and CONCACAF installing a Normalisation Committee to run the affairs of the cashed-strapped body.
In 2014, Anton Corneal resigned as TTFA technical director sighting non-payment of salaries for almost four years, a figure which stood at TT$3.5 million. In March 2015, the TTFA hired Walkes as Corneal's replacement.
But concerns over this were raised by the then-new TTFA elected in November 2015 with David John-Williams at the helm and FIFA got involved via a meeting held here in T&T.
Guardian Media Sports has seen a letter of February 2016 which FIFA wrote to then acting TTFA general secretary Azaad Khan indicating that Walkes' contract “contains errors or misleading information and is missing information.” FIFA also noted that “the salary and other compensation included in the contract does not coincide with the current financial situation of the TTFA. Therefore, we strongly recommend that you review and redo the aforementioned contract.”
Reliable sources indicated that after several meetings with Walkes to fix the contact acting on FIFA's advice failed, a correspondence was issued to him in March 2016 by John-Williams.
<TTFA letter to Kendall Walkes>
Re: Your Employment status
I refer to the matter at the caption and the ongoing discussions between yourself and the TTFA.
After considerable deliberation, we have concluded that the TTFA has no alternative but to terminate your employment with them.
I ask that you note that we did make every effort to locate an original contract of employment between yourself and the TTFA, but notwithstanding extensive searches, we were unable to locate this document – you also confirmed at our meeting on the 1st March 2016 that you did not have an original duplicate of your contract and would be relying on the photocopied document hereto attached.
It is our considered view that this document is not only incomplete but has also not been properly executed.
In light of the findings of FIFA and the absence of a properly executed and valid contract of employment, we are forced to consider your engagement with the TTFA as a month to month rolling contract. Please note that we will re-advertise the position and you are invited to resubmit your application for our consideration.”
<Court ruling & appeal deadline>
On September 27, 2019, in a ruling, the High Court awarded Walkes under US$800,000 for breach of contract.
On December 23, 2019, Justice Joan Charles issued her written ruling in the matter – the final order having been made on November 7, 2019 and then amended on December 31, 2019.
The TTFA had 42 days from that date to appeal (until February 11, 2020) the ruling.
On February 13, 2020, Walkes, through attorney Melissa Roberts-John, took out a garnishee court order that froze the TTFA's accounts, effectively shutting down its operations. On February 18 and 19, 2020, current TTFA president Wallace and general secretary Ramesh Ramdan, via the media, expressed dismay that the action was taken, as they were in negotiation with Walkes. However, they accepted it was the legal right of the United States-based coach.
"We are not in any position to treat with the matter at this point,” Wallace said then. “But we have a debt reduction project that we want to start later in the year and we want him to consider us and hold his hand. We are asking for an advance from our foreign sponsors to get some early money.”
Wallace admitted that neither he nor his general secretary had yet informed the TTFA board (7 days after the news broke) even as the football fraternity had heard the news partially in an I95.5FM report on February 18.
Wallace also told the media, “This situation was such a surprising one and we have been trying to work out how to resolve it. We are trying from our end to find a resolution before we make an issue of it but we will have to inform the board and Ramdhan is trying to get an advance from overseas sponsors—we are getting some traction there.”
He continued, “We asked (former general secretary) Sheldon (Phillips) not to go through the court process and those talks are ongoing. The Walkes and Phillips contracts are two of the worst contracts we have ever seen. They were heavily weighted against the TTFA and leave all the options open to the employee. But the fact is there is a contract and the man is owed, so we have to treat with it.”
Both Walkes and Phillips were hired by late former TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee.
In the case of Walkes, according to Wallace, he had a clause which allowed him to unilaterally renew his own contract. So Walkes told the High Court that he would enforce that right and, as a result, the football body must pay his salary from 2015 to 2022.
<TTFA vows to settle Phillips matter out of court>
Also, via a news release on December 15, 2019, titled Decisions Taken — one of the items highlighted was that the Sheldon Phillips legal matter would be immediately withdrawn from the Industrial Court and an out of court settlement agreed with Phillips.
In documents seen by Guardian Media Sports, Phillip sought a settlement from the John-Williams administration of US$1,442,053.35 based on a purported contract worth US$15,500 per month. We have seen documents, job letters and returned cheques from the bank indicating that Phillips' salary was, in fact, US$4,000 a month plus housing.
Witness statements, correspondences and a copy of the Walkes' contract related to the case vs the TTFA also reveal some startling details.
<TTFA 3 Witness statements in support of Walkes>
It's interesting to note that former TTFA president Tim Kee, Phillips and Wallace all produced and signed witness statements in support of Walkes' matter against the TTFA and there were similarities in all three. What therefore was the relationship between these three individuals?
Former TTFA general secretary Sheldon Phillips' witness statement read in part:
“A technical committee “hereafter the committee” was formed by the defendant to oversee the hiring process of the vacant technical director position. The committee comprised of Mr Richard Quan Chan (the committee’s chairman), Mr Neville Ferguson, Mr Stephan Hart and myself.”
