by Sampson Nanton
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has disclosed the real reason he fired former Sport Minister Darryl Smith, saying it had nothing to do with sexual harassment but because Smith interfered with the proper process of the Public Service, resulting in a financial cost to taxpayers.
The prime minister made the disclosure as he addressed a public meeting in support of the PNM's San Juan/Barataria general election candidate, Jason Williams on Tuesday night.
Smith was fired in April 2018.
At the time of the dismissal, there were reports of sexual misconduct in office and a subsequent payment of $150,000 made to the alleged victim Carrie-Ann Moreau, together with a Non-Disclosure Agreement that blocked any details from public scrutiny.
However, Dr Rowley said Tuesday that no complaint of sexual harassment came before him.
"In my investigation of the Darryl Smith situation there was no complaint before me and no document before me that had anything to do with sexual harassment. I communicated with the lawyer and he confirmed there was no complaint in there about sexual harassment," the prime minister said.He told the meeting that while prime ministers were not obligated to say why they hire and fire ministers, he wanted to state why Smith was dismissed.
"I fired Darryl Smith for interfering improperly in the Public Service. He did not want to continue hiring the woman because, for reasons given to the PS (Permanent Secretary) she was unsatisfactory in her job. The PS would have been told that and the PS prepared a dismissal letter," he stated.
He continued: "When he did that and the PS put the letter of dismissal and put the complaints by the minister - a letter now exists about the person's unsatisfactory performance and incompetence - he then went to the PS and say, 'You can't do that...take out the cause because if she's going to get another job, that would act against that', and the PS did that."
The prime minister said those actions led to an industrial relations case to be made against the Ministry.
"The PS took that instruction from the Minister and removed the 'cause for dismissal' and violated the Industrial Relations understanding. You can't fire somebody and not say what the cause is," Dr Rowley said.
He said the PS exposed the taxpayer because it was an easy case for the union to take to the Industrial Court and the government eventually had to pay.
"The Ministry paid for the dismissal," he said, adding, "There was no payment for sexual harassment."
Dr Rowley said that after the dismissal, there was speculation about the real reason, with some people even saying that the prime minister was to blame for the controversy.
He told the meeting that this was one of only two "scandals" of his Government, the other being a high roaming bill run up by then Tourism Minister Shamfa Cudjoe in 2017.
The bill exceeded $59,000 accrued over a four-day period while she was attending the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Caribbean Travel Marketplace in the Bahamas.
She had told the Parliament that it was done in error because she had failed to turn off the roaming feature on her phone.
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and Darryl Smith at the opening of the Diego Martin walkover on October 8, 2019.
Statement by PM's Office on April 10, 2018 re Smith's dismissal
When the prime minister dismissed Smith in April 2018, the Office of the Prime Minister issued the following statement:
"Today, (April 10, 2018) Prime Minister Dr the Honourable Keith Rowley advised Her Excellency Paula-Mae Weekes, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in keeping with the provision of Section 3(9) of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, to revoke the appointment of Mr Darryl Smith as Minister in the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development.
This following a meeting between the Prime Minister, the Minister of Planning and Development, the Honourable Camille Robinson-Regis and Mr Smith during which new information came to the attention of the Prime Minister.
The meeting also resulted in the appointment of a committee to thoroughly review the circumstances surrounding the dismissal and payment of compensation to Ms Carrie-Ann Moreau at the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs.
The committee is to be chaired by former Permanent Secretary and Human Resource Expert Ms Jackie Wilson, and includes Ms Folade Mutota of WINAD and Attorney-at-Law Ms Elaine Greene. The committee is expected to report in two weeks.
It is anticipated that all parties involved in any non-disclosure arrangement in this matter will lift such impediment so as to allow the fullest examination of the facts for the benefit of the public."
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley addresses a political meeting Tuesday night.
What happened next
The report submitted by the committee was deemed "unusable" by both the prime minister and Attorney General Faris Al Rawi.
In Parliament on December 10, 2019, Dr Rowley maintained that the matter involving Smith had ended.
Rowley pointed to the inability to use a report from the investigative committee and said that he had done the “ultimate” and fired Smith from the government.
Also in December 2019, former temporary senator Folade Mutota, one of three women who investigated Smith, broke months of silence via a scathing two-page letter in which she condemned what she described as the “boys club” mentality which kept women silent in the face of inappropriate and unwanted sexual conduct.
In her first public statement since the report which Mutota and two other women produced was deemed “unusable” by both men, Mutota said, “the conduct of the Honourable Prime Minister and Honourable Attorney General has been shameful, reprehensible, misogynistic, and an attack on women’s agency and women’s right to challenge injustice and to be heard.”
Days after, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar called for an urgent and immediate investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding what she deemed as "the alleged secret settlement of the sexual harassment lawsuit brought against former Minister of Sport Mr. Darryl Smith, with the payment of $150,000 from public funds."
Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar
The Opposition Leader wrote to the Commissioner of Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Chairman of the Integrity Commission, stating that there are “strong grounds for suspecting that several criminal offences may have been committed as well as the possible breach of several provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act and the Code of Conduct”.
Persad-Bissessar said the report raised an undeniable prima facie case for the possibility of the commission of several very serious criminal offences, including conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice, misbehaviour in public office, and a breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act Chapter 22:01 by several persons, including the Prime Minister, the Attorney General, Smith, and the then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs.
In February 2020, police confirmed that Assistant Supt Juri of the Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau was conducting an investigation into a report of "alleged corruption" in the Smith matter.
Police said the investigation did not specifically involve Smith but all public servants at the Sport Ministry who were involved in the matter.