Dr Hypolite: We have gerrymandering concerns; Comissiong: He’s bringing athletics into disrepute—NAAATT goes to the polls

Dr Ian Hypolite: “[…] Team New Vision is therefore very concerned about a repetition of a pattern of gerrymandering at elections in the past through ‘ghost clubs’ and other non-transparent means…”

George Comissiong: “[…] I personally do not have a difficulty sharing the list of delegates, once the additional information is received from our members. However, I refuse to be bullied by Dr Hypolite…”

The following are press statements from former board member Dr Ian Hypolite and acting president George Comissiong in relation to the NAAATT AGM on 27 November 2021, in which both men are running for the post of president:

Photo: Dr Ian Hypolite.

(Statement from presidential candidate Dr Ian Hypolite)

The Annual General Meeting of the National Association of Athletic Administrations of Trinidad and Tobago (NAAATT) is due to take place on 27 November 2021.  

At the AGM, there will be elections to appoint a new board to govern the sport over the next three years.  As a candidate for president of the New Vision Team, I wish to draw attention to some disturbing events leading up to the election.  

I have communicated incessantly using internal channels with very little response and therefore I wish to communicate outwardly at this point in time.  

Here are the facts:

  1. On 8 October 2021, communication from the general secretary of the Association (Dexter Voisin) was sent to member clubs listing the clubs that are ‘financial and in good standing during the period 2019-2021’. That list consisted of 57 clubs.
  2. On 9 October 2021, a motion was passed to seek permission from the relevant authorities to hold an in-person AGM as per the constitution of the NAAATT. On 26 October 2021, the General Secretary wrote to members indicating that approval had been given to hold in-person AGM for vaccinated persons only. So as not to disenfranchise any members a hybrid meeting was suggested—that is person-to-person as well as virtual, simultaneously.  There was eventual agreement on this.
  3. On 1 November 2021, the General Secretary sent out correspondence stating, inter alia, the presence of a local provider whom they vouched for as capable of carrying out such a hybrid meeting.  A flyer was attached and testimonials were promised, ‘if necessary’.
  4. 6 November 2021 marked the deadline for nomination for positions for the elections.  On 8 November 2021, the General Secretary posted the official list of candidates for the elections.
  5. 12 November 2021 marked the deadline for clubs to submit the list of delegates voting in the election. This list is essentially an electoral list similar to any that is posted for the public to see at parlours and street corners around the country for national elections.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Machel Cedenio (second from right) waits for the baton pass from Renny Quow in the Men’s 4x400m Relay final at the Gold Coast 2018 XXI Commonwealth Games at Carrara Stadium, Gold Coast, Australia on 14 April 2018.
T&T finished 4th with a time of 3:02.85. (Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

On 16 November 2021, representatives of Team New Vision met with a service provider at the NAAATT Secretariat in Couva at the invitation of the General Secretary. At that meeting, the service provider alluded to potential problems with the virtual voting process.  

Team New Vision requested a listing of the delegates so that there could be transparency in the monitoring of the virtual vote. The Acting President of the NAAATT (George Comissiong) agreed but the General Secretary vehemently disagreed.  

At a meeting after the presentation by the provider, the Acting President then joined his General Secretary in disagreement.

Since that meeting, Team New Vision discovered that the service provider was not the provider recommended by the current Board. Further, several requests to have the delegate listing provided have been met with stony silence. 

On 20 November 2021, the General Secretary gave a numerical account of eligible delegates and stated that close to half that number would be voting virtually. This further emphasises the need for mechanisms to ensure transparency.

Photo: Tyra Gittens competes in the qualification rounds of the women’s long jump at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
(Copyright AP)

Further, the General Secretary sent a list of 59 that would be eligible to vote, a change, without explanation, from the 57 previously confirmed.

Team New Vision is therefore very concerned about a repetition of a pattern of gerrymandering at elections in the past through ‘ghost clubs’ and other non-transparent means. We therefore bring to the wider public our requests:

a. To be provided with an answer as to why a new provider was introduced without informing the membership.

b. To be provided with the bona fides of the new provider.

c. To be provided with the listing of the delegates sent to all member clubs.

d. To prevent the unilateral manipulation of voting clubs and to adhere to the listing provided on 8 October 2021, i.e. 57 clubs.

We see the behaviour of the General Secretary and the President as jeopardising the democratic process and an attempt to derail an election which was already postponed in 2020.

Photo: NAAAT acting president George Comissiong.

