PORT OF SPAIN – From minister to junior minister on Monday—then out of government completely, by yesterday.
That’s the story of Darryl Smith after prime minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday received “new information” about the sports ministry settlement issue which shot Smith into headlines recently.
Rowley who removed Smith from the Sports Ministry on Monday after such headlines had demoted him to a minister in the housing/urban development ministry. But yesterday the prime minister revoked the housing appointment—shunting Smith out of government entirely.
A statement from the prime minister’s office at 2.56 p.m. yesterday announced the developments after Rowley met with Smith and planning minister Camille Robinson-Regis, during which “new information came to the attention of the Prime Minister”, the statement added.
Rowley has appointed an all-female three member team to “thoroughly review the circumstances surrounding the dismissal and payment of compensation” to Smith’s former personal assistant Carrie Ann Moreau by the sport ministry—part of the issue which placed Smith in the spotlight.
The team, chaired by former permanent secretary and human resource expert Jackie Wilson, includes Folade Mutota of WINAD and attorney Elaine Greene. They’re expected to report to the prime minister in two weeks.
The PM’s office also stated: “It’s anticipated that all parties involved in any non-disclosure arrangement in this matter will lift such impediment to allow the fullest examination of the facts for the benefit of the public.”
The rapid-fire series of events up to yesterday followed last Sunday’s revelation of a witness statement by former sports ministry employee Moreau and alleged “unwanted attention” from Smith. The ministry reportedly undertook a $150,000 settlement to her following a wrongful dismissal—improper procedure—claim.
Rowley’s subsequent shift of Smith from sports to housing on Monday immediately raised a firestorm of criticism concerning his decision to retain Smith in government. The opposition and other groups said Rowley should have fired Smith outright.
Contacted about yesterday’s meeting with the prime minister and Smith, minister Robinson-Regis told T&T Guardian she had been asked by Rowley to probe the process used for settlement of Moreau’s claim.
She said based on her investigations, she had submitted the information she had gleaned, to the prime minister, and following that, he had acted on Monday.
“But then further information came to light and the prime minister has now acted in the way he did (revoking Smith’s appointment),” she added.
Robinson- Regis declined to detail the new information—whether it was something she had further unearthed or if it was something Smith revealed, admitted to or confirmed during yesterday’s meeting.
Robinson-Regis said: “The prime minister had additional information and he made his decision (yesterday). She discounted claims that public outrage was the reason for firing of Smith.
She added: “When we govern, it’s not just for is. If the public doesn’t accept an action we have undertaken and the government responds, then that’s what good governance is all about. But that’s not the basis on which the prime minister acted [today]. New additional information came to light, was brought to the PM’s attention and he acted.”
Other sources were unable to confirm if the dismissal involved the fact that the Urban Development Company Ltd falls under the housing ministry to which Smith was shifted – and Moreau works at Udecott.
Officials of the latter confirmed she’s been there under a year.
Sources said despite the appointment of the team to examine the sports ministry issue, the prime minister’s decision on Smith is a “completed action”.
They said the removal of the non-disclosure agreement would be up to the parties involved – sports ministry and Moreau. She didn’t reply to calls on whether she’ll agree to have the agreement dropped.
PNM party officials acknowledged the retention of Darryl Smith in housing on Monday had sparked a range of social media backlash and negative comments on call-in programmes.
While PNM’s Women’s League chairman Robinson-Regis, via statement applauded Rowley’s decision on Smith “for his careful, deliberate and timely handling of this very sensitive issue”, she said the League is simultaneously saddened at the turn of events and impact on the community.
“The League, by its very composition, is extremely cognizant of the impact of sexual harassment on victims, their families and even work colleagues. We are also very mindful as well of how mere allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace have been used in the past to destroy public officials, and equally, how public officials too have betrayed the trust reposed in them by many.”
Supporting introduction of a national policy on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, she said, the League will ensure such a draft policy is presented at PNM’s next General Council.
Chairman of PNM’s Diego Martin Central executive Lynette Ward initially said the executive supported their MP Smith but had no comment on Rowley’s decision. She then said “No comment on anything.”
Vice-chairman Gordon Paul said the executive is due to meet and expected the issue would be discussed. On his own personal view, Paul said the situation hasn’t been a good thing.
“I’m always willing to get all the facts before coming to a decision and all I knew was what I read last Sunday and didn’t know if it was all factual. Apparently, the prime minister got further information [yesterday] and made a decision.”
From Friday’s house of representatives session, Smith – already on government’s backbench – joins PNM’s D’Abadie/O’Meara MP Ancil Antoine as a former minister. Antoine was removed from Public Utilities last year.
And with yesterday’s revocation after a day, Smith has broken Marlene McDonald’s record for the shortest-lived ministerial appointment when she was hired and fired between June 30 and July 2, 2017.
In response to the firing, opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has called for the prime minister to disclose the information he acted on to the country.
“The prime minister’s action raises more questions than are answered. What’s the “new information” he received which changed his mind on Darryl Smith? What could be worse than what was already reported in the media? In the circumstances, such ‘new information’ cannot be withheld.”
“In the interest of transparency and accountability, we call on the prime minister to immediately to release this ‘new information’ – and explain why, in spite of the information appearing in the media, he failed to take action against Smith as he should have done immediately. “
She added, “The entire sordid business remains shrouded in mystery, yet another ‘Committee’ has been appointed to investigate. Investigate what, exactly, Dr Rowley? He cannot claim that he didn’t know (Monday) morning that an investigation was done, the parties agreed and monies were paid.”
Reliable sources yesterday distanced the attorney general’s ministry from the sports ministry settlement. They said because there was no admission of liability, it was not uncommon to have the non-disclosure aspect.
On Opposition accusations the AG’s Ministry “brokered” it, they said the matter concerned wrongful procedure, was against the ministry and chief personnel officer and was handled by sports. They added the AG recently answered questions on it in parliament since they had been posed to then sports minister Darryl Smith and he was absent.