Naked Politicking with Taxpayers Money

At the 17th Sitting of the House of Representatives last Friday, a Private Motion was moved by Opposition leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar to consider the details of the two-part address by the Hon. Dr. Keith Rowley which took place in January 2019.

In response to the Opposition’s motion, Minister of Finance, Colm Imbert begged that the motion be amended by adding that “whereas the present government inherited in September 2015 a very difficult and challenging financial situation as a result of the profligate and reckless spending of the previous government and whereas in the face of these challenges, the present government has stabilized the economy creating an economic turnaround and laid the foundation for sustainable economic growth, and whereas in the face of the current economic situation, there is need to do more with less and this is being achieved by the present government” before the resolution.

Minister of National Security, Minister of Communications and Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young, addressed the spread of misinformation by members of the opposition and proceeded to quote the Opposition leader, “Naked Politicking using taxpayers money, no achievements to show. What did we do when we took office?” 

Young described the feedback from constituents of Port of Spain, North as thankful for the Prime Minister’s two-part address to the nation, for being presented with naked facts in a manner that the man on the street could understand and appreciate and adding that the presentation cost a minimum amount of money.

Young then began to address the concept of “Naked Politicking with taxpayers money” beginning with an internal audit of Government Information Services Limited (GISL), a company the Opposition was in control of in January 2015.

January 13th 2015– Audit Objective: “To evaluate whether the hiring process is transparent and objective by checking to ensure that there is evidence of proper advertisement, proper reference checks, interview assessments completed, resume on file and signed application forms.”

Young stated that while the Opposition boasted of 50,000 job opportunities under their administration, the means by which jobs were offered were not done following due procedure.

The opinion of the internal auditor– “Needs significant improvement. Several controls put in place to ensure transparency in the recruitment process has been the subject of management override of controls. This is a practice that needs to be stopped as it exposes the organization to the practice of hiring friends. Reference checks are necessary to ensure that the person being hired is making the correct representations to the organization. More importantly, documentation of those checks being performed should be maintained on the employees’ files.”

Observation 1: “Management override of controls. Four employees were hired due to the directions of the CEO without following due process. The employees are Kadesha Munroe, Kimberly Duncan, Nikolai Edwards and Nyron Rawlinson.”

Observation 2: “Lack of file documentation to support positions being advertised. There were six employee files for which there was no evidence of reference checks being performed.” Kadesha Munroe, Nikolai Edwards, Nyron Rawlinson, Nicholas Ramjass ,Dike Ross and Rachel Kanhai were the names listed.

Young went on to acknowledge another audit which described “irregularities in the process”. The academic qualifications required for the position of Media Relations Coordinator were listed and it was then indicated that the person hired in the post did not possess any qualifications close to what was required.

In further reiterating how the Opposition handed out positions to unqualified persons, he went on to say that there were Chairmen in state enterprises who possessed fake Curriculum Vitaes.

July 14th 2015– The internal audit report objective was to determine whether the proper procurement process was followed in the hiring of MCM and Company Limited.

The audit scope: “The scope of this engagement is limited to the invoices reviewed for MCM and Company Limited.” A company which does not exist on the Company’s Registry.

The auditor said that “GISL has again not followed the procurement procedures and no documentation can be found for a supplier of consultancy services as it relates to three industrial relations.”

Background to the Internal Audit: “The acting CEO, Mr. Anthony Deyal, requested an internal audit to look into the relationship with MCM and Company and whether there was any contract and whether the procurement process was followed,” with the answer being no.

The audit revealed that MCM and Company Limited was retained to provide consultancy services without a contract or end-document to show why they were hired or whether any other industrial relations consultants were considered. Young said the invoices were paid to this company even though it does not exist.

As the present government took over, the Board began to recognize a number of discrepancies, particularly with Mr. Anthony Deyal.

September 30th 2015– “We refer to the agreement between GISL and yourself dated December 5th 2014, by virtue of which you were employed as a consultant. The Board of GISL has seen correspondence to you from former Minister of Finance Larry Howai in his capacity as corporate sole. The Board is also currently reviewing your performance and is particularly concerned that the assets of GISL under your direction and control were put to use for purposes not connected with the legitimate business of GISL. The Board also wishes to conduct a review of the matters raised by former Minister Larry Howai.”