(Statement from Presidential candidate George Comissiong)

With regards to Hypolite’s point 1: Two clubs (Air Bon Sonics and South Eastern Striders) were inadvertently omitted from the original list. This was corrected on the list supplied on 20 November.  The two clubs fall within the criteria for eligibility that was settled at the General Meeting on 9 October.

Is Dr Hypolite advocating that these 2 clubs be disenfranchised over an administrative error?

With regards to point 3: Discussions were initially held with ‘Service Provider #1’ for a virtual AGM. His original submissions were being shared with members at the General Meeting on 9 October when Dr Hypolite interrupted the presentation. Dr Hypolite’s interruption subsequently resulted in a change from a virtual to an in-person meeting and later a hybrid meeting.

By the time approval was sought and obtained from the Minister of Health for the AGM, Service Provider #1 indicated his unavailability having taken another job. NAAATT had not gotten back to him after our initial discussions and during the intervening period when, based on Dr Hypolite’s motion, we were seeking approval from the Minister of Health for an in-person meeting.

The engagement of Service Provider #1 would not have been necessary for online polling if an in-person AGM was being held. However, following the shift to a hybrid AGM, NAAATT sought to re-engage Service Provider #1 without success. 

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago javelin star Keshorn Walcott prepares to launch his javelin during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

With response to point 5: All clubs met the submission deadline but quite a few sent in incomplete information—for example, naming an unvaccinated delegate but not providing an e-mail address.  Since unvaccinated persons cannot attend in-person, there is obvious need to contact the clubs/delegates identified for the requisite information.

Some clubs have not provided the vaccination status of their delegates which is key to in-person participation, so follow-up is required. Clubs have listed two delegates and an alternate, changes are permitted among the three names given.

In discussion with Mr Peter Campbell and Ms Bevon Lord, we explained the requisite changes/updates required on the list and jokingly discussed the best term for the modification process since to use verbs like correcting, fixing, adjusting, etc all had political connotations with respect to ‘a voters list’. 

We were therefore surprised that Dr Hypolite would write member clubs the following day alleging underhand activities on our part. 

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye (right) crosses the finish line ahead of Jamaican sprinter Tatiana Williams to take the 100m Commonwealth Games title at the Gold Coast on 9 April 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

The information [regarding the change in the service provider for the AGM] was disclosed at the start of the [referenced] meeting. There was nothing to discover, the information was readily given.

The current Board has responsibility for arranging the AGM. Although there is no requirement to do so, but in the interest of transparency, we invited Dr Hypolite and two members of his team to attend a presentation from ‘Service Provider #2’. In the interest of transparency and good governance, we chose not to formally engage the services of Service Provider #2 until both contesting slates were comfortable with the services on offer.

Dr Hypolite encountered car problems and was unable to attend the presentation in person; he subsequently joined the meeting by phone. His team was represented by Ms Lord and Mr Campbell—whom I was particularly glad to have present, given his knowledge and expertise in information, communication and technology (ICT). 

At the start of the meeting, I provided the context to the presence of Service Provider #2.  I advised that following developments after the last general meeting, we invited four service providers to submit proposals for the service required for a hybrid AGM.  

Of the four companies invited, two (including Service Provider #1) responded indicating that they had prior commitments, one did not respond and the fourth was the one in attendance and making the presentation: Service Provider #2.  

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago shot put Olympian Portious Warren.

I added, that Service Provider #2 had made an earlier presentation to us and that we were satisfied that he had the requisite expertise. Notwithstanding, we felt it necessary to seek wider concurrence and it was on that basis we invited Dr Hypolite and his team to attend.

During the presentation, Mr Campbell and Ms Lord asked pertinent questions and they indicated that they were satisfied with the presentation and the responses given to their concerns. Only to find that overnight Dr Hypolite was sending correspondence out casting aspersions on the competence and ability of the Service Provider #2 and accusing the President and Secretary of shenanigans. 

Dr Hypolite made two requests—not several—for the delegate list, which were supported by two candidates on his team. There was no support from the wider membership for any such list.

Dr Hypolite served some 16 years as an elected member [of the NAAATT], is he confessing to past transgressions [when he suggests a pattern of gerrymandering]?

We simply say that we have followed a proper procurement process and are comfortable with the collective decision  taken at the presentation/meeting of 16 November when Mr Campbell and Ms Lord were present. We refuse to be second-guessing ourselves, less than one week before the AGM and in a situation in which there is only one service provider.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards (centre), England’s Zharnel Hughes (left) and Canada’s Aaron Brown cross the line at the 200m final in the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games on 12 April 2018.
(Copyright Saeed Khan/AFP 2018/Wired868)

I told Mr Campbell and Ms Lord that I personally do not have a difficulty sharing the list of delegates, once the additional information is received from our members. However, I refuse to be bullied by Dr Hypolite.

