The Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) feels it is being “singularly targeted” by the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT), where the Chairman of the Board, Dinanath Ramnarine, is an official who is at loggerheads with the Executive of the governing body for local cricket.
The TTCB is claiming that this may be the reason why, despite it having submitted since November its audited financial statements for the years 2016 and 2017, its request for funding is yet to receive approval.
However, SPORTT CEO Jason Williams has assured Wired868 that his company is not targeting the TTCB or any other national governing body (NGB) for that matter. According to Williams, money is the problem because the organisation is simply no longer in a position to fund sport in the way it once did.
“The TTCB wishes to place on record,” TTCB president Azim Bassarath wrote to SPORTT on 26 March, “that it appears that it is being singularly and personally targeted and that the requests made of [our organization] set out in your letter dated 14 March, 2018 are unreasonable and irrelevant.”
A 22 February 2018 meeting between the two parties led to specific requests being made of the governing body for local cricket. And TTCB officials took the view that SPORTT Chairman Dinanath Ramnarine, who is a National League Representative with the TTCB, is exerting behind-the-scenes influence on the SPORTT Board.
Ramnarine, who lost to Bassarath by 20 votes to 28 in the 2013 TTCB presidential race, has challenged the TTCB Constitution in the local courts. That constitution allows outgoing executive members to vote alongside clubs at its elections but Ramnarine favours a one-club-one-vote procedure.
Ramnarine himself declined lengthy comment on the TTCB’s declared suspicion that he may not have recused himself from meetings of the SPORTT Board on matters concerning the cricket body. The SPORTT Chairman told Wired868 that the company’s official records will show clearly that he has.
CEO Williams explained to Wired868 that his company has in the past covered administrative expenses and salaries for the various sporting organisations but has taken a decision that they cannot afford so to do, given the current economic circumstances.
“The current position taken by SPORTT, the Board of Directors, and agreed to by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs [Ms Nicolette Duke],” Williams told Wired868 in a written response to queries submitted to him, “is not to consider meeting salary or administrative expenses for any NGB.”
The TTCB feels there is more in the mortar than the economic pestle.
At the 22 February meeting, Williams met with Bassarath and other TTCB executive members such as Baldath Mahabir, Sukesh Maniam and Arjoon Ramlal. Williams requested sight of a 2014-2016 internal audited report of NGC, a once generous sponsor of the TTCB, which ended its seven-year partnership in 2016.
On 14 March, Williams urged the TTCB to submit the internal NGC audit report to SPORTT in order for him to more closely examine areas of “serious concern,” such as: “the misallocation of funds, lack of adequate documents and incorrect information on financial statements (overstatement and understatement).”
The TTCB’s response was Bassarath’s 26 March correspondence, rubbishing the suggestion that funds had been misallocated and adding that, although they had been in contact with NGC representatives as recently as a couple weeks earlier, they did not possess a copy of the NGC audit.
“The TTCB is buttressed in its view,” the President’s letter read, “that a conflict of interest exists when one considers that the specific requests made at (the 22 February meeting between TTCB and SPORTT) and confirmed in your 14 March letter, mirror those of your Chairman at recent Board meetings of the TTCB.”
“We state for the record that there was no misallocation of funds as erroneously stated on page 2 of your letter which suggests wrongdoing on the part of the TTCB,” Bassarath continued, calling for the suggestion to be “retracted.”
Wired868 asked Williams to provide some more information on the misallocated funds.
“The TTCB reported that funds allocated for particular purposes were expended elsewhere,” he responded. “SPORTT must have the utmost clarity and has a duty to ensure that any funds disbursed are spent in the manner for which it was designed to be utilised. As such, the issue of misappropriation is a very serious matter, especially where State funds are concerned.”
Wired868 asked whether all NGBs are required to disclose to SPORTT audited financial statements of their sponsors, whether State-owned or otherwise.
“All NGBs are required to present annual audited financial statements which must reflect all sources of income and expenditure,” Williams clarified. “If an NGBs operations or events are sponsored by a corporate entity, the sponsor’s audited financials are not required but it is expected that details of the sponsorship would be reflected in the NGB’s audited accounts.”
Maniam, the TTCB Treasurer, told Wired868 that the TTCB is one of only seven NGBs to be up-to-date with their audited financial statements for the 2016/2017 period, and takes the view that SPORTT is out of line to request NGC’s internal audit.
