The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) appears destined for a constitutional crisis of its own making, after general secretary Justin Latapy-George snubbed nearly 70 percent of the local football body’s membership in the matter of the organisation’s AGM, scheduled for 25 November 2017.
The TTFA comprises 49 delegates but, in a remarkable development, just 16 were invited for the upcoming AGM, the agenda for which includes the vetting of the body’s audited financial statement for 2016.
The invited bodies were the Southern, Northern and Tobago Football Associations (each with three delegates) and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (two delegates) as well as Pro League outfits W Connection, Club Sando, St Ann’s Rangers and North East Stars and Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) club, FC Santa Rosa (each with one delegate).
Latapy-George, who is instructed by the David John-Williams-led board of directors, confirmed that compliance was the criterion used for deciding which bodies are to be allowed to participate in the AGM.
According to Article 10.2 (k) of the TTFA Constitution—which was passed in July 2015—all members must meet several criteria for admittance into the football body, including “a copy of the minutes of its last General Meeting or constitutional meeting and a copy of its audited financial statements for the previous financial year.”
However, more than two years later, over three-quarters of the local football membership remains non-compliant, as far as the football body’s general secretariat is concerned.
Last month, when the TTFA warned its membership about their compliance status, Latapy-George assured Wired868 that—despite concerns from football stakeholders—there was no move afoot to disenfranchise members.
Article 14.1 of the constitution states that “the General Meeting is responsible for suspending a Member. The Board of Directors may, however, suspend a Member that seriously violates its obligations as a Member with immediate effect. In this case, the suspension shall last until the next General Meeting…”
The TTFA general secretary insisted, then, that no such suspension had been discussed by the board of directors.
“The authority to suspend cannot be done by the general secretariat [and] any suggestion of suspension is misplaced at this current juncture,” Latapy-George told Wired868 last month. “There are tons of steps before we get to that point.”
Latapy-George said the TTFA’s warning about compliance, at the time, was merely an update to its membership, which would be further discussed at the upcoming AGM.
“I know emotions are high and there are suspicions,”he said. “I understand and respect that. But […] I am merely telling them where we are and looking at what we can do now [to help members become compliant].
“[…] The general secretariat cannot and does not have the authority to suspend members in this scenario.”
According to Article 12.1, all members have the right to “take part in the General Meeting, to receive its agenda in advance, to be called to the General Meeting within the prescribed time and to exercise their voting rights…”
However, the TTFA secretariat has not given 68 percent of its members the ability to exercise that right.
On Friday afternoon, Latapy-George said the members had not been suspended while at the same time acknowledging that they had been deprived of a fundamental privilege.
“I stand by the position that the general secretariat does not have the power to sanction anyone,” said Latapy-George. “There was no sanction but I will prefer not to discuss this because it is a very sensitive topic.”
The TTFA decision provoked a furious response by some members with Veteran Footballers Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (VFFOTT) president Selby Browne describing the action as an attempted coup by the John-Williams-led board.
“They cannot take away anybody’s rights,” Browne told Wired868. “They have no authority to compromise or sanction the rights of any members… The motion [for members to become compliant] did not include a penalty or sanction.”
TTSL president Keith Look Loy, whose FC Santa Rosa club were deemed compliant, agreed with Browne in that only the general membership should decide the fate of members.
“Any issue about non-compliance will be decided by the general members, not John-Williams or the board,” said Look Loy. “To send notice of the General Meeting only to seven or nine members—including FC Santa Rosa who they say are compliant—is a subversion of the constitution.
“I and other people are very fearful that elected officers will like to use the issue of compliance and non-compliance to subvert the general membership and run the TTFA via the board or the elected members [of the board].
“That is a constitutional concern; the general membership must run the TTFA and not the board.”
The issue of compliance has tied local football in knots right from the moment the clause was passed.
In July 2015, FIFA gave four months to the TTFA electoral committee—which was led by current SPORTT chairman Dinanath Ramnarine and included attorney Mervyn Campbell and TTOC president Brian Lewis (who was subsequently replaced by Elton Prescott, SC)—to get all members compliant and ready to vote in the 29 November 2015 election.
On 20 October 2015, FIFA acting general secretary Markus Kattner warned the local football body that “All members as listed in the TTFA Constitution must comply with Article 10.2 in order to take part in the elections; and those failing to do so will still have 18 months from the date of the adoption to complete the process or lose definitively their membership.”
The penalty for remaining non-compliant, as Browne noted, was not explicitly stated in the TTFA Constitution. But the governing body was clear as to how seriously it took the issue.
However, despite voiced concerns from FIFA and local stakeholders—including then presidential candidate, John-Williams—Ramnarine ignored the instructions and told candidates that they could vote even if they were not compliant.
And, in November 2015, John-Williams was elected to replace Raymond Tim Kee as president with anywhere from one-third to two-thirds of the votes cast by non-compliant members.
John-Williams did not set up a compliance committee to assist the TTFA’s membership until a year into his term. And, by then, according to FIFA, at least 70 percent of local delegates had two months to act before their status potentially expired at the end of January 2017.
Incidentally, the TTFA’s deadline for compliance was 30 March 2017, which was two months after the time given by FIFA.