In closing, I assert the following: Dr Hypolite has been behaving in a reckless manner.

Indeed, notwithstanding the passing of his motion for an in-person AGM on 9 October, some [members] called subsequently complaining that it was both inconsiderate given the risk of Covid-19 infection and somewhat silly given the logistics of having an AGM in ‘an open-air environment during the rainy season’. Although fully vaccinated, several delegates are not attending the AGM in person because of the continued risks.

Dr Hypolite has been over-reaching into the legitimate operations of the current Board. He actually wanted clubs to have sight and to vet the letter that was to be sent to the Minister of Health for approval for the AGM. 

We are well able to prepare such correspondence and have been sending similar letters to the Minister and have gotten approval [to] conduct meets, one of which is currently in progress in Tobago. The logic behind sending a draft letter to 57/59 clubs for review is really nonsensical. Thankfully, outside of two candidates on his slate, none of [the members] supported him in that folly.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Khalifa St Fort (right) grabs the baton from teammate Kelly Ann Baptiste in the Women’s 4x100m Relay heats at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 18 August.
(Copyright Jewel Samad/AFP 2016)

In advising members that the Minister of Health had granted approval for a hybrid AGM, the General Secretary provided the relevant excerpt of the Minister’s letter. Dr Hypolite protested, by writing to all clubs, that he wanted to see the entire letter. Thankfully, outside of two candidates on his slate, none of [the members] supported him in that folly.

His latest request for sight of the list of delegates has been supported by two of  the candidates on his slate.  Not having gotten wider support he has chosen to go public in an attempt to bully the General Secretary into compliance. In so doing, he has brought our Association into disrepute. It seems that he is quite content to destroy the very favourable reputation achieved and the good work done by NAAATT over the past two decades in pursuit of his election.

Our position is clear, we are conducting a clean campaign, not engaging in mudslinging and bacchanal. Rather, we are focusing on our strategic direction, the proven dedication and competence of our more mature candidates and the youth, expertise and enthusiasm of the younger ones. 

We are firm in the belief that win, lose or draw, we do not need a divided fraternity now or on 28 November, given the serious challenges facing the sport. In that regard, we shall continue to do all that is required to have a safe and productive AGM.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Semoy Hackett competes in the Women’s 4x100m relay final during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on 19 August 2016.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Johannes Eisele)

(Response by Dr Ian Hypolite)

Mr Comissiong’s statement shows clearly that he misses the point of transparency of process:

1. To describe as ‘folly’ a request to see a full letter instead of a screenshot of a portion of the letter. What harm could come to show the membership the Minister’s letter?

2. To suggest that one is not obliged to provide stakeholders with information about a provider in a situation that is new to everyone.

3. To use the lack of numbers supporting my request for information on serious matters concerning all members as a basis for not responding.

It is therefore unsurprising that he would respond with alacrity to issues that he would not respond to ‘in-house’, only when faced with exposure to the wider community and resort to ad hominem attacks to defend poor governance.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Richard Thompson, Emmanuel Callender and Rondel Sorrillo watch the electronic scoreboard after their disqualification from the 4×100 metre event during the Rio 2106 Olympic Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Editor’s Note: The NAAATT does not have an independent electoral committee and, as such, the process is overseen by the sitting board of directors. For this reason, George Comissiong and Dexter Voisin are involved in the electoral process despite being candidates.

On election day, the ‘service provider’ will provide an election officer to oversee the actual voting process.

The candidates who face the polls on 27 November are:

Team Comissiong: George Comissiong (president), Paul Voisin (1st vice-president), Durly Lucas (2nd vice-president), Dexter Voisin (general secretary), Michelle Stoute (assistant general secretary), Marlene Roopchansingh-Williams (treasurer), Jamaal James, Jehue Gordon, Cuquie Melville, Allan Baboolal, Zwede Hewitt (all directors).

Team New Vision: Dr Ian Hypolite (president), Sherwin Joseph (1st vice-president), Michelle Alleyne-Pennie (2nd vice-president), Bevon Lord (general secretary), Damian Gopee (assistant general secretary), Aaeisha Martin (treasurer), Anna-Lee Walcott, Arlon Morrison, Peter Campbell, Soren Bishop, Kairon Serrette (all directors).

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