“[Williams] cast aspersions on a report which neither SPORTT or TTCB had in our possession,” he said. “Why should we go through that and aggravate a sponsor who has been good to us?”
“I’m sure other sporting bodies have sponsors and nobody else has had that request. This was a sponsorship which finished in 2016 and in 2018 they are demanding to see it. Why target us? Should we ask to see SPORTT’s forensic audit?”
In addition to the NGC audit, Williams also requested from the TTCB the recent Independent Review Committee (IRC) report, along with the audited financial statements for its seven zones, five affiliates and the T&T Red Force.
“The TTCB Constitution prescribes that these documents are submitted to the TTCB,” Williams explained, “who benefit from funding and, as such, SPORTT has requested these documents.”
The TTCB pointed out to Williams that the Red Force’s audited financial statements are on the TTCB’s website along with the full IRC report, produced by a team led by Justice Vasheist Kokaram along Ellis Lewis and Dr Sheila Rampersad.
Mischief, Maniam said, was probably afoot since Ramnarine had been lobbying at meetings for TTCB’s zonal bodies and associates to become compliant by submitting their audited financial statements. Despite Ramnarine’s declaration to the contrary, Maniam remains unconvinced about the SPORTT Chairman’s lack of real influence in these matters.
“Ramnarine is Chairman of the Board,” Maniam said. “His influence looms large and heavy on the Board, whether he recuses himself or not. Whether he says he recuses himself or not, he will still have an influence.”
And the TTCB Treasurer is not sanguine about the idea of forcing the TTCB’s zones and affiliates to become compliant either.
“If we are to use the strong-arm tactics like we are seeing in football now—where 14 clubs are set to be sanctioned for non-compliance—we would have no clubs and zones in three years’ time,” Maniam said, pointing out that financial shortcomings and the voluntary nature of service in the administration make it unreasonable for the TTCB to take such steps.
“If I’m giving you audited financial statements for my entire organisation, why would you want a part?” Maniam asked. “We have been trying to have clubs be compliant for the last 15-20 years […] If you start imposing these things on clubs, you would see things starting to dwindle.”
Last year, according to Maniam, the governing body for local cricket received roughly TT$246,000 from SPORTT, approximately TT$12,000 of which went directly towards the opening of the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium in Tarouba. Maniam suggested that, for the past five years, SPORTT had only been disbursing 10-20% of the sum allocated for the TTCB. And last year, he indicated, the funding received from SPORTT was spent mainly on administrative expenses and payment of salaries.
Those, the SPORTT CEO has assured, are precisely the type of expenses of which SPORTT is trying to rid itself.
The TTCB, which incurred a loss of just under TT$2M last year, cited their major expenditure for 2017 as TT$8.5M, while their proposed expenditure for 2018 is roughlyTT$5.7M. And the TTCB estimates a spend of TT$1M on administrative expenses and salaries this year, some TT$400,000 less than they allocated to that expenditure head last year.
Maniam told Wired868 that, now two years on from their TT$3M-plus per year partnership with NGC, the TTCB is sinking deeper and deeper into the red as it seeks to cover its costs.
“As much as our problems have increased—we have had problems since Anil Roberts’ days—we have been able to survive to a point,” Maniam said. “That was largely thanks in part to the partnership with NGC […] Now we are more dependent on SPORTT.”
Maniam said that, since 2013, the TTCB had been putting aside surpluses, which supplemented the TT$750,000 yearly sponsorship with Shell, renewed last year, and the US$100,000 yearly subvention from Cricket West Indies (CWI).
Now, Maniam fears that, with funding hard to come by, youth development may suffer.
“We can sustain tournaments but development is where it hurts,” he said. “You don’t want to touch development.”
But no help is likely to be forthcoming from SPORTT unless and until the lingering issues regarding the NGC audit are cleared up.
Williams points out that “requests for funding […] submitted to SPORTT […] will be considered based on the financial situation of the Company and in accordance with the duly established process for such requests.”
There is, however, a but.
“The issue of compliance is critical to funding,” Williams stressed. “SPORTT has reiterated to all NGBs that compliance, accountability and transparency are critical to the receipt of any funding.”
Maniam remains guardedly optimistic.
“Everybody is feeling the squeeze right now,” he said. “It’s not the end for us; we haven’t been written to and told it’s a no […]
“But we are so far down in the lion’s mouth.”