The delegates who spoke to Wired868 said they were not warned by Latapy-George or the compliance committee of Michelle Lynch and Sharon O’Brien as to what was at stake.
Eastern Football Association of Trinidad and Tobago (EFATT) president Linus Sanchez, whose body was declared non-compliant, accused the TTFA of botching the process and frustrating rather than assisting members.
“We submitted our compliance documents long before the compliance deadline in March,” said Sanchez. “But we were only told we were non-compliant about a month ago in an email from Sharon [O’Brien]. It was not specific and, when we asked for more information, they never responded. We are real upset about this.
“I called someone I know on the board and he said he would check and he came back and told me that they said our audited statement was really an audited budget. Our audited statement was done by a financial director and when I called the person and told them that, they just laughed.
“As far as I am concerned, we are compliant and the real issue is the incompetence of the people spearheading the ComplianceCcommittee, who have been no help whatsoever.”
Central Football Association (CFA) general secretary Clynt Taylor also criticised the TTFA’s Compliance Committee.
“The deadline was March 30 and we should have heard from the TTFA via the individuals who were in charge of ensuring members were compliant, said Taylor, “[but] we did not get that. I called the TTFA a number of times to find out if they received our documents and if everything was acceptable and they said they didn’t get our documents. So I personally delivered a copy to them.
“Then in August, they told me they still didn’t receive it and I sent it again. Only then, they said it lacked the audited accounts. We sent the accounting information but it was not audited and [they only told us this] after the deadline, when we didn’t have time to rectify it.”
Taylor said the CFA is cash-strapped but will urge its creditors to bear with them so they can become compliant. But other delegates claimed that they could not raise the money or were uncertain of the benefits of paying for an audit.
“If the TTFA isn’t giving us any money,” said one delegate, who asked not to be named, “then why do we have to pay an auditor to account to the TTFA for what we did with the money we raised for ourselves?
“It is not like the TTFA is asking us to account for money they gave us, which is different.”
Look Loy, like Taylor and Sanchez, said they recognised the importance of being compliant. Their issue is with the process for getting it done.
“We all recognise the value and the necessity of having members of the TTFA being compliant,” said Look Loy, “because compliance places organisational and structural demands on the various members, which adds strength and the ability to function on members [and] that is a good thing.
“But my point and the point of others is the TTFA has not done enough to assist in that regard. The TTFA was formed in 1908 and suddenly, since November 2015, people have been asked to become compliant and given a to-do list.
“That is like a teacher telling a student ‘You have an exam to pass so look the syllabus; I hope you pass.’”
The TTSL president said the issue of audited financial statements, in particular, needed some level of proactive thinking by the local football body.
“It is a costly business [and], in the last meeting, Central FC stated openly that they didn’t have the money to pay for audited statements,” said Look Loy. “[…] My personal view is we should extend the moratorium to 31 December and help pull people up by their bootstraps and give them the concrete assistance to do that.
“[…] Why not get three or four auditing firms and give them six members each and get a group price? Let us try to assist the membership and not just sit back and say you are not compliant; that is not leadership.”
Sanchez suggested that the TTFA owed it to members to help pay for their audits.
“They have to understand that there are members out there with no income,” he said, “and I am sure the TTFA gets funding to disperse to members and they don’t.”
Despite the heat regarding the issue of non-compliance now, an extraordinary general meeting to tackle the matter on 11 November was aborted owing to the lack of a quorum. That meeting will now be reconvened, according to the provisions of the TTFA Constitution, on the very morning of the AGM.
Latapy-George defended the football body’s handling of the compliance process and suggested that the EGM represented an opportunity for members to help settle any problems.
“I think generally we can do better but we did as best as we could do,” said Latapy-George. “There are probably things we can look at to make things better [but] that was the primary reason for calling that EGM: to decide how to treat with this very serious matter.”
Regardless, Browne has no intention of sitting out the AGM and insisted that, since John-Williams was voted into office by non-compliant members, then if they were now illegitimate, so is his presidency.
“Dinanath Ramnarine gave a concession to have non-compliant members vote in the election of 29 November,” said Browne. “I have not seen in the minutes any motion moved to have Ramnarine’s concession accepted. If it was not in there, non-compliant people would not have been allowed to vote and the election is illegal.
“If it was in there, that compliance period ended on 17 January [and] all meetings thereafter must be illegal. It is check and mate; you decide which one it is.”
Sanchez, who alleged that John-Williams promised TT$80,000 to the EFA for the 2017 season but failed to keep his word, said the current compliance issue was an indictment on the President’s leadership.
“Arrogance is not a trait of any good leader,” said the EFATT boss, “even King David and King Solomon accepted counsel. Humility has evaded David John-Williams for all of his life and that is why he always gets in trouble with people. We have to rectify this situation.
“The first thing they have to do is apologise for their incompetence and tardiness in handling this.”
For now, the TTFA has other ideas. And, according to Latapy-George, the AGM will proceed with just 16 invitees from among a total of 49 delegates.
Once a quorum of nine delegates is reached, the range of decisions that can be made in the weekend AGM include suspension or expulsion of Members, approval of the TTFA’s financial statements, approval of the TTFA’s budget, amendments to the TTFA Constitution, appointment of members to various committees, and admission for membership.