Young said a forensic analysis into the board minutes suggested that the board members were unaware that Mr. Deyal had a contract but one appeared before the 2015 elections that is backdated and was being paid USD $10,000 as his monthly salary.

December 29th 2014– Via a cabinet decision taken on December 23rd, 2013 cabinet agreed to the provision of funds to develop and implement the strategic plan and action items for the then Ministry of Communications, a sum of $50 Million Dollars to enable GISL to formalize the development of government strategic planning and implement the action items of the strategic plan which include the provision of electronic broadcast, social media (Cambridge Analytics), traditional print media and billboards for the government.

He quoted Clause three which said, “Where as should be necessary for GISL to retain consultants, service providers and/any other persons to perform any part of the services or in the course of providing the services, the government shall reimburse GISL for such expenses as are properly incurred, identifiable supported by evidence.”

The strategic plan approved by cabinet:

1.Social Media $10 Million: Provide a comprehensive social media programme including a website link to all the major social media applications (Facebook, Youtube, WhatsApp, Twitter, Hangouts, Messenger.) Website will be the front end of a massive communications feedback loop that allows the public to comment and seek information on all government services and products.

2. Tv production: $10 Million

3. Internal communications streaming in all government buildings: $12 Million

4. Electronic Billboards: $8 Million

5. Publications: $8 Million

Project Icon: Objectives and Purpose

Forensic Auditors: “During our review of email correspondence between GISL representatives, vendors, government officials and other individuals, we noted various correspondence that suggested Project Icon which was funded by the state appeared to be implemented as a political vehicle and in a manner inconsistent with the stated objective of dissemination of government information in accordance with government’s strategic plan. For example, we observed email correspondence that appeared to be more closely related to the activities of the incumbent political party regarding its strategies for re-election including monitoring of opposing political parties.”

January 7th 2014– In an email the then GISL consultant and ICON Project Manager, Anthony Deyal shared several plans with the then GISL CEO Andy Johnson and Production Manager John Barry documents which appeared to set out a strategy that appeared to emphasize the governing party’s political plans to enhance its public image leading up to elections as follow.

One of the documents shared by Deyal was entitled “People, Perception, Perspectives, a proposal for voices- An integrated national communication project.” He wrote, “Despite its overwhelming popularity when it came into office, its record of service delivery, ownership of several media outlets, the increase in communications/public relations capacity within Ministries, the charisma of the Prime Minister, the credibility of the government has fallen significantly. Public opinion polls, the recent local government elections and two central government byelections have shown the need for a comprehensive strategy to simultaneously regain the credibility, retrieve the reputation and revive confidence in the government as it heads towards general elections in 2015.”

January 10th 2014– Deyal also shared the plans with CNMG’s Ken Ali and Andy Johnson in an email where he wrote, “The 500 day strategy was discussed yesterday by Ministers Tewari, Gangasingh, Hadeed. They suggested some additions, more in terms of actions that will support it than changes in the strategies itself. I will develop a revised version which you will get when it is approved and the decision is taken about implementing it. Clearly Mr. Moonilal and the Prime Minister have to be brought on more fully on board. But we have a general agreement on the broader basis of the plan I have attached. We are now with it and with voices.”

The auditors’ noted that Deyal’s plans also appeared to emphasize the increased use of billboards in marginal constituencies. This would have been done with taxpayers’ money with the approval of Ministers.

May 13th 2014– In a letter to Andy Johnson, a representative of Label House, one of the Project ICON contractors wrote, “On the 2nd of April 2014, I signed an agency agreement. Given my playing an active role in billboards project which sought to place information from GISL on all digital billboards in Trinidad and Tobago, my role in it amongst other things is to get the owners of the billboards in North Trinidad to accept a contract to run messages from GISL on their billboards.”