“In February 2015, I was present at a roundtable meeting at the defendant's headquarters. The defendants, then president Mr Raymond Tim Kee, the defendant’s team manager Mr William Wallace, were also in attendance at the meeting. Mr William Wallace served as an advisor in the hiring process of the vacant position of the technical director, hence his attendance at the meeting.
“The discussion also involved the terms and conditions of his employment which included his remuneration and duration of the contract as well as other contractual incentives such as relocation compensation, health benefit, transportation, housing and telephone allowances.”
Tim Kee's witness statement in part read:
In February 2015, I met with Mr Walkes at the defendant's headquarters. Also present at that meeting were Mr William Wallace, the then team manager (who served as an advisor in the hiring process of the technical director) and Mr Phillips. The purpose of the meeting was to speak to Mr Walkes since he was recommended by the committee as the best person for the job among applicants."
Judging from the contents of the three witness statements Guardian Media Sports have seen from Wallace, Phillips and Tim Kee, the current TTFA president was familiar with the details of Walkes’ contract.
If that is so, the question is why Wallace, now TTFA president, recently told the media, "The Walkes and Phillips contracts are two of the worst contracts we have ever seen. They were heavily weighted against the TTFA and leave all the options open to the employee. But the fact is there is a contract and the man is owed, so we have to treat it.”
<Why didn't TTFA appeal>
So why did the present TTFA and former president John Williams did not appeal the matter?
Guardian Media Sports reached out to John-Williams, who was very reluctant to speak on the matter.
He said, "I want to stay very clear of the current situation facing the TTFA at present. I am no longer the president."
Pressed further for a response as to why the matter was not appealed, he said, "Instructions via email in late October 2019 to the then TTFA attorney to prepare an appeal against the court ruling and at the same time apply to the court for a stay in the matter."
John-Williams' term of office ended on November 24, 2019.
Guardian Media Sports also reached out to TTFA attorney Annand Misir.
He said, "I ceased to be the TTFA legal representative on 10 December 2019 and suggested that all questions be directed to the current TTFA. "
Wallace told the media on February 18 and 19 that, “I wrote to Kendall (Walkes) on February 3, indicating that we accepted the judgment of the court (against the TTFA) and we are not in any position to treat with the matter at this point.”
When contacted and asked why the TTFA did not appeal the matter, Wallace said, "The judgement was handed down 27th September and we assumed office on 25th November. "
Yesterday, Wallace told Guardian Media Sports that, "the lawyer did meet with the TTFA and an update was given. Incidentally, he addressed the Hart matter. I assumed the period had passed for the Walkes matter. We did communicate with Mr Walkes' Attorney and her client is requesting 50% of what is due to him."
<DJW report to 2018 TTCFA AGM>
So why did the current TTFA administration headed by Wallace not appeal the matter having full knowledge of the facts surrounding the case and FIFA's concerns with the contract, including raising the financial position of the TTFA.
According to a report presented to the members and delegates at the 2018 TTFA AGM, the Walkes court matter and all the details surrounding it were highlighted in a report presented by John-Williams with regards to the TTFA debt.
The section of the report pertaining to the Walkes matter reads:
"I will like to share with the membership before it gets distorted in the public domain the following.
1. The situation with our former technical director Mr Kendall Walkes
2. The claim against TTFA by the former president’s son (Raymond Tim Kee).
3. The claim against TTFA by the former general secretary
4. A claim made by Jack Warner against the FA
I must share with members some facts surrounding these four matters.
Upon assuming office we could not find on file within the TTFA a contract for Mr Walkes yet we discovered some payments made to him and on his behalf in terms of salary and rent which totalled more than TT$90,000.00/mth. Subsequently, Mr Walkes presented a contract to us. At a time when funding was suspended by FIFA and who was at the time advising federations in the region on what a TD compensation package should be (USD 4500-5000 per month), the question must be: based on what projected income was Mr Walkes package based upon.
Upon receiving of the said document and presenting same to FIFA, which was a requirement for the reestablishment of the FAP funding, we were advised certain actions to be taken in this matter. The matter is before the courts of T&T.”
The attendance records of that AGM of 2018 shows that among those present were three current TTFA board members in the persons of Keith Look Loy, Richard Quan Chan and Brent Sancho.
At that meeting, Sancho was appointed as a scrutineer by the meeting to review the supporting documents presented by then-president John-Williams. The documents included the Walkes contract.
The TTFA is now faced with a difficult task of settling a huge debt to Walkes but more importantly, in the short term, negotiating an agreement to have the garnishee lifted so that staff, coaches and others can be paid if not this month-end certainly in the coming months.
Asked for an update on the matter yesterday following the announcement of a four-year TT$25 million Avex kit deal, Wallace said, "We are currently in discussions to treat with the frozen accounts and more importantly the historic debt. We are hoping to resolve the situation as soon as possible."
Guardian Media Sports watches on with interest since there are others like Sheldon Phillips, Anton Corneal, Russell Latapy, Stephen Hart and former TTFA advisor Jack Warner and suppliers who can follow in Walkes' footstep with garnishee orders of their own. In fact, Guardian Media has seen another court order dated February 2019 for TT$.7million from a supplier who is just waiting to cash in.