Sport Minister Anil Roberts unleashed a fresh verbal assault on the character of All Sport Promotions director Anthony Harford in a press conference at the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs today.
Roberts also accused Bruce Aanensen, the All Sport financial director and Queen’s Park Cricket Club president, of a conflict of interest and “poor corporate governance” in his use of the QPCC facilities, denounced Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) general secretary Richard Groden for making “a fraudulent request” of the Sport Ministry and denied national senior team football manager William Wallace’s assertion that the team was promised funding during its stay in St Kitts and Nevis.
However, it is debatable whether Roberts proved most of his insinuations while, at times, he appeared to contradict himself and his Permanent Secretary Ashwin Creed, who was also present.
Roberts denied that the Sport Ministry promised to help the cash-strapped national senior team during its Caribbean Cup adventure.
He insisted that requests for funding within the public sector could not be satisfied that quickly and, as such, it would have been impractical for the Sport Ministry to give that assurance.
“The turnaround period for money in the Ministry is about six weeks,” said Roberts.
An email released by the TTFF, which purported to have been sent by Creed to Wallace, contradicted the Sport Minister.
“Could I get some clarity as to how we can set up the logistics to get the necessary funding needed during the tournament?” asked Wallace, on Tuesday 9 October 2012. “… The reality is that absolutely no cash was available before departure and this has put us in an almost embarrassing situation… I travelled with the faith that all would eventually end well.”
Creed responded, on the same day:
“I informed at the meeting that the Ministry funding will be available at the end of the week.”
Nine days later, the national team is yet to receive money from the Sport Ministry. Tropical Storm Rafael meant ten team members were forced to remain on the island as the second flight out of St Kitts was cancelled. They return to Trinidad tomorrow.
Wallace confirmed that their week has been relatively comfortable though as All Sport offered a guarantee to the Ocean Terrace Hotel for the team to receive accommodation and meals.
Roberts, who was decidedly less impressed with All Sport, then appeared to contradict himself as well.
He boasted that his staff allegedly caught Groden trying to pad a budget to the Ministry, which included a monthly salary of $120,000 for assistant coach Ross Russell. It was this “fraudulent” act that prompted the Sport Ministry to use Harford as a conduit between the two bodies.
“When we did a small investigation,” said the Minister, “poor Mr Russell was lucky if he received $10,000.”
Groden could not be reached for comment.
The Sport Minister changed tack when asked by Wired868 why he claimed in Parliament, on 5 October 2012, to be surprised that All Sport was paid close to $1 million although that fee was included in a budget that the Sport Ministry accepted in August 2011.
Roberts responded that his staff did not scrutinise budgets.
But how could the Sport Ministry spot and investigate a $120,000 payment to Russell but, for 14 months, ignore a $936,250 fee to all Sport?
Roberts retorted that they must have missed that one.
Similarly, the Sport Minister’s figures did not add up when he raised doubts about All Sport’s statement of income and expenditure for 2011.
In Parliament, Roberts said All Sports failed to account for roughly $5.5 million. This figure was the difference between the interim statement provided by All Sport in October and the complete accounting sheet that the sport company delivered on 16 January 2012.
Aanensen pointed out, on Tuesday, that All Sport’s fee was accounted for in the final statement of income and expenditure rather than the interim one.
So how could the Minister mention All Sport’s $936,250 fee while using the figures from the interim statement? Did he selectively quote from two different accounting statements so as to mislead Parliament?
Roberts attempted to sidestep the confusion by insisting that he was only echoing concerns raised by the Auditor General’s Office and not reading from either All Sport statement.
Yet, the Sport Minister gave different figures today. In today’s press conference, Roberts said that the Auditor General wanted more information on a $1.4 million deduction for expenses and two other costs listed at over $100,000 each.
It was well short of the $5.5 million figure that Roberts quoted in Parliament, which was precisely the difference between the October and January All Sport statements.
The Sport Minister failed to explain the difference in the alleged discrepancy presented to Parliament, two weeks ago, and then to the media today.
Roberts further accused All Sport of paying itself with money meant for national coaches and denied Harford’s claim that technical director Anton Corneal and other staff members were paid for 2011.
All Sport countered that its contract with the TTFF, paid for by the Sport Ministry, began in August 2011 and ran to December 2011.
“We had no responsibility for anything prior or after that period,” said an insider.
Corneal was slightly confused by the affair.
“I was paid between August and December,” Corneal told Wired868. “But my contract began in April and I was not paid for April, May, June and July.
“So I would like to know if the money was paid by the government for us.”
Was Roberts being mischievous in suggesting that All Sport should have paid the national coaching staff for the entire year? Or did the Sport Ministry give All Sport money that was misappropriated?
If the TTFF’s budget included a $936,250 management fee for All Sport, as Roberts said in Parliament, then how could the Sport Ministry have expected that same money to be used for paying coaches?
Wired868 failed to make contact with the Minister after the press conference and had no answer by the time of publication.
In arguably Roberts’ most damning indictment against Harford, he quoted from a letter sent by the All Sport director on 19 September 2012 that claimed he had provided the Sport Ministry with “full details of expenditure along with invoices, bills and receipts.”
“That is a total and absolute falsehood,” said Roberts. “Bring the bills, receipts and invoices.”
Both sides agree that All Sport did not support its accounting statements with receipts but, instead, had asked the Sport Ministry to indicate whether further proof of any of the quoted figures was required.
Aanensen claimed, on Tuesday, that All Sport used the same process before with four ex-Sport Ministers and the company always made itself available to go over queried figures with the Ministry’s staff.
It was done this way, according to All Sport, because the bills and receipts for significant sums like $11 million would fill one or several boxes and there was the possibility that information would be misplaced or lost. Aanensen and Harford said, previously, that All Sport was happy to account for the money in whichever way the Minister preferred.
Harford claimed, in a press statement today, that All Sport contacted the Auditor General last week as was satisfied that it had “not infringed any law.” He said his company would satisfy every request for receipts, bills and invoices requested.
Wired868 asked Roberts if it was reasonable that the Sport Ministry took eight months to enquire about the whereabouts of $5.5 million and 14 months to notice a $936,250 fee.
“It has to go through a process,” said the Sport Minister, as he went over the route that paperwork takes when it reaches a government ministry.
And did the Sport Ministry stop funding national teams after National Security Minister Jack Warner wrote on 20 April 2012 and asked Roberts to starve the TTFF of money? Was Robert’s war with All Sport a smokescreen to deflect from Warner’s influence in determining the Ministry’s policy in relation to football?
Roberts denied the assertion and pointed to three payments made by the Sport Ministry since Warner’s letter.
He claimed the Ministry paid approximately $67,000 for airfare for the under-17 women’s football team on 23 April 2012, $42,000 on 11 June 2012 for a penalty incurred by a national youth team and $324,000 to Cascadia Hotel on 11 September 2012 for hosting the under-17 boys’ team.
Wired868 asked whether those payments—none of which went through the TTFF—could reasonably be equated to funding a national team and noted out that several T&T outfits had serious funding issues or were ignored altogether since the letter.
At that point, the Sport Minister ended the press conference.