July 8th 2015 – In email correspondence between Doodnath Bhola, former GISL Chairman and Anthony Deyal, Deyal stated, “$9 Million was approved a while ago. The process is the problem and the lack of power of the Minister to deal with public servants who are deliberately obstructing the process. We have another $21 Million dollars that was approved and the problem is the Minister’s ability to get it done. I just spoke to the Prime Minister’s husband, Gregory, told him what to expect so we (GISL & Me) would not be blamed if there is a problem and we lose billboard owners to the PNM.”

It was also noted that at the GISL board of directors meeting dated the 4th of December 2014  – Project Manager Anthony Deyal stated that he welcomed the ICON meetings which should occur with board and management. Call center was in its finishing stages before it came into effect. There will be approximately 100 billboards by the end of December 2014, proposing the 50 starting billboards with the Christmas messages from the Prime Minister during the Christmas season.

Director Pouchet stated that placing billboards with Christmas messages would go against what the ICON Project was meant to do in disassociating itself from politics.

December 28th 2014– An email from Deyal was sent to Vassant Bharath and Gregory Bissessar describing the use of social media to analyze public sentiment in connection with the former Prime Minister’s Christmas Billboards.

January 7th 2014– An email from Deyal sent to John Barry and Andy Roberts was a proposal for voices. The proposal stated, “The PNM has been using all media including social media to virtually set and dominate the public information agenda.”

An objective highlighted in the Voices Proposal was that the government should use social media more effectively too. “Make the government look greater on Facebook, Twitter and social media force than the PNM and the ILP.” The propsal aslo stated, “Finalize a plan for retaking the marginals that were lost in the recent local government byelections. This plan must be specifically geared towards winning back the middle class that voted for the People’s Partnership in 2010.”

The email went on to say, “Generally the PNM and Keith Rowley are currently in the lead. The ballot question at the moment revolves around a feeling of disappointment in the People’s Partnership which stems from a combination of feelings held by the general public, including that the Prime Minister has let them down and is potentially not up for the job. The decision in the minds of the voters at the moment is binary choice about the government. PNM will only receive the support of voters after they decided against the government. It is important to understand that in this construct, voters compare the government to an impossible perfect ideal and not to a government potentially led by Keith Rowley and the PNM.”

December 28th 2014– Another email sent by Anthony Deyal to Vassant Bharath which cc’d Gregory Bissessar quoted the following, “Minister, this is an analysis still ongoing based on a trawl of social media. As you see, the positives far outweigh the negatives. There are a lot of neutrals but what happened is that the many negatives tended to be well known people in the politics. What is clear is that apart from you and Suruj, the People’s Partnership support kept their mouth shut and did not support. Ministers have rapid response but not throw these assets on the side of the party or the Prime Minister when needed.”

Another email sent by Anthony Deyal to Wesley Gervais and Volney Ransom read, “Thanks guys, keep it quiet until I say so, we don’t want this particular source to be exposed.”

What came from the source was the following- “Hi, see attached details about the Rowley Carnival incident that was pulled from Radiano. Cheers Wesley. Web and digitization support.”

March 27th 2015– Volney Ransom in an email to Anthony Deyal “Hi Tony, please see the attached on Mrs. Alleyne-Toppin issue, it’s very negative.”

In an email from Anthony Deyal to Chairman Doodnath Bhola, he indicated that in 2003 when the billboards were stopped, the Prime Minister was livid when she found out since it was her project. She asked Jerry and Moonilal to make sure it happened and he had to reinstate it. Immediately after he spoke with her, and she told him not to let it happen again given the timing and the fact that he is acting as MFO, he has no excuse.

During Deyal’s tenure as the CEO, concerns were raised by former board members regarding a conflict of interest with Deyal assuming this role. Young expressed that concerns were being raised when luxury vehicles were bought, additional salaries and allowances were being paid as well as a lack of appropriate tendering processes being followed.

Young said that the audit shows that when $50 Million ran out a month before the 2015 elections, they began to put pressure on the Permanent Secretary where they were clamouring and claiming for more money. “It also shows that they hired “Maury” and paid him over $36 Million dollars for Projects associated with the elections.”

He closed his presentation by stating that the public can now be the judge of what “Naked Politicking using taxpayers money” means.

Read more on ICON’s Illegal Act here:

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