Sports Minister Anil Roberts is apparently trying to settle a grudge with taxpayers’ money after the Ministry allegedly agreed to fund the Trinidad and Tobago national senior football team’s Caribbean Cup campaign on one condition.
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation’s (TTFF) marketing manager Anthony Harford must not be involved.
At 10.30 am today, the TTFF executive committee met with Ministry of Sport Permanent Secretary Ashwin Creed and settled on the budget needed to send the “Soca Warriors” to St Kitts and Nevis next week for its first Caribbean Cup qualifying round.
However, Wired868 was reliably informed that a key factor was that the Sport Ministry no longer wished to work with Harford, who is also a director at All Sport Promotion. This was allegedly further implied in a letter from the Sport Ministry.
The local football body needed $423,218 for airfare, match fees, per diem and a pre-competition team bonding session at the Cascadia Hotel. However, it raised just $7,000 this week from well-wishers and had no guarantee of making up the difference while the TTFF faced the possibility of sanctions from the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) and FIFA if it forfeited.
The Sport Ministry’s late assistance means the national football team will take up its place in the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) tournament that serves as a qualifying competition for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
In Parliament today, Roberts suggested that suspicious bookkeeping and a conflict of interest by Harford was behind the Sport Ministry’s tardiness in funding the national team.
Roberts claimed that Harford failed to account for roughly half of $11 million provided for the shortlived 2014 World Cup campaign.
“When Mr Harford presented to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Sport, who is the accounting officer, the account of the 11 million dollars (spent),” said Roberts. “There were some discrepancies and (a) lack of information.”
In fact, Harford had countered Roberts’ accusation weeks ago while appearing on i95.5 with radio presenter Andre Baptiste and Wired868 also wrote about the differing figures. He was critical of the Sport Ministry too.
The Sport Ministry faxed Harford, on 12 September 2012, detailing its concerns and, a week later, the All Sport director advised Creed that the Ministry was referring to an interim statement done on 31 October 2011. Harford claimed that a final statement of expenses was delivered to the Sport Ministry on 16 January 2012, which gave the missing information.
“It is unfortunate that your letter (…) should seek to imply that the TTFF Marketing/All Sport Promotion Ltd has not properly accounted for the funds provided by the Ministry of Sport,” stated Harford’s response to the Ministry. “This is of particular concern to us since the final accounts were delivered since 16 January2012 and your letter of 12 September 2012, some eight months later, does not seem to acknowledge receipt of these accounts which were delivered to you personally.”
Harford reiterated his defence after Roberts’ presentation today and insisted that he submitted the final accounts to the Sport Ministry twice. He found it more than passing strange that the Sport Ministry was so concerned about the supposedly missing $5 million dollars that it waited eight months after delivery of the final accounting statement to ask about it.
“We asked the Ministry to advise within two weeks of any discrepancy (on 16 January 2012) so it can be adjusted before going to final audit,” said Harford, in a hastily arranged press conference this evening. “The Ministry never responded until September 12th.”
Harford denied Roberts’ assertion that the Sport Ministry was still waiting on an explanation from All Sport and noted that the Minister and Creed ignored frequent requests by him for a meeting.
The Sport Minister further accused Harford, in Parliament, of improperly transferring funds to All Sport.
“When the Auditor General went through the statement,” said Roberts, “it was seen that Anthony Harford as head of the authorization committee, when given $11 million of taxpayers’ money went on to pay himself $936,250.
“He paid himself to himself.”
Again, Roberts’ statement seemed odd since All Sport’s involvement with the TTFF’s marketing was raised at the press conference, which launched the TTFF’s 2014 World Cup campaign.
Not only was Roberts the feature speaker then but the Sport Minister told the media that Harford’s presence was the main reason he agreed to fund the TTFF at all.
Harford claimed that All Sport usually takes a 15 percent commission of its operating budget but had agreed on a discounted rate with the TTFF. The fee covered management of all international matches and office expenses inclusive of vehicle usage and telephone bills for the specified time period.
“This was included in the letter of appointment to All Sport so everyone involved was aware,” said Harford. “All Sport is in the business of sport and supports 20 employees each month through fees earned from our work in sport.”
The TTFF has no marketing staff of its own. However, its executive committee will meet soon to decide its next move in the face of statements from Creed in private and Roberts in public.
It was so different 14 months ago when Roberts said that the Sport Ministry would only fund the TTFF if Harford, as head of an Authorisation Committee, controlled the purse.
The two initially appeared to enjoy a good working relationship but the same could not be said of Harford’s interaction with National Security Minister and ex-TTFF special advisor Jack Warner.
Harford publicly criticised Warner’s stewardship of the TTFF on several occasions since taking up the post of marketing manager. He is also thought to have drafted a letter that distanced the football body from Warner when the Haitian financial aid scandal broke in February 2012.
When, in April, the TTFF delayed its nomination of Warner’s preferred candidate, Harold Taylor, to run for the post of CFU president, the United National Congress (UNC) chairman Jack Warner wrote to Roberts and asked him to stop funding the sporting body. Warner referred to Harford in the letter although the marketing manager, who is not an executive committee member, denied any involvement in the CFU matter.
The Sport Ministry did not give the TTFF a cent between then, on 20 April 2012, and this morning. The reason for withholding funds has varied during that period.
Creed recently referred to the abysmal performance of the senior team and, before that, had suggested that the Olympic men’s team and women’s under-17 team were failures.
Today, Roberts claimed that Harford was the issue all along as well as a supposedly suspicious accounting statement that the Sport Ministry took eight months to act on.
During the impasse, over a dozen football coaches went unpaid including technical director Anton Corneal and national women’s coach Even Pellerud as well as maxi drivers, hotels, caterers and tutors while even a national under-17 player, Andre Fortune, is owed the cost of two plane tickets.
Although the senior team will travel to St Kitts, its preparation for the tournament has not been smooth.
Coach Hutson Charles will be accompanied by only one of two requested assistant coaches. Derek King accepted his invitation while Angus Eve declined. Both men are due unpaid salaries for work with the Olympic squad.
The Warriors also had to abort scheduled practice games while national players spent the last week unsure as to what whether their Gold Cup dream would be over before it started. They now need to regain focus. A two-day team bonding exercise planned for this weekend at the Cascadia Hotel was also shortened to just Sunday.
But, of course, the players will be happy for the chance to compete at all.
Almost certainly, though, the spat between Harford and Roberts will rumble on.